Friday, March 17, 2017

Going After The One

12 “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them wanders away, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others on the hills and go out to search for the one that is lost? 13 And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he will rejoice over it more than over the ninety-nine that didn’t wander away! 14 In the same way, it is not my heavenly Father’s will that even one of these little ones should perish.   
(Matthew 18:12-14 NLT)

Jesus tells a parable about a shepherd who has a hundred sheep, one of which wanders off and has to be found and rescued. Leaving the ninety-nine others behind, the man seeks out and finds the stray, bringing it joyfully back into the fold. This is a wonderful picture of how we have all gone astray as individuals and the Lord seeks to bring us back into fellowship with Himself through His Son. Each of us has worth to the Lord; each of us is valuable in His eyes.

One thing I take away from this parable is that bringing one sinner to Christ is just as important as bringing a hundred. Not everyone is called to be a Billy Graham, leading masses of people to the Lord. Most of us are called to serve the Lord in our own little ways in our everyday lives. As we go about our daily business we can sow seeds of life wherever this life takes us, one person at a time. With God, it is about quality, not quantity. Serving the Lord should never be a numbers game.

Of course, I want to be as useful as possible in the kingdom and reach my full potential. I also understand that I can plant seeds and water them, but it is God that gives the increase (1 Corinthians 3:7). The ultimate miracle of salvation in anybody's life depends on God, not on me. I have to be ready and available to do my part but it is a very small part that I must faithfully do. I was created and designed to reach a specific person or people and have to be in tune with God to do what He has called me to do.

As an individual, I have my quirks. I am a designer original- there's only one like me. Due to my own way of looking at life and doing things, I can relate to certain people better than others. I am more comfortable in certain environments than others. All this adds up to me being crafted by the Lord for a very specific purpose, one He has mapped out for my life ahead of time and saved me for (Ephesians 2:10). I may not relate well to the ninety-nine but I just might jive with the one that God has called me to reach, for this is God's purpose for me.

Today, as we go about our daily routine, let us be on the lookout for the one that we may be able to reach. Whether we be straight-laced conservatives or a little out-there, God will place people in our lives that we can relate to and hold forth the truth and hope of salvation to. Every one of us is an individual part of something much bigger in the kingdom of God, the body of Christ, and every one of us is called and gifted for service unto the Lord. And let us not be afraid to step out in faith today and go after that one sheep that is wandering and alone, for that was us at some point in time.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Coming Out Of Isolation

23 Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. 24 Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. 25 And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.   (Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT)

One thing God has revealed to me is that Satan wants to keep me isolated. In my struggles with schizoaffective disorder, isolation has become like second nature to me. I don't deal well with being around a lot of people. It is hard when you feel like people can hear your thoughts or are planning to harm you. Yet these are the things I have to fight against, for totally isolating myself isn't good for me mentally or spiritually. It is a daily battle, but one I feel I can win with the power of the Holy Spirit.

In the body of Christ we are created to both give and receive. We all need each other's gifts and the encouragement that comes from fellowship with other believers just as much as we need to be used. It is give and take in a healthy walk with Christ as He supplies our every need through the other believers in our lives. Scripture reminds us to meet together so that we can encourage each other and stir each other up to good works. In this way, we all can find the strength we need to get through whatever we may be dealing with in our lives.

When we isolate ourselves, it is easier for Satan to attack us and bring us down. Just like in the animal kingdom, it is often the weaker brother or sister who is lagging behind that the enemy goes after. There is a strength in numbers that is designed into the body of Christ, a strength that is ours in Christ as we lift one another up in love. Satan would have us in isolation so that he can pick us off more easily, whereas the word of God tells us to get together, to check on one another and to encourage one another in love. We are strongest when we operate as a group, as the body of Christ.

We were created to be part of a community. Jesus doesn't call us to be lone-wolf Christians. Whatever reasons we may have for isolating, we are playing right into Satan's hands by doing so. God has provided richly for us in the body and we should be encouraging and being encouraged daily in our fellowship with other believers. This is the strength for living that is so often needed, whether it comes as a timely word or just a listening ear. We all need the other believers in our lives in order to be who we were created to be. That is part of God's design.

Today, whatever we may be dealing with, let us not isolate ourselves from the influence of others in our lives. Let us allow the believers in our lives to operate in their gifts and let us graciously receive encouragement when it is given. And if we see a brother or sister lagging behind, let us be quick to go to them and help them, offering encouragement and love and whatever they may need to get back on track. We are the body of Christ and we either function as a whole or we don't function at all. Let us love not only in words but in deeds as well (1 John 3:18).

Monday, March 13, 2017

Do Not Greet Anyone Along The Road

The Lord now chose seventy-two other disciples and sent them ahead in pairs to all the towns and places he planned to visit. These were his instructions to them: “The harvest is great, but the workers are few. So pray to the Lord who is in charge of the harvest; ask him to send more workers into his fields. Now go, and remember that I am sending you out as lambs among wolves. Don’t take any money with you, nor a traveler’s bag, nor an extra pair of sandals. And don’t stop to greet anyone on the road.   (Luke 10:1-4 NLT)

After sending out the Twelve on their apostolic mission, Jesus commissioned another group with similar instructions to go ahead of Him into all the places he planned to visit. Among the instructions He gave them was the command to not stop to greet anyone on the road. Why would it matter if they greeted anyone along the road? What purpose did Jesus have in saying this to them? As is always the case with God, there is a rhyme and a reason to everything He says and does, this being a prime example.

These men were chosen for a mission. They had something they were sent to accomplish and could not afford to get distracted. Hospitality was a big deal in Jesus' day and in stopping to greet people on the road, they ran the risk of being sidetracked from their purpose, a purpose God Himself had called them to. These men were called to preach the kingdom in the towns and villages ahead of Jesus and Satan would use any distraction in his power to pull them aside and inhibit their progress. That is how the devil worked then and that is how he still works in our lives today.

All of us, as believers, are also chosen for a mission. Every one of us has a kingdom purpose we were chosen for, just as these men did. Although not part of the Twelve, these men were sent out with the same instructions to preach the kingdom and heal the sick. And just as they were sent out, so are we sent out in the Great Commission into all the world, wherever life takes us. Wherever we go, we are representatives of Christ, ambassadors of God to a fallen world in need of reconciliation. And just like them, we cannot afford to get distracted.

Scripture says that "greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world" (1 John 4:4). The Holy Spirit that indwells and empowers us to be who we were created to be is greater than the devil who comes against us every day. Satan is our enemy and works against us at ever step to oppose our progress, but we are promised in Scripture that God is working in us and He is greater in every way. Satan is hopeless to stop us if we are plugged into the power of the Holy Spirit, so he results to distractions to get us to turn aside from the mission we are on. 

In life, distractions are going to come. Satan is going to throw all sorts of things in our paths to try and draw us away from our mission in Christ. These are the things we have to guard against, staying focused on what God has called us to be and do. The devil cannot make us stop, but he will try and trick us into slowing down and stopping with the distractions of the world and of life. Let us look to the Lord today and maintain our focus, fixing our eyes on Him and praying for help as we struggle through whatever we may be dealing with, asking Him to help us to deal with whatever distractions come up and stay the course on the mission we were called to.

Monday, March 6, 2017

The Post-Tribulation Rapture

For many, many years I have subscribed to the idea that the Lord was going to rapture, or catch away, the church right before the events of the Great Tribulation. I believed in a pre-tribulation rapture, the kind made popular in the Left Behind books and movies, where Jesus would come as a thief in the night, snatching away His church to protect us from all that was coming upon the earth and take us to be in Heaven with Him as those events unfolded down on Earth. As I go on with the Lord and study Scripture for myself, however, I have found some things I was taught to not line up, and this is one of them.

51 But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! 52 It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed.                                          (1 Corinthians 15:51-52 NLT)

15 We tell you this directly from the Lord: We who are still living when the Lord returns will not meet him ahead of those who have died. 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven with a commanding shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet call of God. First, the believers who have died will rise from their graves. 17 Then, together with them, we who are still alive and remain on the earth will be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. Then we will be with the Lord forever. 18 So encourage each other with these words.   
(1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 NLT)

Then I saw thrones, and the people sitting on them had been given the authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their testimony about Jesus and for proclaiming the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his statue, nor accepted his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They all came to life again, and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years.
This is the first resurrection. (The rest of the dead did not come back to life until the thousand years had ended.) Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him a thousand years.
(Revelation 20:4-6 NLT)

In 1 Corinthians 15:51-52, Paul writes that we will not all die, that some will be alive at the resurrection and will be transformed from perishable to imperishable in the blink of an eye. This is what happens at the rapture event, the catching away of believers unto the Lord to meet Him in the air and be with Him forever (1 Thessalonians 4:15-18). First, the dead in Christ will rise from their graves and then, we who are still alive will be caught up in the clouds with them. That there is a rapture event in Scripture, I am absolutely sure of. 

However, notice what 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18 says about the timing. The dead in Christ rise first. Well, when do the dead in Christ rise? At the first resurrection, spoken of in Revelation 20:4-6. It is after the Great Tribulation and after Satan has been bound that the first resurrection occurs, the dead in Christ coming to life and ruling with Him for the thousand-year millennial period. There is no mention of another resurrection event before the Tribulation- this is specifically called the first resurrection. This is when the dead in Christ, spoken of in 1 Thessalonians 4:15-18, are to rise and when those of us who are alive will be caught up to meet the Lord in the air at His return.

In Matthew 24:13 Jesus tells His disciples that the one who endures to the end will be saved. The end of what? Clearly, He is referring to the time of Great Tribulation that would mark the end of the age, for this is the very thing He is talking about in this passage. He does not tell them that they would be saved from tribulation at the last minute but, rather, they would have to endure it to the end. Just as God sent the plagues upon Egypt and saved Israel out of them, so can He save His people out of the Great Tribulation at the same time as He punishes the world.

Again, in Matthew 24:29-31 Jesus says that after the anguish, or tribulation, of those days, the Lord would come with glory and He would send His angels to gather His chosen ones from all over the world. It is only after the Great Tribulation that we see the Lord gathering His people from the ends of the Earth unto Himself at His coming. Up to this point, the believers are encouraged, even commanded by Jesus, to endure the things that are coming upon the world, and He assures us that at the end of it all He is coming to take us to be with Him forever.

I do not see the secret coming of Jesus to save His people from tribulation in Scripture. I see Jesus warning that we would have to endure to the end, giving us the full heads-up on all that would come upon the world to prepare us for the Great Tribulation that would go on all around us. I believe this is the clear teaching of Scripture as it is written, without adding or taking anything from it. The pre-Trib viewpoint made for some good books and interesting movies but I cannot honestly hold to that belief anymore when I read Scripture for myself.

I believe, as followers of Christ, we need to be prayed up and ready to go through the worst that life can throw at us. Surely we have the blessed hope of Christ, but let us also be aware that Jesus warns that hardships and difficulties are coming and we must be prepared to endure them. Like Shadrach, Meschach and Abedneggo in the fiery furnace and Daniel in the lion's den, God will allow His people to undergo tribulations. And, just like these men, He will get us through and ultimately save us out of those same situations. Only let us endure faithfully to the end.

33 I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.   (John 16:33 NLT)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Life In A Troubled World

The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.
    He rescues them from all their troubles.

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;
    he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

 (Psalm 34:17-18 NLT)

It seems that everywhere I look, I see hardship and suffering. I don't know many people who have not been touched by some sort of difficulty in life, be it sickness, financial problems or whatever. This is the universal condition we all live under in this fallen world and it affects us all, even as believers in Christ. No one gets a pass on suffering. Jesus suffered the ultimate hardship for our sake and He made it clear that we would have hard times, too. However, we can have hope in Him because He has overcome the world (John 16:33).

Scripture says that God is an ever-present help in times of trouble (Psalm 46:1). It seems that trouble is never far away in this life and should be a constant reminder of our need for God and His grace. God is close to the brokenhearted and rescues those who are crushed in spirit, and we can find the mercy and strength we need for getting through our lives in Him. No one has to go it alone. God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34) and shows His grace and mercy to all who would call upon Him in faith, believing in His Son.

In my life, I am often overwhelmed by the things I go through. At times, the things I feel and the things I see in the lives of other people are simply too much for me to deal with. I find myself, again and again, throwing myself upon the mercy of God and finding my strength in Him. I simply don't have what it takes to make it on my own. I am weak and ineffectual in myself and my problems are many. I cry out to God and, like David said in Psalm 34:4, "I prayed to the Lord, and He answered me. He freed me from all my fears." No matter how many times I have cried out to God, He has never let me down.

Whatever we may be dealing with in our lives, let us take it all to the Lord. Let us come to Him for our strength and the grace and mercy that we need to get through another day. Let us continue to lift up those around us in prayer and seek to meet their needs as much as possible, doing whatever is in our power to relieve the suffering of those around us. Let us rest assured that Christ has not forgotten or abandoned us, but has prepared a place for us where there will be no more pain or suffering or death and He will return to take us there. And let us rely on the Comforter, the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father to dwell in us and guide us into all truth, as He empowers and strengthens us for whatever we may face today.

The righteous person faces many troubles,
    but the Lord comes to the rescue each time.

 (Psalm 34:19 NLT)

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Compartmentalizing: The Sacred-Secular Divide

17 And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.   (Colossians 3:17 NLT)

First and foremost, I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. It colors everything else that I do in life, everything else that I am. I write a little bit, but I am a Christian who writes. I have schizoaffective disorder, but I am a Christian with schizoaffective disorder. I am a son and a brother, but I am a Christian above all. The foundation and reality of my life is Jesus Christ and everything else flows out of that, for He is the wellspring of life that I draw on. He is the cause and I am the effect.

Oftentimes in this world we have a divided way of approaching life, a sacred vs. secular way of looking at things. Some things are God's things, while some are not. We tend to categorize and compartmentalize our lives, assigning labels to things and designating some things as "Christian" and other things as not. However, Scripture says that in whatever we do or say, we should do it all as representatives of the Lord Jesus. As believers, we are to be holy, wholly separated unto God in all that we do, whether "church stuff" or otherwise. I believe there should be no separation.

What areas of our lives belong to God? If not all, then what areas are we keeping God out of? If we are not wholly surrendered in every area of our lives, does that leave room for rebellion and sin? Are there certain parts of our lives that we don't welcome God into, preferring to just do it ourselves? This is a dangerous way of thinking, for any area of life not submitted to God is an area where Satan can potentially come in and wreak havoc, doing what he does best. Let us, as believers, not live this way, but let us welcome the Lord into every area of our lives, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God (2 Corinthians 7:1).

When Jesus calls a person to follow Him, He calls the whole person. He doesn't just say, "Follow Me on Sunday mornings", for we are called to be disciples 24/7. The men who followed Jesus were with Him all day every day, eating, sleeping and burping alongside Him in all their broken humanity. God is interested in the whole person, not just the shined-up Sunday School version of who we are. In all our grimy everyday humanness, we are still made in God's image and He wants us to bring our whole life to Him to be renewed and restored. We are called to holiness and it is God who makes our whole lives holy.

Today, let us tear down the walls of the sacred-secular divide, for there is to be no such thing in the lives of believers. Let us open ourselves up to true holiness, allowing God to permeate every area of our lives by His Holy Spirit. Let us pray that He would show us how to be open to Him in all that we do, doing it all for His glory. And let us live lives of dedication unto the Lord, whether at church or at work or at home, holding forth the light of Christ for all the world to see in us, for this is our high calling and purpose in life.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Everyone Needs The Gospel

I solemnly urge you in the presence of God and Christ Jesus, who will someday judge the living and the dead when he comes to set up his Kingdom: Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.   (2 Timothy 4:1-2 NLT)

The evangelist D.L. Moody was once criticized by someone for the way they, apparently, did not like the way he did evangelism, to which he replied, "It is clear you don't like my way of doing evangelism. You raise some good points. Frankly, I sometimes do not like my way of doing evangelism. But I like my way of doing it better than your way of not doing it." 

Well said.

In the kingdom, some people are called to preach to large crowds on the street, while others are more gifted at one-on-one sharing. The important thing is that we walk in whatever calling we have received and are sharing the gospel whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself. Every believer is commissioned to preach the word, from the pastor of the megachurch down to the everyday believer who simply teaches his or her children about Jesus. Everyone who hasn't heard the gospel needs to hear it and it is the church's job to make sure they have the opportunity to do so. We are to be the salt and light in a dark world that needs the flavor of Christ.

Everyone needs the gospel. Nonbelievers need to hear the gospel in order to have something to believe in for salvation, whereas believers need to continue to hear the gospel to grow in our faith. Faith comes by hearing the word, the good news of Christ (Romans 10:17), and we can never hear it enough as we remind each other daily of the great mercies and grace of our God. Whether we are sharing the good news with an unbeliever who has never heard it before or encouraging an experienced believer in the word, the gospel is absolutely crucial to everyone's well-being. In the gospel is the power of salvation to everyone who believes, first for the Jew and then for the Gentile (Romans 1:16).

It is the gospel that sets us free. It is in believing in Jesus and following Him that we find forgiveness and deliverance, being loosed from the chains of sin and bondage to be the people that God created us to be in the world. No one is able to fulfill their own destiny without God. Apart from God, we are but cheap caricatures of what we were created to be, holy image-bearers made for worshiping the God of all creation. In our sin, we all fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23) but, in Christ, we are elevated into the position of worship and freedom that we were created for from the foundation of the world. In the gospel, we are free. 

Who is it that God has put in our lives? Are they unbelievers who have never heard the gospel before? Or are they believers in need of encouragement and edification today? Whatever the case may be, let us make ourselves available to be used by the Lord, offering the hope of the gospel to whoever we may come into contact with. Every one of us, as believers, is called to be ready in and out of season, whenever the opportunity presents itself, to share the faith with those around us. Let us prayerfully approach life as a mission field, always ready to talk about Jesus and show the love of God to this needy world. And let us encourage one another in the faith daily as we all live and grow together in Christ Jesus.