Thursday, February 23, 2017

Great Faithfulness in an Age of Broken Promises

     If there is one character trait I admire more than any other,  it is "faithfulness".  How rare it is any more to find relationships whether friendship or marriage where both are committed no matter what happens.  However, there is One who remains faithful when everyone else walk away and that is God.
     As I was thinking about this today, the hymn, "Great is Thy Faithfulness" came to mind.  The words of this song speak of the enduring commitment God has for His people:
     Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
     There is no shadow of turning with Thee,
     Thou changest not, Thy compassion's, they fail not,
     As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be. 

     Great is Thy faithfulness! 
     Great is Thy faithfulness! 
     Morning by morning new mercies I see. 
     All I have needed Thy hand hath provided,
     Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! 

     Summer and winter and springtime and harvest, 
     Sun, moon and stars in their courses above 
     Join with all nature in manifold witness 
     To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love. 
     Repeat Chorus

     Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth 
     Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide,
     Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, 
     Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside! 
     Repeat Chorus 
     
     In His Word, we find many passages that proclaim His abiding faithful presence with us.  God promised Israel, in the Old Testament, that He would be with His people as they conquered the land:  "Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you"  (Deuteronomy 31:6).   Then in the New Testament, the Lord follows up with this same promise being quoted in Hebrews 13:5:  "Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”  Whether going to battle as Israel had to do many times or trying to live during hard times as the Hebrew Christians did, God proved Himself faithful never to abandon His own.
     One of the greatest verses that assures us of the Lord's unchanging nature is found in Malachi 3:6: "“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed."  In this passage God is talking about His justice and judgment on those who have turned from Him.  He does not change in His character; therefore, we know that He is faithful.  What He says He will do, He will carry out.  We see a similar passage in Numbers 23:19:  ""God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?"  While others may change with every wind of doctrine, God remains the same.  Hebrews 13:8 tells us:  "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever."  
     In my own life, I have experienced first hand God's faithfulness.  At the time I had polio at the age of 7, I prayed and asked God to heal me.  He did in a miraculous way.  Even during those low moments of deep grief when we lost our grandson, His presence comforted us.  He carried us when we were weak.
     Recently, a co-worker's mother suffered a heart attack.  We prayed for her and the Lord was faithful to answer and spare her life.  What a mighty and faithful God we serve.  He sticks closer than a brother and guides us like a shepherd ever faithful to His Covenant and promises.
     Our world is filled with broken promises, wounded hearts and many disappointments, but through it all, there is only One that we can count on.  God has even made a way for us to come to Him through His beloved Son Jesus Christ.  Trust in Him for He will never let you down.  Selah!

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Sowing the Seeds of Prayer

     When my father became disabled and was no longer able to farm his land due to heart disease, he found great comfort in playing hymns on the organ in our home.  He was not a great musician, but this did not matter to any of us.  We knew that he found solace in the words and notes of the hymns.  One of his favorites was “Sweet Hour of Prayer”.  I think he played that one more than any other because for him, prayer is what kept him going day by day.  This should be true not only in our individual lives but also in the church as well.
Any time is a good time to pray
     Since I grew up on an Ohio farm, I know about planting season and harvest time.  There was a lot of work in preparing the ground and planting the crop.  The rest was in God’s hands.  My father worked hard to keep the weeds down, and the plants fertilized.  His labor is not unlike that of a Christian.  As we labor in prayer, we are planting seeds that will one day come to fruition just as my father’s crop came to harvest time.  The question is will our harvest be plentiful because we sowed many seeds to the Lord or will we reap only a small harvest because we did not spend much time in His presence?  How then, do we begin to sow the seeds of prayer?
     Coming into His presence with reverence, worship and thanksgiving opens our heart before the Lord.  Psalm 50:14-15 says:  “Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”  We honor God by coming to Him and offering ourselves in an attitude of thanksgiving.  Yes, sometimes it is a sacrifice on our part.  Life is hard, and at times, it is all we can do to find much to thank God for.  Yet, when we come thanking Him, we open our own hearts to His healing touch.  He rejoices more in this sacrifice than anything else we could bring to Him.
     Once the soil of thanksgiving has been tilled, we are ready to plant the seeds of prayer not only for our concerns but also for the needs of others.  I Timothy 2:1-2 reads:  “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.”  Rather than spend our time complaining about things we cannot change, let us go to the only One who has the authority and power to change the things that concern us.  God already knows our thoughts and our hearts, but He waits to hear from our lips the words of our concern.  What a release we experience when we can carry our burdens, our cares and our family before the Lord.  He is able to do what we cannot.  As we pray, we sow these seeds into His soil.  Likewise, these verses tell us to pray for our leaders, our church and our brothers and sisters in the faith.  More is accomplished in prayer than can ever be done through our own efforts.
     Now, at this point, I have to caution that prayer does not mean instant answers any more than when my father sowed seeds in the ground.  It is God’s perfect timing for all things that brings results.  My father could not make those plants grow.  He did what he could but only God could bring the harvest.  The same is true in prayer.  Be patient but persistent in prayer.
The harvest will come if we remain faithful.
     What should we carry to God?  All that troubles our heart as well as all the praise for what He has done.  Once we have spent time communing with Him, we will never be the same.  Corrie Ten Boom once said:  “Don’t pray when you feel like it.  Have an appointment with the Lord and keep it.  A man is powerful on his knees.”  What a privilege we have to carry everything to God in prayer.  The more we sow to His glory the more we will find joy in our daily living.  Do we want to see souls saved?  Then, we need to pray daily for those around us.  Do we want to see God at work in our church and our homes?  Then, we need to bathe all this in prayer.
     My father always had a great harvest each year.  It did not come about by chance but by effort in working his ground and trusting in God.  We must, likewise, labor in prayer sowing the seeds of faith and see what great things God will do for His glory and our growth.  His harvest never fails.  Selah!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Don't Stop Growing!

     Whenever I have discussions with co-workers and friends, the topic of our current world situation comes up.   We do live in challenging times with many unanswered questions and it does seem that more and more our world is beginning to resemble the days of Noah where every man did what was right in his own eyes.  Inevitably, the question always comes up:  "Why are people so bad today?  Who would do such a thing?"  The answer to that question is the same today as it was since the Garden of Eden:  sin.  Though God created us in His image, we are marred by the sin nature which we inherited from Adam.  This means we are self-centered wanting to be our own gods.  Oh, we don't go around saying it like that, but ultimately, we look to please ourselves.  As a result, we have a society that very much looks like this description in the Apostle Paul's letter to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:1-5a):  "1But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. 2For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, 4treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, 5holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power..." So, we see that some things never change do they?        
     This is why God sent His Son into the world to redeem us from the captivity of sin.  His life, death and resurrection paid the debt we owed to a holy God.  The reason behind this was because God loved us (John 3:16).  When we come to Christ as our Lord and Savior repenting of our sins, we come into relationship with God.  This does not mean we will never sin again because we will always do battle with our old nature, but it does mean that we are now free to choose whether to do the right thing or the wrong thing.  However, God gives to us the gift of His Holy Spirit to guide us daily and a new heart that can respond to the Lord.  Yet, things do not stop with salvation.  This is just the beginning of an entirely different life and relationship to our Creator.  Often, we miss the second step which is our growth in relationship to God.
     What our Heavenly Father wants the most is to have a close, intimate relationship with us that we might know Him, His character and His love for us.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus prayed for His disciples and all believers who would follow them.  John 17:3 Jesus prayed, "This is the life eternal, that they might know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou has sent."  The Lord wants us to go on growing and not stay as babes in Christ.  Our Savior wants us to hunger and thirst after righteousness and not be satisfied with knowing the basics.
     Our Sunday School class has been studying the sermons of Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on Ephesians and today, we discussed Paul's prayer for the Ephesians in which he says:  "...the Father of glory, may give unto you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him" (Ephesians 1:17).  We know that the Ephesians were believers, filled with the Spirit and sealed in the Spirit, but Paul saw that they needed to grow in their knowledge of God just as Jesus had prayed.  He repeats this same prayer in his letter to the Philippians and to the Colossians ( Phil. 1:9-11; Cols. 1:9-10).  His desire was to see these new Christians grow in their relationship to God and not remain stagnant in any way.
     According to Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, "Man's troubles are always due to his ignorance of God" (God's Ultimate Purpose, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, pg 342).   Let that soak in for a moment.  Our lack of knowing God as our Creator, Judge and Savior who loves us causes us to miss the blessings that God has for us.  Do we hunger and thirst to know God?  Are we really willing to spend time with Him or do we want a superficial relationship only?  So how do we do that?
     Yesterday, our pastor spoke on the Word of God and a study which Barna did on Christians spending time in the Bible.  The average amount of time spent reading the Bible came out to 9 minutes a day.  Is it any wonder that we lack an intimate relationship with God?  We must spend quality time with God in prayer, Bible reading and meditating on what we have read.  Most of our days are filled with busy activities in the world so that is where our greatest input comes from.  Do you want to know God?  Then we have to get into His Word to us to understand who He is and who we are.  We need to talk with Him all day long.  I find myself praying at work...not out loud but to myself throughout the day.  He is with us all day long, and we need to cultivate the sense of His presence in all that we do.  Then, we need fellowship with other believers who can encourage us and correct us in love.  This will help us to grow in Christ.
     Our culture is sin sick.  If we want to be the salt and light in this world to bring about change, we have to work on ourselves first.   As we grow closer to God, we will have a greater love for others, a more forgiving heart, and a willingness to share the truth of Christ with others.  May we all grow in the knowledge, wisdom and revelation of our Lord day by day just as Paul prayed.  Selah!