Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Seeing The Unseen

While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal (II Corinthians 4:18 NASB).

            Two times in this chapter the Apostle Paul tells us, “do not lose heart.”  All who are serious about serving God will at one time or another be tempted to give up.  Paul himself tells us in II Corinthians 1: 8 that he was burdened beyond his strength and despaired even of life.  How are we able to get through these times of loneliness, heartache, and disappointment?  We must by faith be able to see the unseen God.

Lo, I Am With You Always
            David Livingstone was the famous Scottish medical missionary who impacted a large part of Africa for the Kingdom of God.  As a little boy Livingstone sat on his father's knee as he read to him stories about missionaries.  Hunger grew in this the lad's heart to be a missionary. At a very early age he prayed this prayer.  "Send me any where only go with me.  Lay any burden on me, only sustain me.  Severe any ties but the ties that bind me to Your service and to Your heart."  As he was praying a portion of Matt 28 came to his mind, ...lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.  
            After receiving a medical degree he traveled to Africa as a missionary.  Livingstone married and He and his wife buried two of their children from sickness and disease.  
Health and safety became such an issue that his wife and children returned home.  After a very extended period time David returned to Scotland to be reunited with his wife and family.  He enjoyed his time with his loved ones but the people of Africa tugged on his heart.  Livingstone and his wife decided that he would return and she would follow later at the appropriate time.  Once again he labored alone on the mission field.  The very day she arrived back in Africa she contracted a disease, and a few days later he buried her in the African soil. An eyewitness reported that David Livingstone knelt beside the grave and wept his heart out. He was heard to have prayed, "My Jesus, My King, My life, my all, I again consecrate my life to Thee, I will place no value in anything I possess or in anything I may do except in relation to Thy Kingdom and Thy service."  An once again it came to his heart, "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."
            Livingstone experienced tremendous physical hardships in fulfilling his call and reaching the he continent he loved.  On trips back to Scotland he stood before university audiences.  His skin was dried and baked to a leathery texture. He was blinded in one eye from a tree branch. His shoulder immobile form a lion attack.  The students asked the same question at each school.  "How could you do it?” His answer was always the same.  "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age."  David Livingstone was able by faith to see the unseen God.  And that was enough.

God Is Enough
            What enabled Moses to persevere when he asked Pharaoh to let his people go and resulted in them being in a more precarious situation? (Exodus 5&6)  He listened to the word of the Lord and saw this invisible God finishing the task.   And what about Joseph when he was betrayed by his brothers (Genesis 37)?  Or when was he falsely accused by Potiphar's wife(Genesis 39), or forgotten by the chief baker (Genesis 40). He saw this seemingly distant God as one who brought good out of bad.  And this was enough.
            What about you and I?  How do we navigate life’s reversals?  When we experience disappointment, betrayal, unfulfilled expectations, do we see then through the grit of God promises like David gave to his son Solomon.
                    ... “Be strong and courageous,  and act; do not fear
                    nor be dismayed, for the Lord God, my God, is with
                    you. He will not fail you nor forsake you until all
                    the work for the service of the house of the Lord is
                    finished. (I Chronicles 28:20 NASB). 
What God starts He always finishes.  If we believe God, that He will never leave us nor forsake us, we will see this unseen God and that will be enough.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Guest Blog: Is Your Cutting Edge Dull? by Pastor Zach Malott

 I’m the Senior Pastor at Mescalero Baptist Mission on the Mescalero Apache reservation in Southeast New Mexico. I am on staff at First Baptist Church of Ruidoso, New Mexico and pastor our Native American mission on the reservation.

I’m excited today!  I want to share that excitement with YOU!  Share what, you ask? I was reading in 2 Kings this morning and I had just turned to 2 Kings 6 and began reading about the floating axe head.
If you are not familiar with this passage of Scripture, please read it HERE.
If you remember, Elisha took on Elijah’s position after he had been taken up to heaven in a chariot.  Elisha was then blessed with a double portion of the Holy Spirit.
In 2 Kings 6, Elisha was busily training new profits in prophet school when one of his students mentioned the fact that the quarters they were training and living in was just too crowded.
The student suggested the he and the rest of the prophets-in-training go to the river and each cut a beam from which a new dwelling place could be constructed for them to live and train.
Elisha said, “Sounds like a plan, go to it!”
We all know what happens next.  One student’s iron axe head flies off the handle and lands in the river.  It rapidly sinks to the bottom as iron has a tendency to do when it falls into water.

“Do you self-inspect your spiritual walk with Christ regularly?”

What happens next is what God gave to me this morning to give to you and to use to prepare my Wednesday night sermon!
What do we do when we lose our cutting edge in serving Jesus?
 Let’s look at three things in 2 Kings 6:1-6 for a solution:
  • The young prophet student lost his ax head making him unable to complete God’s work.  Have you ever lost something that made you unable to carry on with your normal routine?  I have.  I once lost my car keys.  It took me over 3 hours to get another one made and get on with my routine.  I also once lost my wallet.  Not only did I lose the money and credit cards, I had to take the time to cancel the cards and send off for another SS card, driver’s license, etc.  I also had to borrow $20 from a close friend until I could get to the bank for more cash. When we lose our cutting edge for carrying out our obligations to God’s kingdom, we become worthless in pursuing God’s work.
  • We must identify the exact spot where we lost our cutting edge.  Pray in Jesus’ name for help in remembering when you first list the cutting edge and what was happening.  Elisha asked the young student, “Where did it fall?”  The best way to find something is to remember where you last had it.  Did I begin to lose my cutting edge when I quit attending Sunday School?  Did I lose it when I started missing church?  Maybe I lost it when I thought I didn’t have time to read my Bible daily?  Could it be I have allowed sin to dilute my relationship with God?  Have I become complacent in my Christian walk?
  • When we pray and God points out where we lost our cutting edge, we must do our part to retrieve it!  Elisha raised the iron axe head through the Holy Spirit, but he didn’t put it back on the handle.  He told the young student to reach out and get it.  We must do the same when the Holy Spirit answers our prayer and points out where it was that we lost our cutting edge.  God wants you, like the young prophet student, to do your part in recovering your cutting edge for kingdom work!
What if the young student had regularly checked the security of his axe head to the handle?
Do you self-inspect your spiritual walk with Christ regularly?
We are told to do a self-examination to discover our spiritual “fitness” when we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.  Why not do it at the end of each day?  If we discover our axe head getting loose, we can tighten it before it falls off and we will not have gaps in our obedience to Christ.
  • Admit you have lost your cutting edge.
  • Pray for guidance to discover the exact place you lost it (and what was happening at the time.
  • When God raises it up, reach out and put your cutting edge (axe head) back on the handle and serve Christ!
Until next time!

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Pain and Change

God said further to Abraham, “Now as for you, you shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout their generations. 10 This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised (Genesis 17:9-10 NASB).

Suffering, God’s Megaphone
            One of my former pastors used to say, “the New Testament is concealed in the Old, and the Old Testament is revealed in the New.”  God gave Abraham a sign that established the mark of a true believer, which was circumcision.  As descendants of Abraham we believers today should display the sign of the covenant.  Unlike the Old Testament outward act of cutting away the flesh of the foreskin, the New Testament counterpart is an inward circumcision of the heart.  But whether it is an outward manifestation or an inward transformation, they both involve pain and discomfort.  Suffering has always been God’s way of bringing change.
            C.S. Lewis, who has written extensively on the Christian and pain and suffering, said, “Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pains. It is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  It is God’s way of getting our attention.  He further wrote, “If tribulation is a necessary element in redemption, we must anticipate that it will never cease till God sees the world to be either redeemed or no further redeemable.”  For a believer in Christ it is part of the territory.  Without it we walk through life unable or unwilling to see ourselves as we really are.
            Now that I have given you the bad news, let me give you the good.   All suffering is intended for redemptive purposes.  It is God’s way of blessing us.  And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28 NASB)Do you know what the literal translation of the word “all” in this scripture is?  It’s all.  God does not cause all pain but He uses it to set us free from our sinful nature.  It is like an antiseptic that burns when applied but heals the infection.

Cast Down But Not In Despair
            William Carey, who has been called the father of modern missions, learned about the goodness of God in life’s hard situations.  Carey dedicated his life to spreading the gospel in India and had supervised the creation of India’s first printing press.  While away teaching in Calcutta a fire started in the printing room and it burned to the ground.  Most of his life’s work for close to twenty years went up in smoke.  Among the lost was a Sanskrit dictionary, part of a Bengali dictionary, ten translations of the Bible, and the type set for fourteen different languages.  When Carey returned home he observed the scene and wept and said, “In one short evening the labours of years are consumed. How unsearchable are the ways of God. I had lately brought some things to the utmost perfection of which they seemed capable, and contemplated the missionary establishment with perhaps too much self-congratulation. The Lord has laid me low, that I may look more simply to him.”  As Lewis said, pain is God’s megaphone. 
            He was heartbroken but resolved not to mourn too long and to start rebuilding, Carey said, “The loss is heavy, but as traveling a road the second time is usually done with greater ease than the first time, so I trust the work will lose nothing of real value. We are not discouraged; indeed the work is already begun again in every language. We are cast down but not in despair.” Hardship can make us bitter or better.  Little did Carey know that the fire would bring notoriety to his ministry as all over Europe and America the money started to flow in to rebuild.  So much money was coming in that Andrew Fuller, Carey’s friend and leader of his mission in England declared, “We must stop the contributions.” They built the printing operation bigger and better than it had been. William Carey allowed his suffering and hardships to make him better instead of bitter, both in his character and his ministry.

An Eternal Perspective
            To be able to embrace the pain and suffering that comes down life’s highway, we must be able to see it through the backdrop of eternity.  No tribulation in the short-term is pleasant.  All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11 NASB)Some of us have suffered for extended periods of time on this earth, but in the light of eternity it is short-term pain and long-term gain.  Our perspective must be colored not just by where we are but also by where we are going.  Many have said that some people are so heavenly minded they are no earthly good, and in some cases this is certainly true.  But it is just as true that some are so earthly minded they have no heavenly vision.  It is not my purpose to make light of suffering or to ignore our present state.  There has been unimaginable pain and anguish on this earth.  But Theresa of Avila put it in perspective for us when she said, “In light of heaven, the worst suffering on earth will be seen to be no more serious than one night in an inconvenient hotel.”

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, so that the surpassing greatness of the power will be of God and not from ourselves; we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our body (2 Corinthians 4:7-10 NASB).

Ken Barnes, the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places”  YWAM Publishing


Friday, October 4, 2013

Cain's Self Inflicted Pain

And Cain said to the Lord, “My punishment is greater than I can bear! (Genesis 4:13 NKJV)

            Most of us have heard that Cain slew Abel, but what were the events in the life of this son of Adam that brought him to these unbearable circumstances?

Cain’s Folly
            Cain was a tiller of the ground and Abel was a keeper of the flocks.  Both gave sacrifices to the Lord.  The Lord accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s.  And the Lord respected Abel and his offering, but He did not respect Cain and his offering (Genesis 4:4b-5a NKJV). One of the pitfalls of the Christian faith is having an outward religion while being devoid of an inward reality.  God did not accept or reject them just based on the type of offering they each made.  There was a difference in the characters of those sacrificing.  Cain was a wicked man and his offering was a vain sacrifice. Abel was a righteous man (Matthew 23:35) and found favor before God.  Therefore, due to the character of the two, there was a difference in their offerings.  Abel made his gift by faith.  By faith Abel offered to God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain (Hebrews 11:4).  They differed in the motive for their actions.  Abel gave his sacrifice with an eye on receiving mercy and grace for one who did not deserve it.  Cain’s offering spoke of his own ability to merit God’s favor.  One gift pleaded for God’s help and the other portrayed one’s self-sufficiency. 
             Cain became angry at the distinction God made between his sacrifice and Abel’s.  And Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell (Genesis 4:5b NKJV). Cain should have been angry with himself for his own indiscretions. The commentator, Matthew Henry, says in relation to this incident; “It is a certain sign of an unhumbled heart to quarrel with those rebukes which we have by our own sin brought on ourselves.”  Anger and finger pointing are evidence of our own guilt.  And so is envy.  Those who are not fit to be honored by God are always tempted to be jealous of those who are.  This is the reason some form of persecution always accompanies a righteous life.  Envy seems to be a sin with it’s own punishment.  A sound heart is life to the body. But envy is rottenness to the bones (Proverbs 14:30 NKJV).

God Reasons With Cain
            When we start down that slippery slope of sin we can be assured that at some point a loving God always tries to intervene.  So the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen (v. 6)?  God tries to convince Cain of his sin and the error of his ways by giving him insight about the source of his anger.  But understanding to be transformative must be embraced.  There are none so blind as those who won’t see.  God continues and lays out life and blessing and death and a curse.  (v. 7) If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door.  And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it.”  If Cain would have come to his senses and taken responsibility for his thoughts and actions, he would have received the same honor God had bestowed on his brother.  God is just, as he does not practice favoritism.
            Cain’s answer came in his actions.  Now Cain talked with Abel his brother; and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against Abel his brother and killed him (v.8). Whatever attitudes we allow to remain in our hearts will always surface in the actions of our hands and feet.

Cain Pleads Not Guilty
            Once again we see God throwing Cain a lifeline. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is Abel your brother?” (Genesis 4:9a NKJV). God was extending to Cain an opportunity to admit his crime and reverse the downward spiral of his life.  Things come to us that may appear to be a judgment or accusation when in reality they are God’s invitations to embrace His mercy.  Cain’s response must have broken the heart of a pursuing God.  When asked about the whereabouts of Abel, Cain replied, “I do not know.  Am I my brother’s keeper? (v. 9b)  As commentators have suggested, he covered a deliberate murder with a deliberate lie.  Trying to deceive God showed a lack of understanding of the character of God.  He (God) is omniscient as He sees and thus knows all things.  Lying to Him is an exercise in futility.
            Furthermore, we see no remorse in Cain for his actions or for the loss of his brother. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” If Cain’s conscience had not been seared, it must have been close to it. God has nothing left to do but to squarely confront him with “What have you done” (v. 10a). God is merciful and longsuffering and longs for us to humble ourselves, but if we refuse he allows us to humiliate ourselves.

You Reap What You Sow
            Cain bemoans his punishment.  Surely You have driven me out this day from the face of the ground; I shall be hidden from Your face; I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond on the earth, and it will happen that anyone who finds me will kill me” (Genesis 4:14 NKJV).  It is interesting to note that although Cain mentions the consequences for his sin, he makes no reference to his sin.  He dwells on what his actions have cost him, but he is strangely silent about what it cost Abel, not to mention rejecting the God who has consistently tried to bring about his highest good.  It seems to be all about him at the expense of others and God.
            Cain started to serve his sentence.  Then Cain went out from the presence of the Lord and dwelt in the land of Nod on the east of Eden (v. 16).  Nod means exile, wandering, or unrest.  Cain is banished to a sterile land that will not respond to his efforts as tiller of the ground.  He is bereft of his calling.  He dwells in a land without any hope or goodness, as God is absent.   Unrest ferments in his spirit.  For when we reject God and his reasonable requirements, we have no rest for our souls. 
            God seems to give a bit of a reprieve. And the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him (v. 15b).  But was it really amnesty?  Cain has a constant reminder for the rest of his life to himself and all who pass by that this is the man that killed his brother.  And the crowning tragedy is that he realizes that it did not have to be.  Some punishments can be worse than death.

Ken Barnes, the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places”  YWAM Publishing