Wednesday, October 30, 2013



But God, who is RICH IN MERCY, because of His GREAT LOVE with which HE LOVED US, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  that in the ages to come He might show the EXCEEDING RICHES OF HIS GRACE in His KINDNESS toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD, not of works, lest anyone should boast.  For we are HIS WORKMANSHIP, created in Christ Jesus FOR GOOD WORKS, which God prepared beforehand that WE SHOULD WALK IN THEM.” – Ephesians 2:4-10

Rich in mercy, loving us with so great a love, He provided us the riches of His grace, His Kindness and the gift of Himself through the Holy Spirit received in salvation.  That’s Love.  That’s God.   All those traits are focused on the receiver - not the giver.  Loving the unlovable and caring for those that cannot do it by themselves. 

But where is our love in return?  A relationship built on love must include giving as much as receiving.
All He asks in return is that we work the good works that He has already prepared for us.  The good works are His ways – His precepts.  It’s more than just His commandments, written on tablets and taught to us so that we see our need for a savior.  His precepts are His way of life, a lifestyle change. 

It’s being good to those who don’t deserve it, loving the unlovable, feeding the hungry both bread and the word, visiting the lonely, praying for others, sharing Him.  But it’s not just performing the acts that He wants – but the lifestyle of giving and living for others that the acts embrace.  It’s putting others before us and our wants.  Isn’t that was Jesus did when he went to the cross? 

The good work is a lifestyle that resembles Christ.  That’s the work of a true Christian.  “Follow me” was not a path on a map.  It was an instruction to live as He lived.  It’s to live for others, and die to self.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Elephant and the Rhinoceros


Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted.  Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks himself to be something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” – Galatians 1:1-3

The Greek Philosopher, Strabo, explains the word “overtaken” using the fight between the rhinoceros and elephant. The elephant, being stronger and larger, expects fully to win.  But the rhinoceros, seeing that his only choice in defeating the elephant is to rip open his belly with the horn on his nose, does so.  The elephant is “overtaken” suddenly, unexpectedly.  The wound is physically great, but also emotionally great. 

The elephant isn’t to be judged by his wounds.  He is already ashamed and discouraged by the fact that he let himself be beaten.  Instead, those that are strong enough are to “restore him”.  Those words are rooted in the act of a surgeon carefully putting a limb that’s out of place back into its socket, its rightful place.  We wouldn’t attempt such surgery without confidence that we could be successful, knowing that if we were not successful we could even create more harm.  Likewise, we must prepare ourselves for such an act of restoration through prayer, fasting, and feeding on God’s word.  It is only through the power of the Holy Spirit that we find any power at all to help each other.

The brother and sisterhood of the body of Christ should be one where we are free to admit our mistakes, to ask for help, to go to the altar without fear of gossip.  We should encourage each other to be genuine, transparent with our weaknesses and strengths.  We should be able to “bear one another’s burdens” knowing that when our burden comes, someone will be there to bear it with us.  This is why the church is called a body – we act as one.  When one hurts, we all hurt.  When one rejoices, we all rejoice with them.  “Love one another even as I have loved you” was not a suggestion.  It was a command to the body of Christ.  Jesus saw past our sins to what we could be.   

Pride in who we are at this very moment has no place in such a body.  It rots away the intimacy we have with each other, causing us to want to hide our problems, to appear holy and blameless.  Removing that pride from ourselves is as easy as recognizing that NO ONE has committed a sin or grievance so great that we ourselves can guarantee we would never do the same.  A quick look at the sum of our past sins, our current failures, and what sins are still possible in our future should we not submit to the will of the Holy Spirit should repel all self-pride. 

We all play on the same field here, and the world is full of traps for the Christian to fall into.  We don’t know when our rhinoceros will show up.  But we can plan for that fateful event by remaining active in the body of Christ, and actively helping others who have already met their rhinoceros. 

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Given Burdens Too Heavy To Bear

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

There are days…and then there are THOSE days!  Those days when you are burdened with the pains of life beyond all you can bear.  In those darkest days we often hear the words, “God won’t put more on you than you can bear”, and we feel like failures, like we should not be overwhelmed.  But this is life, and this is NOT Heaven.  Yes, God does put more burdens on us than we can bear…alone, that is.
1 Corinthians 10:13 is often misquoted and confuses the point that we are to bear our cross daily.  It says No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it.  But this verse talks about temptations to sin, not burdens of life.  God will put more on you than you can bear in life.

Do you believe that God is all powerful?  Do you believe that He has the power to right all wrongs, to put a hedge about His children to not let harm come their way, to provide for our needs, to keeps us from all physical and emotional harm?  Most will says they do believe that.  But somehow when trouble comes our way we want to take God out of the picture as if these things were not in His plans for us, as if He has fallen asleep at the helm of our life.  In all situations in our life, good and bad, God has either gives or allows those heavy burdens to come our way. 
Job is a case where God gave the burdens.  Pain is not always the product of punishment in the Christian life.  Job was a man that God called “a blameless and upright man”, yet it was God that brought Job to Satan’s mind when he came before Him.  Satan didn’t have Job in mind as his next great adventure.  God asked him, “Have you considered my servant Job?”  God wasn’t angry at Job.  There was nothing for Him to be angry about.  Job was blameless, and upright in all his ways.  But God picked Job out anyway.

And again, after Satan had taken all of Job’s oxen, donkeys, camels, servants, and killed his seven daughters and three sons, God says to Satan in Job 2:3, “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.”  God lets Satan lose on Job’s life again, allowing him to make him sick even unto death, but not allowing him to take Job’s life.
David is a case of where the burdens were a product of sin and punishment.  David had lusted for Bathsheba, committed adultery with her, got her pregnant, killed her husband to hide his sins, and took her as his wife (2 Samuel 11)!  But sin always has consequences.  God sent the prophet Nathan to David to warn him that the son Bathsheba bore would die.  David pleaded with God, dressed in mourning clothes, crying out, praying and fasting.  But God would not rescind the punishment.  In 2 Samuel 12, we read:

“And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became ill. David therefore pleaded with God for the child, and David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. So the elders of his house arose and went to him, to raise him up from the ground. But he would not, nor did he eat food with them.  Then on the seventh day it came to pass that the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead. For they said, “Indeed, while the child was alive, we spoke to him, and he would not heed our voice. How can we tell him that the child is dead? He may do some harm!”
David endured every parent’s nightmare – the loss of a child.  It was a slow loss, seeing the child suffer for seven days.  David endured it as punishment for his own sins, and watched as they killed his son.  Was it a burden too big to bear?  Certainly so!  His own servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, fearing that he would commit suicide. 

Jesus Christ himself was given a huge burden to bear.  In Matthew 26:38-39, when He went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, He told His disciples “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death.”  As He prayed He told God the Father, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. He was burdened beyond anything we can compare it to.  He knew what death on the cross would be like, and asked God to find another way.  But, we see what our response should be to these burdens when He completes His prayer saying “nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.
If there is any love in God at all, we can know that God loves His children.  He loves Jesus His own Son, Job, David, and even you and I.  And He loves us equally, because there is no partiality with God (Romans 2:11).  But what He needs from us is our love in return, and our obedience.  He desires a relationship built on trust, faith, and intimate fellowship.

Have you ever seen a wild horse?  They are beautiful creatures!  They run through the hills, manes and tails flying with the wind, and enjoying full freedom to do as they please and go where they please.  But it’s not all good to be a wild horse.  There are fights among the herd and the wounds they cause can end in death.  There’s hunger, thirst, and sickness.  There are attacks from wild animals.
As beautiful as a wild horse is, it cannot be used for anything.  For a horse to be useful, it has to be tamed.  It has to undergo careful training, and yes, sometimes pain from the trainer.  But in the end, the horse becomes a companion to the trainer, and a friendship develops through the burdens and pain.  The horse learns that the blessings that come from the trainer, the continual care, feeding, protection, love and fellowship, outweigh the pain.  So are our lives at the hands of our loving Father.  The pain and burdens come, but they have rewards. 

James 1:2-4 says 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.”  If we had everything we needed for this life to being with, if we could be “perfect and complete”, we would not need to endure the trials of life.  But to reach the stage of “lacking nothing” we have to gain what we ourselves do not already have.  What we do not have within ourselves is found in our relationship with God. 
Yes, there are burdens given to you in this life that are greater than you can bear on your own.  But, they are given at the hand of a merciful and loving God to gain your dependence on Him – not to tear you down.  They test your faith, produce patience for life’s sorrows, build your character and testimony, and complete God’s work in you.  He becomes your strength and your help.  No, we can’t do life alone – and we were never meant to be self-sufficient!  But with God by our side, all things are possible.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Three Laws

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;
The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether.
 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.” – Psalms 19:7-11

Adam Clarke talks about there being three laws which God has given man to teach us of His ways.

The first is the law of nature, which the beginning of Psalms 19 talks about.  It’s the faithfulness of the rising sun, and the darkness of night.  It’s the endurance of the light of the sun, which never ceases to shine.

The second law was the law given to Moses, which further teaches us of God’s character, His will toward us, and how we should react to God and our fellow man.

But the third law is the law of Grace through Jesus Christ.  It isn’t written in the heavens.  It isn’t written on stone.  It’s written on our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit living within us.  It’s the law based on His love, a love so great that we desire nothing more than to be pleasing to Him.  The more we learn of Him, the more we are transformed into His likeness. 

This is the law that the above passage speaks about, and in following that law, written within our hearts by His Spirit, we are rewarded with greater blessings day by day.

We all feel blessed, knowing we have more than we deserve.  But if we could only see God’s treasure box set aside for us we would realize we haven’t even cleaned out a corner of that box yet.  His love for us is great, sweeter than honey, and His blessings to be desire more than gold.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

In One Ear and Out the Other

Then I said, “Ah, Lord God! They say of me, ‘Does he not speak parables?’” – Ezekiel 20:49

The Prophets of the Old Testament were a whole other level of faithful to God.  Isaiah went naked and barefoot for three years to warn the people of Egypt and Ethiopia (Isaiah 20:3). Ezekiel was told lay on his left side bound to a couch in public for 390 days, followed by 40 days of laying on his right side.  During that time he was to eat bread that was cooked over cow dung!  And we think we have it hard in serving God?  No, we have it pretty easy!

Yet, we fail.  We have learned a whole new way of serving God that God never intended.  We do “church”.  We go about the business of church, sitting ourselves in the busywork of committees and programs, all the time omitting God’s command, yet feeling accomplished through position and respect within the church.  That is not what God intended.

We are supposed to be at work making other believers, bringing the lost to Him.  We are supposed to be transformed by His word into the same heart as Christ, a heart that desires to do good for others, that will feeding the hungry, visiting the imprisoned, and befriending the lonely.  Yes, I do know that SOME church activity does support God’s work, but not all of it does.  Far too often we occupy ourselves with church work and omit the work we should do that would benefit the lost.  If we put as much energy and time into caring for the lost as we do in caring for the church activities and church building, surely there would be more worshippers of God in this world.

Where have we gone wrong?  We don’t take the word of God personally.  As my grandmother use to say in frustration of things she would tell us and advice she would give, it goes “in one ear and out the other”.  Nothing sticks in our heads, and nothing changes our heart because we assume that God’s word is meant for others.  We don’t take God’s Word personally.

The Prophet Ezekiel was often visited by a group of men from the tribes of Israel, who would ask of him God’s word toward them.  In Ezekiel 20 some of those men who came were told by God that they had no business inquiring of Him because they refused to serve Him. They were worshipping idols instead of worshipping God.  It was as if they thought they could ride the fence, hedging their bets on which god would benefit them most.  But when we choose to not choose God, we cannot expect to receive His full benefits.  When we choose church work over the work of God, we are serving another idol.  Church was not intended to keep us busy doing things of the world, but to be a fellowship of believers who grow stronger in God’s word and Spirit through interaction. 

Ezekiel prophesied to the men what God said.  He spoke to them of the utter destruction to come to them because of their idolatry.  He told of the frustration God felt of their years and years of idolatry even after leading them into the Promised Land.  He told of how they would be scattered, and killed.  He also told that when they returned to Him He would accept them back.  But the men did not take God’s word seriously!  Ezekiel, the poor prophet chained to a couch, is quoted in the last verse of the chapter as saying “Ah, Lord God! They say of me, ‘Does he not speak parables’?”  The men thought Ezekiel’s words were surely for someone else, some sort of enigma that they could not use.

In the introduction to David Platt’s “Follow Me”, Francis Chan writes: “I see a trend in many churches where people are beginning to enjoy convicting sermons.  They walk out feeling broken over their sin.  The distorted part is that they can begin to feel victorious in their sadness.  They boast, “I just heard the most convicting message, and it ruined me!” The focus is on the conviction itself and not the change it is meant to produce – change that doesn’t necessarily follow when we stay focused on conviction.  Guilt is not always a good thing.  It is only good if it leads us past sorrow to the joy of repentance.”

Repentance cannot come if we don’t take God’s word personally.  If it just goes in one ear and out the other, we are not truly serving God by hearing His word.  Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2, “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies 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. 

This is our REASONABLE service – not some great act to which we should expect reward, but what is reasonable of God to ask of us.  He asks that we not take on the busy work of the world, and its ways and values, but use His Word to change who we are.  He has saved us from ourselves - our own sin.  All He asks in return is that we be TRANSFORMED, sanctified, changed by His Word.  We are to becoming a living sacrifice - our lives given to Him in return for eternal life. 

Consider that.  Is this not a great trade?  Assume our life here reaches even 120 years.  But eternity cannot even be measured in years or any span of time.  It is unending. Is giving our earthly lives to Him such a sacrifice?  Are we not still reaping the benefits of serving Him while on earth?  Is not doing life on earth easier with God’s minute-by-minute grace and favor?

Don’t let God’s word go in one ear and out the other.  Let it resonate in your soul, changing you from the inside out.


Wednesday, October 2, 2013

It's Just How I Was Raised

“The word of the Lord came to me again, saying, “What do you mean when you use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying: ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? “As I live,” says the Lord God, “you shall no longer use this proverb in Israel.  “Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die.” – Ezekiel 18:1-4

We often want to blame our parents for the way in which we were raised.  We say things like “I wasn’t raised in church”, or “I wasn’t taught to pray” or “it’s just how I was raised”.  We somehow feel excused by submitting to the fact that our parents didn’t know or follow God.  We’re not so different than the children of Israel in the days of Ezekiel the prophet.  God speaks to Ezekiel in Ezekiel 18 of a saying of the Israelites.  They would say “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge”.  The proverb was a means by which the children of Israel would blame their sins upon their parents.  We might would say “like father, like son” or “they’re a product of their raising”.
Generations of Israel had repeatedly turned against God and turned to idolatry.  From their idolatry, God had not turned away from them, but they had turned away from God.  There is a difference.  Sin has its price, and the children of Israel were paying that price as they were taken into captivity in Babylon, and ruled by King Nebuchadnezzar, who wanted them to worship his idol instead of God, and raise them to be a God-less people.

When you are a child, you are under your parents rule.  But when you become an adult, you must take ownership of your life and responsibility in how you live and your relationship with God.  In this chapter as well as the rest of the Bible, God repeatedly presses the point that we are individually and personally responsible for our sins.  You can’t inherit your righteousness from your parents, not even if your father was Billy Graham!  You can’t inherit their sins either.  You have to make your way to Christ individually.  It’s a one-on-one relationship with Christ that saves us from ourselves. 
God continues at the end of the chapter showing a cure for the sins of the children who blamed their parents and their sinful ways on their current lifestyle.  He says in Ezekiel 18:30-32 “Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,”…“Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity[sin] will not be your ruin.  Cast away from you all the transgressions[sins] which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel?  For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,”…“Therefore turn and live!”

Our sin doesn’t cause God to turn from us, but through it we turn from God.  When you’re filled with sin and guilt at how you’ve lived, the last thing you want is to examine yourself and have those sins pointed out.  Yet, that’s what being in the presence of God will do.  It will show you your flaws.  But it does more! It will cause you to turn from those sins, respecting the will of God and the new Spirit and Heart within you, and desire to live differently.  Turn back to Him, and live.