Our Lives will Experience Heat & Drought

“But blessed is the person who trust in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.” (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

Jeremiah gives us a wealth of wisdom and encouragement in the two verses above. Blessed, joyful, content, and satisfied is the person who places their trust in God. Think about it for a moment. All worry and anxiety is rooted in distrust of God. We can deny it, but it is still every bit as true.

Scripture tells us to cast all of our fear, worry, and anxiety upon the Lord, but doing that requires trust. Fear, worry, and anxiety rob us of the joy, contentment, satisfaction, and overall blessing God intends to give each of us. God has always proven faithful, yet it is a normal flaw in our flesh to distrust God.

On the other hand, choosing to trust God releases joy, contentment, satisfaction, and the overall blessings of God. Proverbs says that if we trust the Lord fully, He will direct our paths. Jeremiah says that if we consistently choose trust we will be like the tree planted by the ever-flowing stream, regardless of the heat and drought of life, our roots will always be able to reach the life-giving stream.

All of our lives will experience “heat and drought”. Heat represents those times of intense pressure. Drought represents those times of dryness and emptiness. Life is ever changing. We have great days, and we have really hard days. We experience times of stress and pressure that increase our blood pressure and lower our tolerance. We experience extended times of emptiness, where we have expended so much, and nothing seems to be replenishing us.

The great news of the gospel is that regardless of the ups and downs and overall pressure of life, God is always faithful and trustworthy. It we choose to maintain our “rooted-ness’ in Him, we will find an ever flowing stream that will allow us to stay fresh and bear fruit. The heat and the droughts of life will come, but the river of God never ceases to flow to the point of our need.  But we it does require trust.

Our trust is based in our confidence in our unfailing, always faithful God, whose ways we do not always understand, but who nevertheless, is the definition of trustworthy. Complete and absolute trust in God provides the blessings of God you crave. It will give you peace in the raging storms, steadfastness in the howling winds, and calm when the world around you seems to quake. You can trust Him!

In the words of S.M. Lockridge, “He supplies strength for the weak and He’s available for the tempted and the tried. He sympathizes and He sees. He guards and He guides, He heals the sick, He cleansed the Leper, He forgives sinners, He discharges debtors, He delivers the captives, He defends the feeble, He blesses the young, He regards the aged, He rewards the diligent, He beautifies the meek. He’s the key to knowledge, He’s the well spring of wisdom, He’s the doorway of deliverance, He’s the pathway of peace, He’s the roadway of righteousness, He’s the highway of holiness, He’s the gateway to glory! You can trust Him! He’s the master of the mighty, He’s the captain of the conquers, He’s the head of heroes, He’s the leader of legislators, He’s the overseer of the over-comers, He’s the governor of the governors, He’s the prince of princes, He’s the king of kings, He’s the Lord of lords! You can trust Him!”

Who is Jesus to You?

Christ-following, at is most basic level, is simply coming to grips with God truly being “God”, with Jesus truly being “Lord”, and with the Holy Spirit truly being the controlling factor of your life. God’s crystal clear intention is that ”You shall have no other gods before me”.  Even Jesus had to make a choice to surrender to God’s will and purpose for His life.

We want Jesus to be our Savior and Forgiver….but we often struggle with the Lord and Leader stuff. The two concepts go hand in hand. The only way Jesus can truly be our Savior and Forgiver is if He truly is Lord and Leader.

Salvation without lordship is merely fire insurance. We want a “policy” that keeps us out of hell without the requirements like surrender, obedience, and sacrifice. Salvation is not about merely going to church, praying prayers, and getting baptized. Salvation is about living a changed life evidenced by the work of the Holy Spirit and the kind of fruit that accompanies a changed life.

Biblically speaking, this is a pretty simple concept. There is only one way to heaven and that is through a person relationship with one person….Jesus. Jesus said “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.” He made some outrageous claims, including that He would die, and resurrect on the third day. Those outrageous claims make it impossible for Jesus to be just a good teacher or just another prophet.

Jesus could be a liar…if He made those claims knowing they were not true. Jesus could be a crazy lunatic…if He made those outrageous claims really thinking they were true, but they ended up not being true. If Jesus is a liar or crazy either how can He also be a good teacher or great prophet as some have tried to picture Him? On the other hand, if Jesus made those outrageous claims, then backed them up He can be nothing less than Lord.

Jesus is Lord. Not just our Savior….not just our Forgiver….but our Lord and Leader. With Jesus, our job as Christ-followers is to surrender to His Lordship….truly allowing Him to be our leader. God has delegated everything to Jesus due to “His obedience even unto death”.  Jesus came as the “author and finisher of our faith”.  He is our example of how we are to live.  Jesus demonstrated surrender, obedience, and sacrifice to God.  Like Paul wrote in Philippians 2:5-6 the Bible says that “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 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…humbled Himself and became obedient to death, even death on a cross.”

Jesus is Lord because He fulfilled all of those outrageous claims. Jesus is much more than just a Savior. Surrender your heart and will to Him so that He can be immeasurably more than all you ask or imagine.

The Difference Between a Civil War Reenactment and the Local Church

Every year, thousands of people gather to re-enact scenes from the Civil War. They go all out. Every button is genuine. Every gun is polished. Every strategy is authentic. Every flag handmade. It is the kind of event where if you were to stumble out of the woods into one of these battles, you would think you had teleported back in time 150 years.

It looks real. It sounds real. It feels real. The canons are loud; the smoke is thick. The generals on horseback yell orders. The sweaty soldiers dive into ditches and wade through creeks. The flash of gunfire sparkles across the front lines. The canons, guns, and yelling create such a racket your ears ring.

It seems real. But it’s not. Nothing real is actually happening. Strategies are being enacted, but no ground is actually being won or lost. Soldiers are falling to the ground, but no one is actually dying or being hurt. It feels like a war; but it’s actually just a routine. They are play-acting. It’s all make-believe.

I wonder if the same could be said of our churches. If you were to stumble into one of our Sunday morning services, you would be impressed. Every aisle is vacuumed, every instrument tuned. Our clothes are pressed, and our smiles are wide. We preach, we sing, we shake hands. And it looks and feels exactly like church. But is anything real actually happening?

Is any spiritual ground being won or lost? Are any souls being saved? Are lives being touched and changed? If we are not careful, we can become so familiar with the routine of ministry that we find ourselves simply reenacting routines. Another service, another message, another song.

My guess is that far too many churches are merely play-acting week after week. Just going through the motions, getting through the list of duties and responsibilities. I think that is the sad reality for so many churches. Consider of the evidence found in the lack of growth or even decline, conflict issues, unhealthy structures, a lack of vision, loss of hope, little to no momentum, and lack of spiritual power.

But there is a huge difference between a Civil War re-enactment and the local church; the stakes are real, the battle is real, and our enemy is real. “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Ephesians 6:12)

Many who are reading this article are discouraged and feel hopeless. It’s okay to admit it. So to every weary pastor, every tired Sunday school teacher, and every faithful church member, I say; keep fighting the good fight of faith. Don’t give up. Not now. Not ever. “Don’t get weary in doing what is right, for you will receive the harvest at the proper time”  (Gal 6:9).

Dream with me about “the church” for a moment. What would a local church be like if its people were radically devoted to Christ….irrevocably committed to each other….and relentlessly dedicated to reaching those outside God’s family with the gospel of Christ?

The Question of All Eternity

Do you have a relationship with a religion, or do you have a real relationship with a real person named Jesus?  That really is the question of all eternity.

Many people “go to church”, but as the adage goes, “going to church doesn’t make you a Christ-follower any more than going to McDonald’s makes you a Big Mac” (unless of course you subscribe to the “you are what you eat” theory). Attending church, even faithfully, simply does not guarantee a person a personal relationship Christ.

Understanding a personal relationship with Christ begins with understanding that a real God sent His real Son to die on a real cross for my and your very real sin. Three days later, God raised His real Son from a real death through a real resurrection so that He could be the one and only real Savior of all mankind. A personal relationship with Christ begins with acknowledging your need for a Savior, then verbalizing a real desire and decision to make Jesus your Lord and Savior….your leader and forgiver; then inviting Him to change you from the inside out through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Salvation occurs when the Holy Spirit indwells a person or begins living in a person (Titus  3:3-7, John 7:37-39). Salvation is the result of “believing IN YOUR HEART (not your merely with your head – James 2:19), and confessing or declaring with your mouth that Jesus is Lord” (Romans 10:9-10, 13).

Religion is a relationship with a system of beliefs, rules, and traditions. A personal relationship with Jesus is a life changing interaction through a real relationship with a real Savior named Jesus Christ. The bottom line defining factor is the activity of the Holy Spirit in one’s life. Once a person truly has a personal relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit indwells them. The Holy Spirit’s bottom line delegated task from God is to make a difference in a person so He can make a difference through them. Do you recognize the activity of the Holy Spirit in your life?

2 Timothy 3:1-5 describes people with a “form of godliness”, which in the original language indicates a structured religion, “but denying it’s power”, which in the original language means “the powerful one of God” or the Holy Spirit. The description is not very flattering, but it does clearly describe our culture.

It’s all about relationship. Forget religion…it’s dead and it leads to spiritual death. Religion does not save…religion does not truly change lives… all religion does is complicate, confuse, and bore. Only a personal relationship with a real Savior changes one’s life.

How’s your relationship with God? Does it make a difference or is it just what you do because you are suppose to? Are you bored in your spiritual journey? Do yourself a favor, quit chasing “stuff”, and start chasing after a life changing relationship with God. He is real, and He really does make a difference! You will never be the same.

Feel Like a Failure? God ALWAYS has a Plan

Failure. Have you ever experienced the kind of failure that you thought you would never be able to recover from, or maybe even where those closest to you told you could never recover? And maybe, it was so devastating that is changed your reality, and circumstances. And furthermore, maybe you are still paying a high price for your failure.

There is rarely a week that goes by I don’t receive a message from someone who has messed up in some huge way. One of the first things I always remind a person is that “everything Satan wants to use to destroy them, God wants to use to make them the person He wants them to be”. God is not done with them. And God is not done with you either.

We all need to deal with the issues and failures we are facing. We are personally responsible for our choices and the consequences of those choices. Taking personal responsibility is the first step on the path. God being willing to forgive, heal, and restore does not remove consequences or the need to take personal responsibility, it just means that God is wants to restore you.

Each of us has had those days when all needed to be reminded that the Bible is full of messed up people who God used for great things. Noah was a drunk. Abraham was too old. Isaac was a daydreamer. Jacob was a liar. Leah was ugly. Joseph was abused. Moses had a stuttering problem. Gideon was afraid. Samson had long hair and was a womanizer. Rahab was a prostitute. Jeremiah and Timothy were too young. David had an affair and was a murderer. Elijah was suicidal. Isaiah preached naked. Jonah ran from God. Naomi was a widow. Job went bankrupt. Peter denied Christ. The Disciples fell asleep while praying. Martha worried about everything. The Samaritan woman was divorced, more than once. Zaccheus was too small. Paul was too religious. Timothy had an ulcer…AND Lazarus was dead!

So today I’m sure there is someone reading this article and you think you are done because of something you’ve done; that your failure is beyond forgiveness or recovery. You are not done because God is not done. Do not walk way. Do not give up. God always has a plan.  It might be a painful journey, but God always has a plan.

I just wanted to remind you today that God is for you. God will use every single thing the enemy wants to use to destroy you, to make you the person He wants you to me, if you will just let Him. Surrender to Him. Trust Him. I’m for you. They are many people rooting for you. This is not the day to give up. This is the day to dig in, come clean, get honest, embrace the pain, and begin your journey toward hope, healing, and restoration.

Three Foundational Truths of Prayer

In this article I will address three foundational truths of prayer and the repercussions of those truths.

First, no Christ-follower’s spiritual life will rise to stay above the level of their personal prayer life.

Second, no church’s corporate prayer life will rise to stay above its members’ personal prayer lives.

Third, no church’s effectiveness will rise to stay above its corporate prayer life.

Effective prayer is different that merely praying at meals, praying for the sick, praying for God’s blessings,  or praying for our needs and wants. Effective prayer is really spiritual warfare. Prayer makes the difference in the battle. In Exodus 17:8-16 there is a story of Joshua fighting the Amalekite army while Moses was praying with Aaron and Hur at the top of a hill over-looking the battle. When Moses held up his hands in prayer Joshua and the Israelites were winning. When Moses grew tired and dropped his hands the Amalekites were winning. So Aaron and Hur held up Moses’ arms so He could pray with his hands lifted.

In verse 13 it says, “So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword”. The word translated “sword: is the Hebrew word “peh”. It is can be translated “testimony, mouth, speech, command, edge (as in edge of a sword)”. Of the five ways “peh” can be translated, four of them have to do with speaking. Joshua did not win because of his men’s skill with their sword. He won because of the prayer of an old man standing on the hillside over-looking the battle. In Revelation 12:11, it says, “They overcame him (the enemy) by the blood of the Lamb (Jesus) and by the word of their testimony.”

Most churches are in decline, or at best plateau-ed due to the lack of authentic, heartfelt prayer from its members. Everyday 11 churches close their doors forever….nearly 4,000 churches per year. Don’t believe it? Look around at your community or even your county. How many churches do you know of that are truly growing and reaching unchurched & dechurched people? What is the average age of the members of our churches? If things do not change…where is the church headed over the next year, five years, or ten years?

I believe prayer changes things. Every documented revival in history had its origin in prayer. Satan uses laziness, complacency, apathy, a lack of discipline, etc….to cause the church to lay aside as a weapon. Prayer is a gift from God without substitute. It is the key to the unlimited resources of God. Satan does mind what we do as long as leave the power of Almighty God out of it. Prayer in the hand of faith, is the key to the immeasurable, unimaginable resources of God. Like Judson Cornwall stated, “Empty hearts, prayer-less spirits, tired bodies, undisciplined minds, unopened Bibles, and careless attitudes have ruined more worship services then all the demonic activity of Hell.

Life Happens. Seek God First Anyway

The world and economy is crazy! So many things are unstable and uncertain. We could debate the reasons for the condition of our world or our nation, including the various economic challenges and the various ideas to stabilize the economy, but the reality is none of us really know what tomorrow holds.

Money is such an important area in your culture. If we have placed our trust in the stock market, or our ability to manage finances, or even the amount of money we have saved; times like these can shake our trust and security. We have no control over some economic realities. Gas prices can soar, the stock market can drop, the housing market can slow to a crawl, and our company can lay us off. One thing is clear; we do not have near as much control over the circumstances of life as we like to think.

Scripture is full of references challenging us to trust God, even during hard times. For that matter, trusting God is even more important during trying times. In Matt 6:24, Jesus says we cannot serve two masters; we cannot serve both God and money. Then He launches immediately into ten verses on choosing to trust God instead of worrying (Matt 6:25-34).

In this passage, Jesus equates worrying to being a pagan because worrying is the result of not trusting God. Many Christ-followers struggle with worrying, but would deny having trust issue. I am fine with that line of reasoning, but just so you are aware, God knows. We can tell God we trust Him over and over again, but God really does know the truth. We can lie to ourselves. We can say all the right words, pray all the right prayers, and quote all the right scriptures. But God is never confused or tricked. He always knows the absolute truth.

Matt 6:33 is a verse that has become a part of the foundation of our church family; our paraphrase is “Seek first God, His Kingdom, His righteousness, and He will handle all the details”. God wants us to trust Him completely. He wants us to love Him, and hunger for Him to the point that life’s other issues do not cause us to worry. God wants life’s struggles to cause us to trust Him even more.

Life happens. Some days life can be overwhelming and discouraging. But everyday God is God; He never goes on vacation. Everyday God wants to take all life throws at you and help you become the person after His heart. Everything the enemy wants to use to discourage you, and destroy you, God will use to make you the person He wants you to be. Let God handle your details, He has more experience.

Shine in the Darkness

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; so that it gives light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father, which is in heaven. (Matt 5:14-16)

Summertime in Illinois is sure to bring with it little creatures we call lightning bugs. During those few weeks a year, some fields are literally full of little, blinking bugs that intermittently flash with fluorescent light. Small children have captured them and put them in glass jars for generations. The children hope that placing enough bugs in the jar will provide a natural flashlight.

Most of us have tried to catch lightning bugs. It seems so easy when they are lit, but then their light goes out they are hard to see. Recently, it came to me that many Christians are like those bugs. Instead of giving off enough light that our works become evident to those who look on, we blink off and on without providing adequate illumination.

We live in a dark world! Darkness is crowding out most every thing that believers hold sacred. The success of darkness is not due to its strength. Light will always displace the dark. It succeeds because we are not constant lights. We are like those little bugs, going through life blinking on and off without ever shining brightly.

We need a true spiritual awakening!  Just because someone attends a church and calls himself or herself a Christian, does not make them an actual follower of Christ. Many people consider themselves to be a Christian but demonstrate little evidence of a life-transforming personal relationship with Jesus. The point is that being a “Christ-follower” is much more than merely calling your self a “Christian” or attending church, or adhering to some religious code. Being a true Christ-follower implies you are actually following Christ, embracing His attitude, and committed to carrying out His mission. The problem is people calling themselves Christians but not evidencing their faith by walking out what they say they believe.

Our Lord has told us to shine so bright that our good works become evident. If we keep blinking every so often, the darkness will continue displacing us. If ever we needed to shine, it is now. As Paul said in Philippians 2:14-16; “Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life….”

Condemnation NEVER Comes from God

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…”  (Romans 8:1). “When he (the Holy Spirit) comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin…” (John 16:8). “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord” (Acts 3:19). The topic of this article is the difference between conviction, condemnation, and repentance.

Conviction is the work of the Holy Spirit. Conviction always comes from God. Conviction is always specific (you lied, you made a wrong choice, your attitude is wrong, your motives are impure, etc). With conviction there is always a solution (repent, take responsibility, make restitution, etc). And conviction always produces hope and restoration (God is making a difference in you so He can make a difference through you).

God uses conviction to get our attention, to remind us of areas of our lives in need of His transformational touch, to lovingly discipline us, to restore us, to draw us closer to Himself, and ultimately to make us more like Jesus in our behaviors, attitudes, motives, and intentions. God wants to use conviction to give you life to the fullest (John 10:10) by setting you free to be all He has purposed you to be.

Condemnation, on the other hand, never comes from God. Condemnation is usually very general (you are a failure, you can’t be forgiven, you will never get out of this mess, etc). Condemnation never has a solution (you can never change, you deserve this pain, you will never be free, etc). And condemnation always intends to produce despair, depression, fear, anxiety, and hopelessness.

The enemy uses condemnation to kill, steal and destroy (John 10:10). Satan wants to destroy your hope because he knows that without hope you will not even make the effort. The enemy wants to use condemnation to keep you beat up, discouraged, afraid, and imprisoned by his lies and deceitful ways.

Repentance is the turning away from one’s sin. Repentance should be our response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Repentance is goes far beyond mere agreement with God that you have sinned. Repentance implies change. The best way I know to define repentance is as a change of mind, a change of direction, and a change of purpose. Repentance means to change one’s mind, disposition, and behavior toward God by acknowledging personal error and turning toward God’s universal, objective, constant, absolute truth as found in Scripture.

God uses repentance to help us maintain proper relationship with Him, to help us walk out the practical side of forgiveness and to follow-through with the spiritual development and life-change process, as well as to give us spiritual renewal, restoration, and refreshing.

Bottom line:  If Jesus is your Savior, you no longer have to cope with condemnation.  Jesus died on a cross to set you free from condemnation.  Every week I remind people that ALL of their sin, shame, and guilt was nailed to the cross.  When the Holy Spirit convicts you…reject condemnation….choose repentance…. and God will restore you and give you renew your hope!