January 2015 Posts

Learning to Cherish Jesus

Cherish-Jesus

After many years of being married to Judy, I could say I loved her, truly loved her – with my words and actions. However, I did not cherish her. That was something new to me. It was new territory.

I would love her by telling her I loved her. I would love her by doing the laundry some, doing the dishes some, bringing her flowers occasionally.

But to cherish her, that was another story. Cherish involves tenderly caring for her, creating an intimate, tender atmosphere where she feels loved and cared for, where she feels very special. It’s amazing to me how much deeper and more intimate my relationship with Judy became when I started growing in my desire and ability to cherish her.

As this new world was opening up to me, I also realized that I loved Jesus, truly loved Him – with my words and actions. But did I cherish Him?

I had taught Matthew 28:18-20 many times, but the end of those verses took on new significance for me. After commissioning His disciples, Jesus says, “and behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Another way of translating that is, “I am with you every step of the way.”

It humbled my heart to seek to increasingly cherish Jesus – knowing that He cherishes being with me.

Jesus has promised to be with His disciples every step of life. You and I have the incredible opportunity to walk through life with Jesus.

When you feel at a total loss or in over your head…

Remember, He too had to grow in wisdom and stature (Luke 2:52). He understands. Ask Him for help.

When you get frustrated by the religious culture all around you…

Remember, He reasoned with Jewish teachers at age 12 (Luke 2:46-47) and cast out money changers from the temple (Matthew 21:12). Seek His wisdom.

When you feel like your circumstances are impossible…

Remember, He walked on water and helped Peter back out of the water (Matthew 14:28-31). Reach the hand of your heart out to Him. He will lift you up.

When you are wrecked with fear…

Remember, He spoke and the storm was calmed (Mark 4:39-41). Share your heart and fears with Him. He cares. He can calm the storms in your life.

When you are weary to the bone…

Remember, He promised to give you rest (Matthew 11:28-30) and not to keep piling it on. Relax and rest in Him. You don’t have to do the work alone.

When you are falsely accused…

Remember, He faced His accusers with power, not words (John 19:9-11). He’s still there. Cry with Him. Count on Him and His power to sustain you.

When you are betrayed by others…

Remember, He was betrayed by all the disciples (Matthew 26:56). He will never betray you. Count on Him. He will stand with you, even all others desert you.

When your heart is hard and calloused…

Remember, He forgave Peter. He forgives you (John 21:15-19). Allow your heart to be softened and even broken by Him. He is a gentle, effective heart surgeon.

When you feel life isn’t worth living…

Remember, He felt your life was worth dying for (Mark 10:45) and He’s right here with you (Matthew 28:20). Draw near to Him. Walk with Him – every step of the way.

When you rise in the morning, walk through your day, and go to bed at night…

Remember, He’s right there with you, every step of the way.

No matter what your circumstances,
no matter how joyful or sad you are,
no matter how long you have been dealing with hard things…
Remember, He’s right there with you, every step of the way.

Remember, and never forget.

Cherish Jesus every moment you walk through life with Him.

The Courage of Caleb

Courage_Caleb

In the days of Moses the people of Israel had to make a choice. Did they have the courage to trust God, or were they going to cling to what was inadequate and detestable, but familiar? The book of Numbers tells us the story:

The Lord said to Moses, “Send some men to explore the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelites…” When Moses sent them to explore Canaan, he said, “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many” – Numbers 13:1-2, 17-18 (NIV)

The Lord wanted the Israelites to go see and hear and smell the land He was giving them, their new home. So Moses sent leaders out to explore the land and its people. There must have been a wave of excitement in the air as these explorers left on their journey. I’m sure there was a buzz around camp while they were gone. And surely men were posted to let Moses and the others know when the heroes returned to camp. Finally the day of their return arrived:

They gave Moses this account: “We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak there. The Amalekites live in the Negev; the Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites live in the hill country; and the Canaanites live near the sea and along Jordan” – Numbers 13:27-29 (NIV)

What a land they saw. Flowing with cactus milk and fig honey, giant fruit, sweet and plump. But the people! The fortified cities! The huge crowds began to hiss and mumble. They did not expect this kind of a report. As the murmuring spread, the volume began to drown out the spies, until one of them spoke up:

Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” But the men who had gone up with him said, “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are” – Numbers 13:30-31 (NIV)

The stage was set for a showdown. Caleb, one of the spies, wanted to pack up right then and take the land that God was giving them. But 10 of the 12 spies, the overwhelming majority, said, “Impossible! They are too strong.” Caleb shouted, “We can certainly do it.” The ten retorted, “We can’t.”

That night all the people of the community raised their voices and wept aloud. All the Israelites grumbled against Moses and Aaron, and the whole assembly said to them, “If only we had died in Egypt! Or in this desert! Why is the Lord bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn’t it be better for us to go back to Egypt?” And they said to each other, “We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt” – Numbers 14:1-4 (NIV)

The people of the community had a choice to make. That choice was not really over whether they should take the land or not. It was not over whether to go back to Egypt or stay where they were. It had nothing to do with their wives or children, or whether to replace their leader. None of these was the real choice facing the people that long, restless night in the Israelite camp.

They simply had to decide whether they were going to trust God or not. God had already told them that He was giving them this land. All they had to do was go up and accept His gift. Did they trust that God would do it? That He could do it?

There were options. They could go back to Egypt or get another human leader. But which of these alternatives could possibly help them in the distress brought on by unexpected changes in their lives?

We are faced with the same choice. God promises us a new kind of life beyond the wilderness we are in. But all too often we behave just like the Israelites who turned their backs on God, grumbling as they turned, looking for other worthless, empty things to trust in.

Are you willing to trust God when He says you should persevere through your pain? When He says that He will enable you to become a more complete person on the other side? Are you willing to accept pain and difficulty as part of God’s like changing process?

What makes the difference? The focus of faith. Are you focusing on God, or on the circumstances of life? When we keep focused on God, the circumstances have a way of fading into the background, and don’t have a chance to sap our courage to trust God.

(Portions taken from: Dr. Rick Taylor, When Life Is Changed Forever, Harvest House Publishers)

Comfort As God Has Comforted Us

5 books that have changed my life

Though he brings grief,
he will show compassion,
so great is his unfailing love.
For he does not willingly bring affliction
or grief to anyone.
– Lamentations 3:32-33 (NIV)

A few weeks after our son Kyle’s death we were back in that same hospital waiting for our daughter Kelly to be born. Labor and delivery were difficult and, understandably, very emotional for Judy. To have buried one child and now be giving birth to another in a matter of weeks would weigh on any mother’s heart. I felt so helpless. I knew there were little things I could do, but she had to work so many things out in her own head and heart.

It was uncanny how God used so many people, even some we had never met, to comfort us in our time of need. Cards, letters, phone calls and visits all came our way. We needed them. God used these blessed people to bring us compassion and comfort. But very soon God was putting us in their shoes.

After Kelly’s birth, Judy was in recovery for a few days. She was in a semiprivate room with a young woman who had delivered premature twins. The twins were very small and life was difficult, but they were struggling with everything they had to survive. The doctors were very cautions. There was the very real possibility that one or both would die in minutes, days or weeks.

This new mother of two was agonizing for her children, hoping they would not die, but knowing they surely could. Then she found out Judy had lost a son just weeks before.

Judy did not feel like helping someone else, but there she was. And there was a strange tugging within Judy to do what was best, even though it was painful. God had used Dr. Knarr, our physician friend, to bring Judy and me comfort in our time of need. As he shared his heartache and pain with us, God used him to minister to us, and in the process we had ministered to him. Now God was using Judy to help her roommate, and He used the process to help Judy.

Just four months later one of the twin boys died in the night. The mom asked Judy to come and be with her at the funeral. Judy wept at the thought of burying another young boy. But she went. That was God’s design to bring comfort and ministry into our lives, and into the lives of others through us.

There were soon people in my life as well who were strengthened by what we were going through. Gerald was in his early sixties and newly retired when he lost his wonderful wife after a 28-year bout with cancer. They had lovingly cared for their marriage, and their beautifully intertwined lives accentuated his sense of loss when she was finally torn away from him. Gerald and I met for many months, and he gained comfort not only from my concern as a pastor, but from my experience as a companion who had also lost someone near.

Within a year or so Judy and I were being asked to speak in Death and Dying classes at the university. Each time we felt God’s arms of compassion and tender comfort all over again. That helped us, but so did the help we could give others.

The apostle Paul wrote about the Father’s promised comfort and ministry out of his own need. In fact, he wrote these words to the Corinthians:

We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9 (NIV)

Paul says he felt the sentence of death. Yet even in his despair he says that all this happened so we may “not rely on ourselves but on God.” Total reliance on the Father is what must happen for us if we are to embrace God’s compassion and comfort, and willingly embrace the difficult task of helping others.

In light of all this, we understand better the words of Paul:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NASB)

Someone just like you needs to feel the arms of God through your arms and to hear God’s tender, understanding voice through your voice. Let God enfold you and you will be able to enfold others. Look. Listen. And then let Him use you to help someone else. The comfort and joy you experience will surprise you.

(Portions taken from: Dr. Rick Taylor, When Life Is Changed Forever, Harvest House Publishers)

Facing Temptation in the New Year

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If there is anything that every human being who has ever lived has in common – including Jesus – it is temptation.

But what is temptation exactly? Where does it come from? How should we deal with it when it is staring us in the face?

Temptation has been around as long as there have been humans. Adam and Eve faced it in the Garden. Cain faced it before he killed his brother Abel. In fact, every person we know much at all about in the Bible faced temptation – spelled out in living color for us. So it should come as no surprise that we do face and will face temptation all of our lives.

Think about temptation as an extension and expression of our evil desires, whether we’re a Christian or not. There is a difference in how Christians and non-Christians deal with temptation, but not in the fact that both have a learned tendency to pursue that which is different than God and His design (that’s called evil).

There are a few arenas mentioned in the Bible that have a magnetic draw on us away from God and His design, such as the world system that is orchestrated by Satan and his forces, our sin-trained flesh and Satan himself. All of these tend to draw us away from good (God and His design). But how?

We play a part in that. Consider some of these vignettes:

When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was desirable to make one wise, she took from its fruit and ate…. (Genesis 3:6, NASB)

Now Samson went to Gaza and saw a harlot there, and went in to her. (Judges 16:1, NASB)

Then it happened in the spring, at the time when kings go out to battle, that David sent Joab and his servants with him and all Israel, and they destroyed the sons of Ammon and besieged Rabbah. But David stayed at Jerusalem. Now when evening came David arose from his bed and walked around on the roof of the king’s house, and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance. (2 Samuel 11:1-2, NASB)

There is something all these vignettes have in common. Did you catch it?

It’s the word saw. And in each case it was the pivotal point in the story of each of their lives. And the saw here was not a casual glance and look away. It was seeing something, studying it, and pondering it long enough and deep enough for temptation to take root.

There are other things that lead to temptation, like our sin-trained flesh and the inbred pride in our lives. But the “lust of the eyes” is what we’re looking at here (1 John 2:16).

I’m fascinated with a picture that Paul paints in Romans 5:1-11. He begins by saying we have been declared right with God by faith. He then uses a subjunctive to tell us what our response ought to be: “let us enjoy peace with God.“ So the question is, even though the peace treaty has been signed, are we enjoying the terms of that peace treaty or living as if there was no treaty?

Paul uses 3 other subjunctives to tell us how we can truly enjoy the peace treaty with God, and all 3 begin with the word exult. This word has the idea of focusing on something intently, to the point that impacts and overflows through our lives. Instead of allowing ourselves to focus on things that are different than God and His design, we ought to focus on these 3 things:

  1. Let us exult in the hope of the glory of God (Romans 5:2). This is the idea of focusing on who we are becoming (rather than who we were), and we are becoming more like the fullness of God (the glory of God).
  1. Let us exult in our tribulations (Romans 5:3-5). This is the idea of focusing on the process He is using to make us more like the fullness of God.
  1. Let us exult in God (Romans 5:11).

We need to focus on the one who is using our challenges in life to change us to become more and more like Him. And the more we keep our eyes on these 3 things, the less likely we will focus on other things intently, to the point that we are impacted by temptation and move in that direction.

As we move into the New Year…

Where will you focus?

Where will you set your eyes, your attention?

How will you view your trials and difficulties?

Who will you look to as the life-change agent in your life?

These are much bigger and better questions than, “What will my New Year’s resolution be – again?”