Friday, November 12, 2010

Overlooking the True Gift

“Jesus answered them and said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” – John 6:26

When my son was little we got him a ride-on toy for Christmas one year. He was so excited to take it out of the box and scoot it around the room. But by nightfall, the toy was shoved aside and the box became the center attraction. He climbed into the big box, got markers and began to transform it into a house. He played with the box day after day, taking several items into it. At one point it even became a car – something he could ride in! The ride-on toy sat quietly to the side while he focused all his energy on that box.

Jesus went through this very same thing with His followers. When they were hungry, he fed them with 5 loaves of bread and two small fish. They continued to follow Him, not because of who He was and what a relationship with Him could bring, but because he provided food. He showed them signs and wonders. Even in feeding the 5,000 with only 5 loaves of bread and two fish they had missed the miracle and focused only on the food they received. Jesus told them in John 6:26 “Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled.” How disappointing it must have been for Jesus to see how easily we are distracted.

Even today we miss out on what Jesus has to offer. We find salvation in Him, and often stop there. We never explore the gifts He can give, such as peace, joy, love, and self-control. We take our ticket to Heaven, and walk away holding it high with a sense of accomplishment. Yet the entire time we’re living our lives in misery not understanding that we need Christ most for life – not death.

He’s sitting there quietly, just waiting for you to stop playing with the box and pay attention to Him.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Vitamin F

“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.” – James 1:2-4

Have you ever experienced a time in your life when frustrations and stress were so heavy that you just wanted to crawl out of your skin and your life and be someone else for a while?

I’ve had a very frustrating week. Chaos has been all over me. It’s as if nearly every angle of life that affects me suddenly decided to go wrong, create stress, put my stomach in knots, and really just wring me out to dry. It was little things, big things, continual worries, and things that just zoned in and stomped on my very last nerve.

Frustration is like being in the middle of a hurricane. You know exactly where you are, you want it to stop, but you just cannot seem to find your way out of it. And the longer you stay, the more stressful it becomes. Life’s whirlwind begins to tear you down, take away your faith and hope, and torment you.

After almost two weeks of trials, I began to ask God why I was in this state. What was He doing with me? I know God is all powerful and satan does not have free reign over me, so I knew He was behind it all. Was I not pleasing God? Had I been slack in my relationship with Him? Was I moving away from Him? I began to see the trials I was under as punishment.

Then I remembered several times hearing people say that as soon as you begin to serve God, look out for satan to begin to mess with you. Was that it? Was it because of a responsibility to serve I’d recently accepted? I began to question whether I was strong enough to undergo all this, and whether the opportunity to serve was something I should drop.

I thank God that at that point He gave me clarity about the situation. I wasn’t being punished - I was growing. God was giving me a healthy dose of “Vitamin F” (Frustration) to allow me to be tried.

When silver comes from the earth, it’s not shiny and pretty. It’s a metal mixed with a lot of other minerals. But when it’s put through a hot fire, a refiner’s fire, the minerals all break apart and turn to ash while the silver is purified and made even more precious.

Sometimes God has to take us through a refiner’s fire to produce from our lives the experiences and strengths that allow us to be even more precious a tool for His work. In order to understand what it’s like to endure any hardship fully – you have to have borne that hardship yourself.

Maybe if I could have seen God leading me through the storm of frustrations, and understood this was a growth opportunity to begin with, I wouldn’t have fought against it so hard. If I knew He was at work, maybe I wouldn’t have broken down, used bad language, given sharp answers, and ran my mouth! But then again, maybe I wouldn’t have experienced the full scope of the trial I needed to in order to be a tool worthy of helping someone else who’d be going through the same things.

A patient person I am not. But God is growing me. I do find joy now in the trials He took me through simply because I know that He wouldn’t bother with me if He didn’t love me so. He chooses to sharpen this tool because He still finds it useful. He chooses to teach me patience so that He can complete the work He has started in me. I will never be perfect, but I will always be under the influence of the One who seeks perfection in me.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

How are your sheep?

“Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” – John 21:16

I remember an assignment from high school when our English teacher has us list all the roles we have in this life. For example, today, I am a mother, a daughter, a girlfriend, a best friend, a niece, a cousin, a neighbor, an employee, a co-worker, a customer, and the list could go on and on. These roles define those that my life impacts. The people who I interact with are those that Jesus would call my sheep. As a shepherd tends to his sheep, so I am to tend to those that I am in contact with.

Simon Peter, one of the 12 disciples that followed Christ, had come to a tough spot in his life. He had told Jesus that he would never turn from him – he would always be by His side and on His side! But seeing Jesus in the hands of the enemy and about to be taken to prison, he became fearful and denied he even knew Jesus – not once, not twice, but three times. Soon after that Jesus was crucified and died with Simon Peter still broken and out of fellowship with Jesus.
But Jesus would not leave him out of fellowship!

After Jesus had risen from the grave three days later, he met with Simon Peter and the other disciples. As they were having breakfast, John 21 tells us that Jesus asked Simon Peter three questions. If we were to put this into a movie scene, the disciples would all be present around the breakfast table, probably passing the biscuits and gravy, and the conversation would go something like this:

Jesus: “Simon, son of Jonah, do you love Me more than these?”
Simon: “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.”
Jesus: “Feed My lambs”

Jesus: “Simon, Son of Jonah, do you love me?”
Simon: “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
Jesus: “Tend my sheep”.

Jesus: “Simon, Son of Jonah, do you love me?”
Simon: “Lord, you know all things. You know that I love you.”
Jesus: “Feed my sheep.”

Jesus gave Simon Peter three chances to redeem himself – to come back into fellowship with Jesus - because he had three times denied him. I think that He wanted Simon Peter to understand that each one of those times had hurt their relationship.

Each time Jesus asked, He also gave Simon a way to show his love. He asked him to feed and tend to His sheep. Jesus wasn’t talking about a herd of real sheep. He was talking about His followers. The feeding and tending they would need would not only be a physical one, but a spiritual one. Simon Peter was instructed to spiritually tend to the needs of the followers of Christ by teaching them and leading them. His duty would not be to show love to Jesus, but to show love to those that Jesus loved by serving them.

Today we’re often in the same situation as Simon Peter found himself. We have a love for Christ that we will admit to Christ, but often deny to the world. It’s sometimes easier to deny Christ - or just keep silent, which is also denial - in a group of people that would ridicule us as “greater than thou” or “Jesus Freaks”. Christianity is not popular in all circles!

Not stepping up to the plate when God gives us an opportunity to stand for Him causes us to lose fellowship with Him. It is sin. Many of us don’t realize we’re not in full fellowship because we’ve not once stepped out of the batter’s box. We go to practice every Sunday morning, and learn how to swing the bat, but we never step up to the plate to find out how wonderful it can be to hear God, our audience, cheer for us! We’re either afraid of failure or, as Simon Peter was, the other team.

Jesus instructs us just as He did Simon Peter, to prove our love for Him through our actions. We are to tend to, take care of, and feed spiritually those around us.

So who are your sheep? They are those people you interact with every day. They’re your children, your family, your friends, your coworkers, your employers, your neighbors, your mail carrier, your auto mechanic, your hair dresser, your cashier, your plumber – anyone you come in contact with.

If these people were asked if you were a Christian, if you loved Christ, what would they answer?

Would they know?

Have you shown them?

How are your sheep?

Saturday, January 2, 2010

The Reprobate Mind

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.” – Romans 1:18-19

After that verse, I’m sure several readers are saying, “So what’s this about?” I’ll tell you. It’s about a little tugging of my heart God delivered this morning saying to me that I cannot complain about this not being preached from our pulpits if I’m unwilling to step up to the plate and deliver what He has taught me. My grandmother use to say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander”, meaning the rules you set for others have to be the rules you follow. So get ready for this to be hard medicine, because today I’m cleansing my own soul of the sin of silence. It’s easy for me to deliver the things God gives me that don’t condemn and hurt others. I suppose that’s why it’s been hard work for God to pull this one out of me. Today I have no choice.

My heart has been broken for the plight of the gay community. God seems to have focused my heart on it many times. We have made this sin so politically correct that no one dares to stand in adversity to their lifestyle. To the gay community, and my gay friends, I have to say this: The most UNLOVING thing I could do is not tell you what keeps you from having a more intimate relationship with Christ. This is written in love. To those who judge me as being “a hater”, I ask you: Is God is also a hater since He has made a stand against it many times in the Bible?

I can first remember our media presenting this lifestyle to us as a joke back in the early 70’s with shows like “Sanford & Son”, where Fred thought his son Lamont was gay, and was accepting of it, and joked about it. There was also “Three’s Company”, where they pretended that Jack, played by John Ritter, was gay so that the Landlord would let him live there. It was presented to us time and time again as funny, as just something different. Then we began to see the media take a different stand.

It was mainstreamed to us as just another lifestyle choice by shows that made the opposition to the lifestyle out to be uneducated, haters, and greater-than-thou types. We were given shows that portrayed HIV sufferers as innocent victims. The Armed Forces adopted the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy that in effect, accepted this lifestyle. Our schools were inundated with teaching that we were all free to make this lifestyle choice. Gay talk show host, gay musicians, gay politicians – they all came out of the woodwork in droves. Today we’ve been so conditioned to accepting the gay lifestyle that even our preachers don’t want to stay up and say what God has said for thousands of years: This is wrong.

Nothing I can say on this subject, or any other, is worthy of anyone hearing if I don’t have God’s word to back it up. So what you will read here is God’s view of homosexuality from His Word.

We’ve all been taught the story of ancient Sodom and Gomorah, who in Genesis 19 were destroyed by God. It was after the flood – after man had become so wicked that God had said in Genesis 6:6, “And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart.” God instructed Noah to build an ark to save himself and his family because God’s intent was to punish the wickedness of man.

Yet just a few short decades later, when Angels went to the town of Sodom to visit Lot, the men of Sodom tried to rape them. God’s wrath against their sin caused him to destroy both cities with fire and brimstone. The archeological remains of those cities show great amounts of sulfur to this day, which is found in brimstone.

But even with the evidence of what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah, there are still those that say “but that was the Old Testament, we’re not under grace.” Yes, this is an Old Testament account of God’s wrath. Yes, we are under a new covenant with God of grace, and not the law. But does God change? Hebrews 13:8 says “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”, and that’s New Testament teaching. God’s view of sin doesn’t change because we become morally corrupt.

So what does Jesus say about homosexuality? It’s certainly not a God-given lifestyle. It’s not genetically implanted by our Creator. In Matthew 19:4-5 Jesus says “…Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female… For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh?” Jesus was pretty specific in what God considers to be a marriage relationship: a man and a woman.

Also in the New Testament we read in Romans 1:24-32 we read what the Apostle Paul said about homosexuality:

“Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature. Likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful, and receiving in themselves the penalty of their error which was due. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting; being filled with all unrighteousness, sexual immorality, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, evil-mindedness; they are whisperers, backbiters, haters of God, violent, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, undiscerning, untrustworthy, unloving, unforgiving, unmerciful; who, knowing the righteous judgment of God, that those who practice such things are deserving of death, not only do the same but also approve of those who practice them.”

The word “debased” in the sentence “God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things which are not fitting” has been translated from the Greek word “adokimos”, which means rejected, failing the test, castaway. God has basically dusted off his feet from those who practice such sins.

Some of you may be saying “But God doesn’t give up on His people!” Well, He gave up on the angels that followed Satan and cast them out of Heaven, He gave up on Sodom and Gomorrah, and He gave up on all of those living before the flood. In the words of Jesus Christ from Matthew 10:13-15 even we are instructed to give up on those that won’t listen to God’s word: “If the household is worthy, let your peace come upon it. But if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city!” Would God ask us to do this without being willing to do it Himself? Of course not! When He has “given them over to a debased mind”, He has walked away. But punishment is inevitable.

I find it ironic that we see mentioned in this text the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, don’t you? These cities are also mentioned in Jude 1:7 where it says they are “set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” They are to be an example to you and me!

2 Peter 2:4-10 also mentions the destruction of these gay cities, as well as God’s inevitable punishment of homosexuality, when it says “and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; … then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment, and especially those who walk according to the flesh in the lust of uncleanness and despise authority. They are presumptuous, self-willed.” Note that he says they are ”self-willed”, indicating that they are not born gay, but choose to be men who lust for men and women who lust for women. God does not cause sin.

The question then comes “Can a saved person live the lifestyle of a homosexual?” I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer that one. We look upon the appearance of men, and we are told that we will know them by their “fruits” (Matthew 7:15-23). But only God can look upon the heart of man.

The question then arises, can a man be given over to a debased mind, and still receive the mind of Christ as we are told we receive in salvation? 1 Corinthians 2:11-16 says: “For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy[d] Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For “who has known the mind of the LORD that he may instruct Him?” But we have the mind of Christ.”

What Paul is saying is that through salvation (which is, admitting we are sinners, believing in Jesus Christ as the son of God, and confessing Jesus to others as our Savior) we have received the Holy Spirit. The Spirit of Christ dwells in us, and NOT the spirit of the world. He also says that “natural man”, which is man before salvation occurs and we become spiritual, doesn’t receive the things of the Spirit of God, and perceives them all as foolishness. But because we have the Holy Spirit within us, we have been given the mind of Christ. Can Christ have a mind that is “debased”? No.

Paul has more to say about the ability of the saved to live in sin. Romans 6:1-11 says: “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin. Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul explains that because we have been saved, we have accepted as our own death the death of Jesus Christ. We have been buried through baptism just as Jesus was buried. We were raised from that baptismal grave just as Jesus was resurrected, so we could receive “newness of life.” He says we should consider ourselves dead to sin, but alive in Christ Jesus. We are “united together in the likeness of his death” just as a man in taking a woman as his wife is united to her and they are one in God’s eyes.

Does that make saved people perfect? No! But just as a man and woman become more and more alike the longer they are married, the longer you’ve been saved, the more like Christ you should become. Salvation gives us a new way of life. It’s a life that is lived under the grace and mercy of God, in that we are not sinning blatantly as a child who rebels in the face of its parents with a “what are you going to do about it?” attitude! We confess our sins daily and try to become more like Christ, because the Holy Spirit that lives in us requires it for us to have peace.

Paul continues on in Romans 6:12-16 by saying: “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?”

We’re instructed to turn from sin, and not to “present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin.” If we give into sin, we allow it dominion over us, and we become a slave to the life of sin. Paul continues on in this chapter referring back to the acts of “uncleanness” and “lawlessness leading to more lawlessness”.

Throughout the New Testament you will find the words uncleanness and lawlessness. Uncleanness is translated from the Greek word “akatharsia”, which is defined as “a state of filthiness, especially in relation to sexual sin”.

As Christians, we are expected to rise above sin, to be transformed into the image of Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:17-18 tells us that the Spirit is working this within us. It says “Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.” The work that God has begun in us He will complete when we get to Heaven. But that doesn’t mean we have the right to live freely in sin here on earth. What kind of light can we be to those around us if we continue to live in sin?

There are those that will read this and say that I have no business talking about the sins of others because I myself am a sinner like all the rest. To those I say yes, I am a sinner, and proudly saved by the blood of Jesus Christ. And just as Jesus spoke out against sin, I’m supposed to do the same thing. Philipians 2:4-5 says “Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others. Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” What kind of friend would I be if I sat silently by while I watched the sins of my friends pull them further and further from God? What kind of Christian would I be if I didn’t follow the words of Christ which instructed me in John 13:34 to “love one another as I have loved you”?

May the wisdom of God’s word guide you.

May the love of God be with you.

May the mind of Christ be within you.