a very unpopular topic

There’s a difference between loving the Lord with all your heart, your mind, your soul and your strength and merely having an interest in Him.

To love Him is to worship Him for all He is and all He does.  Worship is a demonstrative love; it takes action.  It involves sacrifice.

To sacrifice is to lay down something precious.  Have you ever sacrificed anything for Jesus:  time, $, reputation, friendship, vacation, tv show, music, a meal?

To live a life of sacrifice is a foreign idea to most.  Our world epitomizes the idea that we will give something away only if there is something to get in return.  Entitlement.  (I am owed something.)  We teach our children to give to the food drive because if their group gives the most, they will win a pizza party.  It’s a selfish attitude that supports the “Build Your Own Kingdom” mentality.  In your kingdom, you are first and highly important. In your kingdom, the motto is “Serve Self,” because no one is more important than you.

Is this the Gospel of Christ? Clearly not.  Philippians chapter 2 describes His gospel and the intended reaction of those who want to follow Him.  “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” (Phil. 2:5).

Consider the attitude of a little child who willingly made a decision to be a part of a bone marrow transplant for his ailing sibling.  Even though his young mind did not fully understanding the procedure,  he just knew that his sacrifice was worth it for the other to live.  As his IV was started on the day of the transplant, he suddenly became frightened and asked his parent, “Does it hurt to die?”

“Since then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God.  Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.  For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Colossians 3:1-3).

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are you a critic?

I was just telling my husband, Jon, a few days ago that I do not want to fall into the trap of criticizing the work of others.  It is so easy to do.  It is easy because our prideful human nature wants to believe that we can do everything better than everyone.  It’s also easy to criticize because little effort is needed to sit, observe and judge the work of others.  It is a totally different scenario to actually get into the game, to get into the classroom, to get into the ministry, to get into the career field, and the list goes on.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night.  He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.  Whatever he does prospers.  Psalm 1:1-3 (emphasis added.)

I want to be blessed!  I want to be fruitful in ministry at home, at church, at my children’s school, and in my community.  I desire to be that tree representing abundant life and prospering in all things as I invest myself in the lives of others.

The Word of God clearly states some prerequisites to this blessed life.  Psalm 1: 1-2 clarifies what to avoid and what to ingest.   To not “sit in the seat of mockers” brings to remembrance my first experience in a high school pep rally as a 9th grade cheerleader.  After we finished our cheer and dance routine, we left the gym floor excitedly only to hear boos from the crowd.  I couldn’t understand the lack of school spirit displayed.  It was that day my mother taught me it is easy for mockers to sit, but it is hard to actually get out on the floor and do the routine.  In spite of the negative impact of my peers, she made me feel like a champion.

In what places does your life intersect?  Are you seeking counsel from God’s Word for the ways in which you can make an investment in those places?  Are you choosing instead to let others carry the workload?  Be careful.  You are susceptible to  joining the mockers!  If you must sit on the sidelines, may I suggest that you drop down to your knees and pray about the work going on before you?  When you pray,  God will fill your heart with compassion for those who are laboring in the field.  In that state, it will be impossible to “sit in the seat of mockers.”

The world has enough critics.  In the body of Christ, we choose instead to be investors and encouragers.

a kingdom, a coin, and a kick in the butt

I think I get it now.  I have always been perplexed by Jesus’ solution to Peter’s conviction to pay up on the temple tax.  What God has shown me in my study and meditation is that once again, there are two kingdoms to contrast.  So many of Jesus’ teachings that we read in the gospels bring light to our confusion over the kingdom of God.  And we realize that His kingdom is very much in opposition to the way the world system operates.

Go with me to Capernaum where we find Jesus confronting Peter’s quick “yes” to the question, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” (Matthew 17: 24-27)  I detect some intimidation from the religious leaders posing the question; they were always seeking a way to entrap Jesus in some wrongdoing that would invalidate His ministry.  But I don’t expect the commonly bold Peter to so easily cave to this enforced religious system.  After all, in recent days, he had been participating in the supernatural work of the kingdom of God.  He had experienced the divine and abundant provision of bread for crowds of 4000 and  5000 when only a few loaves were available!  He had seen the lame walk, the blind see, the deaf hear and the demon possessed delivered!  He was among the few on a mountain when Moses and Elijah spoke with Jesus about His soon-coming departure!  Peter was right in the midst of the kingdom work of God.

But in one moment of seeking to gain man’s approval, Peter states that His Master does pay the temple tax.  Jesus quickly has his friend realize that He is not a part of that system.  He says, “… the kings of the earth collect…taxes from…others….the sons are exempt” (Matthew 17:25).

And this is where a lesson is learned the hard way…  So that Peter could be a man of his word, and so that the religious leaders were not offended, Jesus sends the disciple away to secure the funds needed for the temple tax.  In essence, if Peter is going to succumb to the operations of the world system, then he must return to it for the necessary provision.  Peter is told to go cast a line in the lake, catch a fish, open its mouth to extract a coin in the exact amount needed for two men’s temple tax, and deliver it to the religious leaders.

Did this really happen?  Yes!  Jesus could have produced the coin from within His sleeve as a magician does, but that wasn’t the point!  Neither was it the point to pay the tax for 11 other disciples.  The heart of the matter is that Peter forgot he was no longer a part of the world’s system.  In showing his mistaken willingness to honor the world system above the kingdom of God, he now had a lesson to learn.  And the most effective way to teach Peter a lesson, was to send him back to the profession he had before he met Christ.  He went back  to handling fish for income.  He went back to striving in his own strength to produce results.  He went back to the realm of sufficiency.

How long was Peter on the bank of a lake that day?  I really do not know.  This could have been a one-hour ordeal or a twelve-hour ordeal.  But we do know that according to the Scripture, Jesus went right on with the work of the ministry.  He began teaching his remaining disciples who were eager to learn more about the kingdom of heaven.  Where was Peter, the man who loved to be in the midst of things?  He was at the lake casting a line.  I think Peter was giving himself a swift kick-in-the-butt!  Once again, he had blown it.

How does this message apply to you and me?  Those of us who are in ministry have abandoned the notion to please man according to the operating system of the world.  We now participate in the kingdom of heaven where we see the reality of heaven expanded upon the earth.  We walk according to God’s ways as He reveals them to us in His Word and in the Spirit’s leading.

But in one moment, if we take our eyes off of our Heavenly Father in order to appease man, we will separate ourselves from the work of the ministry of Christ and find, like Peter, that we are forced to strive to produce something sufficient. Think about it:  do we really want to vacate the working of a supernatural God in and through us?  Do we really want to rely instead on the old way of doing things?

If you are feeling burdened and tapped out, without direction or wondering where the passion that you once had for ministry went to, allow this to serve as a warning.  Perhaps somewhere along the way, you said a quick “yes” to someone in the religious establishment.  Perhaps you too presumed participation without actually hearing from God on the matter.  Or maybe there is greater value placed on the world’s system than on God’s ways.  Not all is lost.  Receive your correction and go about the steps necessary to re-prioritize.  Seek the Lord’s guidance in the Word.  He will never mislead you.  Every step we take in alignment with the Spirit leads us more greatly into the reality of the kingdom of heaven.  I don’t want to miss any of it- do you?

a shelter in the storm

Psalm 116:1-2  “I love the Lord, for He heard my voice; He heard my cry for mercy.”

Even though we in the Hampton Roads area may be accustomed to the occasional visit from a tropical weather system, it does not make it any easier to cope with the uncertainties that accompany these types of storms.

In every facet of life we face difficulties, and it is because of the trust we have in our faithful Heavenly Father that we weather all kinds of storms with success. Psalm 91:1 states, “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.”  I liken this scriptural truth to the picture of a mother hen hiding her chicks under her wings in times of danger.  While the chicks cannot see exactly what is going on out there in the big world, they know that they are safe under her protection.

The same is true for us.  When we hide ourselves in God’s shelter, we rest securely in knowing that His promises are true.  This abiding in His Presence may not make the skies any clearer in the midst of a storm, but His Word does promise peace.

Because of God’s great love toward us, let us declare as the psalmist, “I will call on Him as long as I live.”

earthen vessel

God showed me why He loves us so much by reminding me that He created each of us, so we are His treasured possessions.  Psalm 100:3 states, “Know that the Lord is God.  It is He who made us, and we are His….”

While in corporate worship today, I could see front and center in my mind’s eye a piece of pottery that my husband made and uses to hold business cards and other things.  God brought to light so much symbolism from this handcrafted piece of work!

First of all, it was made by Jon and therefore, is cherished by him.  It is painted in the colors blue and white which represent the colors of purity and royalty.  God wants us to know that because we are His sons and daughters, we are a royal priesthood, purchased by the blood of the Lamb and washed clean from our sins.

Just as the little bowl cannot hold all of the treasures that Jon has, nor are we supposed to contain everything, but instead, allow the treasures of God to spill over into the lives of others.

Lastly, the unique design on the bowl reminds me of flames.  Fire represents the Holy Spirit, and all who believe upon Jesus as their Savior are sealed by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13).  But God showed that we can also be consumed by the Holy Spirit, just like the little bowl is covered in the design of the flames.  Remember when John the Baptist announced that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matthew  3:11)?  We too can have lives marked by this baptism of fire.

2 Cor. 4:7 brings it all together:  “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”

adoption

My dog, Woodrow Tobias, is adopted.  He was not born in this house but came to us from another part of the state.  And, before he realized he was adopted, we long foreknew that he was ours.  We paid for him and waited for the designated day that he was to come into our family.

Look at the parallel between Woody’s experience and ours as sons and daughters of God.  “In love, He predestined us to be adopted as His sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will… ” (Ephesians 1:5).

First of all, it was love that drove us Beamers to adopt a cute and cuddly puppy!  But more importantly, the desire to have him came through our son, Jake.  I do not believe that Jon and I would have elected to adopt this dog if our son had not expressed his wish for a Welsh Corgi.

Jesus is the Son of God, and because of the joy set before Him (us),  He completed his work through the cross and His resurrection, and now, we too have a place in the family of God.

Woody spent many puppy days believing he was just one of a pack, never seeing that soon he would have a human family and a portion of food just for himself at mealtimes!  This is the picture of predestination:  God foresees the day that we will receive His invitation to come into the fold.  And, he knows in advance our affirmative response to the proposal, just like we long foreknew Woody’s acceptance of our family.

God is good.  He has a plan for salvation and adoption.  It is the will of God that none would perish. But it is not enough for Him to simply spare us from suffering an eternal death apart from Him.  In His pleasure, He invites us into His heart to share in all that is His.

We know from scripture that record books are kept in heaven, and I suppose one of them has all of our adoption documents.  Some of the factual information might read like this:  “On this day determined from the time when the foundations of the world were set in place, my son/daughter is hereby adopted into the family of God, purchased with the blood of the Lamb and sealed with the Holy Spirit.”

every spiritual blessing

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.”  Ephesians 1:3

Every spiritual blessing… what does that mean exactly?  If we have been blessed “in the heavenly realms” with “every spiritual blessing in Christ,” then how do we appropriate those blessings into our very natural realm?

Here is the way that I look at it:  there is a heavenly account with my name on it, and Jesus is the overseer.  The Holy Spirit, who connects me to the heart of the Father, leads me in the way that will require me to draw from that heavenly account.  I pray and ask the Lord for the blessing I need as I step out to serve Him in ways that are beyond my natural ability, and He deposits into my spirit those things so that I am strengthened to walk faithfully.

Honestly, I believe everything that we will ever need for our lives on earth is already in our heavenly accounts just waiting for our withdrawals.  It would be the same for an inheritance left for a newborn baby that will cover every possible expense for his entire lifespan.  That person would only need to go to the bank and make a withdrawal as needs arrive.  We do the same with our heavenly accounts.

Yesterday morning, I spoke a simple request to the Father.  I was very confused with the many routes that are available to me as I step out in a new area of ministry.  “Lord, show me the right way so that I am not confused,” was my prayer.  Within an hour, the phone rang, and the path that I was seeking began to look clearer.  With that call came great rejoicing because I know that my steps are ordered of God!

I love running this race of life in the Lord Jesus Christ!  I aim to fix my eyes on Him, the Author and Perfecter of my faith, and to find that when I cross the finish line, my heavenly account is emptied.

Father, I truly desire to exhaust my heavenly account and expend all of my spiritual blessings while I run my race for you.  I trust you completely with the course I am to take and the provision I will need along the way.  I praise You for being the faithful Father described in Matthew 7:11 who gives so graciously to His children who ask of Him.