Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Value of a Name

   I can remember, as a young boy, being taught a very valuable lesson that would stick with me throughout the remainder of my life.

   It was a very simple truth, but at the same time, one that would become the reasoning behind many of the decisions I would go on to make.

   The lesson went something like this:

   No matter where you end up in life; no matter what you might accomplish; no matter how many material possessions you might accumulate; there is one thing that will always be more valuable than any of these things.

   Your name.

   A second part to this same line of thought was the value of your words, because they, for all intents and purposes, are to a large degree synonymous with your name. After all, your name is only as good as your word, and your word is only as good as your name.

   Throughout the course of our lives, we are faced with countless decisions that will do either good or harm to our names.

   What seems entirely unfair is the truth that we can spend our entire lives building a good name for ourselves, only to have that name completely destroyed due to one momentary lapse of reason.

   This is where the beauty and grace of our salvation shines so very brightly.

   No matter how far we stray, and no matter how much damage we may have done to our good names, we can never find ourselves in a place that is too far for God to bring us back.

    "....  if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." - 2 Chronicles 7:14

   This is a truth that we can absolutely depend upon.

   God can absolutely take our severely damaged lives, and our severely damaged names, and turn both into something far more beautiful than we could've imagined.

   Of course, for these things to happen - as the above verse clearly states - there must be a humbling of ourselves, a prayer, a seeking of God's face, and a turning from our wicked ways.

   While God will absolutely seek us out and pursue us before we're even aware of it, it is our responsibility to turn our faces toward Him once we know that He has arrived.

   As you look at your life, how have you done damage to your name?

   How do you believe you need to humble yourself?

   Are there any wicked ways you need to turn from?

   Are you seeking His face?

   God can, and will, turn all of that around for you in the blink of an eye.

   He can give you a name that is far better than any name you could've given yourself.

   A name that you can neither make better or diminish, because it is His name - the name above all names.

   The best part is this: You can't possibly earn it.

   All you can do is ask for it, and then wear it.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

God's Way to Reach Out

   I can't even begin to count how many times someone has told me that they wished they could make more of a positive impact upon their community. I've never doubted their sincerity when they've said these things.

  I've seen churches pass out flyers designed to bring people into their church. I've seen the food drives. I've seen people reaching out in numerous ways.

   But why does our impact - if there is any -  always seem so short-lived, and why doesn't it appear to cause any lasting changes within the community?

   Don't get me wrong, I'm not being critical of these efforts. I think they're almost always put together by good-hearted people who genuinely want to do the right things. I'm simply making an observation, and wondering aloud why the end results are what they are.

   You see, I read my bible, and I see an absolutely amazing God.

   I see an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God.

   On the other hand, I see a church that claims to love this God, worship this God, obey this God, and follow this God.

   And yet....most of the neighbors surrounding these churches are completely unaware of their existence.

   Shouldn't a church that claims to be led by this mighty God, and filled by His Spirit, have an unmistakable influence upon not only the surrounding neighborhood, but also upon the entire community? I believe so, and if we don't, why not? What's missing?

   I believe that it all begins with what's happening inside the walls of the church, long before any one of us takes one step outside.

   In 2 Chronicles 6, we read about Solomon praying to the Lord, asking Him to bless the temple he had just finished building.

   In doing so, Solomon cried out to the Lord, reminding Him of the promises He had made to the people of Israel. I won't post the entire prayer here, but here is a good sample of where Solomon's heart was: 

“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!  Yet, Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence.  May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place.  Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive." - 2 Chronicles 6:18-21

   Do you notice a difference in the tone of Solomon's prayer than we're used to hearing in many pulpits across this great nation of ours?

   It's all about giving all of the glory to God, pouring the heart out to the only one worthy of our worship and praise. And it wasn't only Solomon who did so. It was the entire nation of Israel, who had gathered together as one to praise the Most High God for all that He was, and all that He had done.

   And what was the Lord's response?

   "When Solomon finished praying, fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple.  The priests could not enter the temple of the Lord because the glory of the Lord filled it.  When all the Israelites saw the fire coming down and the glory of the Lord above the temple, they knelt on the pavement with their faces to the ground, and they worshiped and gave thanks to the Lord, saying,

“He is good;    his love endures forever.” 2 Chronicles 7:1-3
   So, back to my question.
   How do we, as a church, make a profound, lasting impact upon our neighborhoods, towns, and communities?
   We don't attempt to do so under our own power. We come together as one, offering true, heartfelt praise and worship to the Lord our God. We gather for this reason, and for this reason alone. We ask His Spirit to fill our sanctuaries, fill our hearts, and fill our lives - each one of us individually, and all of us collectively.
   And we then move out into our community, allowing His Spirit, that lives within us, to pour out into the streets, sidewalks, and alleys of these towns, finding it's resting place in the hearts of a people who are suddenly very aware of our presence.
   If we reach out to our communities God's way - allowing Him to reach out to others through us - we will begin to see the unmistakable signs of His hand touching our neighborhoods in ways that simply cannot be ignored.


Thursday, January 8, 2015

Does God Give Up On Us?

   As we read through the history of Israel, we can see a theme that repeats itself time and time again. The underlying story is that of God's unrelenting pursuit of His people. In fact, in Isaiah 65, we read the following:

“I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me;
    I was found by those who did not seek me.
To a nation that did not call on my name,
    I said, ‘Here am I, here am I.’
All day long I have held out my hands
    to an obstinate people,
who walk in ways not good,
    pursuing their own imaginations."

   It's astonishing to me that God - the Creator and Sustainer of all things - would even bother trying to reach out to people who refuse to even acknowledge Him. But the truth is that He always has. Romans 5:6-8 paints an even clearer picture of this:

 "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

   That's such a beautiful, comforting thought, is it not? After all, if God went that far to pursue and save us while we were refusing to even acknowledge Him, how much more will He do for us now that we believe? 
   But is there ever a time when God walks away? Does He ever reach a point when He's had enough of us and leaves us to our own devices?
   Although the answer may shock you, it's...Well...Yes and no.
   While the verses included in the beginning of this post are very warm and comforting, the verses that follow take on a very different tone.
   “See, it stands written before me:
    I will not keep silent but will pay back in full;
    I will pay it back into their laps
both your sins and the sins of your ancestors,”
    says the Lord.
“Because they burned sacrifices on the mountains
    and defied me on the hills,
I will measure into their laps
    the full payment for their former deeds.”
   You see, there are times when the Lord is, quite frankly, finished playing games with us. In His patience and loving kindness, He will delay judgment, reaching out to us continually in an effort to draw us back to Him. But when He has decided that we've gone too far, He will not hesitate to let go temporarily, allowing us to face the ramifications of our own disobedience.
   But here's the good news...
   Even if He does decide to turn His back on us temporarily, He does so for only one reason - to draw us back to Him once again. He does this when we begin to allow "little sins" in our lives to continue unchecked, when we refuse to take Him seriously at His word, and when we ignore His constant and continual pleadings to turn away from these things and turn back to Him with our whole hearts.
   In Isaiah 54, we read:
 "In a surge of anger
    I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting kindness
    I will have compassion on you,”
    says the Lord your Redeemer."
   You see, the Lord's business is all about redemption. It's all about forgiveness. It's all about making something good out of what was once worthless.
   If you're feeling as though God has turned His back on you, turn toward Him with all of your heart. If you feel as though He's been calling to you, prompting you to let go of the sins in your life that are causing distance between you and Him, don't hesitate any longer. Let them go now.
   He wants you to walk humbly with Him. It is always far less painful to humble one's self than to be humbled by a mighty God.