Wednesday, April 29, 2015

My Bible and I

We’ve traveled together through life’s rugged way
O’er land and o’er water, by night and by day:
To travel without it I never would try;
We keep close together, my Bible and I.

In sorrow I’ve proved it my comfort and joy,
When weak my strong tower which nought can destroy;
When death comes so near me ’tis thought I would die,
We still are together, my Bible and I.

If powers of evil against me would come,
And threaten to rob me of heaven and home,
God’s Word then directs me to Him in the sky;
And nothing can part us, my Bible and I.

When evil temptations are brought to my view,
And I in my weakness know not what to do,
On Christ as my strength I am taught to rely;
And so we keep company, my Bible and I.

When life’s path is ended; if Jesus should come
And take all his blood-purchased brethren home;
Or if, in long suffering, He waits till I die.
We’ll never be parted, my Bible and I.

And when in the glory my Lord I behold,
With all His redeemed gathered safe in the fold,
My Bible and I close companions will be,
For God’s Word abides for all eternity.

—Author Unknown

"Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night." ~Psalm 1:1-2

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Taking Thoughts Captive

Here's an essay I wrote recently on how we can cast down wrong thoughts that tend to encroach upon our minds.  I pray you find it encouraging!

Casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Daily, Christians wage war against Satan in the battlefield of their minds. Many times throughout the day, our enemy will throw temptations and needless fantasies or worries into our heads. However, because we are children of the King, we must take action to tear down the arguments that the devil flings our way. As we engage in this war, we must cast out Satan and reject the lie. Oftentimes, when tempted, I shout “Stop it!” or “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you, come out!” When we physically denounce the wrong thought, we utter a battle cry which proclaims our unwillingness to remain impassive.

Secondly, in our battle against wrong thoughts, we must utilize the priceless weapon of prayer. As soon as temptation creeps into our minds, we can cast it at Jesus’ feet in prayer. Bringing our needs before Him allows the Almighty God to wage war against the devil. Even the very act of praying takes a believer’s mind off corrupt thoughts. Especially in reoccurring temptations, it helps to have a “prayer target” for which a person immediately begins to pray whenever the lies surface. In my own spiritual skirmishes, I have found that interceding for unsaved friends and family takes my mind off my sinful thoughts. Indeed, prayer assists Christians in the battle of their minds by diverting them from wrong imaginations and inviting the help of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, as God’s children cast down every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of the Holy One, they must wield the double-edged sword called God’s Word. Because I often face temptations concerning emotional purity, I have written down helpful verses, like 2 Timothy 2:22, on index cards. Next, I have diligently memorized each passage. As a result, whenever Satan tries that particular attack against my purity, I can refute it with Scripture. Additionally, as I choose to meditate on God’s Word and contemplate its meaning, the wrong thoughts diminish as God’s Word takes predominance in my mind. Overall, Scripture adds an invaluable advantage to our fight against the schemes of Satan.

Although no “guaranteed formula” for casting down Satan’s strongholds exists, Scripture has given guiding principles to aid Christians in their battle. Denouncing the lie, praying, and meditating on God’s Word have the power to thwart the ploys of the devil, even though each has no set order or length. When Jesus counseled His disciples in the garden, He commanded, “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation” (Matthew 26:41). Christians must never forget that their mind is a constant battlefield. They must watch alertly for subtle lies of the devil that can infiltrate their minds. And they must also pray. These two weapons, coupled with the power of Scripture, can help all believers triumph in the battle they fight.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

ACTS Prayer Model

Often, when we pray, we tend to concentrate on our requests.  Yet, that is only one of the elements of a prayer.  And comparatively, this is one of the least important parts.  We’re focusing on the wrong things when we approach the throne of grace.  So, to remedy this problem, some smart person developed an outline for prayer called ACTS.  This ACTS model is a helpful reminder and outline for any prayer. 

Let’s take a deeper look.  Each letter stands for a part of our prayer:

Adoration:  This is worship.  As we begin our prayer, it is proper to come before God with our praise and worship.  This is where we express our love for Him and our admiration for all that He is.

Example:  Lord Jesus, I come before You right now with complete adoration.  Indeed, Your greatness is so overwhelming.  Dear Father, You are holy and true.  Hallowed be Your name.  I praise You for Your great mercies toward me which are new every morning.  Great is Your faithfulness, O Lord....

Confession:  After we’ve expressed all that God is, we have an opportunity to confess all that we are not.  When compared with God’s grandeur, we’re just filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).  This fact should cause us great sorrow.  However, if we confess our sins, God is faithful to forgive!  1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  Confession is the time to do just that.  Here we share with God the ways that we have fallen short and the things we have said and done that have been displeasing to Him.  In Psalm 32:5, David shows God that “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity.”  Let us follow the example of this mighty man of God during our time of confession.

Example: Lord Jesus, in light of Your supreme holiness, I confess that I have missed the mark and fallen short.  Just this morning, my interactions with ____ reflected my prideful spirit.  I tore ____ down instead of building her up.  I confess that that my words were displeasing to You and wrong, Lord Jesus.  I also confess....

Note:  Although it may be a bit tricky, avoid slipping into requests here.  It is easy to start asking the Lord for grace and His Spirit so that you do not offend another with your words, but save that for later.  :)

Thanksgiving:  This one is quite obvious.  Now is the time to “magnify Him with thanksgiving” (Psalm 69:30).  God grants us so many blessings that often go un-thanked.  Indeed, every good gift is from above (James 1:17).  Yet how quick we are to imitate the nine lepers in the New Testament who, when healed by Jesus, did not return to thank Him.  We have so many things to thank God for.  Indeed, the bounds are endless!  Thank God for His love, His faithfulness, His patience and a million other things. Express gratitude for what He’s doing in your life. Thank Jesus for dying on the cross for you.

Example:  Dear Jesus, I thank You for paying the penalty for my every sins.  Thank You for wiping my transgressions off the face of the earth, as far as the east is from the west.  And thank You for not leaving me there, but for filling me with Your very life!  For giving me Your Holy Spirit to enable me to become like You.  Thank You Lord Jesus for providing me with the “simple” things like food and clothing and a roof over my head.  I say simple, but this is an amazing privilege, one many in this world do not enjoy.  Thank You Lord!....

Supplication:  Finally, “in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:-7).  This is the time that we open up our hearts before the Lord and share with Him the burdens and requests of our heart.  This is where we “pray for one another, that you may be healed.” For, “the prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16).  Now is the time to be “making supplication for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).

Example:  Lord Jesus, I come before You now, recognizing that You have worked so abundantly in my life and will continue to work.  I think specifically of my friend _____.  I know that she is going through some hard times right now and I pray that You would comfort her with Your Spirit.  Grant her peace that far surpasses all understanding.  Keep the devil far from her.  May I also be spiritually alert and continually on guard against the attacks of the evil one....

If you tend to focus supremely on supplications or you find your prayers lack organization and tend to get distracted, I encourage you to try out this prayer method.  Remember though that the ACTS model is just a guide not a rigid formula that you need to follow.  If you slip some adoration into your supplication “part,” that’s completely fine.  This is just an outline to assist you as you boldly approach the throne of grace.

God longs for you to share your heart with Him.  Continue in prayer throughout the day—whether using this method or just speaking to Him—and He will greatly reward your journey.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Seeing Him Who Is Invisible

“By faith [Moses] forsook Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured as seeing Him who is invisible.” ~Hebrews 11:27

As I worked on memorizing Hebrews 11 this past week, one phrase stood out to me that I had never really noticed before.

“…he endured as seeing Him who is invisible…”  His eyes were continually kept on God.  This, I believe, is the heart of faith.  This is where we receive the strength to endure.  This is the heart of the Christian calling.  Consider Hebrews 12:1-2 which says,

Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

What are we to do?  We must lay aside every weight and sin that so easily ensnares.  What did Moses do?  He laid aside the treasures of Egypt.  He did not fear the wrath of the king, rejecting the sin of the fear of man.  He put away those things that are temporary and perishing.  And instead, he looked to God. His gaze was steadfast and his eyes unmoving.

According to Hebrews 12:2, that this generation has been given as well.  We are too look to Him as our example.  But He is so much more than that.  He is the power by which we can imitate that power.

His grace fills us.  He works in our lives.  It is He Who transforms our lives.  We must look to Him to receive this strength.  Not only will we view our perfect example, but we will also from that same gaze receive the strength we need endure as a good soldier of Christ (2 Timothy 2:3) like Moses did.

But where can we catch a glimpse of this perfect example and tap into this river of life?  Jesus Christ has revealed Himself to us through His Word!  This is where we can catch a glimpse of the mind of Christ.  In God’s Word we find comfort and strength.  God’s Word gives us the power we need to live life’s worthy of the calling to which we have been called.  Why?  Because Jesus is the Word.  They are unified, and as a result, when we read His Word, we are looking to Jesus.

So, where do we receive the strength we need to endure?  Where can we catch a glimpse of the perfect example?  Where might we find the power to imitate that example?  By “seeing Him who is invisible” like Moses did. Where might we find this One?  Through His revealed Word to us—the Scriptures. 

Set your eyes on Him in the morning as you read the Scriptures.  Keep your eyes on Him throughout the day by meditating on the Scriptures you have memorized.  Look to Him always in prayer.  May Christ dwell in your hearts through faith!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Faith and God's Word

"I prayed for faith, and thought that some day faith would come down and strike me like lightning. But faith did not seem to come.

"One day I read in the tenth chapter of Romans, 'Now faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.' I had closed my Bible, and prayed for faith. I now opened my Bible, and began to study, and faith has been growing ever since." - D. L. Moody

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Why God Waits Till the Last Minute To Answer Prayer

I had been scrounging for this thing everywhere.  How does someone misplace a school textbook?  Thankfully, we didn’t need it every week for class (it’s kind of a supplementary book) but I dreaded the day when our teacher would tell us we needed to read a chapter from the book.  I searched everywhere--high and low--expected places and unexpected places. But I couldn’t find it!  I prayed and asked that the Lord would aid me in my search to find this textbook.  I asked that the Lord would somehow help me find that which I had lost.

That was all several weeks ago.  I’ve been searching for it ever since—to no avail.  Then this morning, I saw the dreaded words: “Read chapter 7 before next class.”  Oh my, now I was in trouble.  I had even scoured all over again this morning before I heard of my homework, and couldn’t find it.  Once again, I pleaded with the Lord to provide for my need.

And then, I went over to the stack where I keep all my school-books.  I was looking in it for a class notebook.  And what did I find but the very textbook I had been missing!  Now I’ll pause here to explain two things.  #1:  I had already combed through that very stack five or six times already, with no results.  I was quite convinced that it wasn’t there.  #2: It was on the smaller and skinnier side, so it is possible that I could have missed it on the first or second search.

So there’s my story.  Some may wonder if God was right answer my prayer at the very last minute.  He had heard my prayer.  Couldn’t He have simply answered it way back a few weeks ago?  This is a question I have asked myself as well.  Have you ever noticed that God often waits till the last minute to answer our prayers?  You finish an essay 30 minutes before it’s due.  Your voice heals right before your solo Sunday morning.  Your grandmother gives you the last $20 you needed for that missions trip the day before you needed to give it to your youth pastor.  Why does God often wait till the last minute to answer our prayers?

God isn’t lazy and He doesn’t neglect our prayers.  Rather, He waits to answer our prayers for our own good!

1.  God operates on a different timetable. 

He has said,
“’For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.
‘For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts.’
” ~Isaiah 55:8-9

I think this reason kind of encapsulates the rest.  God’s ways are so much higher than ours!  We will not always understand why He waits till the last minute, but we can know that it is for our good.  We can stand assured that He does hear and He is answering!  And He is working everything out for our good: “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).

2.  God wants to test our faith.  Will we really trust in Him?  Will we wait patiently before the Lord or crumble and turn to other things?  He’s testing our faith.  Will we really have faith in Him, even when things don’t seem like they will turn out right.  Over and over in the Bible God calls us to wait on Him.  To rest in Him while we wait for the answers to our prayers.

Psalm 27:14 says, “Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord!”

Isaiah 30:18 adds, “Therefore the Lord will wait, that He may be gracious to you; And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. For the Lord is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him.”

Will you wait upon the Lord?

3.  God is at work!  Sometimes, even though God appears to be silent, He is orchestrating all the details and everything needed so that your prayer might be answered.  He is busy building your immune system so that you’re ready for your performance tomorrow.  He’s laying it on someone’s heart to offer that word of encouragement that you asked for.  Depending on the nature of your prayer, it may take a little longer for all the details to be worked out.  But the key to remember is that He is at work, even though we can’t always see the visible evidences of His work.

4. God is growing us.  By withholding an answer to our prayer, God is oftentimes teaching and growing us.  He is teaching us not to depend on other things for the answers.  He is teaching us to trust in Him alone.  He is also aligning our desires with His. It is through prayer that our hearts and transformed.  Maybe we don’t yet have the right perspective on an issue (such as winning an speech and debate tournament) so He needs to realign our attitude before He can answer our prayer.

So, even though we might not always see an answer to our prayers right away, remember that one is on the way.  He is working in our lives to give us a future and a hope (Jeremiah 29:11).  Never give up.  Never lose heart.  Never stop trusting.  As Psalms 37:7 exhorts, “Rest in the LORD and wait patiently for Him...”

Monday, April 13, 2015

Have Faith

Numerous verses in the Bible teach us that we must have faith when we pray.  May you be encouraged and inspired by those included below!

Hebrews 11:6 ~ “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who seek Him.”

Matthew 21:22 ~ “And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”

Mark 11:22-24 ~ “And Jesus answered them, ‘Have faith in God. Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, “Be taken up and thrown into the sea,” and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’”

James 1:5-7 ~ “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord.”

Many times in the Bible, Jesus miraculously healed people because of their faith.  He answered the cry of their heart because of their faith.

Mark 5:34 ~ “And He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your affliction.’"

Luke 17:19 ~ “And He said to him, ‘Stand up and go; your faith has made you well.’"

Luke 18:42 ~ “Jesus said to him, ‘Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.’"

Let us too have faith that can move mountains!  May we too ask in faith, with no doubting.  And then “this is the confidence that we have in Him, that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us, whatever we ask, we know that we have the petitions that we have asked of Him” (1 John 4:14-15).

Monday, April 6, 2015

Christ in Our Hearts

"That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith..." ~Ephesians 3:17

When Christ dwells in our hearts, we fulfill the command in John 15 to abide in Him.

John 15:4 says, "Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me."  In order to bear fruit worthy of the kingdom of heaven, Christ must dwell in our hearts through faith.  When we place His image within us, He completes us.

This is my prayer for my life and for yours. But how do we really apply this verse?  How does Christ dwell in our hearts?

Here are a couple of practical suggestions:

-Pray continually. When we are in a continual spirit of prayer, Christ is dwelling in our hearts, and abiding in our minds.  We cannot pray without thinking about the One we are praying to.  Prayer places our thoughts upon the King of kings.
-Have a song on your lips, one of praise to God. When we are singing Christ's praises, we are kind of forced to meditate on His character and think about Him.
-Meditate on Scripture. Scripture reveals the character of our King.  They speak of His love, His grace, and His mercy.  When we meditate on these verses, we meditate on the very character of Christ, and place His image within us.  
Isaiah 40:11 is a great starting point on the character of our good Shepherd.
-Talk about Him and share His truths with others. When we express something with our mouths, it helps it stay in our heart.  I have found that when I share a principle of God's character, I am more prone to think about it and ponder it myself.  Conversing about Him will help Christ dwell in our hearts as well.
-Start off your day by making Him your first thought. If you begin on the right foot, it will make it a ton easier to keep Him in your heart throughout the day.  Spend one-on-one time in His presence.  Learn of His heart.
-Study His character. The more you learn about Him, the more He becomes your one and only passion, and the more you want to think and talk about Him.

This will have to take a conscience effort. In Matthew 26:41, Jesus tells His disciples to watch and pray, let they enter into temptation (have their minds taken off Christ). I believe this is applicable to almost all of our lives as well. We must pray for the Holy Spirit's guidance, for without Him we can do nothing. But we must also watch--be alert of our selfish nature which wants to creep in and make itself the center of our hearts.  Let us claim these two tools as we seek to dwell with the Lord Jesus Christ today.

I pray that He dwells in your hearts today, through faith!  May you bear much fruit, for without Him, you can do nothing.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Meditate on Christ's Death

As Christians who have grown up in a God-fearing home, it is easy for us to miss the amazing message of Easter.  It is easy to shrug off the message of the gospel, because we have heard it so many times.  But have we really stopped to think about what Christ has done for us on the cross?  Do we really know why He came to die for us?  Yes, we know He paid for our sins, but what else?  Christ’s death accomplished so many things for us, yet how often we fail to notice these things and praise Him adequately.

Don’t let this amazing Easter season slip by without truly meditating on what Christ has done for us on the cross.  I encourage you to begin a list of reasons Christ died.  Here’s mine:
Now, I encourage you to scour through Scripture to discover the reasons for which Christ died.  Both the old and new testaments can reveal many purposes for Christ’s death and blessings endowed upon His children as a result.

Write each of these down, along with a Bible verse to confirm the truth with biblical authority.
Here are some verses to get you started:
~Romans 3:23-25
~Romans 5:6-10
~Galatians 3:13
~Ephesians 2:14-18
~Colossians 1:19-23
~Hebrews 13:11-12

I urge you to spend some extra time this week (especially Friday and Sunday) with open Bible and pen in hand.  Search the Scriptures.  Discover in new depths the love of your Lord.  Remember, "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height— to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:17-19).  You have not yet reached the limits of the knowledge of God’s love. There is so much more yet undiscovered! 

May we this week, with freshly opened eyes, “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).  As 1 Chronicles 22:19 exhorts, “Now set your heart and your soul to seek the Lord your God.”  He is our treasure.  He is our prize.  He is the only thing that truly satisfies.  And He has given His very life’s blood for us! May we not take this lightly, instead choose to meditate on it and give Him the thanks due His name!