Friday, August 31, 2012

A New Creation

Chuckle:  The worst analogy ever written in a high school essay was . . . "Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze!"
Good Quote:   "All that I have seen teaches me to trust the Creator for all I have not seen."  --Ralph Waldo Emerson
NEW CREATION                  
    "So we have stopped evaluating others by what the world thinks about them. Once I mistakenly thought of Christ that way, as though he were merely a human being. How differently I think about him now! What this means is that those who become Christians become new persons (new creations). They are not the same anymore, for the old life is gone. A new life has begun!" (2 Corinthians 5:16-17 NLT).
This passage contains one of the most miraculous truths in Scripture.  When a person is saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, he or she becomes a new creation -- a brand-new person on the inside.  By the working of the Holy Spirit, he or she is not the same anymore.  Rather, we think differently, speak differently, and act differently.  We have a new nature.  In the first creation, God brought people into physical existence from nothingness; but in this new creation, he brings us from spiritual death to spiritual life.
Christians are not reformed, rehabilitated, or reeducated, but are transformed human beings living in an eternal union with Christ.  This new relationship with Christ becomes the controlling factor in one's life.  When we are converted/saved, it is not the equivalent of turning over a new leave and promising to do better.  It is the beginning of a new life under the control of a new Master.  As a new creation in Christ, we receive a new nature with a new attitude toward God and life itself.  We are no longer driven by the standards of the world, but by the standards of God's Word.
    "For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do" (Ephesians 2:10 NIV). The Message Bible puts it this way: "He (God) creates each of us by Christ Jesus to join him in the work he does, the good work he has gotten ready for us to do, work we had better be doing."
Notice that our salvation is not the result of doing good deeds.  No, our salvation is by grace through faith -- resulting in our recreation.  Then, as a natural progression from our rebirth, God expects us to do the work which he has arranged in advance for us to do.  As a new creation, we do the work (ministry) of God while empowered by, and under the direction of, his Spirit. "When God's work is done in God's way for God's glory, it will never lack God's supply.  God is not obligated to pay for our selfish schemes.  He is obligated to support his ministry."  --Hudson Taylor 
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Live One Day At A Time

Chuckle:  "A man will laugh at a woman putting on makeup, and then take ten minutes trying to make three hairs on top of his head look like six."
Quote:  “Today is a most unusual day, because we have never lived it before; we will never live it again; it is the only day we have.  --William Arthur Ward
A few years back Christie Lane had a hit recording and a portion of the lyrics went something like this: "One day at a time, sweet Jesus, that's all I'm asking from you. Help me today. Show me the way, one day at a time."

The only time any of us have is today -- time can't be saved and it can't be retrieved -- it can only be savored.  I've heard it said, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans for tomorrow."  James 4:15 tells us that when we make plans, we should say, "If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that." Several Scriptures attest to the value of living for today.

"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24).  "Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself" (Matthew 6:34).  "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring" (Proverbs 27:1).  "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow" (James 4:14).

Some live in the past and dwell on mistakes and failures which are now history and cannot be changed.  Others live in the future in a constant state of expectancy and dissatisfaction with their lives today.  Either of these mind-sets can cause us to miss the blessings God has for us today.

Living one day at a time means keeping yourself responsive to simple things.  For most of us, there are few big moments in life -- only a plethora of small ones.  Most of us never win the Pulitzer prize, nor the Nobel, nor an Oscar.  But we're all eligible for life's small pleasures -- a pat on the back; a hug; a 12-point buck in your sights; a big bass on your line; a full moon; a crackling fire; a good meal; a glorious sunset.

If our happiness is dependent upon major accomplishments and events, we won't be happy much of the time.  If, however, our happiness depends on a good breakfast; flowers in the yard, a brisk walk, or a nap, we will have a lot of happiness.  A good motto would be: "Learn from yesterday, hope for tomorrow, but live for today."  Living one day at a time will help make your life be all it can be.  When you kill time, it has no resurrection!  Today is the only certain time we have to share the love of Christ with someone.

Love, Jerry & Dotse

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Ashamed of the Gospel?

Chuckle:  "The emergency brake on my car is really not an "emergency brake." I never use it in an emergency. It should be called a 'makes your car smell really funny' lever."   
Good Quote:  "It's not our choice as to whether or not we believers wish to be epistles of Christ. We just are! What is the message others read in you?" --Unknown Author
    "For I am not ashamed of this Good News (gospel) about Christ. It is the power of God at work, saving everyone who believes -- Jews first and also Gentiles" (Romans 1:16 NLT).
Paul described three elements of his life that resulted in power for his evangelistic efforts: a deep sense of obligation to his Lord; an eagerness to spread the gospel message; and pride in the gospel for what it could do.  When he reflected on the sacrifice Christ made for him on the cross, he saw himself as being deeply in debt, with an accompanying obligation to repay that debt by being a faithful witness.  This sense of obligation made him eager to share the message with all people.  Thus he received great satisfaction from what he was doing and saw no reason, whatsoever, to be ashamed of the gospel message.
When you stop and think about it, God did nothing for the apostle Paul that he hasn't done for each of us.  His sacrificial and atoning death on the cross was for all people, equally.  Why is it that most of us are so timid and unsure of ourselves when it comes to sharing the Good News with others?  People give various reasons for not witnessing for their Lord.  But I suppose it boils down to depending on our own strength rather than the limitless strength and power of the One who commanded us to "go and make disciples of all nations."   When we depend upon our inadequate human strength, fear, anxiety, timidity, and ineffectiveness as a witness becomes the norm.  Depending upon God's strength will make us bold and eager to share what Christ has done for us.
In reality, each of us is a witness of one sort or another.  If you profess to be a Christian, you are a living testimony of your faith -- either positive or negative. Someone has put it this way:
You are writing a Gospel,
A chapter each day,
By deeds you do,
By words you say.
Men read what you write,
Whether faithless or true,
Say! What is the gospel
According to you?
God has entrusted to us the priceless message of Jesus Christ, the gospel.  It is the power of God which will save anyone, and everyone who, places their faith and trust (believes) in Christ.  What an awesome responsibility God has given us; but what a joy it can be when we are faithful in sharing the Good News, in the power of the Holy Spirit, and seeing lives changed.
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Monday, August 20, 2012

Finishing the Race

Chuckle:  "Never test the depth of the water with both feet." 
Ponder This:  "Anybody can do their best, but we are helped by the Spirit of God to do better than our best."  --Catherine Bramwell-Booth
    The apostle Paul said of his life, "I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful" (2 Timothy 4:7 NLT).
Have you experienced frustration and disappointment from starting a project and not finishing it?  I have.  There is a pleasant sense of peace and satisfaction when we complete a task, a journey, or an assignment, especially when we know we have given it our best effort.  I have often asked myself this question: "When I come to the end of my life, will I be able to say with the apostle Paul that I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful to my Lord?"
Paul often used athletic metaphors in describing the Christian life.  He pictured Christians competing, not against one another, but for the prize from God awaiting those who faithfully run the race.  Paul knew he would be rewarded not by applause of men, but by Christ whom he loved and served.   To win a race, an athlete must begin strong, remain strong, and finish strong if he is to be a winner.  Some jump out to a quick lead, but begin to fade as they grow fatigued and do not have the reserve strength to finish strong.
Living the Christian life is hard work -- it requires continued effort and commitment, not unlike running a race.  You may think that once you receive Jesus Christ as Savior your struggles have ended, but this is not the way Christ works in us.  The term "babes in Christ" is used in Scripture to describe new and immature Christians.  When we are born again, we are weak baby Christians in the same way a newborn baby is weak and requires a lot of nourishment, exercise, and parental care.  
It is God's plan that we grow in strength and knowledge of him and that we become increasingly more productive for his kingdom.  He wants you to grow in your faith and your understanding of his nature and plan for your life.  Making a public commitment to Christ is a first step in running the race, but It is only the beginning of a life-long journey of devotion to the cause of Christ.
In ancient Roman athletic games, a laurel wreath was awarded to the winners.  As a symbol of triumph and honor, it was the most coveted prize.  This is likely what Paul was referring to when he goes on to say, "And now the prize awaits me -- the crown of righteousness that the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on that great day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his glorious return"  (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT).
Although Paul would not receive an earthly reward, he would be rewarded in heaven.  Whatever you may face -- discouragement, hardships, persecution -- you can be assured of your reward Christ will give you in eternity.  Our faithfulness is proven each day by our faithful endurance in the race of life. 
Love, Jerry & Dotse   

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Faith and Works

Chuckle:  Can it be a mistake that "stressed" is "desserts" spelled backwards?
Good Quote:  "If we have faith without works, or works without faith, we have washed the window on one side only."   --William Arthur Ward 
    "The gentiles have been made right with God by faith, even though they were not seeking him. But the Jews, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the law and being good instead of depending on faith" (Romans 9:30-32 NLT).
What a difference it would make in our world if everyone understood the letter, the spirit, and the implications of this passage.  There is a deep-seated conviction in the minds of many that goodness (righteousness) is measured by what we do -- the good things we accomplish in this life. 
We continue to think we must impress God by our good deeds/ works to earn his acceptance and approval so we can be assured a place in his heavenly presence.  This salvation by works idea blinds people to the blessed truth that it is the righteousness of Jesus, not ours, that reconciles us to God.  Believing that we must earn God's approval serves as a stumbling block to attaining true righteousness through faith.
The only righteousness that makes us acceptable in God's sight is the righteousness imputed to us by Jesus Christ, and this righteousness only becomes our own through faith in Him.  We may think that attending church, doing church work, giving offerings, and being nice to people will be enough to earn God's favor.  Paul tells us the approach will never succeed. 
We can only be saved by putting our faith in Jesus Christ and what he has done on the cross at Calvary. "God saved you by his special favor (grace) when you believed. And you can't take credit for this: it is a gift of God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it" (Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT).
If salvation is only through faith in Jesus Christ, what place does good deeds have in our lives?  It's really quite simple.  Good deeds that please God are those done for his glory as a result of our relationship to Him through Christ, not to earn that relationship.  "For we are God's masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things (works) he planned for us long ago" (Ephesians 2:10 NLT).
Our salvation is something only God can do through his creative power at work in us.  We become Christians through God's grace (unmerited favor), not as the result of our own efforts, abilities, or acts of service.  God's intention is that our salvation will result in acts of service.  We work for him out of love and gratitude because we have been saved, not to be saved.
Love, Jerry & Dotse  

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Darkness of Depression

Chuckle:  "If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of car payments!!"
Beautiful Prayer:  "I believe in Your everlasting love, dear Father, and I accept it. I trust in Your sovereign control over the circumstances of my life, and I will rest in the knowledge that Your character is trustworthy and unchanging. Amen."  --Kay Arthur. 
     "Come quickly, Lord, and answer me, for my depression deepens. Don't turn away from me, or I will die" (Psalm 143:7 NLT). "Why am I discouraged? Why so sad? I will put my hope in God! I will praise him again. . ."  (Psalm 5:5 NLT).
Are you suffering from depression, or do you know someone who is?  If so, you realize full well the sense of worthlessness, helplessness, and hopelessness depression can bring.  If you watch television, you are aware of the many commercials advertising drugs to help people overcome the devastating effects of depression.  Depression seems to be an epidemic in our society and there are many  approaches to treating this disorder. 
I recognize that some suffer depression brought on by physical problems -- chemical imbalances, etc.  Those may require professional help.  Obviously, I can't offer you help in this area, except to encourage you to seek the help you need.  However, I am convinced that many suffer feelings of depression brought on by a spiritual vacuum in their lives.  Claiming to be a Christian will not necessarily fill that vacuum.  Often we see depressed Christians. Why?
A while back, I read a short sermon in the Religion section of our local newspaper.  It was entitled, "When Your Roots Don't Hit the Water."  The message dealt with depression and the title was derived from John 7:38 NLT: "If you are thirsty, come to me! If you believe in me, come and drink! For the Scriptures declare that rivers of living water will flow out from within."  Here, Jesus uses the term "living water" to refer to the Holy Spirit who is always available to believers because he lives within us.  It is the Holy Spirit who stands ready to fill every spiritual need we have if we are willing for Him to do so -- not trying to solve our problems on our own.
We can become discouraged, depressed, and worried about what the future may hold. Maybe you are not well and are fearful that death may not be far away.  Maybe you are feeling guilty because you are not living the way you know God would desire.  Maybe you are feeling deep disappointment and hurt because of a rebellious child or a wayward spouse.  Maybe one of your children is suffering from a physical or mental disorder and you feel helpless to change the situation.  Maybe you have recently lost a loved one.  Any of these circumstances can bring on feelings of depression and despair.  But your Heavenly Father is faithful and will sustain you.  All too often we find ourselves doubting that God is really in control in our lives and are reluctant to trust him completely to take care of us.
When God is given first place at the center-court of your life, you can be content and sleep in peace.  This is because the roots of your being are being nourished in the never-ending living water of life -- the Holy Spirit.  Sometimes, when we realize that not every situation will turn out the way we wish, the best we can hope for is a sense of God's peace. "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:5-7 NIV). When you feel depressed, read the Bible's accounts of God's goodness, and meditate on them. 
Love, Jerry & Dotse   

Monday, August 6, 2012

Harboring Hatred

Chuckle:  "I finally got my head together, and then my body fell apart!"     
Ponder This:  "Hate at its best will distort you; at its worst it will destroy you, but it will always immobilize you." --Alex Haley, author of "Roots."
    "Anyone who hates another Christian is really a murderer at heart" (1 John 3:15 NLT). "Hatred stirs up dissension, but love covers over all wrongs" (Proverbs 10:12 NIV).
"Hatred" is defined as a strong dislike for someone.  Is there anyone you just can't stand?  Is there a burning rage against someone smoldering deep within your heart?  If you find yourself answering "yes" to these questions, I don't need to remind you of the misery that such feelings can bring into your life.  It takes a lot of energy and effort to harbor hatred because hatred is a terribly destructive force and will eventually consume you.  There is no doubt that Christians are to love all people but despise sin.  In our 1 John passage, John echoes Jesus' teaching that whoever hates another person is a murderer at heart (Matthew 5:21, 22).
Christianity is a religion of the heart; and outward compliance with a set of standards alone is not enough.  It is the condition of the heart that matters to God.  "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (I Samuel 16:7 NIV).  Bitterness against someone who has wronged you is an evil cancer within you that can render you useless as a Christian. 
I think the best test to determine if you are harboring hatred toward someone is to answer this question: Do you find yourself hoping that a person will get what's coming to him or her -- that something bad will happen to him or her?  If you consciously wish hardship on anyone, you are exercising your hatred.  If someone has committed a sinful offense against you, it is alright to hate their sin, but not the person.  Your reaction should be to ask God to help you love the offender by enabling you to pray for that person.  Remember how Jesus looked down from the cross at his tormentors and said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34 NIV). Jesus never stopped loving no matter the offense.
Hatred for someone comes from indulging your own selfish desires -- being concerned for yourself at the expense of others.  Instead, allow the Holy Spirit to fill and control your life, leaving no room for hatred and bitterness. Anger leads to bitterness and bitterness leads to hatred.  Love, mercy, forgiveness, and humility are powerful weapons against hatred. "Get rid of all bitterness. . . . Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another"  (Ephesians 4:31-32 NLT). 
Here comes the clincher. "If anyone says, 'I love God,' but hates a Christian  brother or sister, that person is a liar; for if we don't love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we have not seen? And God himself has commanded that we must love not only him but our Christian brothers and sisters too" (1 John 4:19b-21 NLT).  God's love is the source of human love, and this love is contagious.  As you love God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (the Great Commandment, Mark 12:30), God will kindle a fire of love in your heart and you cannot help but love as God (Jesus) has loved you. There will be no room in your heart for hatred. 
Love, Jerry & Dotse  

Friday, August 3, 2012

First Things First

Chuckle:  We all admire different qualities in people. My grandfather used to say, "If we all liked the same thing, everybody would be after your grandmother!" 
Good Quote:  "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did."  --Mark Twain
"He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all -- how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things?" (Romans 8:32 NIV)

Have you thought lately about what is most important in your life?  Do your priorities center around pleasing God or impressing others?  Are you more concerned with self-indulgence than self-sacrifice?  If these questions stirred a sense of conviction in your heart, perhaps it's time to reassess your priorities and get first things first in your life.  Did these questions create a desire within you to let God change you from the inside out?
If you truly wish to change things in your life, a transformation of the heart is required.  Only God is able to permanently make a change take root in your life.  When we rely on our own power to make changes in our lives, these adjustments generally stem from wrong motives and are temporary in nature.  They may resemble new years' resolutions made in our own strength.  We have good intentions when we make them, but the flesh is just too weak -- the will just isn't there.  We go for the quick and easy way, which usually is self-focused and not God's way.  However, His Holy Spirit within empowers us to make adjustments and transformations with eternal value.   Ask Him to "create in you a clean heart and renew a right spirit within you"  (Psalm 51:10 NIV).

If your heart is consistent with God's will, you never have to doubt His willingness to move in your life.  Make a choice to build on a firm, permanent foundation.  Rely fully on God alone for He loves you and will help you on your journey!  Read in His Word all that He has planned for you - it's all good!  He will help you keep first things first. "I can do all every thing through Him (Christ) who gives me strength"  (Philippians 4:13 NIV).  Isaac Newton's First Law of Motion states, "Everything continues in a state of rest unless it is compelled to change by forces impressed upon it."  When you stop letting God change you, you stop growing and maturing spiritually.  A change in behavior begins with a change in the heart.

Jesus asked the man by the pool of Bethesda, "Do you want to be made well?"  Some people don't want change in their lives.  They feel comfortable right where they are.  Jesus was asking this man, Are you content with the way you are right now?  Do you really want your life to change?"
Love, Jerry & Dotse

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Does Jesus Care

Chuckle:  Church Sign: "God does not believe in atheists; therefore atheists do not exist!" 
Ponder This:  "The more a person loves, the closer he approaches the image of God."  --Unknown  
    "In all their suffering he also suffered, and he personally rescued them. In his love and mercy he redeemed them. He lifted them up and carried them through the years"  (Isaiah 63:9 NLT).
Does our Lord really care what happens to me?  Does he feel the pain that I feel?  Can he understand what I'm going through?  Yes, he does!  Because of his great love, God made provision to rescue us from the pain, sorrow, and eternal consequences of our sin.  To do this, Jesus, the God man, came to earth as human and as a result He can empathize with us in every way. 
Jesus fully understands our weaknesses and our fears.  As our High Priest, He made himself human, "And because he is human, he is able to deal gently with the people, though they are ignorant and wayward. For he is subject to the same weaknesses we have"  (Hebrews 5:2 NLT).  Since Jesus understands your pain, he pleads with you that you would be free from the suffering that sin causes and he desires you to experience the peace, joy, and freedom that comes from a personal love relationship with Him.
Jesus is like us because he experienced a full range of temptations as a human being while here on earth. He faced temptations as we do, only more so.  He is both sympathetic and empathetic toward us.  We should be encouraged from knowing that Jesus faced temptation without giving in to sin.  Through his example, and the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, we can have the strength to resist sin and deal with hardships and suffering.
Jesus assures us of forgiveness and salvation.  As humanity's representative, he is now at the right hand of the Father interceding on our behalf. "He lives forever to plead (intercede) with God on our behalf"  (Hebrews 7:25 NLT).  He is always available to hear us when we pray. "And the Holy Spirit helps us in our distress. For we don't even know what we should pray for, nor how we should pray. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words"  (Romans 8:26 NLT).
As we pray, the Holy Spirit penetrates to the deepest recesses of our being to help us root out those sinful thoughts and urges that we so carefully keep hidden from those around us.  Aren't we foolish to think that there are some sins that we can hide from God?  In the final analysis, our Lord really does understand what you are going through and is ready to help you through it.
It is not always easy to live the Christian life.  It is a mixture of ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and pain and comfort.  Through it all, our Lord remains our faithful companion and encourager because he identifies with us and understands what we are feeling.  This old hymn puts it this way: "Just when I need Him, Jesus is near, Just when I falter, just when I fear; Ready to help me, ready to cheer. . . . Just when I need Him most."
Love, Jerry & Dotse