Joe D. Ballard

It Won’t Come Naturally!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been at a restaurant with my wife and the waiter ask me where I work out.  My wife usually chuckles a little bit because she knows I never work out and what that tells me is that you can’t always go by the way someone looks to know if they are in shape or not.  I’m all for being physically fit and in shape, but I know it takes a lot of discipline, desire, endurance, effort, and consistency to stay in shape.  And what is true physically in this regard is also true spiritually.  So think about it, you will never stay in good spiritual shape without a desire to do so.  You will never naturally stay in shape spiritually.  Just like with your physical body, unless you intentionally make the effort and put in the work  you will decline spiritually.

If you want to be in good physical shape, you’ve got to make yourself get to the gym.  If you want to be in good spiritual shape, you’ve got to make yourself get to church.  If you want to be physically fit, you’ve got to make yourself eat right.  If you want to be spiritually fit, you’ve got to make yourself eat from God’s word.  (Matthew 4:4). If you want to be in shape physically, you can’t just go to the gym and stare at yourself in the mirrors, you’ve got to pick up some weights and get on the treadmill.  If you want to be in shape spiritually, you can’t just go to church, you’ve got to apply and practice the truths of God’s word. If you want to be physically fit you should talk to a fitness expert for guidance and direction.  And if you want to be spiritually fit, you need to talk to God in prayer.  Think about it, to be in shape and to stay in shape, there are no shortcuts, you’ve got to take the time and make the effort to make it happen, and once you start seeing the results, it just supplies the drive to keep doing what you’ve been doing.

Here’s my point, no one naturally stays in spiritual shape and those who do, constantly work at it.  Believe this word today!

Philippians 2:12-13 “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for [His] good pleasure.”

How many people today have wasted their gym membership?  Untold numbers, and I would be included in that statistic, but I’m not going to waste my membership as a child of God.  I will put in the time, even when I don’t feel like it.  Will you join me?

Running Partners

When my wife and I were in our twenties, we were focused on staying fit and in shape, so we jogged.  It wasn’t my favorite thing to do, but it was effective and brought the results I wanted.  There were many occasions I would have to jog on my own and I noticed that I seemed to struggle more when I was by myself.  When Kristen ran with me and we reached the point of quitting but we knew we needed to push ourselves and go a little further, we used eachother to go further.  Instead of running beside each other, one of us would get behind the other and the one in the rear would focus on the feet of the one in front.  That focus gave us the endurance to press on for a much greater distance.

God’s word encourages running partners who keep us focused and pressing on especially when we feel like stopping.  The disciple’s life is like a race that requires running partners.

Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares [us,] and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [our] faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”

So many times when I was running alone and my side started hurting me, I just stopped.  But every time I had my running partner with me, I found the strength to go a little bit further.  Perhaps you feel like quitting today and completely forget about your goals and why you started the faith-run to begin with.   Let this be an encouragement to you, give to God what’s weighing so heavy on you, get into a place where you can focus on the feet of Jesus, and run with endurance.  He will supply what you need to keep on going.

You are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses of your faith-run.  Many of those witnesses are mentioned in Hebrews 11, but you also have those that live with you or those who are near you watching to see if you will quit or keep on going.  Keep going, because at the end of this race the prize is extraordinarily glorious!

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What are You Doing Here?

My daughter and family unexpectedly showed up Sunday afternoon.  We thought they were in Washington State, and they were the last time we spoke with them, which was only a few days prior to their return.  In our minds we were not going to see them again for another few months, so naturally we asked, “What are you doing here?”  That’s a great question with deeper meanings than that of a surprised visit.

Think about the question.  This is the question the Lord asked Elijah when Elijah ran for his life from Jezebel.  Elijah had just struck a great victory for God’s people and revival broke out on top of Mt. Carmel, but the revival never made it to Jezreel where Jezebel was waiting.  She threatened Elijah with his life, and instead of standing against her, he ran acting as if he had been defeated.  In just a short period of time, Elijah went from a great victory on a mountain, to a cave of despair as far away from God’s people as he could go.  And the Lord asked, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

1 Kings 19:9-10 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD [came] to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”

God knows where you are today, but He would still ask, “What are you doing here?”  God didn’t ask, “What are you doing there?”  That question would imply that God was not there, but “here” implies God is there with you and you are not alone, but where are you?  Can you identify your location?  “What are you doing here?”  Many have joined Elijah in that cave of despair.  Where are you?  Are you in a valley of depression or trapped in a circumstance out of your control?  Are you living loaded down with guilt, shame or burdens?  Have you gone into the far county like the prodigal son?  Are you in the belly of a whale because you’ve ran from obedience to God?  “What are you doing here?”  Are you surrounded in a crowd of those who have no love for Christ?  Are you living in the hurt from something in your past?  Are you stalled out by the doubt in your faith?  Are you living in a constant state of anger?

The Good News for wherever you are is that God visits the caves of our despairs and comes to lead us out.  If you are not where you are supposed to be today, God would ask you, “What are you doing here?”  He already knows the answer to how you got there, but He asks in order for you to recognize where you are and compel you to follow His voice back to a place of victorious living.  It’s time to get back to where you belong in Christ.

 

 

Rendezvous with Jesus  

What is it that gives you the most confidence in your walk with God?  I can tell you that many Christians struggle in this area, meaning they don’t have the confidence and strong faith they need to influence people the way they would like to.  I believe that believers in Christ want to have a greater influence than they do but are missing the confidence and courage to do so.  Most of us could be more confident in our walk with God if we just stayed close to those who were overflowing with confidence.  Prayer and God’s word also gives us confidence and seeing lives changed gives us confidence, but there’s something else that could boost our confidence if we lived in the reality of this truth.  It’s what the angel at the empty tomb of Christ told the women resurrection morning.

Matthew 28:6-8 “He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. 7 “And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.” 8 So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word.”

“He is not here; for He is risen,” is incredible news, and we can only imagine the shock they experienced.  But the angel gave another word that should equally give you the confidence in moving forward in your walk with God.  What is it?  The angel said, “And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you.”  The angel said, my paraphrase, “Jesus didn’t just rise from the grave, He is going before you.”

Do you believe that Jesus is going before you today?  If Jesus is not going before you, then you’re going the wrong direction.  But if you believe Jesus is going before you, then you should be able to go forward with unwavering confidence.  If Jesus is going before you, then you need to get going.  If Jesus is going before you, then you should be living with an urgency to do His will.  If Jesus is going before you, you can be confident in your faith with Jesus and the overflow will impact others to experience the same.

It Takes Power

Jesus had the power to lay His life down and to take it up again. We can’t lay down our lives in our our strength, but we need His power. We can’t be His disciples and true followers without denying ourselves and laying our lives down. That’s the only way to follow Christ and make Him the Shepherd and guide of our life. Jesus said,

John 10:18
“No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

We don’t have that power outside of a personal relationship with God and that’s why God calls the death of His Saints “precious.”

Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the LORD [Is] the death of His saints.

The death of His Saints are precious because it’s a decision we make to follow Christ and lay down our lives. To lay down your life means to lay down your agenda and goals and dreams and self ambitions. I know this goes totally against motivational messages. There’s nothing wrong with having goals or dreams, but we need them to come from God and not from desires to be noticed and leave our names splattered all over the place for our legacy. Jesus’ Name is the only name that matters! To lay your life down can be the most exciting thing you’ve ever done! We should be asking God, “God, what do you want? What do You want me to do with My life?”

Holy Father, empower Your people to follow Jesus. Help us to lay our lives down. Amen!

The Truth Always Comes Out!

You don’t know the truth about everything.  You do know the truth about some things, but there are situations and circumstances surrounding your life and the world that you are still left in the dark on.  Some pretend to think they know the truth about everything, but in a world of secrets and lies and coverups and deceptive schemes, there’s no way anyone can be that informed and knowledgeable.

This truth of the truth always comes out and even goes to the core of who you are and who you say you are.  The truth about your life is not known by all or many, but one day, the truth of your life will come out.  How do I know?  Because the truth is so powerful it cannot be hidden or covered up forever, it must come out.  And on top of that, God’s word tells us and shows us that the truth always comes out.

Luke 8:17   “For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor [anything] hidden that will not be known and come to light.”

Think about it this way, the religious leaders in the days of Jesus wanted to kill and bury the truth, so they took Jesus and crucified the “Truth” on the cross.  And do you remember what happened on the third day?  Jesus/Truth rose and came out of that grave.

Luke 24:4-8 And it happened, as they were greatly perplexed about this, that behold, two men stood by them in shining garments. 5 Then, as they were afraid and bowed [their] faces to the earth, they said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 “He is not here, but is risen! Remember how He spoke to you when He was still in Galilee, 7 “saying, ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and the third day rise again.’ ” 8 And they remembered His words.

Since you know the truth is going to come out, why not just walk in it today?  Why not embrace and love the truth and accept it and let it do what truth does, it sets you free.  Whatever you do, don’t be a part of the coverup.  A great day is coming and it’s the day of Jesus Christ.  Truth is coming and every wrong will be made right and every lie will be exposed.  Embrace Jesus today!

Need Directions?

Unless we’ve been there a time or two, most of us need good directions, including landmarks, mile markers and visible signs.  Directions, however, do not always have to do with geography, but we especially need to know what to do and how to respond when someone attacks us.  Instinctively, when we come under attack, we attack back in our defense, but which way should you go when someone attacks your character or your place of authority and position?  If you’ve been around for any length of time, you have to know an attack will come, and you should know there are directions for every attack and conflict.  God’s Word is such an incredible navigator to help us survive the unexpected conflicts and attacks that come to us.  You can trust the good directions found in God’s word in an Old Testament story of when David the King and all of Israel came under attack by the Philistines.

2 Samuel 5:17-20 Now when the Philistines heard that they had anointed David king over Israel, all the Philistines went up to search for David. And David heard [of it] and went down to the stronghold. 18 The Philistines also went and deployed themselves in the Valley of Rephaim. 19 So David inquired of the LORD, saying, “Shall I go up against the Philistines? Will You deliver them into my hand?” And the LORD said to David, “Go up, for I will doubtless deliver the Philistines into your hand.” 20 So David went to Baal Perazim, and David defeated them there; and he said, “The LORD has broken through my enemies before me, like a breakthrough of water.” Therefore he called the name of that place Baal Perazim.

Do you see the directions when you come under attack?  When the Philistines “went up,” David “went down.”  David didn’t presume to go up or out against the Philistines, as perhaps he really wanted to, but rather he went down to the stronghold to get directions from the Lord.  God was the one who gave David the authority to “go up” against the Philistines and be victorious.  David had a history of going down and inquiring of the Lord before he ever went to battle with an enemy.  David understood that victories in battle rested exclusively in the power and presence of Almighty God.

Let me encourage you with these directions today.  When the enemy attacks, and he will in some way, shape or form, make sure you “go down” before you ever “go up or out” against your enemy.  God may want to change their heart about attacking you.  God is always looking to see what your reaction will be and if you are depending on Him or not.  Don’t be so quick to defend yourself, but “go down” in humility before God.  If you “go down” before God when the enemy attacks, the chances of you “going up” with God before you and getting victory are guaranteed.

 

Develop the Discipline

Instead of giving God your list of needs and wants in prayer, why not go to Him just to listen?  God has something to say, but so many times we are in such a hurry in our prayer time that we never give Him a chance.  For many years I neglected this part of communication with the Father.  I’ve done what everyone else has done in prayer, I’ve rattled off my top needs, offered some thanksgiving and a little pinch of praise and then hit the “Send” button.  I’ve prayed as if God wasn’t listening in that present moment but would get around to it later on and then in some way respond.

It’s absolutely critical to our walk with God to develop the discipline of listening to God in prayer.  Listening is as much prayer as talking!  The high priest told Samuel when he was just a little boy to tell the Lord he was listening when He called.

1 Samuel 3:9-10 “Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and it shall be, if He calls you, that you must say, ‘Speak, LORD, for Your servant hears.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. 10 Now the LORD came and stood and called as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel answered, “Speak, for Your servant hears.”

Learning to listen to God in prayer will be a challenge because we’ve been taught to talk and sitting in silence waiting for God to speak is not our strong suit.  That’s why you have to develop this discipline, because God sees us in prayer and delights when He sees us not in a rush, but deeply interested in what He has to say.  Think about it, shouldn’t the main speaker in our prayer time be God?  Think about it, doesn’t God already know our list of needs?  Yes and yes, and don’t misunderstand, God wants us to pour our hearts out to Him, but He also wants to get a word in and communicate love and guidance in our lives.  The next time you go to God in prayer, go to listen instead of listing out the needs.  When it comes to your relationship with God, develop the discipline of listening and when He speaks, just say, “Yes Lord!”

Matthew 17:5 “While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”

Easter Sunday Services

 

Keep Moving Forward

Sometimes we stand in line with other people and get busy talking or looking at our phones and the line has moved, but we haven’t.  It’s that way in lines or at traffic lights and it’s that way in life.  The horn blowing behind us makes us look up and take off again, or the person behind us may bump us to get us going again.  The thing is, you need to keep moving in your faith and walk with God.  Yes, there are things that get our attention and cause us to stop and spiritually pause longer than we should.  There are other things that we just need to put down because it’s not helping us move on.  Every follower of Christ should learn to repeatedly lay things to the side that are not helping us follow Christ.  We find that practice in Hebrews 12.

Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares [us,] and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of [our] faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.“

John Piper was the preacher who said, “The lowest question a person can ask when determining to continue a specific action is, “What’s wrong with it?”  He said the greater question to ask is, “Does it help me run?”  So, is there anything in your life that’s hindering your walk/run with God, and if so, don’t you think you should lay it aside?

You will continue to be handed things in life, and the Bible teaches us to evaluate each thing and to faithfully practice laying things aside.  Many things we have to lay aside are good things, not harmful or hurtful or even sinful, they are just not spiritual catalysts.  Your faith in God as a follower of Christ means you must keep moving forward.  Since Jesus is constantly moving forward, following means moving forward.

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