Wednesday, August 31, 2011

In the Aftermath of Hurrican Irene

This week New Jersey (along with many other areas) was hit hard with a hurricane.  Along with the hurricane came massive rains causing historic flooding of the likes that have never been seen.  Many people have lost houses, cars, businesses, and even their lives.  In some places, entire towns were wiped completely off the map.  Some things are just impossible to prepare for, and the worst ever flooding is one of those things.  Dams, flood walls, and levies have all failed in various places.  People were helpless as rivers slowly rose over the past few days knowing that their homes and lives were going to be unavoidably shattered.  Such is the case of a natural disaster. 

Next week my life should be back to normal and so my regular postings should continue.  Today, once again, I am short for time but what I have is a short but very important message.  This is especially true to those living in the affected areas.  We have all watched the Tsunami his Thailand or Katrina hit New Orleans.  We sent money to Haiti and we have prayed for all those affected by earthquake in Japan.  I am sure that most of us have wished we could do more, but were limited by geography.  And for any who once uttered those words "I wish I could do more," well your wish has been granted.  Now is the time to put your actions where those wishes once were and step up to whatever God may have for your during this time.  Were those empty words or did you mean it?  Now is the time where that question will be answered. 

Over the coming days, weeks, and months, there will be many people in much need.  People will need new homes, new things, and new lives.  Many will be hurting and many will be inconsolable.  If you have never lost everything, you could not possibly begin to understand what they are going through.  I can't and I will not pretend to.  Now is the time to use your prayers as a time to report for duty to see what God has for you to do.  It may be providing a place to stay, it may be giving money, it may be donating items you no longer need to families who can desperately use them.  Now is the time to live those messages we hear every Sunday morning and get about the business of doing the Lord's work.  Jesus shared the message of the Good Samaritan and we must take that example and live it.  Pray first, but then act on what God tells you to do.  Share the love of Jesus not just with words but with your actions. 
Then Jesus answered and said: "A certain [man] went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded [him], and departed, leaving [him] half dead. "Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to [him] and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave [them] to the innkeeper, and said to him, 'Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.' So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?"  And he said, "He who showed mercy on him." Then Jesus said to him, "Go and do likewise."   Luke 10:30-37 NKJV

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

God is Who He is Because That is Who God Is

Yesterday my car was in for some minor repairs.  It turns out that it was a minor repair and the mechanic did not charge me anything for the work that was done.  My wife said "God is good."  And I responded "Yes, He is much better than I deserve."  I meant it when I said it, but as I thought about it, I realized I did not mean it enough.  I do not think we ever really consider just how much we do not deserve God. I am not saying this to put us down, but to lift God up.  There is one verse that comes to mind today.
If we are faithless, He remains faithful; He cannot deny Himself. 2 Timothy 2:13 NKJV
God is who God is regardless of our actions or beliefs.  That is a very good thing for those of us who believe in Him, but a terrible thing for those who do not.  First let me address the latter.  You see, whether or not you believe in God has no effect on whether or not God exists.  He exists whether you believe it or not.  Hell exists whether you believe it or not.  Your failure to believe in the true God will have no effect on God's existence, but it will have a profound effect on your eternal destination.  There will come a time when no matter what you believed or did not believe in this life will not matter as every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Christ is Lord.  One day your failure to believe will have eternal consequences. 

As for those of us in Christ, it is a good thing.  First of all, we see that God's faithfulness is not dependent upon us.  Note the reason "He cannot deny Himself."  It has nothing to do with us at all.  God is who God is for His own sake.  While at first reading, that may sound kind of aloof, let me assure you that it is the best way it can possibly be for us.  Can you imagine it God depended on us to define His faithfulness?  Can you imagine if our behavior determined whether or not God would have sent Jesus to die for our sins?  Can you imagine if God waited until we were sin-free before He acted in our lives?  Can you imagine that unless you were perfect before God, there was no hope of Him acting on your prayers?  There would be no hope for any of us!  God is faithful because that is who God is and not because of who we are.  Let us see how that benefits us.

First of all, our very salvation is a result of the faithfulness of God despite our own faithlessness. 
But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Romans 5:8 NKJV
God did not wait for mankind to shape up before sending His son.  In fact, God knew how miserable we would be, yet in spite of that, He still sent His son to die for our sins.  God loved us and and wanted us to have that fellowship with Him.  I do not think we even really appreciate just what God did for us.  Not only did God not wait until we were perfect, but He did not even wait until we improved.  In fact, the world was (and still is) getting worse and worse yet God still sent His son to save us.  More than that, God not only sent His son while we were still sinners, He sent His son while we still wanted to be sinners!  God sent His son to die for a world that would in large part reject Him.  He sent Him to die for people who did not really care.  I did not care about Jesus for a large part of my life, I know others who cared even less.  Despite that, Jesus still loved us enough to die for us so that we would have that chance to turn from our wicked lives and accept the grace of Jesus.  Many have, many have not, but Jesus died for all. 

Beyond our salvation, God is faithful despite those times we fail God.  Let us look at an extreme case.
In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus. 1 Corinthians 5:4-5 NKJV
This is a case where someone has sinned and failed to repent to the point where he was cast out of the church.  This is the ultimate backslidden Christian.  He had no desire to repent of his sin and live in obedience to God.  Despite his full-on rebellion and even the dramatic measure taken by the church, the purpose was for his ultimate salvation.  God was delivering him to the world and Satan not to punish but to turn him back.  Let this be an encouragement to us for those times we fail God.  Even when our faithfulness lacks in terms of those times when we fall in sin, God remains faithful to continue the work of salvation He began in our lives.

And that brings me to my next point.  God began a work in us and God will complete that work.
being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will complete [it] until the day of Jesus Christ;  Philippians 1:6 NKJV
God began a good work in you and He will complete that work. We sometimes backslide, we sometimes go through phases where our obedience or faith is lacking, but despite all of that God promises to complete the good work He began.  This verse is one of great comfort to me.  When I go through times where my faith lacks or when I am not as obedient as I should be, I rest in the fact that the work of God goes on.  I rest in the fact that the work-in-progress that is me will be completed and that this promise is based on who God is and not what I can do.

For all of us in Christ, we must take comfort in the sovereignty of God.  His promises are premised in who He is and not who we are.  Thank God for that!  I say that because who are we?  We are bunch of sinners who deserve nothing less than an eternity in Hell.  We live lives of rebellion to God, for many of us even after we come to Jesus.  There is not one who us who does not sin and on a daily basis.  Some of us keep pet sins that we refuse to give up.  Some even consider the sin and what Jesus paid for it yet still choose to do it.  Many of us know God's will for our lives, but spend our lives trying to avoid it.  We are a ragtag bunch of willful failures, yet God loves us.  Nothing else really matters.  His love for us is beyond what we can imagine and more than we can ever deserve.  God sent his son to die for our sins. God forgives our sins even after we know the blood that was spilled for them. God works in and through us even when we fight the work He is trying to do.  That is the grace and love of God.  The amazing grace of God gives eternal life to those who deserve death.  God's love makes the unloving and unlovable into His own beloved.  God's power changes those who can not and probably do not even want to change.  And why does God do this?  Simply, because that is who God is and always will be. 
For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 8:38-39 NKJV

Monday, August 29, 2011

God's Path is not Always the Easy Way

Today I am once again pressed for time due to all of the issues surrounding Hurricane Irene.  I just want to spend a few moments reflecting on that experience.  As you know, after much prayer and consideration, my wife and I decided to ride out the storm at home.  We were about 1/2 mile past the evacuation zone and things were predicted to get very very bad.  Many who were more inland and further away from the storm had offered us a refuge should we need it.  We decided that home is where God wanted us to be and that is where we stayed.  The verse that comes to mind in our decision was one that we all know from Proverbs.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6 NKJV
Sometimes even when we are on God's path there are moments of doubt.  Please do not ever think that following God will not mean tests of faith as we are confronted with situations that either cause us to stretch our faith or cause us to question whether or not we took the right path to begin with.  I was in such a situation this weekend.  There was a time on Saturday night when there was a steady stream of tornado warnings coming over a steady stream of Emergency Broadcast System cut ins to our television.  One of the tornadoes was very close and I counted down the minutes until it would be at its closest.  It was during this time where I really questioned just how well we listened to God in our decision to stay.  We have no basement to hide in, not real sturdy piece of furniture to hide under, and no where to run to with the time we had.  I took my wife's hand and prayed. 

Eventually that band of storms passed and we breathed a huge sigh of relief.  The rest of the storm was without incident and we even managed to sleep through the worst part of it.  In the end, we had no damage to speak of, no power loss, no cell phone loss, no internet loss, and no cable loss.  All in all it was absolutely the right decision.  Ironically, the "safer" placed we could have evacuated to were either flooded, or lost power, or both.  In other words, no matter what things may be looked like before and during the storm, staying was 100% the right decision. 

The point that I am making is that if you pray and if you are sure that God is leading you in a direction, you must stick with it even when times get tough.  Letting God lead your steps means you will get to where He wants you to be, but it may not be in the way you thought.  I am sure the Israelites did not think they would walk across a parted Red Sea and we know that they questioned the decision to follow Moses.  I am sure that Abraham did not know how God would provide him children through the son he was called to sacrifice, yet he went up to the mountain as God had told him.  And let us not forget about Paul who could have been set free, but under God's direction he appealed to Caesar, was shipwrecked, spent time in prison twice, and was ultimately executed.  The Bible is full of stories of those whose faith was tested as they traversed the path laid out for them by God.  Sometimes that path is easy, but often it is not, but it always the right path.  So not matter what circumstances may tell you or how hard at times it may seem, if you know you are on God's path for your life it is where you need to be.  Surely there will be obstacles, bumps, setbacks, tests of faith and will, and even some doubt from time to time, but in the end you will end up right where you were created to be. 
The steps of a [good] man are ordered by the LORD, And He delights in his way. Though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; For the LORD upholds [him with] His hand. Psalm 37:23-24 NKJV

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Hurricane Irene

As I write this today, Hurricane Irene is on its way right for us in Egg Harbor Twp NJ.  We have made our preparations and prayed for safety and we are not set to hunker down and ride out the storm that should be here in just a few hours. 

If you are in her path, where you need to be is in prayer.  Pray for safety and for God to use you in the aftermath.  Pray that God calms the wind and the waves so that there is no more loss of life.  Prayer is our only recourse when caught in a storm of this magnitude and that is because only God is stronger than the power He set in motion at creation. 

I urge all of you, take time to pray.  If you have others who are unsaved and waiting out the storm with you, be a witness of the power of Jesus Christ and not give into the worldly temptations of having some sort of a drinking party.  If that is something you are doing, then shame on you.  You are a failure as a witness when a witness is needed the most.  And, finally, do not panic.  We have a God who is more powerful than any storm that His creation can throw at us.  Take comfort in God and have faith that not only will He get you through, but that He will use you as a witness in this time of trouble. 

God bless you all and if you are waiting out this storm then please know you are in our prayers.
And suddenly a great tempest arose on the sea, so that the boat was covered with the waves. But He was asleep.  Then His disciples came to [Him] and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.  Matthew 8:24-26 NKJV

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Letters From Prison

Today is yet again a busy today so again today's message will be short.  Yesterday it was in the news that David Berkowitz (AKA Son of Sam) would not be seeking parole when he is next up for parole.  To be fair, he probably never would have been paroled.  In reading excerpts from his letter to Fox News, though, it is apparent that he has a better understanding of freedom in Christ than many of us do. 

Mr. Berkowitz was a serial murderer who terrorized New York City from 1976-1977.  He killed several people and injured several others, usually shooting them as they sat in their car.  He was a monster, at least that is what he called himself as he taunted the city.  Since being arrested and convicted, he came to Jesus Christ,  and he is now reaching out from prison to those who would listen trying to show others the forgiveness that is in Jesus Christ. 

Here are a few excerpts from his letter recently sent to Fox News (You can view the entire letter on their website):
I have no interest in parole and no plans to seek release, If you could understand this, I am already a 'free man.' I am not saying this jokingly. I really am. Jesus Christ has already forgiven and pardoned me, and I believe this.-- Source

He has given me a whole new life, which I do not deserve, And while society will never forgive me, God has. I am forever grateful for such forgiveness, too.  -- Source:
Unless his victims were children, I do not know if there is any lower on society's scale than a serial killer.  He committed the worst of crimes several times over and per the law of man he will spend the rest of his life in prison.  The very fact that he would be eligible for parole shows a serious issue with our justice system.  By the law of man, he is and will remain unforgiven.  Despite all of that, though, God got a hold of this man and he repented of his life of sin and accepted the free gift of grace through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.  If anyone should ever question just how much grace God has, that person should look at David Berkowitz.  There is no one who can not be reached for Jesus. 

That said, let me quickly get back to the point of this post.  We often complain about our lives.  We complain about our jobs, our bills, our homes, our friends and neighbors, and the oppressiveness of government.  We do not realize just how blessed we are. We bemoan our blessings, while David Berkowitz thanks God for the abundant life he does not deserve.  What is that abundant life?  A life in a small cell in a maximum security prison, making a few cents an hour, living with the worst of the worst of society, and a government that will keep him locked in a cage limiting everything he will ever do again for the rest of his life.  Yet we complain and he is thankful.  Then we have prosperity teachers like Joseph Prince who teach us that God wants us to be rich and prosperous.  I feel bad for children like Mr. Prince who can not get past the toys of this world to truly see blessings in the eternal riches of Jesus Christ.  He teaches that (and I guess it is what he needs to be happy) we should be highly prosperous.  A serial killer puts this man to shame as Mr. Berkowitz gets that being rich and free in Christ is the ability to be able to be rich and free no matter the circumstances.  He is in a prison, yet he is free.  He lives in a terrible place, yet he knows he is a citizen of Heaven.  He has been rejected by society, yet knows he is accepted in Jesus Christ.  He has very few earthly possessions and even what he has is not really his, yet he knows he has riches awaiting him in Heaven. 

You see, what we have in Jesus is so much more than the world can ever provide.  This is a lesson I have to remind myself of too many times.  It is not about where you live, what kind of job you have, whether or not you get the promotion, whether or not you can afford the house of your dreams, or whether or not your vacation gets rained out.  It is about Jesus and where you stand with Him.  It is about the Holy Spirit in your hearts producing its fruit in and through your life.  It is about the mansion He is creating for you and the eternal treasures He is holding in escrow until your arrival in glory.  It is not about improving our present circumstances, but about rising above them in the power of Christ.  Leave the toys of this world to the children who need them to be "happy."  As for what others may think of you, realize you are a beloved child of God, so who really cares what others may think.  For some, being highly favored of the world is important.  Again, they are like children in constant need of affirmation from others to determine their own self-identity.  Even Jesus was not "highly favored" by the world that cried out to crucify Him.  Why should we, His followers, expect any different for us?  Define your identity as a greatly blessed beloved child of God because, in Christ, that is what you are and what you will always be.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward [man] is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding [and] eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen [are] temporary, but the things which are not seen [are] eternal.  2 Corinthians 4:16-18 NKJV