Shining bright in the darkest hour

Shining Bright in the Darkest Hour

“…among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Php_2:15).

The prophet Daniel wrote, “the people who know their God shall prove themselves strong and shall stand firm and do great exploits; they shall prevail valiantly” (Dan_11:32). The backdrop for this splendid display of moral courage and social action was a time when deceit and flattery from political leaders had seduced the mindless masses into settling for a meaningless existence.

That’s when the people of God shine the brightest – “blameless and harmless, the sons of God without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom you shine as lights in the world” (Php_2:15).

Is it possible, my friend, that God is summoning you out of the comfort of a convenient life into a contest for truth and justice; an epic battle against the encroaching powers of darkness, which are stalking our homes, our schools, our courts, our market places, and our churches? Is it possible that you’re the one who can stop the plague?

All it takes is the right man or woman at the right time.

Arthur Hugh Clough said it best in his little poem —

“Say not, ‘The struggle naught availeth; labor and the toils are vain. enemy shrinks not, nor faileth. things have been, so they remain.’ if hopes be dupes, then fears be liars. may be, in yon smoke concealed, comrades chase even now the fliers,, but for you, possess the field.”

part matters far more than perhaps you may even realize; for you could be the voice that turns the battle, the life that makes the difference, that light that shines brightest in the darkest hour.

 

Set Your Sight for Higher Ground

Set Your Sight for Higher Ground

“When Jesus saw His ministry drawing huge crowds, He climbed a hillside. Those who were apprenticed to Him, the committed, climbed with Him. Arriving at a quiet place, He sat down and taught His climbing companions.” (Mat_5:1-2 The Message)

Crowds always collect around events and individuals that are curious or exciting. Jesus was all that and more, and so naturally His ministry drew large crowds. But He knew that crowds are fickle. So when He saw His ministry attracting large crowds — He climbed a hillside.

This was a decisive movement upward; an intentional maneuver sure to root out those who were only looking for the easy way, the free ride. And as the Lord expected, the crowd dispersed. You see, crowds don’t climb hillsides.

What happened next is what the Lord was after all along. Those who were committed climbed with Him. Is that you? When the crowds fade away, and following Jesus is no longer the popular thing to do, or the easy thing to do — will you still be His climbing companion?

If so, He will take you to the summit!

The scripture tells us that we are “partakers of a heavenly calling” (Heb_3:1). It is “the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Php_3:14). It is the call of God upon our lives that makes mediocrity unacceptable. The word mediocrity literally means “halfway up a mountain.” Are you going to settle for only following Christ halfway? I didn’t think so.

Set your sight for higher ground, my friend. And one day heaven will be your next stop.

How Puny is the Ping

How Puny is the Ping

“Spiritually alive, we have access to everything God’s Spirit is doing, and can’t be judged by unspiritual critics.” (1Co_2:15, The Message)

“James, I have a word from the Lord for you,” the caller said with resounding confidence, “and I’ve phoned to give it to you.”

As a pastor I had received calls like this from time to time and generally found them to be little more than well-intentioned expressions of the caller’s personal thoughts or feelings for me, couched in the language of spiritual revelation so as to add weight to it. I would always listen quietly and thank them when they finished.

Or, there were those few occasions when someone would call to blast me to kingdom come with a scathing rebuke, which they were commanded by the Lord God Almighty to speak, yea verily. I quickly learned how to screen those calls out.

But this call was different. It was from a close and trusted friend who has a track record of walking with the Lord, and hearing His voice; a man who rises early in the morning and spends great lengths of time in prayer; a man of significant influence, whom the Lord has used to touch many, many people with the Gospel. He had my undivided attention.

“OK,” I replied, “what is it?”

To this day I will never forget his answer, for it truly was a word from the Lord; a word which I needed to hear at that moment, for I was undergoing severe personal attack in the form of criticism and outright slander. I was being lied about, ridiculed for my beliefs, and spoken against by opponents who held me in contempt – you know, a typical week in the life of many pastors. So my phone-a-friend had my undivided attention.

“Ping,” he said; holding the sound out like a sustained musical note.

“Ping?” I answered, in a blunt, one syllable monotone reply.

“No,” he graciously answered, “Ping,” once again making the sustained sound, rather than simply saying the word. And then he did it again, “Ping.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” I asked, and my friend replied, “That’s the sound of a twenty-two caliber bullet bouncing off the hull of a nuclear submarine. Ping.”

He paused for a moment and then said, “The Lord wants you to know that these attacks of criticism against you are nothing more than that – puny and ineffective cheap shots that cannot penetrate the hull of your ship. They can only annoy and distract. Stay the course and do what the Lord has directed you to do.”

That was a meaningful moment for me. I was being tossed about in my soul with mounting frustrations – wanting to answer in self-defense and set the record straight, but being restrained from doing so by the grace of God.

The storm has long passed and, like any storm, has left much debris in its wake. And with regularity someone will pick up a piece of the trash that was tossed about and take it as current news, and then use it to hammer me once again.

Funny, though, I seldom even hear the ping anymore…

The Holy Spirit Giving Life

The Holy Spirit Giving Life

It is the Spirit who gives life . . . [God] also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (Joh_6:63 and 2Co_3:6)

The Lord’s new covenant of grace is a covenant of the Spirit: “ [God] also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant . . . of the Spirit.” Any approach to God other than by the Spirit results in spiritual deadness.

People need life, initially and continually. We need it initially, because all of us began spiritually dead due to our sin and guilt. “And you . . . were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience, among whom also we all once conducted ourselves in the lusts of our flesh . . . and were by nature children of wrath” (Eph_2:1-3). The only remedy for such spiritual death is spiritual life. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph_2:4-5).

People also need life continually, “for the letter kills.” If we were left to our best efforts after we were given new life in Christ, we would be struggling under a human performance bondage of rules and regulations. That is spiritually deadening.

Jesus came to earth to offer people fullness of life. “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (Joh_10:10). Jesus taught that if we looked to Him for our spiritual nutrition, we would find ongoing life. “And Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life” (Joh_6:35). Jesus did not refer to Himself as a leader establishing a new religion. Rather, “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life” (Joh_14:6). When the early disciples were freed from prison, they were not told to recruit members to a movement. Instead, they were instructed to “Go, stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this life” (Act_5:20).

The life Jesus came to provide is His life expressed in and through us: “Christ who is our life” (Col_3:4). That life produces a lifestyle marked by His love, His joy, His peace, His wisdom, His courage – – and whatever else is of His holy character. The new covenant of His grace holds forth this life, and the Holy Spirit delivers that life into humble, trusting hearts. “It is the Spirit who gives life.”

Lord Jesus,You are my life. I have no other hope or source for finding true life. I praise You for Your patience with me when I try to produce a Christlike life by rules and regulations. Lord, just as You gave me life initially, please flood me now with new measures of Your life, as I humbly rely upon Your Spirit, Amen.

 

Warped head by James Ryle

The Trouble with a Warped Head

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (Jas_1:19-20, NIV)

Several years ago we bought a Chevy Astro Van; with captain’s seat from front to back, tinted windows, and a cassette deck. Belinda and I, along with our four kids, were stylin’ in the Mile High City.

Our second car, which I drove, was a Volkswagen squareback; custom-painted a metallic cobalt blue, and fitted with silver tinted windows. Yeah, that’s right — it was cool.

But anyway — one day as we are cruising in our Astro I noticed the meter indicating that the engine was running hot. Hmmmm. What could that mean, I wondered. Then it began to lose power, and felt like it was lurching along the road — all the while continuing to over-heat even more. Then, white smoke started billowing out everywhere — and I managed to make it to the dealership just in the nick of time.

And for the record — I made a scene once I got there. In fact, you might say that there was as much steam coming out of my ears as was previously coming out of my van. I was angry — and it was all their fault!

They rolled the van into the bay and did a full exam, and brought the news to me in the waiting room — where I was drinking car dealership coffee and scanning old copies of Reader’s Digest for some news jokes to use on Sunday morning.

“Mr. Ryle,” the grease-stained fellow said with a polite smile, “You have a warped head.”

I don’t really remember much else of what he said, or what we did to get it all corrected — for in that otherwise ordinary moment, the Lord used the man’s comment to speak to me about my problem with anger.

Sometimes our relationship with the Lord is like Candid Camera — when you least expect it, and always at a time when you would not want it to happen — He walks right up to you, dressed is some clever disguise like a grease-stained mechanic at a car dealership, and says, “Mr. Ryle, you have a warped head.”

As the guy went on to explain the problem I was having with my Astro van, the Lord started talking to me about deeper issues in my own heart. Specifically –the issue of anger.

The mechanic told me that because the engine head was warped, it caused a break in the gasket seal, which in turn resulted in an oil leak and loss of power. The smoke was the result of oil burning on a hot head.
you get all that? Yeah, me too. At that moment I realized that while the mechanic was talking about my van — the Lord was talking about me.

When we are warped in our thinking – nothing good can happen. And to make matter worse, we get all hot and bothered when something good doesn’t happen. And when things go bad or wrong – we blow our lids. That’s the trouble with a warped head.

The Lord wants to set our minds right. And as He does so, the seal will hold and there will be no blown gaskets, nor any loss of power.

Have you “blown your lid” lately? Finding yourself over-heating and losing your cool? Take heart — the Lord is expert at fixing a warped head!

Next time you find yourself over-heating and getting ready to pop – just pull over to the side and ask the Lord to straighten out your thinking; to check the seals, and make sure your “oil level” is fine. Cool down, and only then proceed along the high way.

 

There is A Calling On Your Life

September 22

There is A Calling On Your Life

“Called by God.” (Heb_5:4 KJV)

I was invited to speak at a historic church in the North East, a church that was facing a defining moment in their long history. I realized that showing up and simply preaching a sermon would not be the thing to do – they were desperately needing a word from God, and they were fully expecting me to bring it. I could sense what the Lord was stirring me to say, and on the plane ride to my destination I took a napkin and wrote down these words.

“There is a calling on your life; a purpose that God has assigned to you. Thus, you can make a difference. However, this calling is not uncontested. To answer it one must be ready to contend for it against challenges great and plenty. The key will be in keeping your heart open and responsive to God. In the end a great work will have been wrought, and a lasting legacy endowed with the grace of God. Shudder, therefore, at the thought of saying no.”

Sunday arrived I preached a message about answering the call of God upon our lives, and during the sermon I took out the napkin and read what I had written to the congregation. It was a dramatic moment. I could tell immediately that the Lord was speaking to many.

Perhaps He is speaking to you even now.

There is a call of God upon your life; a purpose He has for you; an assignment for which you are uniquely suited. Your life matters. You can make a difference in some way that counts. There are no inconsequential people – and certainly this is true of you. History is upon us now in its full measure, and the time has never been more certain than now for men and women to answer the call and deliver the goods.

However, you must know that there is an enemy engaged in war against your soul. The call on your life, and you answering it, pose a great threat to this enemy. Thus, he will oppose you in every way – seen and unseen; subtle and spectacular – so as to turn you from your call, deter you from your cause, and diminish your life’s effectiveness and potential. Do not cooperate with him! Fight the good fight to become the man and woman God created you to be, to fulfill the purpose for which you were born, to achieve the goal toward which you press. Submit yourself to God and He will exalt you. Resist the devil, and he will flee!

Open your heart to God and let Him fill it with His Spirit. He will give you the desire to go the distance once you decide to do so. He will honor your dedication by granting you success day by day — here a little, there a little — until at length a great work will have been achieved in you and through you for others. He will garner your determination with His supply of strength, so that no weapon formed against you will prosper, no lie spoken against you will prevail, no bandit sent to rob you will succeed, and no word or work you do will fall ineffective to the ground. You will triumph as He takes hold of your hand and secures your labors in His Name.

Even now as you read these words the Lord makes this offer to you.

“Here am I, Lord; send me!” This was how Isaiah responded. Won’t you follow his example and do the same? After all — there is a calling on your life.

 

Keeping in Step with Jesus

Keeping in Step with Jesus

“I’ve been out of step with you for a long time” (Psa_51:5, The Message)

OK, so let me tell you something childlike I did as a boy. Whenever I saw someone walking along that I really admired, I would actually try to walk in step with them, stride for stride — even from a distance. In my mind it was as if I would be like them if I could walk in step with them.

Silly, I know, but don’t we all do that in one form or another? We dress like, talk like, think like, walk like, and act like those we admire most. Is it in hopes that be will actually in someway be like them? Of course. Why else would we do it?

That brings me to the point of today’s thought — keeping in step with Jesus.

The Psalmist confessed, “I’ve been out of step with you for a long time.”

I can relate to this all too well. The Lord turns right, and I go wrong. He walks upward, I turn downward. He slows down, and I hurry up; He picks up the pace and I lag a bit behind. He says Hello; and I say Good-bye. And so on.

Occasionally, however, I do manage to get it right: somehow I walk in step with Jesus. And in those moments, rare as they are, I am actually somewhat like Him. Or at least I am aiming to be. Lord, have mercy and be patient with me.

How about you? Do you see Him walking by anywhere throughout your busy day? Do you sense His presence, hear His voice, follow His leading, and keep in step with Him? Aren’t you, in the words of the apostle Paul, becoming “conformed to His image?”

Oh, but don’t you want to be? I do.

So let’s give it another shot; let’s see if today we can walk in step with Jesus. Who knows, we just might be able to pull it off this time, and end up becoming more and more like Him day by day. And we can say with our friend the Psalmist, “I never lose sight of Your love, but keep in step with You — never missing a beat.” (Psa_26:3)

 

There’s a Miracle in Your Hand

There’s a Miracle in Your Hand

So the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” (Exo_4:2)

One thing that stands out about the early followers of Jesus is that they were ordinary men, doing ordinary things – but seeing extraordinary results. One of the most compelling examples of this was when a young boy gave his small lunch to Jesus. What happened next is a miracle still talked about to this day — a multitude was fed with two small fish, and five loaves of bread.

There are five great lessons we learn from this one amazing miracle.

First, never underestimate the Lord’s ability to meet a need. The place was a desert, and the time was late; the people were many, and the need was great. But Jesus not only met the need; He did it with abundance! And He can meet whatever need you are faced with today.

Second, never count yourself out when the Lord starts to work. A man seeing the news about disease, hunger, poverty, and sorrow in the world, turned to his wife and said, “Sometimes I just want to ask God why doesn’t He do something about all of this!” “What’s stopping you from asking Him?” his wife replied. “Because,” the man said, “I’m afraid He will ask me the same question!”

Jesus gave the loaves to the disciples, and they gave it to the people. In other words – the miracle happened in their hands, while they were passing the food out to the people. There is a miracle in your hands, too!

Third, never assume that what you have is too insignificant to matter. A boy with a sack lunch containing five loaves and two small fish – that’s all it took. One disciple asked, “But what is this among so many?” It is tragic how many count themselves out simply because they feel they do not measure up to the moment.

Fourth, never think that He will fail to meet your needs while using you to bless others. The Bible says that they did all eat, and were full. As for the disciples, they collected the fragments and filled twelve baskets – one for each of them. Your service to Him will never go unnoticed, nor unanswered.

Finally, never hold on to what the Lord is asking from you. What if the boy had kept his lunch for himself? Well, he would’ve had lunch – and that’s all. But, giving it to the Lord Jesus took that young man into history. And now, Jesus is asking you, “What do you have? Bring it to Me.”

History awaits your response.

The Triumphant Trudge

The Triumphant Trudge

“They shall walk, and not faint.” (Isa_40:31)

in the heart of every person is a passionate desire to know that he or she is fulfilling the purpose for which they have been placed here on this earth. Have you found it? Found that one thing that is worthy of your one life?

D. Eisenhower said, “We succeed in life as in war, only as we are able to identify a single, over-riding objective, and then bend all other considerations to that one thing.”

What one thing overrides all other considerations in your life? What noble purpose has captured your spirit? What deep resolve beats in your heart? What great decision has won your full allegiance in life?

Assuming that you have indeed found it, let me now ask — how’s it going? If you’ve been at it for any appreciable length of time then you know by now that the journey is no cake walk. It is not a stroll through the park on a blissful Sunday afternoon. No. The path has many turns – up turns and down turns, ditches on both sides, potholes aplenty, and mounds of debris inconveniently strewn all about.

There are setbacks that stall you, and obstacles that intimidate you. There are bystanders that deride you, backsliders that dismay you, and back-stabbers that dishearten you. There are days when you walk with a company of passionate pilgrims who buoy your spirit with renewed aspiration, and then there are the days when you walk the lonesome valley all by yourself. Alone.

You, my friend, are on the Triumphant Trudge! To trudge, according to Webster, is “to walk steadily, and sometimes laboriously; but ever onward.” Isaiah’s poetry says it best, “They shall walk, and not faint.” That is, they shall not tire though the way at times be wearisome.

This will always be the case in every soul who follows Christ up Calvary’s mountain. Despite the trudge of each deliberate step, an unmistakable tone of triumph attends their every move – for each move is always onward, and ever upward. And the Lord who has gone victorious before us will welcome us with open arms on the day we cross over the finish line.

 

The God of No Options

 

The God of No Options

 

“Don’t think you’re going to get anything from the Master that way, adrift at sea, keeping all your options open.”

Jas_1:7-8 (The Message)

We’ve all heard the old saying, “God helps those who help themselves.” While the sentiments behind this whimsical adage are admirable, the saying itself is quite untrue.

Yes, it is true that a person shouldn’t sit around aimlessly all day just expecting God to do this or that for them, while they themselves do nothing. But the adage errs significantly by failing to realize that God in fact does not help those who help themselves; rather, He helps the helpless.

He is the Defender of the defenseless; He rescues the perishing, saves those who are falling, and lifts ups those who have been struck down. He is a Father to the orphan, a Friend to sinners, and the Champion of those who are weak. Indeed, Paul summed it up — “when we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (

Rom_5:6).

The problem with “helping yourself” and asking God for a little assistance is that you’re the one still calling the shots — keeping all your options open. Few things are more insulting to God than for a man to come before Him while holding onto other options….just in case the “God thing” doesn’t work out.

Remember Lazarus, the dead man? He had no options whatsoever. Jesus stood before the cold stone which sealed his tomb and ordered it removed, and then called out, “Lazarus, come forth!” And the dead man did so, now fully alive. A significant part of this event is contained in the name Lazarus — it means “without help.” You see? God helps the helpless.

Like Lazarus of old lying cold in his tomb, you and I will never be called into a new and deeper, more vibrant and wondrous walk with Jesus until we realize we truly have no other options but God.

Peter was speaking for all of us that day when he said, “Lord, there is no one else that we can go to! Your words give eternal life” (

Joh_6:68). He is the God of no options, and you have no option but Him.