Thursday, December 18, 2014

Life in a Fog

By Allen White

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” Revelation 21:1-4 (NLT)

Jesus came as Immanuel, God with us. Jesus is the best representation of Who God is. More than prophets or laws or poetry, Jesus fully expresses the nature of God. But, there is still something missing. God is with us, but we are not yet with God.

As I look out my window this morning, I see the skeletons of trees shrouded in translucent white. The fog obscures the sun. It’s mysterious. Or, as my daughter would say when she was two, “It’s ‘pooky.”

What we know of God is only what is right in front of our face, just like being in a thick fog. We know what the Bible says about God. At least, we think we do. We know what we have experienced of God. God is with us.
One day, we will be with Him, and all of our questions, fears and doubts will be cleared away. One day, faith will be unnecessary, because we will have “sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7).

Today, we have faith and Immanuel, God with us. We look forward to a day when death, sorrow, crying and pain will be gone forever. In the meantime, we need to take the tools that God has given us and fulfill His purpose on this earth.

What you are facing today is only temporary? It may seem like it will last forever. But, for the believer, only Heaven lasts forever.

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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Need Some Good News?

By Allen White
How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of the messenger who brings good news, the good news of peace and salvation, the news that the God of Israel reigns! The watchmen shout and sing with joy, for before their very eyes they see the Lord returning to Jerusalem. Let the ruins of Jerusalem break into joyful song, for the Lord has comforted his people. He has redeemed Jerusalem. The Lord has demonstrated his holy power before the eyes of all the nations. All the ends of the earth will see the victory of our God. Isaiah 52:7-10 (NLT)

When was the last time you received good news? Maybe the seller accepted your offer on the house or the doctor’s report said the tumor was benign. Good news comes at a time of anxiety or fear of loss. Just when you think you’re about to go under, God’s provision comes through. That’s good news.

At the time of Isaiah’s prophecy, Israel had been under Babylonian captivity for 20 years. The Israelites were granted permission to return to Jerusalem and rebuild, but it wasn’t that simple. King Darius hadn’t supplied all that he had offered. God’s people faced rebel forces in Jerusalem. The hopes of rebuilding were quickly dashed by the situation around them.

Then, God sends good news. The Lord is returning to Jerusalem. He will comfort His people. He will redeem them. They no longer have to depend on a pagan king. God’s people can depend on God Himself.

An old proverb says, “It’s always the darkest before the dawn.” I’m not a meteorologist, so I don’t know if scientifically that statement is true. But, apparently, enough people over time have experienced this phenomenon that it became a proverb.

We always need God. When things are going well, we tend to forget about God. When things have gone wrong, we desperately need Him.

For some of you, this is a good day. So, do something intentional to recognize God’s presence with you today. For others, this is a dark day. Good news is coming.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Groaning and Christmas

Yet what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory he will reveal to us later. For all creation is waiting eagerly for that future day when God will reveal who his children really are. Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. For we know that all creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. And we believers also groan, even though we have the Holy Spirit within us as a foretaste of future glory, for we long for our bodies to be released from sin and suffering. We, too, wait with eager hope for the day when God will give us our full rights as his adopted children, including the new bodies he has promised us. We were given this hope when we were saved. (If we already have something, we don’t need to hope[b] for it. But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.) Romans 8:18-25 (NLT)

Groaning and Christmas really don’t seem to fit together. Well, unless your fat old aunt is demanding a kiss or your grandma gave you a sweater straight out of 1983.

Groaning uniquely communicates suffering. It’s not pleasant to hear. It’s not pleasant to utter. Groaning comes in when we’re too sick to put the words together to express our pain. When suffering reaches a point where words require too much effort, we groan.

According to Romans 8, suffering and groaning are a common occurrence. Creation is groaning. Believers are groaning. There’s a whole lot of groaning going on. The world is not as it should be. Groan. We all suffer from the curse. Groan. We suffer in our physical bodies. Groan. Fortunately, this is not a permanent condition.
If we trust in God, He saves us. When He saves us, He plants a seed of hope in our hearts. We get to experience a little of what is yet to come.

We look around and groan. We look forward in hope.

What are you groaning about today? Right now, turn your groans to God and be reminded of the hope He gives.

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Monday, December 15, 2014

God’s Best Version of You

 “Look! I am sending my messenger, and he will prepare the way before me. Then the Lord you are seeking will suddenly come to his Temple. The messenger of the covenant, whom you look for so eagerly, is surely coming,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies.

 “But who will be able to endure it when he comes? Who will be able to stand and face him when he appears? For he will be like a blazing fire that refines metal, or like a strong soap that bleaches clothes. He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross. He will purify the Levites, refining them like gold and silver, so that they may once again offer acceptable sacrifices to the Lord. Then once more the Lord will accept the offerings brought to him by the people of Judah and Jerusalem, as he did in the past. Malachi 3:1-5  (NLT)

It’s easy to do a couple of things with this passage. It’s easy to get confused, and it’s easy to dismiss this passage as something written for someone else. But, this is written for us, just not to us.

 The first messenger that Malachi mentions is John the Baptist. “He will prepare the way before me.” That’s clear. Then, the Lord will appear. This is Jesus, the Messiah. Then, some fear enters in. What if we can’t face the Messiah when He comes? What if His presence is too powerful for us?

I’m intrigued by how the Messiah entered the world. He didn’t come on horseback with guns blazing. He didn’t come in an overwhelming and unbearable fashion. Jesus came in the most innocent way possible, as a baby. No one is afraid of a baby. No one is threatened by a child, except for King Herod.

But, Malachi wasn’t off base in this prophesy. He was hearing right. The Messiah came to save His people and to perfect them. “He will sit like a refiner of silver, burning away the dross.” Jesus will remove every impurity from us. He will take away anything that interferes with who He has designed us to be.

Jesus will continue this work until He can clearly see the best version of each of us that He could possibly design. That doesn’t mean we will end up identical like paper dolls on a string. Each of us is unique. Jesus wants to reveal the best part of who we are. In the process, He must remove the lesser parts of who we are.

What “dross” do you see in your life? What are your circumstances revealing about your progress? Right now submit what you are facing to Jesus and ask Him to use it as a tool in your life. Ask Him to make the best version of you.

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Thursday, December 4, 2014

Water Wells, Church Bulletins and Life’s Purpose

By Allen White

…just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Matthew 20:28

Roland Bergeron left a lucrative construction business to found Water of Life. He has drilled hundreds of water wells to support church planting in Honduras, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and now India. After dozens of 20+ hour flights and sweaty, sleepless nights on a cot, Roland made this statement, “Comfort is the enemy of serving.”

The “enemy,” really? Couldn’t comfort be merely a distraction? Why does it have to be the enemy?

Jesus said that there are two groups of people among us, “those who are served and those who serve.” Jesus came to serve. Jesus calls us to serve. Guess what we have to give up?

Entitlement says, “I deserve.” This is a little corny, but to feel that we deserve is to de-serve. If I am focused on what I need, I am not focused on what you need. My selfishness never leads to selflessness. My pride never produces humility. Self-interest is not the source of self-sacrifice.

That doesn’t mean that we become a doormat and never take care of ourselves. That would be co-dependency. God wants to bless us. He doesn’t intend to bless us into a level of comfort that dictates against serving others, however. To use an overused phrase, we are blessed to be a blessing.

You and I are not better than Jesus. Jesus came to serve. As His disciples, He has commissioned us to serve as well.

When we lived in Southern California, we were members of Saddleback Church. Saddleback is a great church, but I was disappointed with it. The church wasn’t as picture perfect as the one presented in The Purpose-Driven Church by Rick Warren. Some days, I wondered if they had ever read that book. The themes of the sermons were quite familiar. I had downloaded and preached many of them myself over the years. I was a member of one of the greatest churches on the planet, and I was dissatisfied. Then, something changed.

I discovered that there were only five regular ushers in the 4:30 pm Sunday service that we attended. There were at least 1500 people there every week and only five ushers! I was there every week. I could usher. And, do you know what? My focus changed. I was no longer there for myself. I was there to welcome people to the service. I gave them a bulletin, a greeting and a smile. I had to ask them to finish their coffee before they came into the auditorium. (I think I accidentally let a guy in with a beer once, but that’s another story).

Serving changed my perspective. I was no longer at church to be inspired and entertained. I was there to serve others.

What are you feeling disgruntled about these days? My guess is that you feel like you deserve something that you’re not getting. My challenge to you is to turn it around. Whether you hand out bulletins on Sunday or drill water wells in Africa, I challenge you to serve. It’s amazing how little you will feel that you de-serve.

For more information on Water of Life: http://www.givefreshwater.org/

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Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Are You Polluting Your Environment?

By Allen White

I was forty years old when Moses the servant of the LORD sent me from Kadesh Barnea to explore the land. And I brought him back a report according to my convictions, but my brothers who went up with me made the hearts of the people melt with fear. I, however, followed the LORD my God wholeheartedly. Joshua 14:7-8

When Joshua, Caleb and the ten other spies were sent by Moses into the Promised Land, they had very different impressions of their possibility for success. Ten of the spies reported that the odds were strongly against their success. Caleb offered a much different perspective, “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it” (Numbers 13:30). “But the men who had gone up with him said, ‘We can't attack those people; they are stronger than we are.’ And they spread among the Israelites a bad report about the land they had explored” (Numbers 13:31-32). The negative report caused the people to “raise up their voices and weep aloud” (Number 14:1).

Ten of the spies looked at the circumstance. They were outnumbered and outsized. Their forecast was that the land would “devour” them (Numbers 13:32). But, two of the spies, Joshua and Caleb, had a different viewpoint: “The land we passed through and explored is exceedingly good. If the LORD is pleased with us, he will lead us into that land, a land flowing with milk and honey, and will give it to us. Only do not rebel against the LORD. And do not be afraid of the people of the land, because we will swallow them up. Their protection is gone, but the LORD is with us. Do not be afraid of them” (Numbers 14:7-9). What made the difference?

All twelve spies had the same objective, saw the same things, and served the same God. Ten chose to focus on the impossible situation. Two chose to focus on the God who doesn’t know the word “impossible” (Luke 1:37). Ten chose to evaluate their natural ability. Two chose to embrace God’s call and His ability. The report of the ten produced fear and retreat. The report of the two produced confidence and hope (with a little fear).

This wasn’t so much a “glass half-empty or half-full” situation. This was more of a victory or death situation. The stakes were high. The morale was low. But, God is good.

What I have learned (the hard way) is that the negative report should be directed to God. He is the only one who can actually do anything about it. Rather than demoralize and discourage everyone around me, I give the negative over to God. He can take it. He’s never surprised.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I am no Pollyanna. I’m definitely the opposite of that, which is what, Satan? I don’t look at the world through rose colored glasses. I usually look at the world through dirty glasses. It’s the opposite problem.

What affect are you having on others around you? Are they flourishing or are they wilting? Are they confident or are they fearful? If your effect on others is more negative than positive, today is a good time to evaluate what you are reporting and who you are reporting it to. The negative should be directed to God. The encouraging should be given to others.


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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

When Bad Times Start to Look Good Again

By Allen White

Why is the LORD bringing us to this land only to let us fall by the sword? Our wives and children will be taken as plunder. Wouldn't it be better for us to go back to Egypt?" And they said to each other, "We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt." Numbers 14:3-4

When we’re in a situation, we tend to focus on all of the negative things and forget the good things. When we’re out of the situation, the good things tend to stand out and the bad things tend to fade away. This isn’t 100 percent. There are some circumstances that are so horrific that the bad things will never fade away. But, in general, we focus on the current bad and the previous good.

This was the case with the Israelites. They were not reflecting on the bondage of slavery and the horrors of forced labor in Egypt. Their current peril erased the beatings and the cruelty. After all, the Egyptians wanted them to survive. Dead slaves were of no use to anyone.

Their greatest enemy was fear. They were following God’s direction through Moses, but they were facing the unknown. That’s scary for anybody. It was scary to the point that fear of the Egyptians seemed like a welcome relief.

God doesn’t lead us to safe places. He pushes, sometimes shoves us out of our comfort zones. Often we long for the comfort of bad habits, bad relationships, harmful addictions, or even negative thought patterns, because even though it’s bad, at least we know what we have. In some twisted way, we have decided that even bad things are safe when they are familiar.

But, what’s scarier, moving forward with God or retreating backward without God? I’m not saying that God will abandon you. He has promised not to leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5). When we retreat into our old ways, we are embracing dependence on ourselves and rejecting dependence on God. When we move forward, we feel out of control, because we are. The unfamiliar causes a greater dependence on God.

The unfamiliar appears in many ways. It’s not necessarily a change in our surroundings or our relationships. Moving forward is changing our outlook, changing our attitude, or making positive changes in our relationships.  We might think “You know, it would be easier if I just stayed grumpy, because then people avoid me. If I become friendly and they hang around, I don’t know what to do with them.” “If I offer forgiveness more quickly, won’t that just reinforce their bad behavior.” “If I think more positively about my job and avoid the negativity of others, will my friends think that I’ve sold out?”

Change is scary. But, if you think about it, so is staying the same.

What change do you fear today? What do you feel like giving up on? What from your past is starting to sound good again? Ask God to help you through this desert time. He will.

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