Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Why We Can Have Hope in 2009

War looms in the Middle East. The U.S. economy is in turmoil. Executives have misused corporate funds. Unemployment is rising by the hour. Prime-time television increasingly blasphemes God, flaunts immorality, and reveals more and more flesh. Personal health is on the decrease, with diseases on the increase. Marriages and families are coming unraveled. And the church of Jesus Christ doesn’t appear to be making even a modest dent on modern culture.

Everywhere we turn, the news seems pretty bleak. So, how can we have hope as we enter a new year? Let me offer the following 10 reasons:

1. God is our ultimate provider and not the government or a specific employer.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19).

2. Jesus promises to be with us wherever we go.
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age" (Mt. 28:20).

3. The Holy Spirit living in us is the same Spirit that raised Jesus Christ from the dead.
“And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you” (Rom. 8:11).

4. The body of Christ is available to support us in the journey of life.
“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another-and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebr. 10:24-25).

5. God is able to turn the hearts of those in authority to align with His will.
“The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases” (Prov. 21:1).

6. The Bible is the Word of God and can be trusted at all times.
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

7. God has already supplied us with everything we need to live a godly life.
“His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him who called us by his own glory and goodness” (2 Pe. 1:3).

8. Barak Obama is our President, but Jesus Christ is still the King of kings and Lord of lords.
“On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS” (Rev. 19:16).

9. God is willing to help us regardless of the need.
“God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1).

10. We can make an eternal difference in the lives of others as we reach out in Jesus' Name.
"Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58).

11. An eternal home in heaven awaits all who follow Jesus to the end.
"Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:1-2).

Lessons From My Wilderness

The last six months of my life have been a “wilderness” of sorts. God is stretching me and calling me to trust Him in ways I have never had to before.

I have gone from a wonderful ministry to no formal ministry at all; I have left financial and material security to being unemployed; I went from a 3600 square foot home to an 800 square foot cottage; and I have had my personal identity challenged to the core. During this sixth month period, I have worked hard pouring my heart into a book for pastors that as of this writing does not have a publisher.

Walking by faith is much easier to preach than actually live out!

Despite the many challenges, however, the Lord is teaching me some important truths that I hope will encourage and challenge you to go deeper in the Lord. Here are some of these truths:

1. Sometimes obedience is not easy, and ease of circumstances should not be what we look to in determining God's will. In 2 Cor. 11 Paul was in the center of God's will and yet he experienced hunger, thirst, persecution, danger, and many unpleasant circumstances.

2. God at times will test us: our motives, our loyalty, our love, our obedience, our purity, our faith, our steadfastness... My eyes have been opened to the many verses where God says He will test us. Here are a few interesting verses on testing:

“The LORD your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey him; serve Him and hold fast to Him.” Dt. 13:3-4

“Because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:3-4

“Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” Luke 8:13

“We are not trying to please Italicmen but God, who tests our hearts.” 1 Thess 2:4-5

“Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him.” James 1:12

In a future blog I hope to write more about the specific tests the Lord takes some of his servants through. For example, King David failed the test of purity, while Joseph passed this test. The results in each of their lives were dramatically different.

3. When the Lord puts us through a season of testing, it is usually for the purpose of purifying us for greater usefulness. Often during a test, we see impurity in our life. When this occurs, we need to honestly face our sin, confess it to God, repent of it in the power of the Spirit, and ask God to supernaturally change us. If we do not pass the test, God will often make us retake the test. If we do pass the test, we will be “an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).

4. After enduring a season of testing, we are better prepared to help others who are going through tough times. With all that is happening in our country right now, God wants to raise up a remnant of tried and proven saints who can come to the aid of those who are hurting and in need of support (see 2 Cor. 1:3-8). Perhaps this is why so many Christians are being put through the fire right now.

5. When we are struggling and wrestling with the Lord, we need a "cord of 3 strands that cannot be easily broken.” This cord of three strands is: The Word of God for truth, Godly friends for support, and anointed books for inspiration. Be sure you have all 3 in your life: the Word, at least one good friend, and access to good books from those who have suffered and passed the tests (Bob Sorge for example).

6. God is faithful and promises to provide for us if we hold fast to Him. Unemployment is very hard on anyone, especially a man with a family. And yet, God promises over and over to be our Provider:

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” (Mt. 6:25-27).

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Mt. 6:33).

“I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread” (Ps. 37:25).

7. When we are going through trials and testing, our attitude is very important. Chuck Swindoll hits the nail on the head when he says,

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life.

Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than failures, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company... a church... a home.

The remarkable thing is we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past... we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude... I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it.

And so it is with you... we are in charge of our attitudes.”

8. God alone is enough. I believe the deepest point a person can get to in their journey with God is when Jesus and Jesus alone is their true source, their deepest need-meeter, and their life (not just their way and their truth).

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Ps. 73:25-26).

“When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory” (Col. 3:4).

My prayer is that some of these lessons from my “wilderness” might help you when you go through your own wilderness. Be assured that God does not waste sorrow. Every rainy day is to produce a grassy yard; every fire is to bring forth new vegetation; and every storm is to tear down what is unnecessary.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Why is my blog called "Wet Feet"?

After 17 wonderful years as the senior pastor of the First Evangelical Free Church of Onalaska, Wisconsin, God made it clear that I was to step out in faith and move back to Georgia to be closer to my wife's and my family. To all of those who read this from First Free, I want you to know I hold you near and dear to my heart.

Throughout this journey of faith and obedience, I have felt like the Israelites when they crossed the Jordan River. How so? Well, God required the priests to put their feet into the water before He parted the river. In other words, they had to get their feet wet first. Thus, the title of this blog - "Wet Feet." When we walk by faith our feet will get wet. As I said in one of my last sermons at First Free, "I would rather walk on water for just a few feet and fall in (like Peter), than to never get out of the boat. I want to be a water walker and not a boat hugger!"

Speaking of the Israelites crossing the Jordan River, check out the following passage and take special note of the words in bold:

"So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water's edge, the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground." Joshua 3:14-17

Here are a few things that stand out to me in this passage:

1. God had His people take this risky step of faith when circumstances were the most challenging: river at floodstage. Often, God will allow circumstances to become quite challenging to test our faith and obedience. Following Jesus is not easy at times!

2. The miracle was not accomplished by simply praying and waiting on the water to part (some miracles do happen through this method, but not this one). Instead, their feet had to touch the water's edge. This must have been very scarry for them. It has been very scarry for me to leave a wonderful church and move my family to the southeast when I have no employment.

3. Firm footing ("dry ground") came after the step of faith and obedience. I am still awaiting my "dry ground."

Where might God be calling you to trust Him in the midst of very frightening circumstances? Perhaps it has to do with a job, relationship, finances, or area of purity. If we are willing to obey God, trust His faithful character, and hold fast to His reliable Word, then we will be able to say as the hymn writer, "On Christ the solid Rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand."

So, this is the beginning of "Wet Feet" - a blog designed to encourage and challenge through the ministry of grace and truth. I will be very transparent in this blog to share my heart and life with you. I believe in authenticity in relationships, so you will get it here!

In the days ahead I will be sharing the lessons God has been teaching me during this "wet feet" experience. In addition, I will share about the book I am about to complete ("Pastoring With Passion") as well as another book I am planning to write ("Not Your Will But Mine Be Done" - yes, you read the title correctly). More on this later.

I welcome your feedback and input as you read this blog.

May Jesus Christ be glorified through this blog! "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you" (Matthew 6:33).