You often hear that you have the power in you to make things happen. You can do it, if you just believe you can. What’s the difference from believing that way or believing that the only power given is the power of the Spirit, who lives in you. After all, you have the Spirit in you, so doesn’t that mean then that you have the power that is in you. There would probably be nothing wrong with that except that when we are told enough that we have the power, and we see activity that can only come extraordinary, we could easily be duped into believing that we did this. But when we always give the praise to the One who works in us, we recognize that we don’t have any power within ourselves. Paul would end his letter to the Romans this way: “Now to Him who has power to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation about Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept silent for long ages but now revealed and made known through the prophetic Scriptures, according to the command of the eternal God to advance the obedience of faith among all nations – to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ – to Him be the glory forever! Amen.” Romans 16: 25-27 Paul could have easily taken credit for the things that he did for the sake of the gospel. But he was cognizant of his lack of strength, and the power of the Spirit Who worked in him, to accomplish what God wanted. Not what Paul wanted, but he was always desirous to do God’s will and not his own. It takes faith to move a mountain, and if we had that kind of faith, and that mountain moved, would we jump up and down for joy that we did that? Or would we give praise to God for doing that through us. How many times have we prayed that some kind of event would happen, only to have that happen, but we focused on that fact that we prayed, and not on the fact that God did this thing, even though you prayed for it. All glory goes to him for all the things that happen in a way that we cannot explain, yet we call those blessings. They may very well be, but what about when things do not go your way, or go differently than what you prayed for? Would you thank God for the answer anyway? Would you praise Him because He answered in a different way from what you wanted? Yes, prayers are essential, but it is not the way your prayers go that makes God respond, but rather it is His will that causes a response, even when it goes against what you asked for. Pastor Andy
Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters,[b] that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. 13 As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard[c] and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. 14 And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear. 15 It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. 16 The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. 17 The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. 18 But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice. Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, Philippians 1:12-18
I recently heard a sermon based on the above passages and in reference to one’s spiritual maturity. The pastor made the statement, “Your spiritual maturity can be measured by what you allow to drain your joy!” If you stop and think about that for a minute and really conduct a thorough self-evaluation, you will likely be able to identify some areas in your life where this is the case! He identified three areas where a lot of people succumb to allowing their joy to be drained. I found this true for my life.
- Difficult circumstances: In Romans 15:20, Paul writes, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” Well, as the pastor points out, while chained in prison it is pretty safe to assume that Christ was not known by many, if at all, there! But what Paul did realize is, “ For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” The pastor stated, “Great commitment to the Great Commission will bring great conflict.”
- Difficult People: Without pointing your finger, I am sure you can easily call to mind some people who make life, even inside the church, very difficult at times. As noted in verse 15 in the opening scripture above, envy and rivalry are sometimes an issue even from the pulpit! Other areas of conflict with people are strife, selfishness and maliciousness! We are so quick to judge others, other denominations, etc, when we are all called to be THE body of Christ!
- Fear of the future: As indicated in verse 18 above, all that matters is that Christ is preached. We have experienced so many churches in our travels and through people we know who are so self focused that there is no room for Christ. Everything from the worship to the sermon and even the outreaches is focused on what “we/I” get out of this relationship with Christ. We must return to a life of service to, for and from Him! Paul, again, was in chains in conditions we can only imagine and yet he says, “I rejoice (present) and I will rejoice (future)!” Parenthetical comments are mine. He understood that he (and we who know Christ) will be delivered one way or another … whether in life or in death. Either way … I will rejoice. Philippians 1:20 – I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. One other analogy used by the pastor was that of the microscope vs the telescope. What is your focus? Do you want to focus on what’s right in front of you by making it bigger or take something (or someone) who appears far off and bring it/them closer to you? What you focus on is up to you! Blessings!
“For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
Another example of confusing terminology in the Bible is Psalm 23. In verse four, the psalmist writes about the Lord’s staff and rod. He claims they are a comfort to him, and he’s right. Here’s how.
The staff the psalmist (very likely King David) refers to can have several meanings depending on how it’s used. In Old Testament times, the staff could be a scepter, walking stick, crutch, or some kind of support or prop. For Psalm 23, the staff is two different things.
A Staff Gives Rest. Psalm 23 starts right off with equating the Lord with a shepherd (“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”). So, we know immediately we’re talking about shepherding tools. A shepherd might use a staff as something to lean on in case the ground is not dry or safe for sitting or for support when he needed rest during long shifts tending the sheep.
For us today, the staff serves as a symbol that we too can find rest when we lean on the Lord. When we lean into Him, He’ll lean into us. He is both the shepherd and the staff supplying all the rest we need when we lean on Him.
The Staff is Our Rescue. God also uses His staff to rescue us from difficult or dangerous situations. In the field, a shepherd would use the curly end of the staff to pull a sheep out of thick brush or to lift it if it happened to fall or was injured. God rescues us the same way. Any time we experience trouble (and He told us we would have them), He promises to be right there to save you from the evil one and lead you to safety.
The Staff is a Guide. The staff was also used to guide sheep across open fields and along rocky hillsides. It was a handy tool for making sure they stay on track. Though the shepherd might need to leave the 99 to find the one, he would much rather keep the flock together.
The Lord’s staff still guides us today in every area of our lives. Look back a few lines in Psalm 23 to verses two and three which say, “He leads me beside the still waters…He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake.” The staff leads us to places where we can find peace and restoration amid the chaos in our lives, both day-to-day and in the long seasons. The staff also leads us on the paths where we should be so we can make better choices for ourselves and our families.
Our decision-making abilities and Christ-like behaviors are all dependent on God’s staff. Without it, we would never find rest, feel peace, or know if we’re heading in the right direction.
The rod is perhaps one of the most misinterpreted words in the entire Bible. It is often used by many parents to justify their use of spanking. That’s a topic for another time, but let me point out that is not what God meant by “rod.” It is not a tool for correction or discipline, it’s a tool of protection and a symbol of love.
The Rod is Our Protection. The rod was used to defend the sheep against predators. Since sheep aren’t very smart, it was up to the shepherd to adequately defend his flock, so a nice hard rod made for a solid weapon against any enemies. In this way, the rod is a symbol of God’s protection. He goes before you to defend you from your enemies.
As a Symbol of Love. Another purpose for the rod is one I didn’t expect. I will warn you that I can’t prove what I learned is true, but it makes good sense to me, so I’m passing it on to you. Apparently, most shepherds used their rods as a means of counting their sheep.
In Leviticus 27:32, a rod was used by the priests to count the tithe. Shepherds used this same methodology to count their flock. The shepherd would hold out the rod and have all the sheep pass under it one at a time, counting each animal as it passed. Keeping count was extremely important since they were traveling the countryside so extensively. If you’ve every chaperoned a school field trip, you know what I mean. It’s super important to make sure you have an accurate head count at all times, or else madness ensues.
What does counting mean for believers? It means God lovingly acknowledges us, He counts us as His own, as a part of His family when we pass under His rod. He offers us assurance of His continual presence, protection, and attention when we follow Him wherever He leads us. So, passing under His rod is not a method of discipline or correction but rather a source of great comfort and faithful love.
In His Gentle Hands
When we read all of Psalm 23, we instantly get the gist of it even if we don’t understand the first-century vocabulary. The entire Psalm illustrates God’s unrelenting love for us and how He shows us that love.
Verse four, in particular, should stand out to us. Knowing more about the shepherd’s tools and how they are used should give us great hope and encouragement no matter what our circumstances may be.
The staff and the rod are a part of the same tool, both working together in God’s gentle hands to remind us of His everlasting faithfulness and love. As children of God, we can take a deep breath knowing He is always with us, always protecting us, always guiding us, and always offering us a place of peace and rest.
We celebrated Easter a few weeks ago, which of course, is the celebration, not of the death of Jesus Christ, but of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. Of the spiritual leaders in Jesus’ time on earth, the group called the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees did, but I can imagine that the teaching of both camps was pretty rampant at that time. The ministry of Paul was of course, Christ Crucified, buried and rose on the third day. But in one of the churches he helped found, the church at Corinth, there were some who came possibly from that line of thinking that there was no resurrection. Let’s see how Paul dealt with this thinking: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say, ‘There is no resurrection of the dead?’ But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation is without foundation, and so is your faith. In addition, we are found to be false witnesses about God, because we have testified about God that He raised up Christ – whom He did not raise up if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, Christ has not been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Therefore, those who have fallen asleep in Christ have also perished. If we have put our hope in Christ for this life only, we should be pitied more than anyone. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 The very foundation of our faith is built on the fact of the resurrection. Jesus defeated death, and with it, those who put their faith in Him, will also join Him in the resurrection of the dead, when we pass this earth. I came to the faith close to forty years ago, because I witnessed the senseless death of my brother. I reviewed how our life was so dysfunctional, and then to have my brother survive Vietnam, then have it taken for no good reason, made me start to think, that there had to be more than just this life. Otherwise why live at all, because it is too painful at times, and just a faulty existence that seemed to have no further meaning. It wasn’t until, in my searching, I humbled myself and put my faith in Christ, that I knew there was a whole new existence. It wasn’t taught my men, but the Holy Spirit given to me revealed it to me that Christ died for me. Not only did He die for my sins, but He was raised from the dead to life everlasting, and I knew that this was what life was all about. It’s about life, Spiritual life, everlasting, way beyond this earth, this craziness, and all it has. It’s about a new life, found in Christ, all because He willingly went to the cross to pay the penalty for my sinfulness, and then showed the world it doesn’t have to end here.
Please consider Christ!
This isolation from the pandemic has caused a lot of issues that never made the news. There is the issue of depression from the lack of socialization; there is the issue of family violence from spending too much time cooped up together without an outlet for release. There is the issue of Children not being taught because of computer issues and the lack of one-on-one training. There has also been a rise in pregnancies, which I’m sure are not ALL planned, even though wanted. In other words, it has changed the face of America. It has caused people to become angry for no apparent reason. It has opened up a whole new attitude toward Christianity, although I’m sure those who spent their times secluded didn’t open their bibles much. But through all this I want to tell you this morning that God loves you. He has a plan through all this, and His plan is better than our understanding. Don’t you think He just might be hoping that this kind of crisis brings more people to Him? Wouldn’t He be wanting us to trust Him to lead us through all the times that seem so uncertain before us? But do we? Why are we so quick to complain about this being His doing and not for good, instead of leaning on His grace and His direction to get through it. I found an encouraging Scripture this morning going through Matthew: “Therefore, don’t be afraid of them, since there is nothing covered that won’t be uncovered and nothing hidden that won’t be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light. What you hear in a whisper, proclaim on the housetops. Don’t fear those who kill the body but are not able to kill the soul; rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Aren’t two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s consent. But even the hairs of your head have all been counted. So don’t be afraid therefore; you are worth more than many sparrows.” Matthew 10: 26:31 So what does this scripture tell us this morning? That all things will be made known to them who seek God’s will, and to desire to listen to Him speak. But what we hear we are to proclaim. We have not been left alone to deal with this all by ourselves. It seems that we have become the harbingers of the truth that we should desire to speak, and proclaim. But how can we do that if we are either not listening, or are too busy blaming God for all that has transpired. Don’t you think it’s time we ask God to forgive us and to use us to bring peace to those who don’t know Him and are living in fear? Don’t you think it’s time we stop worrying about what will happen to our bodies and think about what our Lord has planned for us at the end of all this? This is a good day, a day that we can rejoice because we have been given another opportunity to proclaim that which our hearts know to be true to those who are suffering. It’s a good day to look outside of ourselves, and see what is going on around us. Perhaps you and I were brought to this place for just such a time as this. Let’s make the best of it. Pastor Andy
There is a reason that Christians congregate. It’s not just because of the socialization aspect of being with like minded people. It’s because God has given those in the church different gifts, to be used together with others all for the building up of the body. Listen to this Scripture: “And He personally gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, for the training of the saints in the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of God’s Son, growing into a mature man with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness. Then we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head – Christ. From Him the whole body, fitted and knit together by every supporting ligament, promotes the growth of the body for building up itself in love by the proper working of each individual part.” Ephesians 4:11-16 Now that sounds like a plan! God’s plan, that we all work together to bring unity from diversity; unity from different gifts, all working together, not to cause divisiveness, but to bring unity by concentrating on the head – Christ. So let’s think about that the next time we attend church. Often we will look at the church as to what we can get out of it, but shouldn’t we be looking at it from the standpoint of what we can put into it, for the sake of others, doing the same thing? It’s time to get out of our pews of indifference and that place that we go to every week, to sit in the same place, and to not associate except with the few who approach us. Let us approach others with the gift we have been given. Just think, if we all went to “church” thinking of what the Lord would have us input into it for the sake of others, the church would blossom, and it would become strong, and it would become mature. We would learn to overlook the differences and see the similarities of faith that we share. Those things pertinent to Salvation and growth. We must stop majoring on the minor things that reveal our differences, and concentrate on the things that make us alike, knowing full well that we are different but in Christ we are all the same – just different gifts, which are to be used for what? For unity! We should have an excitement to be in church every Sunday. If you are not excited about being in church, perhaps you are there with the wrong motivation. Look to the Father! Look to the Son, Look around you and see the adventure that awaits you when you “branch” out and willingly make yourself part of the body. That’s the church I want to be a part of, and I want you there to share your gift, and to enjoy the fellowship as we worship together, to the praise of our Great God and King. Pastor Andy
Do you want to be a conqueror? I do! But there are many kinds of conquerors. Those who by force subdue the enemy; those who win over others through intellect; those who through deception lord it over others, and those who use money to become powerful and therefore subdue others. At least that is what we think about being a conqueror. But what about the conqueror who keeps and obeys the orders of his or her commanding officer? Interesting thing, being a conqueror! You and I can be a conqueror by believing in the power of the Commanding Officer in charge of us. No, I’m not talking about the President, although we are to obey the orders of the President of the United States. But more so, as believers we are to be obedient to God first, and this is what is told to help us understand our orders: “Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Messiah has been born of God, and everyone who loves the Father also loves the one born of Him. This is how we know that we love God’s children when we love God and obey His commands. For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden, because whatever has been born of God conquers the world. This is the victory that has conquered the world: our faith. And who is the one who conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? Jesus Christ – He is the One who came by water and blood, not by water only, but by water and by blood. And the Spirit is the One who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.” 1 John 5: 1-6 A very special friend, who has a book written about her life, tells in the book about when she was not a believer and in the military. One of her peers, who was a Christian, was kind to her. My friend made it her mission to destroy this person, by thwarting everything she did and making her look like a fool. However, this “Christian” continued to love my friend, even knowing she was the one who was doing things to get her in trouble. She showed kindness and love whereas my friend showed hate and contempt. Who was the conqueror? The love of this one toward my friend finally won out and my friend became a believer. She has been serving the Lord faithfully ever since. Good will win out over evil, even when we think we have lost the battle. That’s what God does! That is the love that pours out when the enemy thinks he was won. Nothing can beat the love of God found in Christ Jesus our Lord. Let’s not forget that, for we have a wonderful opportunity to show the world Who it is who lives in us. As I read it; as I hear it through the Holy Spirit speaking to my heart, this is the way to be a true conqueror. So join me in being conquerors today. Let the love of Christ rule in your hearts. Let it flow to everyone you meet in spite of how they treat you, because that’s who we are. Pastor Andy
Reading in Acts this morning brought me to a place of reflection. You see, I have talked to a significant number of unbelievers in the past years that were right there. They understood what I was saying about Jesus; they understood the Scriptures from having been raised around the church, but they couldn’t or wouldn’t make a decision about Jesus – to accept Him or not. One particular person knew the bible better than I did at the time, but stated he didn’t want to change the way he was living. I’m sorry, but I think that is grieving the Holy Spirit of God. Paul was faced with making his defense for being in prison for his faith, before King Agrippa. Governor Festus was there at the time. As he was making his defense before King Agrippa, Festus spoke up: “As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice ‘You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!’ But Paul replied, ‘I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. For the king knows about these matters. It is to him I am actually speaking boldly. For I am convinced that none of these things escapes his notice, since this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.” Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?’ ‘I wish before God,’ replied Paul, ‘that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am -except for these chains.'” Acts 26:24-29 Now about the time that Paul was told he was out of his mind, is the time that many of us would have remained silent, and felt any more talking would be a lost cause. But not Paul. He was determined to speak the truth to King Agrippa and Festus, for his goal was not on himself or his personal safety, but his goal was on speaking the truth to a lost and darkened world. He was put in front of King Agrippa and Governor Festus for a reason, and he knew that reason was the Lord. So speak he did! When we are put in places that may seem uncomfortable, and think it does us no good to speak the truth of Christ, we should speak anyway, because it is not for ourselves that we are doing it, but for the sake of the Lord. That’s what being a disciple is all about. Speaking the truth when everyone around you is calling you crazy. Speaking the truth because that is our desire to serve the Lord, when He puts us in situations in which He desires us to defend our faith. Could you defend your faith? It’s something that should be on everyone of our hearts and minds to think about. Could we defend our faith when put in front of those who will not believe? We can, if we keep our goal of service to Christ at the front of our thoughts. We can when we rely on Him to give us words and courage to speak. We can when we care enough about others to share the hope that is found in Christ our Lord. Pastor Andy
We know that we are to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15), and that is a good reminder about our responsibility to choose to love others to begin with. A heart filled with the choice to love is not an emotion that comes out of a person, but rather a choice that someone makes because of their love of Christ. It was Jesus telling the crowds: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and hate your enemy. But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. For He causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward will you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing out of the ordinary? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Mathew 5: 43-48 The command to “love” our enemies is not the act of emotion, for we could never love an enemy emotionally. But the command is to make a choice to love them with the Love of God that is in Christ Jesus. And if we have the love of Christ in us, we can make that choice. We can then truthfully pray for those who persecute us because of the choice to act with the will for those who hate us. We have been through a lot of hate this past year with the division that is occuring in the United States. This has caused many of us to take a side and take a stand. This stand is a stand of hate for those we perceive as evil, and our enemy. But what if we started to pray for those who we feel are enemies of the state? What if everytime we are put down, either for our faith or our politics, we start praying for that one, or those groups? But instead we have become a nation of division, one of hatred for one another. And we call that righteous. But would Jesus condone such a behavior? Would He not command us to do exactly as He already told us: To love those who hate us and persecute us. That will never come if we wait for the emotion of love to enter us. But choices are made everyday. We choose to get up in the morning and go to work. Nobody makes us do it. We also choose to make that work something bearable or not, all by choice. We choose what to eat each day, and are not forced to eat what someone else tells us to eat. We wear what we want to wear by choice. We choose to stay with our spouses because of choice, and we choose to love them, by choice, the act of our will. But many claim that they have fallen out of love. No, they made the choice to love no more. Let’s call it what it is. Choices! We either obey our Lord, or we obey that which controls us – our own intellect and flesh, and those things that make us “feel” better. Don’t you think it’s time we started to get back to the first love we had in Christ and start to be more like Him, who CHOSE us, and loves us by His own will. We can certainly choose to do the same. Pastor Andy
I was recently watching a documentary on my absolute favorite football team, THE Dallas Cowboys. I have been a fan for over 50 years and have seen the good, the bad and the ugly!!! Through a charitable golf tournament I used to help with I have even had the opportunity to meet some of the phenomenal players from the past. The ones that stand out to me most now are those who, although they have “fame” and even the gold jacket, remain humble and kind. Bob Lily (and his wife, Ann) are two of the nicest and most humble people you will ever meet! My wife and I were able to spend some time with them before we left Texas! Wonderful, Christian folks!
So, as I watched this documentary on a more recent team (2017), I was really kind of shocked to see some of the behind-the-scenes footage of players who publicly profess their Christianity and “appear” to live for Him. Now, to be fair, if there was a documentary on me with everything I say or do in private, many would be able to say the same about me! But, all of this got me thinking about the age-old problem of putting on airs or being one person on Sunday and a whole different person the rest of the week.
Casting Crowns has a song out called Start Right Here (link below) and one of the lines says, “What if the church on Sunday, was still the church on Monday too?” As I mentioned in previous posts, I often wake up with a song playing in my mind and this Casting Crowns song was on a loop one morning last week. As it played, I reflected on how I can be like this, too. Another song on Christian radio right now is by Matthew West called, Truth Be Told (link also below) which includes the lines:
“I say I’m fine, yeah I’m fine oh I’m fine, hey I’m fine but I’m not I’m broken And when it’s out of control I say it’s under control but it’s not And you know it”
Hebrews 13:8 tells us that “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever.” It’s not fair or right for me to expect the world, those who do not know Christ, to live for or like Him! But if we who do make this declaration to be like Him, why do we struggle so much with trying to straddle the fence; keeping one foot in church and one in the world? The apostle Paul writes in Romans 7:15, “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” C.H. Spurgeon summarizes it this way, “Consider what you owe to God’s immutability. Though you have changed a thousand times, He has not changed once.”
So, why should we strive to be like Jesus and not like the world?
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.” Romans 8:28-30
Be in the world … not of it!