Monday, September 22, 2008

Is Jesus your All in All?

I think everyone from time to time experiences times of discouragement. People let us down failing to meet our needs and expectations. Sometimes it is groups of people. I have been going through a time of discouragement myself. All around me people I count on have not been able to be counted on for one reason or another.

Friends, family, employers, my church has all been either going through disappointment together with me or they have disappointed me in some way. While I would like to have a human comforter, it just seems that no one really understands but the Lord alone.

Here is my challenge. There is no doubt that this world is not my home. My home is with the Lord in heaven. Will I give in to the disappointment around me or can I trust my Lord to be my all in all? The answer is yes, of course. Jesus Christ is the only trustworthy one and he is the only one who can know my heart. The challenge is will I? My comfort doesn't need to come from human sources, but I can rest in the knowledge that I am the Lord's and He is mine.

I am studying in Bible Study Fellowship how because Pharaoh had hardened his heart against the Israelites, God came to redeem his people with signs and wonders to reassure the Israelites that God heard their prayers and to confirm to the entire Egyptian nation that God is greater than any man and he will not be mocked. Pharaoh's sin brought doom to his entire nation. Untold numbers of people and animals suffered and died as a result of the plagues God brought to Egypt. Some disappointments are a result of sin, either committed by me or against me.

I don't want to be like Pharaoh who would not yield to God and paid the price. We haven't gotten there yet, but the Israelites had their time as well of rebellion and disbelief, but God was merciful and kept his people in his care. I am so glad that my Lord cares enough to correct me when I am in error and brings me back into fellowship if I will confess my sin.

For those who sin against me, my challenge is to discern my place in encouraging them to make right choices, to pray for them, but not intervene in their choices. God will have to deal with their hearts alone and I must not play the role of Holy Spirit. My Lord is omnipotent and he cares deeply for me his child. I can trust him to keep me and my loved ones in his care.

I know these are rambling thoughts to someone who does not know my heart, but I write this for myself as much as for others to read that my Lord cares no matter what we go through and the circumstances and disappointments we face today are just the thing required for us to really let go of every source of comfort and pleasure we look to apart from Jesus Christ our Lord. He is allowing us to go through times of testing and trial to see if we will really trust Him.

I hope that I can report of deliverance soon, but if not, I know I can entrust my entire life in the Lord's care.

The Battlefield of American Economy

A few years ago Larry Burkett wrote of a coming "economic earthquake" that would forever change our American financial landscape. After this month's financial devastation with the government takeover of so many of our financial institutions, there is no doubt in my mind that our economy will never be the same again.

This has the potential to usher in not only a deep recession if not a depression for Americans, but its tenticles extend to virtually all developed and developing nations. I don't know that I am a pessimist as much as I see how the exact same practices have played out in the lives of American families who come to me for budget counsel.

The United States Government is solving a liquidity crisis by use of debt. Families I have counselled when they find that their spending goes beyond the scope of their income (regardless of the reason) first tend to look to credit cards for short term boost to carry them through and then to the equity in their homes for bigger debt.

Financial counselors who are my peers have historically even recommended using debt to support lifestyle choices (rather than using savings) so that the savings could be invested for longer term and to roll credit card debt onto their homes as an equity arrangement so that it could be deductible for tax purposes. Both strategies are just plain bad practice in my estimation and are not supported in scripture.

The result of these practices, families continue to live higher on the hog than their income would allow and mortgage their future to pay for their perceived needs in the present. Ultimately, the failure to make wise choices with spending result in mounting crisis that presents itself in the future. Families become more and more constrained in their discretionary dollars as debt takes a larger and larger percentage of their take home. Without either a modification in the spending choices or an increase in the income financial failure results.

Our government is trodding that path right now. Every government bailout and program requires funding. Our funding comes from you the taxpayer. Our politicians are prone to short term financial thinking; they do what will serve them best to get them re-elected. Right now, our politicians are saying that governmental intervention is necessary to keep stability in the markets.

This is a free market system, or it used to be. Investors recognized that when they invest, that they are taking risk. When things are going well, everyone wants to invest where they can get the most gain. They take more risk because they don't perceive that market cycles may take their investment down or that some financial crisis like the one we face can degrade the value of the investments. It is the nature of investing and if we remove that risk from the markets, we are no better than any other socialist nation where the government controls all aspects of our financial welfare.

The United States used to be known as the home of the free; but I would venture to guess that it is no longer free. We are at the mercy of those creditors and they will exercise control, because they can and they must protect their investment.

For years I have felt that the Lord's return may be very near. More and more signs point to his returning. Some days I just find myself looking to the clouds for my Lord's return. If you study your Bible's there are predictions of financial hard times during the tribulation here on earth. I believe that we are moving closer and closer to that time. Every news article points to the financial upheaval that would be necessary to institute a one world financial economy. Last week even during the liquidity crisis we faced here in the US the central bank was diverting cash to foreign countries. The Lord told us to watch for the signs and to be prepared for his returning.

I don't believe in doom; I do believe that we should be preparing our hearts and boldly witnessing to unbelievers while we can. God has a grand plan to demonstrate his sovreignty; we Christians in America have been spoiled with pleasure and ease for many years. The days of the Lord's returning are shorter than they were last week. We need to put on our armor and be praying for our fellow believers who are serving in all kinds of conditions. Some are being oppressed and some have new doors opening for witness to them. Pray for those who have committed their lives to serve the Lord well.

Will you be one of the virgins with their lamps kept full until the Lord's return? The wait continues, but we don't know but what it may be today that he comes back for his people.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Armor of God

This summer, I felt like I needed to understand better the principles that were being presented in the section on the Armor of God in Ephesians 6:10-20. I had begun feeling like my prayer life was somewhat ineffective and that I was feeling defeated in the face of a lot of opposition around me.

In doing this study, I was reminded that these commands are for all Christians. We are reminded that we are in a battle. It is a spiritual battle against a strong enemy. The enemy is devious and coniving. We know by the end of this passage that the battle is conducted on the prayer field. The elements of armor help us to get our thinking straight and assess the battle correctly.

These pieces of armor are not like the spiritual gifts we may have been given. EVERY Christian is in this battlefield and we are engaged in battle for our Lord. If we are not engaged in this battle, we have chosen to sit on the sidelines and have not clearly chosen our team. If we are on Jesus' team, we join him in his work.

I have heard Christian friends say that they are blessed by some wonderful thing that God does to make their life comfortable or strife free. I have prayed myself that the Lord might remove some strife from my life, but the more I study the Bible the more I am convinced that strife is common to the Christian and that if we are living a life without opposition or trial, we are not exercising our faith well and we are not effectively witnessing for the Lord. The Enemy may not be engaging some Christians because they are not engaged in the Lord's work around them. Peace that we have as Christians is not because we have stress free lives with all our desires met; it is a peace that comes from knowing that we are kept in the Lord's care and that we are fighting on the side of righteousness. Nothing can come against us apart from the will of God and even the Enemy's schemes only serve to refine our character and make us more like our Lord Jesus Christ. Satan is building up rather than tearing down his opposition.

Another thing that I learned in this study is that our goal is not to attack or take over the Enemy's territory; we are commanded to STAND. Three times in the passage we are told to stand. We merely stand firm against opposition that comes our way. We correctly look at the situation and see the truth about it and the truth that we stand for. Jesus told us; "I am the way, the truth and the life". We must look at our strife the same way our Lord does; with an eternal focus and not momentary. We also see correctly that this battle is not against people, but against the wicked forces that influence people.

We know that we have no righteousness of our own, but the only righteousness we have is that which the Lord has given to us at the point that we became his. It is HIS righteousness that is our breastplate. It is our protection against the Enemy's schemes; it protects us against the fiery darts that are being lobbed against us.

Our feet are shod with the Gospel of Peace. We have wonderful news to share with the ones on the sidelines watching the battle and for the people who are engaged on the wrong side of this battle. There is a hope we have that is greater than anything physical we face. This battle demonstrates where we have chosen to spend eternity; it is on the side that will be victorious in the end even though it may appear otherwise if you only have a view of the physical circumstances without faith glasses to see what is happening big picture. We humans are prone to getting lost in the details of our lives without seeing the eternal, but thank God, he has given us his word and his spirit to give us a bigger view of this battle. We are witnesses if we say nothing at all, because the world see us engaged differently, demonstrating the fruits of the spirit in the midst of trials. They see we are a strange people when measured by worldly standards.

We have the hope of our future salvation that the Lord has promised. Even though we are saved as Christians we also know that this salvation is both present and future. We have the knowledge that we were saved, but also the hope of the future salvation to come.

Our faith is built on nothing less than Christ alone. The Lord continuously grows his people in faith who will apply his word to their lives and act on what they say they believe. Faith is not so much belief, but acting on belief. How many of us stop at believing and rest in our salvation without becoming engaged for the Lord. I think that in the end, those believers will find that they are like the virgins who did not actively prepare for the Lord's return for the wedding. They will be the ones without the oil and are disappointed in the end. The shield stops the darts of the Enemy. It protects and is sufficient to stand against the opposition.

Finally, we have the one piece of armor that infiltrates the other side. It is the word of God. The Bible is the sword of the spirit that is able to penetrate the other side and to reveal to those who are engaged for the enemy that they are on the wrong side. If we are not faithful in applying this word, learning it, memorizing it, and giving it out we will not be able to be effective witnesses to the men and women who have been deceived by the enemy and are looking at the wrong measurements to determine their success. We don't need to share our story as much as we need to share God's story and allow the Spirit to infiltrate the hearts involved. It is the work of the Spirit and not ours.

Too often, I have not shared the word I know with people who are engaged on the other side because I feared their judgment. In doing so, I demonstrated my lack of faith in the work that word could do. I adopted the world's measurement of acceptance rather than my Lord's measure. It is humbling to see how I have not served the Lord well. I want to redeem this lost time and to never repeat this sin now that I have seen it in my life. The word is not just to build me up, but it is effective for witness. How many people have said that they didn't know how to share the gospel thinking they needed to have a special word of their own. All they need is to have the word in their hands.

The battle we do is on the battlefield of prayer. The end of this passage tells us that we need to be faithful in praying for the saints... all those others who are engaged in spiritual warfare. We can actually be a help to them in their effort to stand firm by praying for them. Paul also asks for prayer for himself for boldness. He knew that was the possibility that he might not share the gospel. The first and most bold missionary I know of was afraid that without prayer that he might not be effective in his witness. Also, I think that we need to pray that the word would have it's full effect in the life of the recipient. The enemy is strong, but the weapons we have are stronger and the Lord we serve will be victorious.

I am continuing to learn more about this battle and based on the opposition that seems to surround me, I know that I am not on the sidelines, but I am in the battle. Pray that I will stand firm and be a bold witness for my Lord.

Ephesians 6:10-20
10 Finally, draw your strength from the Lord and from his mighty power. 11 Put on the armor of God so that you may be able to stand firm against the tactics of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not with flesh and blood but with the principalities, with the powers, with the world rulers of this present darkness, with the evil spirits in the heavens. 13 Therefore, put on the armor of God, that you may be able to resist on the evil day and, having done everything, to hold your ground. 14 So stand fast with your loins girded in truth, clothed with righteousness as a breastplate, 15 and your feet shod in readiness for the gospel of peace.

16 In all circumstances, hold faith as a shield, to quench all (the) flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18
With all prayer and supplication, pray at every opportunity in the Spirit. To that end, be watchful with all perseverance and supplication for all the holy ones 19 and also for me, that speech may be given me to open my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, so that I may have the courage to speak as I must.