Monday, March 05, 2018

The Chair

Leslie Weatherhead tells the story of an old Scot who was ill. When his minister came to call, he noticed a chair pulled close to the bed and said, "Well Donald, I see I'm not your first visitor of the day."

The old man looked up, puzzled, then followed his minister's gaze to the chair.

"Ah," he said. "Let me tell you about that chair. many hyears ago, i was finding it difficult to pray. One day I shared my problem with my pastor, and he told me not to worry about kneeling or placing myself in some pious posture. Instead he said, 'just sit down, put a chair opposite you, and imagine Jesus sitting in it. Just talk to Him as you would a friend.'" Donald concluded, "That's what I've been doing ever since."

The next day the old man's daughter called their minister to report that her father had died. "I had just gone to lie down for an hour or two, because he seemed to be sleeping comfortably. When I came back, he had passed away." she paused. "he hadn't moved . . . except that his hand was on the empty chair beside his bed."

The minister smiled to himself. "That isn't so strange," he replied. "I understand."

--Tim Hansel, Dancin' Toward the Dawn (Quoted from James S. Hewitt, Illustrations Unlimited).

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Finding God . . .

“Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the Lord.” –Jeremiah 29:12-14a

“I will be found by you”, says God!

Many spend their entire lives looking for love, looking for purpose, looking for the meaning of life, and never quite finding the fulfillment it brings.  God, is in fact, all of those things: purpose, peace, power, provider, etc.  He is everything you are looking for—He is the source of everything beneficial!

The promises contained in these verses are every bit as meaningful as the promises of Jeremiah 29:11. God says, “Call to me, pray to me, seek me, and search for me.”  The wonderful result? God says, “I will listen to you and you will find me.” Jeremiah 29:11 is released into our lives through Jeremiah 29:12-13.

Maybe the atheist cannot find God for the same reason a thief cannot find a policeman. ~Author Unknown

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Plans . . .

“For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” –Jeremiah 29:11

2 questions: First of all, can you trust GOD? Meaning—can GOD be trusted? The answer is YES! The second question is the same but different? Can YOU trust God?—meaning, are you capable of releasing control and letting God handle things? I can’t answer this one for you but your ability to receive the promise is contingent upon your trust.

Jeremiah 29:11 is a wonderful promise that most of us have become familiar with and look to when we face uncertain days.  To benefit from the promise requires trusting in God. There are four aspects to this great promise.

God has plans for you . . .

#1—Plans for Welfare. The word translated, “welfare” here is the Hebrew word, “Shalom”, which means peace—the absence of conflict. Peace comes not just when your problems go away, but when you trust God with your problems. He promises peace—but the way to get there is through trusting God.

#2—Not Plans for Calamity. “Calamity” here is from the Hebrew word, “Rah”, which means bad or evil. Literally think of it as things or situations that are detrimental. You will face hardship, but if you trust God, then you can recognize that all thing work together for your benefit and thus they are not detrimental (“Rah”). Calamity is removed by redefining problems as opportunities. This obviously requires trust.

#3—Plans to Give you a Future. The word, “future”, here literally means, “end”. There will be an end to these troubles. Your time of exile is limited. You just have to make it one more day…one more hour…one more minute…one more second. Don’t take on tomorrow’s issues today—just make it today.

#4—Plans to Give you a Hope. I love this one. “Hope”, in the Hebrew here can mean, “rope”. What? Rope? Yes, rope—a life-line. Something to hang on to in the midst of the storm. My dad tells a story about being out in the fields with his father when he was young. They lived near Dalhart, Texas and in those days, massive dust storms would come up and make it nearly impossible to see and difficult to even breathe.  One of those storms hit suddenly and my grandfather led my dad back to the house by making his way to the barbed wire fence and slowly following the fence back to the house while holding on to that wire. They followed a fence—a rope—a hope!

Today, I want to challenge you to trust God. Trust doesn’t mean doing nothing—it means doing the plans that God has already prepared for you—it means following the fence home.

Monday, January 08, 2018

It's Not Forever . . .

“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place.’” – Jeremiah 29:10

God had sent his people into exile . . . but . . . the time in exile was to be limited!  This is great news for all of us who may be traveling through a difficult and trying experience. Exile is not forever. Israel’s exile was limited to 70 years.

The number “70” is a symbolic number. It’s “10” times “7”. The number “10” symbolizes testing in the Bible (10 commandments, 10 plagues in Egypt, 10% tithe, 10 talents, 10 virgins, 10 lepers, etc). The number “7” is sometimes called the perfect number. It represents perfection or completion in the Bible (God’s 7th day rest, Joshua’s 7 day march around Jericho, Revelation’s 7 seals, 7 lampstands, and 7 stars). So “70” means (“7” x “10”) a complete or perfect time of testing.

We can infer from this text that God places limitations upon our times of suffering and exile. Today’s trouble will not last forever. And let me add that our times of exile are always on purpose. God never wastes a hurt. The promises of Jeremiah 29:11-14 are just ahead.

“Pain and suffering are always inevitable for a large intelligence and a deep heart.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

Listen Carefully . . .

“For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Do not let your prophets who are in your midst and your diviners deceive you, and do not listen to the dreams which they dream. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.”

Be careful who you listen to because not everyone knows what they are talking about. Yes, even religious people can get it wrong. My favorite example is Peter who in one moment is credited with speaking God’s words and in the very next is the mouthpiece of Satan (See Matthew 16:13-23). That means that any of us can in one moment be speaking God’s truth and in the very next be speaking deception. Yes, Dave Samples gets it wrong sometimes!

The solution is to have an unquestionable authority that can be referred to whenever guidance is needed. God has given us that authority through His Bible. Our church's doctrinal statement, The Baptist Faith and Message, says it this way, “The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God’s revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. . . . It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is . . . the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried.” (BF&M, 2000, p7)

The Bible says of itself, “Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another—showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, The Message).

So, we have to immerse ourselves in the Word of God. Find a way to do that. This year I’m reading the “Chronological Bible” every day using my YouVersion Bible App on my Iphone. The "One Year Bible" (also found on the App) has been my go-to previously for about seventeen years. Yes, I read the Bible through EVERY year—and so can you. It doesn’t matter if you read it on paper or on your computer. You can even listen to a digital version if that’s easier for you. But we must all read the Word of God! Otherwise, we don’t know what we’re talking about, and we don’t know what we are doing!

“When you live by God’s Word, your life works.  When you live without God’s Word, life doesn’t work.” –Stormie Omartian, The Prayer That Changes Everything.

Wednesday, January 03, 2018

Live Life . . .

“Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters . . . Seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile . . . “ (Jeremiah 5-7).

Here’s the deal about being in exile. God wants you to get on with your life and really live!  Build houses, plant gardens, and start families.  Your life has not ended just because your plans may have come crashing down around you.  There is much to enjoy, even in the midst of great pain.

Richard Niebuhr’s famous “Prayer for Serenity” provides a helpful path towards life in the midst of loss.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time; accepting hardship as a pathway to peace; taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it; trusting that You will make all things right if I surrender to Your will; so that I may be reasonably happy in this life and supremely happy with You forever in the next. Amen.”

The challenge for today is to find a way to enjoy one moment at a time—to maybe enjoy just one moment—one small moment. In the middle of the hurricane, find a breeze of hope—find a small whiff of peace. And hang on to it with everything you’ve got!

“In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on.” –Robert Frost      

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

The God of Exile...

"Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles who I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon . . . " (Jeremiah 29:4).

Here is a tough question: Is it possible that you are in the tough spot that you are in (what I'm calling exile), because God wants you there? I don't know if you want to hear this or not--but the answer is  YES! God sometimes sends us into exile. The verse above clearly says that God sent the Israelites into exile.  

Why does God send us into exile? Because it's in the pain that we gain! "Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. You know that under pressure, your faith-life is forced into the open and shows its true colors" (James 1:2-3, The Message). I've heard it said this way, "What comes out when you are squeezed is who you really are". Yikes!

In our journey through exile and ultimately back home, we have the opportunity to come to know God in a fresh way--as the God of Exile. It is challenging, to say the least, to set aside our notions about what God must be like, and to instead experience Him personally, as so many have throughout the pages of Scripture.  

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of - throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.” ― C.S. LewisMere Christianity

Let me invite you today to experience the God of Exile. Your great discomfort may just be an indication of the size of the project that God is undertaking through you.

"For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?" (Isaiah 43:19, NLT).