God is in Control

My adult Sunday school class that I teach has been studying the book of Jeremiah during the month of September. The prophet Jeremiah was called by God to deliver some dreadful news to the people living in Jerusalem around 597-587 BC. The people of Judah had continued to commit grievous sins against the LORD. They pretended to follow God but in reality, they had turned away from God and were even worshipping other gods.

While we have learned much about Jeremiah and his calling from God, we nevertheless had difficulty understanding how God could use the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem and kill so many of his chosen people. We could come up with many other ways that God could have dealt with his people that would have resulted in fewer deaths. As human beings, we often think that we know better than God how events in our world should unfold. Jeremiah reminds us that the LORD is the same LORD who created the world that we live in. Jeremiah 33:2: “This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it – the LORD is his name.” Jeremiah reminds us that the creator of the heavens and the earth is firmly in control of the events of the world; he doesn’t need or require our help.

We want to “help” God make decisions that affect us because we don’t want to give up any control over our own lives. And many times, God will let us “help” him until we realize that our way was the wrong way. Then God will lovingly take us in His arms and lead us down the path that we should have been on to begin with. This is the process of how we strengthen our faith and learn how to place more and more trust in God – the same God who created the universe. God is still in control of this fallen, sinful, war-torn world that, like Judah, is turning away from God at an ever increasing rate.

God finally had enough of the sinful ways of Judah and he sent Jeremiah to prophecy about their coming destruction. Even though God plainly told the people that Jerusalem would be destroyed and many of them taken away into captivity, God also promised that one day there would once again be joy and rejoicing in Jerusalem. Jeremiah told the people that it was their sin that brought on this judgment from God. Because of their continued rebellion, God had to take action in order to one day restore them.

This study on Jeremiah has caused me to think about the current conditions in our own country and throughout the world. People are turning away from God in order to pursue the things of this world. We want more material things, we want to be noticed and we want to have it all without any sacrifice. Many of us want to be our own god because we think we know what’s best for ourselves and for others. How long will it be before God has enough of our sin and brings judgment and disaster upon us? If we continue to turn away from God, we risk God turning away from us.

I worry about the world that my children and their children are going to grow up in. God is not going to continue to allow us to turn our backs on Him and to deny his authority in this world that He created. The Apostle Peter writes, “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). I’m just afraid that one day, God’s patience will have run its course and we will face the consequences of turning our backs on God.

God told the people of Judah, through the prophet Jeremiah: “I will hide my face from this city because of all its wickedness” (Jeremiah 33:5). My own personal prayer is that our country and this world will turn back to God and acknowledge that the LORD is the one who is in control of this world that we live in. I pray for God to forgive us of our many sins and to bring about a spiritual renewal in our country that will spread throughout the world. God has done this before and God can certainly do it again.

Jeremiah reminded the people of Judah and even us today to “Give thanks to the LORD Almighty, for the LORD is good; his love endures forever” (Jeremiah 33:11).

Christlike Humility

Philippians 2:1-11: If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Jesus Christ:

Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

If you are a believer and a follower of Christ, you are united with Christ in all that you do as you live out your life of faith. The Apostle Paul reminds us, especially today, that as followers of the risen Christ, we are to imitate Christ’s humility in this fallen world. How do you and I, as ordinary followers of Christ, reveal to the world that we are set apart from the world? Paul gives us some important qualities that we must possess if we are to truly imitate the humility of Christ.

We must strive to offer comfort and encouragement to those around us who are weary and overburdened with the difficulties of life. We should attempt to show Christlike tenderness and compassion to those we encounter who feel unloved and unnoticed. Paul warns us to “do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). Jesus humbled himself; he took on the very nature of a servant, giving us a powerful example of how to humbly live out our faith in Christ.

Everything we do as followers of Christ should be for the building up of God’s kingdom and individual believers. Even our church leaders sometimes look to their own self-interests instead of those things that will advance God’s kingdom here on earth. When leaders of the church make decisions that first protect their own self interests, the mission and integrity of the church ceases to be effective. Everything must be done in a “like-minded” way because the church and the individual members must be “one in spirit and purpose” (Philippians 2:2). Everything we do should exalt God and give glory to His holy name. Giving all praise and glory to God should be the primary focus of the church.

 
What do you personally need to be “emptied” of? Do you need to exhibit more tenderness and compassion to those around you who so desperately need to experience these things in their lives? Do you need to empty yourself of the need to be noticed and recognized for your good works? Do you do things in order to further your ambitious nature or to make yourself look good to others? Do you look out for your own interests before considering the needs and well-being of others?

Pray that God will “empty” you of these worldly things and give you a Christ like humility that is necessary if you want to completely follow Christ and his example of humility. Following Christ involves letting go of “self” and regarding “others better than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3). As believers, Christ calls us to let go of the things of this world and to take up our cross daily and follow him. The world may not recognize you or honor you, but you will be recognized by your Father in heaven when your journey on this earth comes to an end. You will be recognized as a good and faithful servant of our Lord Jesus Christ and you will live eternally praising God and Christ our Saviour.

Obedience and Trust in God

2 Chronicles 16:9: For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.

This verse of scripture has always been a favorite of mine that I recite many times throughout my week. It serves as a reminder that God is present with me as I go about my day and even as I sleep. I am also reminded that God continues to play an active role in this world in which I temporarily reside. Just when it seems that the world is spiraling out of control, God’s word reveals to us that the God who created the universe is still in control. It’s difficult to find much hope or assurance in the things of this world. In God however, we can face the uncertainty of this world with the promise that God is watching over us and is sustaining us with his mercy and strength.

1 John 5:3: This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome.

Being obedient and open to God’s guidance is crucial for us as we live out our lives in Christ today. We may do many good things for people, or for God’s kingdom, and many times we aren’t allowed to see the powerful effect that our actions have. That should not stop us from being obedient to God and living out the life of faith that we are called to live. Our duty is to obey God by following his commands and living out a life that shows others the way to Christ. God will take care of the rest and He will use us to further His kingdom here on this earth in ways that we cannot imagine. I believe that when we get to heaven, God will reveal to us how our actions made a difference in bringing others to belief in God and in Christ.

Matthew 16:27: For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

As Christians, we live in a world that does not value obedience to God. Many of our friends would probably ask us what we are receiving in return for our obedience to God. Of course, they are focused on an earthly return on our time and investment instead of an eternal reward. They fail to understand that we are not storing up treasures on this earth, but rather, eternal treasures in heaven. We may not ever see or understand the eternal effects that our actions have in this world. There will come a day however, a glorious day, in which we will completely understand just how important our obedience to God has been.

Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).

Where is your heart? Do you obey God for the hope of material gain or to be noticed? Or do you obey God because that is what your “heart” calls you to do? The Holy Spirit works powerfully in those who choose to obey God and are committed to advancing His Kingdom. Will you choose to obey God and allow Him to use you to proclaim the good news of Christ? Or will you choose the ways of the world? How you answer that question will have eternal consequences.

One Door Closes And Another Opens

Acts 16:6-12: Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

This passage from the book of Acts reveals some important aspects of how the Holy Spirit works in the hearts and minds of believers. Paul and his ministry companions are in the early stages of his second missionary journey from Antioch. Along the way they encountered ministry opportunities that were made available to them (doors opened) and some others that were not (doors closed). In this passage we are told how the Holy Spirit kept Paul and his companions from” preaching the word in the province of Asia” (Acts 16:6). Thankfully, Paul and his companions were persistent and open to God’s guidance. They didn’t give up, even though they may have been discouraged. Faith guided them forward, giving them further opportunities to tell others about Christ. God had a plan and a purpose for their ministry.

Paul was called by God to take the gospel message to the Gentile world and he was obedient to God’s guidance. So as Paul traveled into the northwest part of Asia, the Holy Spirit would not allow him to go any further – a door was closed. We then find that Paul tried to enter Bithynia, but again the Holy Spirit would not allow them to go there. It was becoming clear that Paul was not to “preach the word in the province of Asia.” Paul and his friends changed directions and spent the night at Troas. Then during the night, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia, begging him to travel to Macedonia and help them. The vision of the man from Macedonia, and his message, was clear to Paul. God was opening a door to a ministry opportunity and Paul was resolved to obediently follow God’s call.

In my own ministry, God has recently closed a door. I have had some time to reflect on this missed opportunity and I completely trust that God has another plan for my ministry. What happens when God says “no” and closes a door? The worst thing that we can do is to pull back and not continue to share our faith for fear of being hurt or disappointed again. If we follow God in any type of ministry, we will face rejection and failure. However, we cannot allow that door closing to prevent us from seeking other ways to serve and glorify God. God can take what seems like a failure to us and turn it into something that gives Him the glory.  Proverbs 3:5-6: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.

God will guide you, if you will trust in Him and submit to Him, in all your ways. Be obedient, available, and open to any opportunity that God places in your path. We can never be certain when the Holy Spirit will show up and direct us into a way of service that we would have never chosen if we leaned on our own understanding. It is moments like these when we know that the opportunity placed before us is from God. Embrace those opportunities and always remember to give the ultimate glory back to God so that His power will be evident to all.

“My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.”
― Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude

 

 

The Light of the World

1 John 1:5-7: This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.

John 3:19-21: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

As John writes in his Gospel, and in the subsequent  letter of 1 John, he uses the image of light to represent truth, and that which is good, pure and holy. In contrast, darkness represents evil, falsehoods, and that which opposes God’s kingdom. Two lifestyles are made visible: one represented by godliness and truth and the other by wickedness and lies. In the midst of persecution and false teachings, these early believers were encouraged by John to always walk in the “light.”

What does it mean for followers of Christ today to walk in the light? Walking in the light draws us to places where people are suffering and without hope. When you help out those in need without any kind of personal motive, you are revealing the light of Christ to people who so desperately need that light. When you offer a kind and compassionate word to those that so desperately need it, you are displaying the love of Christ to those that are hurting. When you take the time to listen to someone who needs to share their problems and worries, you are “in fellowship with one another” (1 John 1:7). As you attempt to live out a holy life that leads others to Christ, you live out your life in “truth” (1 John 1:6). You are walking in the light, humbly doing God’s work, without drawing attention to your good deeds.

Jesus didn’t associate much with the rich and well connected people of his day. He spent time with those who were shunned by society and were made to feel like second class citizens. Jesus reminds us as His followers, we are not citizens of this world, but rather citizens of heaven. And as His followers, if we are to walk in the light, we must go and carry His light into those dark and hopeless places in our community and throughout our world. Love and compassion for our fellow human beings should compel us to minister to those who are hurting and in need of some kindness. If we truly love others we must show them the way out of darkness and into the light of Christ.

As you begin to walk more in the light of Christ you become less concerned or focused on the things of this world. You are able to let go of worldly things, whether they are material possessions, fame, pride, etc. Those that seek these things are worldly and their focus is more on this world than on the eternal promises of our future reward in heaven. As you walk more fully in the light of Christ, you realize that you love God the Father more than you love the fame, wealth, or the attention of this world.

1 John 2:15-17: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – comes not from the Father but from the world.

Do you love the world more than you love God? If you do, then it’s time that you walk out of the darkness of this world and into the light of Christ. The possessions and the desires of this world are fading fast, they are only temporary. This day, you must make the choice to let go of the things of this world and focus your attention on the concerns of God. 1 John 1:17: The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.

Don’t Give Up! Do What’s Right

Galatians 6:9 (NIV): Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

2 Thessalonians 3:13 (NIV): And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.

Have you ever been tempted to just give up? You try to do what’s right and it just seems that life gets more difficult. You may have said to yourself, “Why should I continue to struggle with doing what’s right when it doesn’t seem that my life gets any easier or more fulfilling?” I imagine that most every person on this planet will have asked themselves that same question during the course of their lives. We attempt and struggle with doing things the right way and we are disappointed when our efforts are not rewarded.

Remember the parable from Luke of the persistent widow? Jesus was teaching his disciples and he told them a parable that explained to them the importance of persistent prayer. Luke 18:1: Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. This is a verse of scripture that I refer to over and over again to remind myself of  the importance of persistent prayer and to never give up. My belief and faith in God and His will for my life, is the driving force behind my refusal to give up. I know that God has a purpose for my life and I want you to know that God has a purpose for your life as well.

The Apostle Paul endured many hardships and trials during his ministry but he conducted himself in the right way, so that others would come to know Christ through Paul’s example and teachings. Paul could have easily become weary in doing good but he knew that a greater reward lie ahead if he would not surrender to the many temptations of this world. That is what Paul is saying to the believers in Galatia and Thessalonica, “Let us not become weary in doing good, never tire of doing what is right.” “For at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”

What is the “proper time?” The proper time is when God decides that we will receive our just reward for living out our life of faith in the right way. Paul describes that appointed time as ultimately being when we are given our inheritance in the “kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21). Every decision that we make in this life will have an impact on our future inheritance in God’s kingdom. The way that we conduct ourselves will reflect who we are as believers and followers of Christ. And it can also draw others to come to know Christ through the way that we live out our life of faith.

I remember watching a TV news interview years ago, where an elderly lady was talking about the many trials and temptations that her grandchildren were faced with. Her advice to them was simply to never get tired of doing what’s right. When asked how they were to know what the “right” thing was, she simply replied, “Read the Bible, God has put it all in there.” What good and timely advice, if we would only read our Bible and then put into practice what God has commanded us to do. We would then have what we need to help us when we are tempted and when we become weary. May God help you to not become tired or weary in doing good.