Thursday, July 25, 2019

Fruit bearing faith

Then he [Jesus] told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any.” Luke 13:6

The expectation of the Lord is for His children to bear fruit. A life without fruit takes up space, instead of being an expression of God’s grace. Our Heavenly Father is patient, however He does draw a line in the sand of time and says to individuals, institutions and nations, repent or lose My favor. A soul or society that is barren of fruitful faith will eventually see God move on to those governed by His principles. The fruit of faith flourishes in a heart cultivated by Christ.

What fruit is your faith producing? The fruit of peace comes as you plant the seeds of trust in Jesus. Patience’s fruit appears as you prayerfully water the seeds of God’s grace. The fruit of perseverance is produced when you fertilize with faith in the goodness of God. Humility’s fruit blossoms when your Heavenly Father sows His loving kindness into your soul. Furthermore, a harvest of good deeds (enough to fill a barn) occurs when death to self brings to life your love!

“I [Jesus] am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful” (John 15:1-2).

The mercy of the Lord does include a pruning process. Instead of immediately removing a fruitless faith He gives it time to grow by the shears of suffering. Yes, pain is meant to purge us from unhealthy habits and remind us of our undeniable dependence on Christ. Our Heavenly husband cuts back our branches diseased by sin. Jesus, our vine of spiritual nutrients, feeds our faith. Then the Holy Spirit creates blossoms in our life by bearing the fruit of the Spirit.

Otherwise, if the compassionate and thorough work of the Trinity is ignored, we are in danger of being cut off from the life-giving grace of the Father, Son and Spirit. Furthermore, we are commanded by Christ to spread the manure of His mercy around the base of the unhealthy lives we influence. Yes, our service may smell repulsive to sinful souls, but our relentless love and forgiveness may facilitate fruit with the sweet aroma of salvation. Fruitful faith enjoys God’s favor.

“The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8-9).

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

God with me

Most of us know what it feels like to be alone in the dark. If you ever had to take the trash out late at night or found yourself stranded alongside a road at night, then you understand – your mind can create hidden shadows or images. Before you know it, the hair on the back of your neck begins to rise.
However, if you turn on a flashlight your fears quickly fade because the light exposes the truth.  In Psalm 23, David wrote about a time when he was sure that he would lose his life. It was a season when he walked “through the valley of the shadow of death.” (v. 4) Yet, he was not afraid because he knew the One who walked with him had the ability to bring light to the darkest situation and exchange his worry for faith.
When you face worrisome difficulties in your life turn to God’s reassuring and never-ending love. When you awake in the middle of the night to the whispers of the enemy’s lies – remind yourself that Christ overcame and you will also. Proclaim what you know to be true.
In essence, David said, “Though I walk through the threat of death, I will not fear because my Lord is with me.” God is the greater force and He loves you with an intimate, personal love. Even though life may become dark, His light continues to burn. There is no darkness that can quench the light of God’s love. You have no reason to worry, God is with you.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Stay right there

The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:38-39

When Jesus healed the demon-possessed man in Luke 8, understandably the man was filled with gratitude and eager to be near and follow Jesus. In fact, Luke tells us that the man begged to be with Him. If you’ve never read the story before, you’d be forgiven for assuming Jesus would say, “Come on, let’s go” It’s easy to imagine them embracing on the boat and setting off on a great ministry journey together. And yet, perhaps surprisingly, Jesus doesn’t say this. He sends the man away. Why would Jesus seemingly reject the man He healed just moments before? Because Jesus loved him and there was still healing that this man needed in his life, and his healing would only be complete if he did the hard work of sticking around.

This man was shunned, outcast, and rejected by every single person he had once known and loved. He was literally seen as the town crazy. And while I do believe he wanted to be with and follow Jesus, I also believe he wanted to get away from the people who knew him well. He wanted a fresh start, to go someplace new where no one knew his story, where he didn’t have to feel the shame of his brokenness. I believe this is why Jesus asked the man to stick around, He wants him to do the harder work of staying rooted as an embodiment of the hope and power that is the gospel.

How many times have you been tempted to pack up and leave when life gets complicated? If you stick around the same people and place long enough, eventually your true self will be known. You will hurt others and be wounded by them, and you will find yourself overwhelmed by the pressure of the situation and desperate for a release, an escape. We do this with work, church community, and close friendships.

The challenge of Jesus to this man and to us is to stay rooted where we are as a testimony to the power of the gospel. By sticking around, even when it’s hard and uncomfortable, you are able to bear witness to the transforming power of God at work in your life over long periods of time. Similarly, you are encouraged by seeing the ways God tells good, long, faithful stories in the lives of the people you love the most.

When you’re tempted to run, trust that Jesus is with you where you are and is inviting you to be a part of the healing that he is bringing to your family and community through your faithful presence and testimony of “all that God has done for you.”

Friday, July 19, 2019

Hakunah Matata

There are struggles in life that can become emotional strongholds, things that hold you hostage and keep you from wholeheartedly serving and trusting God and experiencing the abundant life He has promised. One of the most damaging strongholds is worry. It is available for every age and is an obstacle to moving forward. When it is a stronghold in your life, it is a way of life.
People cope with worrying in a number of ways. None of these remedies work because the panic still sets in. In Matthew 6:25, 31-34, Jesus stated three times, “Do not worry!” The Greek word used for “worry” is the concept of being strangled or choked. It leaves you frustrated when you ought to be free and if you are His disciple, then you should stop it.
Worrying is a sin because it is doubt in the power and goodness of God. Some people don’t like to call worrying a sin – they are just “concerned” about something. How do you distinguish concern from worry? Legitimate concern is when you are in control of your thoughts and feelings and illegitimate worry is when the matter controls your thoughts, actions and emotions.
Jesus said, “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:25-26) The reason we worry is that we are focusing on the wrong authority. If our Father feeds birds that have no soul, how much more will He take care of us since we are worth even more to Him?  Remember His promise that He will never leave you nor forsake you as the first antidote to worry.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Powerful God

When he saw Jesus, he fell down before him and shouted at the top of his voice, “What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beg you, do not torment me.” Luke 8:28

In one of the more intense stories in the New Testament, we find Jesus confronting a man possessed by demons. Though Jesus approaches him in love and compassion, seeking to set him free from the evil that plagues him, the man is unable to see God’s love in that moment and instead fears the very worst. “I beg you,” he says to Jesus, “do not torment me.”

In our worst moments, in times of great weakness and shame and pain, it is easy to be so overcome by them that we fail to see Jesus as he truly is. Instead of seeing him as a lifesaver when lost at sea or a doctor to heal our deepest wounds, we fear he comes to torment us! Perhaps you find yourself battling these feelings this very moment?

The word our bibles translate as “torment” can also mean “to be tossed or agitated as by waves.” This is the usage we find in Matthew’s gospel when Peter walks on water as their boat was “beaten by the waves.” (Mt. 14:24) When we are left to our own devices and discernment, we can easily look at Jesus, the one who is meant to bring us life and health, and say instead, “You only seek my harm! You don’t care about me and what I’m going through!” To the one who’s meant to bring peace and calm the storm, we say “are you intentionally stirring up trouble so the boat of my life is beaten by the waves?” Though temptation, evil, and darkness are unavoidable parts of life, the hope of the gospel is that we don’t have to navigate temptation alone! We are reminded afresh that Jesus enters into chaos to speak life because he is good and seeks your good.

“Then the demons came out of the man and entered the swine, and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and was drowned” (Luke 8:33).

Do you believe Jesus is powerful enough to actually kill the thing that destroys you? Can you trust today that his desire is not to torment you but to set you free? The way we live, we often act like this story reads in a more open-ended way! “Jesus drove the demons out…and they went around the corner to regroup and plan their next move,” or, “Jesus brought a feeling of peace but those demons are as strong as ever.”

Have the faith and courage today to believe that the Lord means what he says and is ready, willing, and strong enough to free you from your darkest evil and greatest fear. The Lord does not torment you but comes in love to set you free

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Pin it to the cross

Have you ever felt condemned because of the bad thoughts you have had? You could be in the middle of a prayer meeting when suddenly a dirty thought enters your mind. Actually, it is the devil who puts such thoughts in your mind. Then, he steps back, looks at you and knocks you on your head, saying, “How can you call yourself a Christian and still think such thoughts?”

I used to be in bondage over the bad thoughts I had because I felt that I had to confess every one of them and seek God’s forgiveness. But that is not what God’s Word exhorts us to do. You see, God wants us to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.” Now, whose obedience are we to focus on? Christ’s obedience and not our own obedience.

But what is “the obedience of Christ”? It is His obedience at the cross, where “by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous” (Romans 5:19). Jesus shed His blood for us at the cross. This means that when our thoughts condemn us, we are to focus our thoughts on Jesus’ obedience at the cross.

My friend, the devil can only make inroads into our minds when he gets us to focus on our obedience instead of Christ’s obedience. His strategy is to point us to our obedience or the lack of it to determine our standing before God. But just as our position as sinners is not based on what we do, but what the first Adam did, in the same way, we are forever righteous today not because of what we do, but because of what Christ, the last Adam, did on the cross.

So the next time your thoughts seem to condemn you, say, “I am righteous whether I have good or bad thoughts. My righteousness has nothing to do with my obedience. Jesus’ obedience at the cross made me righteous.” Then, go ahead and pray, knowing that you have access to God and His favor, and that He hears the prayer of the righteous

Generational greatness

We see things in minutes, days, years. But with age comes a broader perspective, and we can begin to see things a little more like God sees them – by generations. Jesus did not hold back from sharing his disappointment with the generation into which he was born:
But to what shall I compare this generation? It is like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling to their playmates, “We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.” – Matthew 11:16-17
The generation of John the Baptist and Jesus dismissed them: John as a disheveled, demon-possessed fanatic and Jesus as a glutton and drunkard who was unclean because of his friendship with sinners. Their authentic and fresh voices rocked the religious establishment from its apathetic, self-righteous world and called them out to real repentance and true love.
But like spoiled children, they complained, hurled insults, and plotted deaths – all because John would not join in their worldliness and Jesus could not be aligned with their pious pride. But divine wisdom is proven right by her deeds! Jesus was right about their generation, and those who listened to him and righted their ways left a legacy so great we do not want to imagine a world without it.
The marks of a divinely directed generation
What could a generation directed by divine wisdom look like today? What kind of generation would Jesus praise?
The greatest generation would be one that follows hard after God. It would be made of citizens with a hunger and thirst for righteousness, who lead the culture toward a holy surrender and submission to the higher power of providence. The benefits of Almighty God would not be forgotten by the faithful but celebrated in grateful praise and worship to our generous Savior and Lord. There would be no confusion in the preeminence of Christ: He is Lord, Creator, and King. Routine religion would be transformed into a radical, vibrant relationship with Jesus.
Great generations leave an enduring legacy for the Lord and for their descendants!
"Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life". (Philippians 2:14-16).
Our generation can become a great generation by shining brightly for the One who saved us. How? First we can remember that our citizenship is in heaven. We answer to King Jesus, so we must not lower our life standards to blend in with a “warped and crooked generation.” Instead we become lighthouses of love that can guide those navigating the deadly reefs of unbelief toward the shore of God’s salvation.
The crazier our world becomes, the more Christians can become a source of reason, stability, and comfort. Our generation grows in greatness as we are available to advance God’s eternal agenda.
Others may criticize your lifestyle as old fashioned, out of date, or worse. But when they are suffering loss, they will seek you for solace and perhaps salvation in Jesus too.
Keep a high standard of holiness in the Holy Spirit’s power, and your light of love will grow brighter as the world darkens. Take a risk of spending time with those who do not know the Lord. Be with them and get to know them. The self-righteous may label you as worldly (like they did Jesus), but as you are in the world, the Spirit will use you to influence and not be influenced by it. Do what’s right, and make Jesus your defense. Your generation will grow in greatness, as you courageously follow God’s will in his power.
“That is why I was angry with that generation” Jesus said. “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways” (Hebrews 3:10).
Let us be the generation that stands for the One who saved us by grace alone, but that earns the right to hear the words: “Well done, good and faithful!” Let us be the generation that recognizes that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the generation with clean hands and hearts made pure, with no false gods. Let us be a generation that seeks our blessings and our vindication only from the Lord, our Savior, because we are the generation who seek his face

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

My problem solver

For the kingdom of god is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Romans 14:7

Are you troubled by many things today? For example, are you concerned about your rebellious teenager? Perhaps you see him/her as your problem, so you do your best to discipline him/her, only to end up with a heart full of worries and pain. And they are no better.

God says to you, “Don’t focus on controlling your rebellious teenager. Instead, seek first My kingdom, which is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Be conscious of the righteousness you have as a gift from My Son. Keep your inner man flowing with My peace and joy, and I will take care of your child.”

We tend to think that the people around us are the problem. When we don’t get the promotion we want, we blame our bosses and colleagues. When we lose our temper, we blame our wives and kids. However, God wants us to stop looking outside and to start looking within because His kingdom is within us (see Luke 17:21).

The abundance of the kingdom of God is already inside you. As you seek first God’s kingdom, and follow His righteousness, peace and joy, the abundance within you will flow out and become a reality in your circumstances (see Matthew 6:33). You will find that God has not only taken care of what is troubling you, but has also added blessings to you, be it a promotion, well-behaved kids or a loving spouse.

“But Pastor Brown, how do I keep my inner man flowing with righteousness, peace and joy?”

Be conscious of your righteousness in Christ. Don’t be conscious of your sins and problems. Listen to sermons that remind you of how righteous you are because of the perfect sacrifice of Christ. Peace and joy flow when you know that all your sins have been forgiven because of Jesus’ finished work.

So the next time something troubles you, don’t focus on correcting the problem. Instead, seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Make it a priority to have your inner man flowing with His peace and joy, and He will take care of that problem for you.

Monday, July 15, 2019

The adventure of Life

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2:20

Have you noticed that this journey on planet earth is an adventure? Just when you think that things are set, life throws you a curve and calls you to a challenge or a change. That’s what I am dealing with now. I are facing down some life-altering decisions in the upcoming months and those decisions that I have to make may lead me down a path I don’t want to walk.
I mean, we really, really don’t want to walk this particular path.
So yesterday, I prayed.
My prayer wasn’t casual. It wasn’t a “Lord-if-you-feel-like-it” prayer. It was a begging, heart-aching prayer. “Lord! Please don’t let this happen! Please, please don’t make me walk this path.” My words were filled with passion and my heart ached.
Just a few seconds after pouring out my prayer, I thought, “I know I should be more surrendered. And, as much as I want things to work out the way I desire, I know I don’t understand the whole picture. I don’t see the beginning from the end or what the Lord has in store.”
With this, I prayed again. “Lord, you know my heart. I really don’t want to walk this path. I really don’t want this to happen. But Lord, no matter what, I am here to serve you. I want to glorify you. I trust you and I surrender to you. It’s not what I want, but I will trust you for whatever you choose for my life.”
A quiet peace came into my heart at the recognition that He is Lord and I am not.
“You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you” (Isaiah 26:3).
This morning I gathered my Bible and journal in my quiet-time spot. While reading, I came across Matthew 25:39 when Jesus agonized in the Garden of Gethsemane right before His death. He did not want to suffer.
I immediately recognized that Jesus’ prayer looked a lot like mine. He prayed with passion. He called out to His Father and asked Him to give what He wanted. But then . . . He surrendered.
“My Father!” He said (with an exclamation point!) “If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me, yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” [NLT]
Jesus’ prayer was filled with ache and agony. He wanted God to give Him what He desired. But He still gave up to the Father who knew what was best and loved Him.
This is our model for prayer. Ask for what you want. Trust God for what He gives.
This is not easy. It involves laying down your life and believing that even though you cannot see what is ahead, that He knows the beginning from the end and will choose what is right for you and for His glory.
‘LORD, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps’ (Jeremiah 10:23).

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Look to Him

Look unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith.  Hebrews 12:2

What does it mean to look unto Jesus? Well, we can think of it like this: If you are drowning and somebody walks past you, you do not look at him. You look unto him. When you look unto him, you are turning to him and expecting him to rescue you.

In the same manner, you look unto Jesus expecting Him to save, heal and protect you because you know His mighty power and sacrificial love for you. God’s Word says that we are to keep “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith.” That is how God wants us to live.
So if you have a recurring migraine, keep looking unto Jesus. See Him taking that migraine upon His body on the cross and say, “Lord, I thank You that by Your stripes I am healed” (see Isaiah 53:5). As you keep looking unto Jesus, your healer, that migraine will have to bow to His finished work.

If you have a financial lack in your life, just keep looking unto Jesus with confident expectation that He will provide for you and deliver you from your lack.
“Is it really so simple? All I have to do is look unto Jesus and He will bless me financially?”
Yes, it is that simple. The problem with us is that we tend to look unto ourselves. But we cannot save or deliver ourselves. Even the apostle Paul struggled when he depended on his self-effort. That is why he said, “For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice” (Romans 7:19). It was only when Paul looked away from himself and unto Jesus that he received his deliverance (see Romans 7:24–25).

Beloved, if you have been looking unto yourself, it is time to start looking unto Jesus. Look unto Him, the author and finisher of your faith. And soon, you will be looking at your healing and provision

Friday, July 12, 2019

Ever before me

And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him...
John 10:4

Have you ever seen a farmer trying to drive a bunch of geese from one location to another? He goes behind the geese, doesn’t he? Compare this to a shepherd who leads his sheep. He goes before them and the sheep simply follow him.

Jesus is our shepherd and we are His sheep. He does not drive us, but He leads us. Legalistic people drive others. Jesus leads. He goes in front of us. He is not like the sergeant who says, “Men, cross this river. I’ll cover you from behind,” because he suspects that the river is infested with crocodiles. Jesus is not that kind of leader. He goes in front of us.

In the Old Testament, Jesus led the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. Do you know how Jesus appeared back then? He appeared in a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Where was that pillar? It was in front of them. In fact, the pillar of cloud shaded them from the hot desert sun so that they were kept cool during the day. At night, when the desert got very cold, Jesus, the pillar of fire, gave them light as well as warmth. Whether He was the pillar of cloud or fire, He went in front of them.

As long as they followed Him, the Israelites did not have to worry about anything. Jesus took care of all their needs. He gave them water when they were thirsty, and bread and meat when they were hungry. Their clothes did not wear out and their feet did not swell. They were kept in good health throughout the 40 years of their wandering in the wilderness.

My friend, Jesus your shepherd wants you to just follow Him. As long as you allow Him to lead you, all your needs will be taken care of. He is your provision, healer, counselor, wisdom, righteousness, sanctification...He is everything you need Him to be.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Let the Spirit work

So with yourselves; since you are eager for spiritual gifts, strive to excel in them for building up the church. 1 Corinthians 14:12

For much of my life, I assumed if God wanted to reach me with his life or love, he would “zap” me with it. To strive was to work against grace and try and gain his favor in my own strength and efforts. As J.I. Packer once said in his book Keep in Step with the Spirit, we think the Holy Spirit comes on us like a mood, something that “overtakes us,” like feelings of anger, gloom, euphoria or joy. As such, we spend our lives waiting around for the Spirit to overtake us thinking nothing is required or asked of us as a result. However, Packer reminds us the ordinary, normative way in which the Spirit works is to “prompt us to activity.”
You and I cannot make the grass grow. Yet if your lawn has any hope of surviving the summer, you are wise to water it and create an environment that encourages growth! Similarly, you and I do not tell God what to do or force his hand, yet wisdom invites us to cultivate daily habits and practices that open us up to his presence.
Herein lies the great mystery of the work of the Spirit. The Spirit’s work in our lives is called a gift. Gifts given are to be received with a posture of receptivity and humble gratitude. Yet in the same breath, Paul exhorts the church to “strive to excel” in the gifts you have been given. Presumably, this means it is a gift that is meant to awaken something in us, to move us to action and a faithful response.
Have you tended faithfully to the gifts God has given to you? According to Paul, one sign of faithful stewardship is the ability to use your gifts for the encouragement of others and the work of the church. The activity that the Spirit empowers in you isn’t simply greater introspection or personal, private fulfillment. You excel in your faith when your personal encounter of God transforms your relationship with your family, friends, and community.
Though God calls us to different roles of service within the life of the body, to be a follower of Jesus is to be called into mission. The gift of the Spirit is God’s power to equip every saint for the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:12). You have a unique, God given contribution to make. With great joy and anticipation, believe today that the Lord has given you gifts that you can excel in and will lead to your flourishing and the upbuilding of the church.