Thursday, April 25, 2013

Seeker Mode

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” – Matthew 5:14-16
It happens so often that I’m somewhat embarrassed to tell it.  I’ll be searching through the house for my phone, diligently turning over every newspaper, every pillow, every book, checking jacket pockets and purses, having someone call it so I can hear it ring…only to find it in my left hand!  I’ve come to depend on my phone for more than phone calls.  I use it to connect with friends in text messages, to keep track of a busy schedule, to calculate mathematical equations, to shop online, to study God’s word, and even to make notes of things I need to do.  When I lose my phone, I panic and go into seeker mode and don’t stop till I find it.    

It occurred to me recently that we have gone about trying to bring others to Jesus the wrong way.  We’ve not allowed them to go into seeker mode.  Inviting people to church invites them to know the church, but the church can’t save them.  The church, being made of imperfect and fallible people, cannot love them the way they seek to be loved.  With our many programs and special events, we sometimes mask the value of Jesus with the value of the church.  We fail to make Jesus famous, known not just for His historical actions, but His current daily actions in our lives.
To seek anything you must know what it is, what it looks like, where it would be found, and that it is of value to find it.  If someone were to want to help me find my phone I would describe it as 2”x4”, white and turquoise, and tell the last place I saw it or used it.  If they’d never seen a cell phone before, I’d also explain how it’s used, why I needed to find it, and what it means to me, causing them to see its value.

Why then when we want others to seek Jesus do we say things like “I’d like you to come to church with me sometime” or “We’re having a special service at our church Sunday.  Why don’t you come? They’re be fried chicken!  We invite them to fellowship with us, but fail to invite them to Jesus.  We don’t explain what He has done for us, how He is active in our answered prayers, how He meets our needs, how He comforts us when we’re hurting.  We don’t open up and share our testimonies of great pain and His healing of our circumstances.  We don’t talk about the last time we encountered His faithfulness.  We don’t make Jesus famous.
In Matthew 5:14-16 Jesus says “You are the light of the world.  We’re not just the light of our life, our family, or our town, but the WORLD.  We have the ability through technology and travel to reach more people for Christ than ever before.  “A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.” We should set our lives on a hill, exposing our trials and the things God has brought us through, making ourselves vulnerable to public opinion and ridicule by sharing our struggles in our faith and our trials in life.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” What good is your testimony if it’s not shared?  It’s a light under a basket, serving only your life, where it is nothing but history.  “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.  We have to boldly expose our inner light, spotlighting and magnifying Jesus in our lives.

When others see His value and the good He has done and continues to do in our lives, they will seek Him.  When they enter seeker mode, we are promised that they will find Him (Matthew 7:7). 
Let all those who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; and let those who love Your salvation say continually, “Let God be magnified!”” – Psalms 70:4

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Can You Praise Him in This?

Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” - Job 2:3

When we read of the characters of the Bible we often do so to find things in them that we can model.  We want to have the willingness to serve of Esther, the perserverance of Paul, the faith of Abraham.  But no one character in the Bible could be more of a role model than Job.  He was a wealthy man, “the greatest of all the people of the East.”(Job 1:3)  And yet he did not let his wealth become an idol.  He remained faithful to God.  He was a good father.  He offered sacrifices for his sons and daughters – not because they had sinned – but in case they had sinned.  Even God himself boasted of His servant Job, saying to Satan in Job 1:8, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?”  God was very well pleased with Job, and pointed out his good qualities to Satan.

First, God calls Job His servant. This indicates that Job was not only a man who was upright and obedient, but he was also busy doing God’s work.

Secondly, God found no other like him on the entire earth. He was blameless – having nothing wrong between him and God, or him and man.  He had nothing to confess and nothing to be forgiven.

Thirdly, he feared God, he respected God out of the love in his heart. He turned away from all evil, not allowing himself to be near anything that resembled evil.  He wanted nothing more than to be the man God wanted him to be. Job loved God, and out of love, not guilt, not religion, he served Him.
Sometimes when we are taken through the “valley of the shadow of death”, we have trouble seeing God’s will at work in our lives.  When we receive “a messenger of Satan to buffet us”, we only see the hand of Satan at work, and not God.  But rest assured, if you are God’s servant, He always seeks to prosper you and provide for you a greater future than you can imagine.  Sometimes that means suffering, which produces in us greater testimonies, greater fruits of the Spirit, and a closer relationship with God. 

Job was no different.  God rewarded his love, obedience and loyalty with a trial filled with suffering.  He turned him over to Satan and said only “do not lay a hand on his person” meaning he couldn’t kill Job, but he could do anything else his evil heart could dream up. 
Satan got to work. In only one day, he sent an enemy army that killed all Job’s donkeys and oxen. To make it look like God was the one pulling the evil strings, he next sent fire from Heaven to burn his sheep and the servants with them.

Before Job could digest what had just happened, before he could find any comfort in God, Satan sent another messenger.  This one informed him that another army of bandits had stolen all his camels and killed more servants.
Then quickly, as to not allow Job time to even pray, Satan sent wicked winds that blew down the house where all Job’s sons and daughters were gathered, and in one single moment, they were all killed. And as quick as it happened, he sent another messenger to tell Job, while he was deep within his suffering.  

Could you praise God in this?

Could you praise God when your job is gone, and your bank account empty?

Could you praise God when your car is stolen and you have no hope of getting another?

Could you praise God when your friends and coworkers are gone, when you are left alone?

Can you praise Him when your children are killed?

Can you praise God when all the evil of Satan is unleashed on you?

Job did.  He tore his robe and shaved his head as signs of mourning, and fell to the ground in worship. His relationship with God wasn’t based on God being good to him.  Even in the pain he felt, he loved God.  He found it right that he should accept the good and the bad from God’s hands.

The fact that Job did praise God mirrors his relationship with God, which was built on trust in God.  We can all praise God when we’re on the mountain top, soaking up the blessings, living in the joy of His presence.  But that’s not where we grow.  We grow in the valleys.

God doesn’t send us through the valleys.  He takes us through them.  Psalms 23:4 says “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me”.  We never go through the valley alone.  God walks us through the valley sanctifying us, purifying us, taking us through the fire, shaving off the rough edges.  Our perfect response to the pain and suffering that come is to trust in His understanding above our own.  Trust in His love.
We can praise Him in the valley and trust Him to always be in control of our circumstances.  Even in the worst of times, Satan is not mightier than God, and is on a very short leash held in the hand of God.  Trust God to take you through the valley. Just as God did for Job, the valley comes with a reward, and a purpose.

“Be strong and of good courage, do not fear nor be afraid of them; for the Lord your God, He is the One who goes with you. He will not leave you nor forsake you.” – Deuteronomy 31:6 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Depreciating God and Man

 So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing?  Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” – Job 1:9-11

Satan is often called our adversary and our enemy.  God’s word says that he comes to steal, kill, and destroy (John 10:10).  But what is it that he comes to destroy?  If you know how Satan fights you will know when he is active in your life.  To fully understand our enemy and how he operates, let’s take a look at his operations.
In Genesis 3 Satan pulls Eve aside to have a one-on-one conversation about fruit, or so it would seem.  He says to her Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”  Note that he first misquotes God, who had not said you cannot eat of EVERY tree in the garden, but of one tree in particular, the Tree of The Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Eve refutes his misquote, explaining that they can eat of any tree except the one, and that God had said “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.”

Pay close attention to what Satan does next.  He depreciates God to man.  He basically calls God a liar, saying in Genesis 3:4-5, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
Let’s move to Satan standing before God discussing Job.  Satan first admits to God that he has been wandering around on the earth.  He wasn’t here for a vacation from hell, he was seeking those who he could harm.  God, for the specific purpose of trying and blessing Job greater, brings up Job.  God says about Job in Job 1:8 that “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil”.  But what does Satan do?  He depreciates man to God.  He tells God that Job is only serving him because of the benefits God is giving him for doing so.  He says in Job 1:9-11,  Does Job fear God for nothing?  Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land.  But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!”   

In Zechariah 3 the prophet has a vision of Joshua standing before God.  While the Angel of the Lord is there to present the vision to Zechariah, Joshua standing in front of him as part of the vision, Satan is also there.  Why is Satan there?  Zechariah 3:2 says he was “standing at his right hand to oppose him.”  Satan’s mission even during the vision of Jerusalem given to Zechariah was to depreciate man [Jerusalem] to God.
In Matthew 4, Jesus had been baptized and fasted for forty days in preparation for the beginning of His earthly ministry.  Satan came to him on the mountain and said three things.  In verse 3, he is called the ‘tempter’ and says “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” Then in verse 5 he says “If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down. For it is written: ‘He shall give His angels charge over you,’ and, ‘In their hands they shall bear you up, Lest you dash your foot against a stone.’”   Satan first seeks to cause Jesus to doubt his birth, his identity, saying twice “If you are the Son of God”. Again, Satan depreciates God to man, the Son of Man, tempting Jesus to doubt His virgin birth.

Lastly, in verses 8-9 Satan takes him to the highest mountain, and has him look down on “all the kingdoms of the world and their glory”, and says to him “All these things I will give You if You will fall down and worship me.”   Satan attempts to lead Jesus away from God by tempting him with the pleasures and riches of the world.  But Jesus, being with God when it was all formed (John 1:1), knew fully that it was not Satan’s to give.  Satan was depreciating God again, and all that He owns.
The enemy comes to destroy our relationship with God.  He seeks to break apart the family of God, pulling children from the Father, and condemning the children to our Father God. 

He cannot be successful in condemning us to God, for “we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.  And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”(1 John 2:1)  When he stands before God to condemn us, to tell God all our sins and how wicked and evil we are, Jesus stands as our righteousness, saying “Father, I’ve covered this one with my blood.  Father, I’ve paid their sin debt in full.” Psalms 109:31 says “He shall stand at the right hand of the poor, to save him from those who condemn him.” Satan cannot depreciate those that belong to God. 
But He still has the power to depreciate God to those that belong to Him.  Have you ever felt unworthy of God’s love?  Have you ever felts as if God had stopped loving you?  These feelings do not come from God, but the enemy as he tries to place a wedge in our relationship with Father God.  He tries to cause us to doubt our rebirth, our sinless birth through faith in Jesus Christ.  He whispers “God is not your Father, you’re wicked, you’re not loved, you’re dirty and evil, God is not pleased with you.”  If we believe that God is not pleased, that we cannot please Him, then we will eventually give up.  We do not pursue a relationship with God that is sanctified, built stronger as we seek to serve Him.  We become dead in our faith because we don’t operate in it. 

Discern the messages you hear about your relationship with God, and what He thinks of you.  Do they speak of the truth that is in His word?  Jesus refuted every temptation Satan made with God’s word, and we can do the same. 
God loves us so much that He chooses to call us His Children (1 John 3:1).  When we feel God will not help us, He will lift up our heads (Psalms 3:3) in victory.  When we feel filthy in all our sin, we can remember that He has covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). When we are made to feel that God no longer loves us, we can rest assured that “neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing [not even yourself!], shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”(Romans 8:38-39). 

God’s word will refute all of Satan’s lies.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

We’re Sorry Children

“I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the LORD.” – 2 Kings 22:8

His Grandfather was Manasseh, one of the most evil of all Kings of Jerusalem, full of  idolatry, completely rejecting God. Manasseh was an astrologer – one who worships the sun, moon, and stars. He practiced witchcraft. He got his answers for life’s decisions from mediums and spiritualist instead of God. He worshipped the carved images of the gods of those God had removed from the land of Israel before giving it to the Israelites. But he really can’t be blamed completely, for he was one of a long line of kings who had turned their backs on God.

God is patient, but He is also just. He will always punish sin. The problem is sin is never personal – it always affects others – and so does it’s punishment.

Manasseh’s sin the straw that broke the camel’s back.  It was so great that it caused God to declare in 2 Kings 21 that he would bring such calamity on the children if Israel that the ears of whoever heard it would “tingle”. He said he would “wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.” He would turn from the few of Israel that remained and deliver them into the hands of their enemies. They had provoked God to anger with their continual sin.

But Manasseh died, and still no calamity had come.

His son Amon reigns, and still no calamity had come.

Then Amon’s son Josiah reigns. He became king at just eight years old. It’s often said that the heart of a child is pure, and Josiah’s was. He ordered that the money being taken at the temple be used to restore it, which was a decree given years ago by another King that followed God’s commands. In the clean-up of God’s house, something happened: the priest found a book!

It wasn’t just any book. It was “The Book of the Law”, which is most commonly known as the Pentateuch, the first four books of our Holy Bible. Though it was found in the House of the Lord, the Priests did not know it was there.  They had not missed it and sought to find it on their own.  They’d turned their backs on “The Book the Law”, laid it down to never return to it like yesterday’s newspaper.
The priest sent it to King Josiah and it was read to him. As Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers were read, Josiah gained knowledge of his people’s history and relationship with God.  He learned of God’s deliverance of them from Egypt, His providing them with manna in the wilderness for forty years.  He learned how God had given them the promised land, and driven out other idolatrous nations before them to turn it over to the children of Israel. He read how God establishing the laws for them, and the feasts, offerings and sacrifices for worship so they could have an intimate relationship with God.

As the books were read, Josiah realized how many of the laws of God the people had broken.  His tender heart broke. He saw the evil of his forefathers. He saw their neglect for the very God that had brought them out of slavery and given them the land they now trashed. He saw God’s love for them, and he felt ashamed of the years of idolatry his people had lived. He tore his clothes in anguish and cried because he knew they had broken the heart of their loving God.

Immediately, he wanted reconciliation with God. He wanted God to speak, and at this time that was only happening through prophets. He sent a messenger to the prophetess Huldah, who had heard from God.  God in fact had decided to bring destruction on the children of Israel, and all because of their idolatry. He had told Huldah to deliver to Josiah the message that “My wrath shall be aroused against this place and shall not be quenched”, which was God saying, “Enough is enough! This time you’re going down!”

But that isn’t all God had to say. God still is the God of love, the God of forgiveness to those who seek to repent. He spoke to the prophetess concerning Josiah. He said in verse 19, that because Josiah’s heart was tender, humbled, and broken when he learned of their sin, that he would let him live out his days before the destruction would come. Josiah would be spared the punishment God would deliver.

Imagine being Josiah after receiving that message.  How would you look your children in the face knowing they would live on after you, and suffer God’s wrath. How would you look at the face of a newborn baby and feel anything but anguish and pain?

Today we live in a world much like Josiah’s. We read our horoscopes to see what the day will bring, worshipping the stars, and ignoring their creator (Deuteronomy 4:19). We call up fortune telling phone services to see what mysteries of our life they can show us, and ignore God who knows all mysteries (Deuteronomy 29:29). We use tarot cards, have our own “spiritual journeys”, and meditate to find our inner energies, and ignore God and the inner presence of the Holy Spirit He desires to give us.  We seek answers where they cannot be found, ignoring the one with all the answers. Sure, we may escape the wrath of God in our generation, but what about our children?

Parents, seek Him while He can be found. It’s not enough to send your children to church with someone else, or put them on the church bus.  They need to see it as something YOU value.  Everything your children learn they learn from watching you.  That’s how they learned to talk, walk, feed themselves, interact with others, smile, you name it – they learn it from watching YOU.  Have the relationship with God that you want your children to have. 
Our children need Christ in their lives. We live in a time when our children, even the youngest of them, do not value their own life or the life of others. They starve themselves to feel better about who they are, or eat themselves into an early grave to combat who they feel they are. They attempt to combat the pain in their hearts by cutting themselves. They seek out a drug or alcohol to give them a high that only God can give, and find addiction.  They seek it in sex only to become parents who don’t have true love themselves and don’t know how to love a child.  They seek to find peace within themselves in perversions, trying to find out who they are, when God wants to show them that they are His beloved children. 

As parents, we’ve denied them the truth, the answers to their problems, because we have stopped teaching them the Bible ourselves, and taking them to church.  Moms and Dads, as tenderly as I know how to say this, if your life is too busy to take your children to church, to teach them about God and His love for them, you are far busier than God wants you to be.

Is this really what we want for our children?

Are we so selfish that we won’t take time to help them find the God they need?

God have mercy on us all, and our children! We have become the people that were once destroyed…again.  We have not yet found the book, and found in it a repentant heart.


Saturday, April 20, 2013

Garbage In – Garbage Out

Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life. – Proverbs 4:23
We have a saying in the computer software business, “Garbage in – Garbage Out”.  It means that if your data is faulty, fixing your software won’t correct it.  A bad price on an item is going to produce a bad sales invoice, one with an incorrect price.  A bad inventory stock level is going to give trouble when you go to sell stock you don’t really have.  If you don’t put good stuff in, true stuff, then you can’t expect the end product to be good.
Our lives are just like these computer software systems.  Daily we take in stuff, some truth, some garbage, and daily we give output in either what we say or what we do.  But it’s still garbage in – garbage out!  When dealing with this on a computer system the issue is never the data itself, but the source of the data.  If you’re getting bad prices from a vendor, you stop dealing with the vendor or get them to deliver true prices.  If you’re getting incorrect inventory levels, you determine why your inventory isn’t what it should be, and you fix that problem.  It’s a matter of controlling what comes in to perfect what goes out. 
Friends, what I say next may offend you.  You might want to pray first.   I’m not telling anyone this to offend you, and most likely not telling you something you don’t already know.  But if God brings it to me, I deliver it.  Talk to Him about it if it bothers you.  He has your personal answers.
If we want to perfect our lives, we have to control our input devices, our ears and eyes.  What comes through these portals from our environment controls what goes into our hearts.  And from our hearts spring forth all our troubles!  It is the CPU of the soul, controlling our emotions, our attitudes, and our actions.  Proverbs 4:23 says “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.”  If you want to deal with less ‘issues’ in life, you must deal with the inputs to your heart.
If you want to watch television shows that are aimed at selling violence (C.S.I., Murder for Hire, The Walking Dead, Sons of Anarchy, Criminal Minds, The Sopranos, etc…), then expect evil and violent thoughts to come to your mind.  Expect bad dreams, angry expressions, and even violent actions!  You don’t plant turnips and expect to grow apples! 
If you want to watch reality shows that sell drama (The Kardashians, Jersey Shore, The Young and The Restless, Teenage Mom, The Bachelor, etc…) expect to start thinking like the characters on that show.  Are you judging people based on the things you’ve seen?  Is your moral level falling to that of what has been made acceptable by these Hollywood script writers?  Drama, drama, drama!  If you want peace in your life, don’t open the door to bring in the drama of the outside world.  Close it!
Television isn’t to blame for all our evil input, but it plays a big part.  How about the music we listen to?  Parents, I encourage you and applaud you if you will do this one thing:  Get your child’s iPod or IPhone or whatever they store music on, and listen to the music they are listening to.   How about those lyrics?  Is that the message you want your child hearing?  Check yourself and your music as well.  Lyrics in music enter our minds much differently than spoken words or written words.  Music has a psychological effect on your mood and behavior.  For this reason, they should be monitored much more closely than books or television.
Take a look at where our society is at today.  A man walks into a Colorado Springs theater with a gun and kills 12 people.  When authorities enter his apartment, they found a poster on his closet door of the movie “Soldiers of Misfortune”.  His entire apartment was rigged with explosives to kill whoever entered it.  How do you suspect evil entered this young man’s heart? 
A young man enters Sandy Hook elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut, carrying four guns, and kills 27 people, 20 of which were elementary children.  The Huffington Post reports him to have been a recluse who played violent video games”.  Friends, the violence did not start with the gun in this young man’s hand, but the evil in his heart.
Seung-Hui Cho, a senior at Virginia Tech, kills 32 people and wounds 17 others.  As a middle school student he had once written that he wanted to “repeat Columbine”.  His parents did nothing.  He was socially awkward, and authorities at the school spoke to the parents about getting him treatment.   Two years prior to the shooting, his mother had sought the help from a church, who met with Seung-Hui and told her that her son was under spiritual demonic powers and needed deliverance.  But before the church could talk to the family, he started school at Virginia Tech.  There he repeatedly listened to “Shine” by Collective Soul.  The chorus of the song repeats “Oh - Heaven, let your light shine down”, and talks about how to find love.  This young man needed deliverance, needed Jesus, but his parents sent him off to college without Him.  He had a heart condition.
Violence does not start in the hand with a gun, it starts in the heart.  Remove the gun, and you’ll find it replaced with a knife, a sword, an ax, or any other deadly weapon.  But change the heart, and you’ll remove the violent thoughts and actions. 
Take a deeper look at our society.  Our issues aren’t simply with our violent natures. 
We have adults hooked on drugs to the point they cannot raise their own children. 
We have teens who self-harm, are depressed, and commit suicide. 
We have divorce rates at such a high level that marriage only seems seasonal, like a national sport. 
We have grandparents raising their grandchildren because young people were not ready for the responsibility of raising a child. 
We have people spending their entire paychecks to buy lottery tickets with the hope of becoming rich.
We have millions who would rather draw a check than work for an honest wage, and feel entitled to the check, which has been part of their lifestyle for generations. 
We are in personal debt to our eyeballs while trying to meet the standards of the “American Dream”. 
Out of our lives are springing ‘issues’, things God never intended us to deal with.  What’s missing from our lives?  It’s not a defect of our nutritional system (Mark 7:18-20), our health care system, or our educational system.  It’s a defect of the heart!  And yes, it is a defect in our churches because we have failed in teaching our members how to deal with the garbage that our society wants to input into our lives!
Even before the flood, it was a heart issue that destroyed the earth.  Genesis 6:5 says the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his HEART was only evil continually.” It was the thoughts of the HEART that had gone evil.  We do so much to protect ourselves, arming ourselves and our homes with weapons to fight any evil that enters, alarm systems, and buying health insurance and home insurance plans for all sorts of bad things to come.  But we don’t monitor the evil that enters through the eyes and ears.  We bring it into our homes as we quietly click the remote, insert the ear buds of our iPod, and flip on the video game.  It comes in quietly, while we’re not watching and standing guard, as a thief in the night.
In Deuteronomy 11:18-19 God instructed us to “lay up these words of mine in your HEART and in your soul, and bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your EYES [an input to the heart]. You shall teach them to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.”   We want to protect our children.  We start at an early age teaching them about strangers, and how to protect themselves from germs, and things that can harm them physically.  But we fail when we teach them how to protect their hearts. 
Jesus teaches us in Matthew 5:8 about keeping our hearts pure, which can only be done if we keep the garbage out.  He says Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Purity of heart starts with the heart transplant, given a new heart when you are saved (Ezekiel 36:26).  But to be purified by God, you must transform your mind, which begins with the heart. In Romans 12:1-2 Paul tells us that we are to present our bodies (including our eyes and ears), as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  Transform your mind by filtering what goes through your input devices, your eyes and ears and you will transform your heart, from which flow all your actions, behaviors, and attitudes.  If you want a better life - a life with less ‘issues’ - stop letting the garbage in.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.” – Psalms 51:10

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Bad Apple (Part 2)

But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God….by purity, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by sincere love, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left, by honor and dishonor, by evil report and good report” – 2 Corinthians 6:4-8

Our mission as followers of Christ is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world (Mark 16:15), giving the necessary knowledge of Jesus to those that will believe when God draws them to Himself.  How successful we are often depends on who has ministered before us.  It only takes one bad apple to cause a lost person to close their heart to anything related to Christ.  As the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9-12), we must assure that we don’t become a stumbling block for those which we are ministering to.
Paul emphasized the behaviors, attitudes, and character of a minister in the preceding study of these verses in 2 Corinthians 6.  He continues by explaining how we live in such a way as to not be offensive.  He explains the underlying qualities in which caused him not to be a bad apple and ruin ministry for those that would follow him.

“by purity” – Paul refers to sanctification, the purification of a man through the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Purity is not just in the actions, but in the thoughts of the mind.
“by knowledge” – You cannot deliver to another information which you do not fully understand.  A teacher or minister must fully know and understand the gospel of Jesus Christ, and be able to answer the questions that will come.

“by longsuffering” – Having a longsuffering spirit, being patient diligent in ministry. 
“by kindness” – Yes, even the most simple forms of love, simple acts of kindness, work to open the door for ministry.  Kindness a operating in a gentle manner, being as “harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16)

“by the Holy Spirit” – Ministry should be led by the Holy Spirit, and our behaviors and attitudes should be purified by His guidance.  No one is a true minister of the gospel without the presence of the Holy Spirit within their hearts.
“by sincere love” –  Paul doesn’t just say to work in loving ways, but to have a “sincere” love for those you minister to.  A ministry that attempts to love people only to add numbers to a church, or notches in the Christian belt of believers won, is not an effective ministry.  These ministries are the worst kind.  They may add believers, but they do not grow Christians who will become disciples.  Sincere love and care for others can only come from the presence of the love of God working in your heart.

“by the word of truth” –  Deliver God’s truth boldly, not what is comfortable and acceptable to public opinion.              
“by the power of God” – Paul refers to the miracles, healings, and gifts of the Holy Spirit that proved his relationship with Almighty God.  A minister should be willing to operate in the power of God through the Holy Spirit that dwells within the believer. 

“by the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left” –  Ephesians 6:10-20 discusses the armor of God.  Two elements of the armor that we hold in our hands are “the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one, and “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God”.   You must arm yourself with great faith and the power of God’s word if you want to be effective in ministry.  Faith in God removes fear, and allows you to trust Him.  His word strengthens your spirit, and your knowledge of Him.  Boldness in ministry comes from having both faith and God’s word.
“by honor and dishonor” – The honor and dishonor received from men are equally harmful to ministry. Given too much honor, the flattery of people can ruin a disciple, as pride can cause them to hold on to the glory which should be given to God.  Dishonor, bringing ridicule and criticism even from among other disciples can equally harm a disciple, causing them to feel inadequate to minister and refuse to take on the responsibility to deliver the gospel.  We must be careful not to exalt each other too highly, or to correct without love.

“by evil report and good report” – Slandering another believer who is actively trying to minister, whether what is said is true or false, is just bad behavior on the part of a Christian.  If you have problems with a brother or sister in Christ, go to them in private as God’s word says.  Don’t spout out the garbage from your mouth that can cause their ministry to become septic.  Likewise, be careful not to cause self-pride to take root in their ministry through your high praise, which can also create a septic ministry.  In controlling our own words regarding a disciple we are not protecting the disciple, but the message and those that hear it.  Treat each other as the family of God.  A good family keeps their dirty laundry private, so as not to harm each other’s reputation, and is careful not to lift each other up on a pedestal, knowing how hard it can be when one falls.
Paul goes on in verses 9-10 of the same passage telling the benefits of discipleship.  He says:

“as unknown, and yet well known” – Though you may not be known on earth, your name will be famous in Heaven.
“as dying, and behold we live” - While you may be dying physically with each passing day, you have attained eternal life. 

“as chastened, and yet not killed” – You may be corrected, but you are not punished with an everlasting death.

“as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing” – While you may have sorrow, the joy of your salvation is secure.
“as poor, yet making many rich” – You may not possess earthly wealth, but through you many become the children of God, the one who owns “the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalms 50:10)

“as having nothing, and yet possessing all things” – God meets your needs, your desires, protects, and brings peace to His children. 
Discipleship is a difficult profession, with few who choose to accept the calling even though all Christians are called to it.  We work together as a team, each possessing a variant of the same gift for ministry.  Because we are a team, we must protect each other, as well as having a common vision of the ministry, and protecting the ministry itself.  Knowing our own short comings, and where we have been “the bad apple” enable us to have a stronger ministry for Jesus Christ. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

The Bad Apple (Part 1)

We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.  But in all things we commend ourselves as ministers of God, in much patience, in tribulations, in needs, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labors, in sleeplessness, in fastings;” – 2 Corinthians 6:3-5

Some conversations stick in your head until a time when God decides to use them.  One such I recall was in regards to James Merritt, one of my favorite preachers on television.  I said something to a friend once about his message, and the reply was “I don’t like television preachers.  They’re so fake.”  Really?  That’s about as fair as saying I don’t like men named John because they all have blonde hair!
In any group of people, we all run the risk of being stereotyped, falling into a set of characteristics given to that group of people.  As a software developer, I’m often thought to be a ‘computer geek’ or ‘nerd’, and in love with science.  Doctors are often thought to be rushed, ‘quacks ‘, or living in wealth.  Lawyers are seen as truth-benders, and ‘shady’.  Car dealers are associated with hiding the truth, and dishonesty.  Teens are categorized as lazy, wild, and rebellious. 

These stereotypes didn’t happen overnight.  They have grown from past experiences people have had with each profession.  It only takes one bad apple to ruin a whole cart!  And when I go to the supermarket, if I’m looking at the apples and they are all bruised and nasty looking, I don’t buy ANY of them.  I dismiss the whole group.  Likewise, many people see Christians in the same manner, having known one bad apple and deciding they don’t want any part of Christianity because of their past experience with that one rotten example.
Paul talks to Christians in 2 Corinthians 6:1-10 about this, and tells them to “not receive the grace of God in vain.”  We have been gifted by God the knowledge of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Yet how we live our lives and how we minister can shut doors of ministry that should be open.

In verse 3 he says We give no offense in anything, that our ministry may not be blamed.” In today’s language, Paul is saying watch yourself.  Don’t create a situation where you will be offensive to anyone else, which immediately closes the door of ministry.  He gives an example of this in 1 Corinthians 8:13 when he talks about friends that don’t eat meat, saying “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble”.  We don’t go into a Jewish household to minister eating a bar-b-q pork sandwich!  And we don’t go to talk to teens whom have never been to church wearing a suit and tie and quoting the old English of the King James Version, crying out “Repent!”.  That door doesn’t just shut – it is slammed shut.
Paul goes on to talk about our character as Christians, and how we must live in a way that portrays Christ.  We are given His name, as ‘Christ’ians.  Just as children carry the name of their parents, and their lives cast shadows on their parents character, so our lives do to Christ for those that do not know Him.

Paul tells us to “commend ourselves as ministers of God”, meaning to have piety, a devoted life to God.  He then gives us a grocery list of when we must show our loyalty to God. 
“In much patience” - When your patience is tested, you cannot explode.  Ministry does require self-control.

“In tribulations” – When times are tough, you have to stand strong.  I once heard a preacher say that if you want to know what a lemon is made of, you squeeze it.  Sometimes we’re squeezed, and what we produce should not be sour attitudes, and weak behavior.
“In needs” – Paul often needed food, shelter, and other necessities as he ministered.  But these needs should not overtake our responsibility to minister for God.  You can only serve one master.

“In distresses” – When you’re hard pressed, in anguish, and under stress, you must reach with patience. 
“In stripes” – Paul was beaten many times for preaching Jesus Christ to the Jews.  Even when being punished for your beliefs, you don’t get a “get out of being a Christian free” card. Endurance wins the race.

“In imprisonments” – You don’t have to sit in a prison cell to be imprisoned because of your belief in Jesus Christ.  Many workplaces and schools refuse to allow us to pray in public, speak of Jesus Christ, or read our Bibles.  While your worship may not be allowed, your character can preach stronger than with greater effect than your words. People can resist preaching, but they cannot refute the sweet Spirit living inside you.
“In tumults” – We all go through times when we’re tossed around, good times followed by bad times followed again with good.  Steadiness of character is what we strive for in times when our faith can be tested.

“In labors” – Ephesians 6:5-7 tells us to perform our jobs as if we worked them for Christ, “not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, with goodwill doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men”.  Slacking on the job closes ministry doors.  If your employer is paying you to do a job and you don’t do it to the level of quality you can and are expected to do it - you’re stealing from your employer.  Those watching you draw a pay check doing your job half-heartedly or with a bad attitude won’t see Christ in you.  Christ was not lazy. 

“In sleeplessness” – Being tired doesn’t give you an excuse to stop ministering.  If you get a call at 1:00 a.m. from someone needing prayer…pray.  Don’t condemn them for calling at that hour.  Your rest is not always going to be in the plan. 
“In fastings” – Yes, fasting.  Sometimes it is required, and God will instruct you to do it.  Fasting is doing without food, pure and simple.  When your flesh is denied, your spirit grows.  Jesus fasted for 40 days before His ministry began.  In Matthew 17:14-21 when He was faced with a demon possessed boy, he was able to cast out the demon that his disciples could not, and when asked why he explained this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting”. There are times when fasting is required for ministry.

After reading Paul’s grocery lists of how we must maintain our character and live in order to minister to others, we might quickly say “No thanks! I’m not going to be a minister.”  But Paul isn’t talking about the profession of preaching.  He’s speaking to the entire church at Corinth, a body of believers just as we are.  We were all given the command to go into the world and preach the good news of Jesus Christ.  We must be keenly aware of how we perform that duty, and assure that we don’t become the rotten apple in the cart in anyone’s eyes.  While it is a hard task to follow…as we will discuss further…we are equipped.   Thank God that He does not leave us to our own resources!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

The Contagion of Sin

And he said to them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.” – Jonah 1:12

There’s a song by Rodney Atkins called “Watching You”.  It tells the tender story of a father and his son riding home from McDonalds.  The father hits the brakes at a red light, and the little boys fries went to flying and his orange drink covered his lap.  At that point the little boy says a four letter word beginning with “S”!  When his father asked him where he’d heard such a word, his reply was “I’ve been watching you dad.”
We all have those little sins that are habitual.  It may be a bad word, an angry attitude, a wasteful way of life, you pick it – what is that favorite sin of yours?  We all have one. When the preacher talks about it we suddenly become deaf until his words become sweeter.  We hold on to it and cherish it with excuses like “Well, nobody’s perfect!” or “It’s really not THAT bad” or even “This is between me and God”.  But have you realized that your sin is contagious?

In Jonah 1, the Prophet Jonah was in a full blown spirit of rebellion.  He refused to obey God and go to Nineveh, and decided the best way to run from God’s plan was to go to Tarshish.  God had not yet been revealed to the people of Tarshish, so it seemed to Jonah that this would be a ‘safe’ place to hide from God.  So he boarded a boat headed, he thought, away from God.
But once at sea, the waves grew taller and stronger, and the men on the boat feared they would lose their lives.  They began to throw the cargo overboard to try to save the ship from being broken apart.  But the storm raged against the boat.  They called out to their gods, each man…except for Jonah.  Jonah slept in the lower part of the boat.  His sin didn’t bother him, but it was about to cause a ship wreck and cost the crew their lives! 

When the captain found him, he said What do you mean, sleeper? Arise, call on your God; perhaps your God will consider us, so that we may not perish.”  As they began to cast lots to see who had caused this angry sea to come upon them, Jonah knew his secret would be uncovered.  And as God planned it, the lot fell on Jonah.  His sins were pointed out by the finger of God! Numbers 32:23 says be sure your sin will find you out.” God has a way of revealing our secret sins.
He then told them in Jonah 1:12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea; then the sea will become calm for you. For I know that this great tempest is because of me.”  Jonah confessed, and as soon as they threw Jonah overboard, removing his sin from the boat, the sea became calm.  And God, being merciful to those who ask for His forgiveness, came to Jonah’s aid with a big fish to bring him to shore.

Sin brings pain not only to the one who commits it, but to those who see it and are near it.  Look around you at those who look up to you, or those that just fellowship with you.  Is that favorite sin worth it if it entangles them?  Will they one day use the same excuses you do to condone this sin?
Jesus called us to be a light to the world.  Light has no darkness in it.  Darkness cannot be seen when the light is on.  But we sometimes want an off switch for our light, to dabble in a little bit of sin and darkness.  Funny thing is…Jesus didn’t give us an off switch.  He said “let your light shine” (Matthew 5:16) so that what you do will be seen by others, and glorify God.  We are called ‘Christ’ians, called by His name.  When we sin, we bring dishonor to His name.  But we also bring the contagion of sin to those who watch us, and those that may not have been vaccinated by the righteousness of His Salvation. 

We should always confess our sins to God in prayer.  Though salvation brings the atonement of sins from our past, present and future, we still need to confess them and ‘clear the air’ with God.  But sometimes we also must confess our sins to those who are watching, to those that have seen our light flicker.  Being a Christian isn’t about being seen as perfect.  Pretending you are perfect is lying, and yes, that’s a sin too.  Being a Christian is allowing others to know you are not perfect, but you have trusted in Jesus who is perfect and received His righteousness as atonement for your sins, and the Holy Spirit as your guide.  That relationship causes you to want to be more like Him.  Don’t fear public confession – embrace it.  It will kill the contagion of sin.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The White Coat

He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; For You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me
.” – Psalms 23:1-4

There is something so peaceful and soothing to the soul about this passage in Psalms 23.  I dare say that not one of God’s children can read this and not feel the tranquility that comes from having God as your Father.  These verses describe the many facets of God’s character, Who He truly is. 

When you meet a new friend, you have to spend time with them and get to know them.  After time has passed and the friendship has been tested by various trials, you subconsciously make a decision as to whether they are a good friend and can be trusted or not.  Those that can be trusted become “best friends”, and you create tight bonds of friendship, and know each other intimately.

When we are converted, we’re given a new friend in God, but yet, one we don’t fully know.  How can we say we love God if we don’t know His character?  How can we know His character if we don’t spend time with Him?  How can we spend time with an invisible God?  We read His love letter to us – His Holy Word.  It’s in passages like this one found in Psalms 23 that we begin to see God for who He is and not just a powerful mass who lives in unseen Heaven above.  When we begin to know Him for who He is, we can learn to trust Him.  And we must learn to trust Him!  For this is where the peace and tranquility of our new friendship finds it’s great worth.  Trust God – fear nothing.

When I was a little girl, just a small child, I was afraid of anyone who wore a white coat or jacket.  In those days, doctors wore a white coat when treating patients, and far too many times when I would see that white coat I felt bad and ended up with a shot or blood drawn.  A white coat meant pain and sickness, and I feared them.  I placed that same fear on anyone who had a white jacket.  In my childish mind, all people who wore white coats were out to harm me. 

Sometimes we feel that way about God too.  We reflect on those that are or were in positions of power and authority over us.  We transfer our fear to God because of past relationships.  Perhaps there was a parent who was forceful, angry, and abusive – and in power over us.  Perhaps there was a teacher who ridiculed us publicly, caused us to feel “less”, and in power over us.  Or maybe there was another friend who loved to make us feel like an underling, pointing out our flaws and making fun of us, exercising power over us.  But friends, this is not the character of our Father God who is now in power over us!

What kind of God is our God?  Read about the Good Shepherd, and see.

The Lord is my shepherd” – Jehovah Raah, my caretaker.  He watches over me daily.

“I shall not want.” – Jehovah Jirah, my provider. He meets my needs, and my wants.

“He makes me to lie down in green pastures” – Sheep will not lie down and rest until they are full.  He fills me with His Spirit so that I will no longer hunger for what’s missing, and can rest in Him.

He leads me beside the still waters.” – Jehovah Shalom, my peace.  He provides rest from the storms and waves of life’s stress, leading us to places of stillness.

“He restores my soul” – My redeemer, restoring my soul to full fellowship with Him.

He leads me in the paths of righteousness, for His Name’s sake.” – Jehovah Mekoddishkem, my sanctifier, leading me away from the dangers of sin to glorify Him.  He has given us His name, we are His children, and He wants us to live up to His name, giving Him glory.  Isaiah 43:7 says that He created us for His glory.

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me” – Jehovah Sabaoth, my protector, the Lord of Hosts.  We all go through trials that test our faith in God, trials where we are faced with the enemy as sheep are faced with dangerous animals when in a valley.  But while we may be surrounded by enemies on every side, we have no fear of what they can do to us because we realize that God is all powerful, over good and evil.  Nothing and no one separates us from His love for us (Romans 8:37-39), not even death.

“Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” – The tools of a Shepherd are the rod, which is a short club, and the staff, which is a long wooden hook.  Oh, I thank God for the rod and the staff! 

When danger comes near the sheep, the rod can be thrown to protect the sheep from a predator.  Or if the sheep wanders too far away from the Shepherd and the rest of the herd, the Shepherd can throw it near the sheep to scare it back to the herd.  A rod is used for discipline and training.  Proverbs 3:12 says For whom the Lord loves He corrects, Just as a father the son in whom he delights.” 

The staff can be stretched out behind the sheep to move them all together, where there is comfort in the fellowship of others like them.  The hook of the staff can also be used to pull away the thorns and briars a sheep will sometimes wander into.  The shepherd can also lean on the staff, providing comfort to Himself. 

In Zachariah 11, we are given the prophecy of two staffs.  One was named Beauty, and the second was called Bonds.  Verse 10 say, I took my staff, Beauty, and cut it in two, that I might break the covenant which I had made with all the peoples.” God broke the old covenant of the law to give us a better covenant, His grace through Jesus Christ.  Hebrews 7:22 says “by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant.

The shepherd carrying the two staffs receives His wages, thirty pieces of silver.  God then instructs him to throw it to the potter.  Verses 13-14 says, “So I took the thirty pieces of silver and threw them into the house of the Lord for the potter.  Then I cut in two my other staff, Bonds, that I might break the brotherhood between Judah and Israel.Matthew 27:6-10 talks of the use of the thirty pieces of silver paid to Judas for the betrayal of Jesus. It was used to buy a potter’s field to bury strangers.  The verses retell a similar prophecy given by Jeremiah, saying they took the thirty pieces of silver, the value of Him who was priced, whom they of the children of Israel priced, and gave them for the potter’s field, as the Lord directed me.”

Those who live under the staff of Beauty, the new covenant of grace, live in the comfort of knowing God as their Father, the Good Shepherd. We don't fear death because we will not experience death.  We have eternal life.  But those who live under the staff of Bonds live apart from Him, and die and will be buried as strangers to God, given the potter’s field.  We live experiencing either the beauty of a relationship with God, or the bonds of sin keeping us from that relationship.

We often sell God short to those who are looking for a Savior.  He’s not just a ticket to Heaven, a way to bypass Hell.  He is our loving Father, our Good Shepherd.  The reasons for accepting Him are as much for this life as for eternal life.  There is peace and tranquility in having His friendship.  There is nothing to fear about His almighty power over us for in all His ways, even in discipline, He shows us His love.  There is nothing to fear in His white, white coat.