Monday, December 29, 2014

As Obedient Children

“Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, “Be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear;” – 1 Peter 1:13-17

There’s a movement amount popular Christian leaders to express the love God has for us all without expressing the sincere hatred He has for sin.  The problem with that is that we live our lives without fearing God, as rebellious children who know Dad will always love them, no matter what.  To say that God loves everyone – regardless of how they live – is not true.

Contrary to popular belief, the cliché that “God hates the sin and loves the sinner” does not align with His word.  Psalms 5:4-5 says “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness, nor shall evil dwell with You. The boastful shall not stand in Your sight; You hate all workers of iniquity.” What is iniquity?  The word comes from the Hebrew 'aven (H205), which means trouble, wickedness, evil, unrighteousness, or in other words – sin.  Think that’s a one-verse-wonder?  Read Psalms 11:4-7.  Read Romans 5:8-10 that says before we are saved we are enemies of God.

For those that belong to God, He will always love us.  Romans 8:38-39 tell us that nothing, not even our own ways, “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” But God does not save us to remain as we are!  There is to be a transformation, a true repentance of our sinful ways.

Peter tells us that we are to be as obedient children, and to continue to live here in fear.  Fear of what?  Fear of our God, which is both a fear of His wrath and respect, as we would give an earthly father.  While our hope is in His mercy and His grace through the salvation afforded us through the shed blood of Jesus Christ, we are not to make a mockery of His sacrifice by continuing to live as sinners.

Yes, sin is in our nature.  But the Holy Spirit that lives within us, our gift at the moment of salvation, guides us and leads us.  To ignore the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God, is by definition disobedience to God.  Friends, He would not tell us “Be holy, for I am holy” if it were not possible. 

We cannot hide behind the “I’m only human” mantra any more.  Matthew 7:21 warns that “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” Knowing that He is Lord and not making Him Lord (ruler, governing body) over your own life, is not accepting Him as Lord at all.  James goes on to say in chapter 1:22 “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” Why would we be told to obey Him if it were not possible?

Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”  It’s a simple matter of whether we love Him enough to let Him be Lord over our life, or whether we want to keep that title for ourselves.

“Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma. But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not be partakers with them. For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” – Ephesians 5:1-11

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Sweet Freedom!


"Even so we, when we were children, were in bondage under the elements of the world.  But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.  And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”  Therefore you are no longer a slave but a son, and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. " - Galatians 4:3-8

There remains to this day a great misconception that to be a Christian takes away all your freedom to do as you please.  You can't do this - you can't do that!  But that just isn't the full truth!  The full truth is that the desires of a true Christian are not the same as they once were.  The change begins with a new heart.
In Ezekiel 36:26-27 God speaks of that new heart and says, " I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them."  The new heart will hold His Spirit, which leads you, and will CAUSE your life to change.  Becoming a Christian releases you from bondage, being chained to a desire to sin, which comes with a feeling of shame and guilt. 

Jesus came to release us from that slavery, to allow us freedom.  But the thing is, you'll never realize how precious that freedom is while still a slave.  A man who has been in prison his entire life knows no other way to live.  He gets used to the routine of waking with the crowd, pursuing time, eating his meals without choice of what he eats, living with the anxiety and fear of those that surround him.  He doesn't miss freedom because he doesn't know what freedom is.  Paul says he is "under the elements of the world" - UNDER - controlled by - like a puppet on invisible strings.  Your heart, your mind, your desires, your aspirations are all controlled by sin and the things you will not give up.  James 1:14 says we sin because we have innate desires to sin.  It's in our very nature.  To remove that nature, a new nature must be given, which is the Spirit of God in the new heart.
Freedom from those desires is found in believing in Jesus and allowing him to be your Lord, your ruler.  When you receive that new heart, the Holy Spirit begins to guide you, change you, remove the past you and sanctify you.  This is the beginning of freedom - the exchange in our own desires for the desires of the One who lives within you.  In John 8:34-36 Jesus says, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin.  And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever.  Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Ah, sweet freedom!  Believing in Christ and trusting Him with your soul means that He will change your desires, and release you from the grasp of sin.  You no longer drink to numb the pain.  You don't self-medicate to escape the stress and anxiety.  You don't seek revenge and hold grudges, but love those around you through that love He plants in you.  You don't live in fear of the future.  You don't feel the condemnation and weight of shame because He has forgiven you. 
Joy grows where freedom abounds, and His Spirit resides.  You live in bondage to sin out of your own desire to do so.  Jesus saves all who call upon His name with a repentant heart and believe He is the Son of God.  So the question you want to be free?  

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” – 1 Peter 4:12-13

I often hear the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people.”  The question comes from doubts of God’s justice and mercy, and even His sovereign authority.  There are two common misconceptions to this question that we need to explore. 
The first misconception that the person is good and that we can judge that.  Romans 3:12 says “There is none who does good, no, not one.”  What makes us think that any man is so good that he does not deserve full justice?  Just because a person lives above the normal level of sin does not mean that they are good.  Our judgment of good and evil are tainted by our hearts, which are continually evil (Genesis 6:5).  God looks upon the heart of man (1 Samuel 16:7), and judges based according to what He sees.  We cannot judge whether a man is good or bad because we do not see the heart.  Only God can rightfully judge a man.

The second misconception is that everything that hurts or harms a person in this life is a “bad” thing.  Yet, when we discipline our children we don’t see what we’re doing as a “bad” thing, but we understand it to be what is needed to prune the child into the adult we want them to grow to be.  Can we not see the same in God’s choices?  Proverbs 3:12 says “For whom the Lord loves He corrects, just as a father the son in whom he delights.”  The most loving thing God can do for us is to correct us.
Given that we are not good, when we receive evil in return for evil, God is only exercising justice.  Justice is by definition getting what we deserve.  But - we don’t always get what we deserve!  God is also merciful.  Sometimes we receive mercy, which is getting a reprieve from what we deserve.  In fact, I believe we receive mercy so often that we fail to see it.  Each and every one of us, day in and day out, commit the same sins, knowingly and without shame, and yet we live.  That’s mercy from a Holy and Sovereign God!

Those misconceptions aside, we have to understand that not all evil that enters our lives is because of our sins, and some people good - and a rare jewel when we find them.  To these God also allows evil, but it is for their good. 
Consider Job.  God said that “there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil” – and he said it to the devil himself, willingly turning Job over to Satan.  According to God, Job had not deserved any of what was about to befall him, and yet within a matter of minutes, he lost all his livestock, all his servants, and finally, all his children – seven sons and three daughters.  God’s purpose was to test Job, and Job withstood the test in such a great way!  Job 1:21-22 records Job as saying “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord.” and says that in all of his pain, he did not charge God with any wrong.     

Sometimes those who are the best of men are tested and tried by God, and the tool for the test is evil itself.  The end result for Job was that God “blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning” and gave him an even greater amount of wealth and gave him back seven sons and three daughters.  He lived to see his children and four generations of grandchildren, and it was said that there were none found in the land as beautiful as his daughters.  He died at the ripe old age of 140, enjoying it all for longer than he had the other. 
God’s blessings will always make the test worthwhile.  His plans for us are good and “not of evil” (Jeremiah 29:11) because God wants us to have one thing more than any other – an intimate relationship with Him.  He seeks to cause us to lean in to Him in the midst of our pain and suffering in this world.  When we are weak – He is strong (2 Corinthians 13:9).  If we never experienced pain and suffering, we would never seek out God.  We would not know what to be thankful for because blessings and the good things of life would be all we know.  But God wants a loving relationship with us.  He wants to be our Father, the One that provides for us.

Even with His own son, Jesus Christ, He allowed evil and suffering.  He allowed Him to be misunderstood, hated, rejected, wrongfully accused, assaulted, hunted, and murdered.  Peter realized this and gave us advice for those times when we receive evil in this world.  He said for us to not thing it is so strange, and to understand it is a trail.  He said for us to rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy.” (1 Peter 4:13).  That glory lies within us, through His Holy Spirit.  It is revealed when we withstanding the test, and the beauty of His Spirit, His divine nature, shines through. 
Instead of questioning God’s will and why bad things happen to good people, we should pray that God gives them the courage and strength to withstand it, so we can see His glory revealed in their lives.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The Value of NOW


Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.  Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”  But now you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.   Therefore, to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin.” – James 4:13-17

I was often corrected as a child when I spoke of my plans to preface them with “If the Lord wills”.  But I believe what James is saying here is not that we should change our words, but change our understanding of the value of NOW, this moment, in the great scope of time.

We live our lives sometimes in a rut of get up, go to work, come home, eat dinner, go to sleep, and repeat.  I’ve been guilty of push through five week days to get to enjoy two days of weekend, and planning for the weekend without thought of the value of the weekdays.  But there is value in NOW because NOW is given, and not one second more.

James says that our making plans without considering the will of God is boasting and “such boasting is evil”.  The evil is in ungratefulness for the life we have, and using it as if it were routine, always granted, one day after another.  Time is the one thing we have here that we cannot gain by our own means.  It cannot be grown, produced, or manufactured.  Yet we take it for granted, not considering that God grants each breath of life as a sweet gift intended for His use.  We sit idly by on our sofas staring at the television without regard to anything in life.  We become gluttons of shopping malls and department stores, wasting hours of time entertaining ourselves.  We even spend our time resting from having done nothing!

To understand the value of NOW, you have to also understand the reality of the end of life.  James speaks of those talking of business and profiting in this life saying “we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”.  Then he says “to him who knows to do good and does not do it, to him it is sin”. 

Preparing for the things of this life is short sightedness.  Your retirement, your true retirement will be after your last breath.  To die with money in the bank, a good job, and nice material things is the goal of the world system.  But in God’s kingdom the goal is just the opposite.  Jesus says in Mark 9:35 “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” If we’re not serving, we’re not successful.  And while we’re pondering it, NOW has just slipped away.

The time to work for God is now, and it has its great rewards here as well as in Heaven.  Luke 12: 48 says, “But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required; and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more.”

If to you “much is given”, you are required to serve with it.  Vesting great riches and building a personal empire while others suffer is selfish and evil.  Having great talents and not allowing God to use those gifts is lazy and selfish.  God rewards those that even give a drink of water in His name (Mark 9:41), and He punishes those to do not.

NOW is the time to do the good that you have been entrusted by God to do.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Adulterers and Adulteresses

Where do wars and fights come from among you? Do they not come from your desires for pleasure that war in your members?  You lust and do not have. You murder and covet and cannot obtain. You fight and war. Yet you do not have because you do not ask.  You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures.  Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.  Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?” – James 4:1-5

The words “adulterers and adulteresses” within this passage sometimes take our carnal minds to the wrong understanding.  James is not talking about sexual immorality here.  He’s talking about our relationship with God.  It is a metaphor.  By using these words he’s pointing to the ideal that the Jews had of being married to God, as the “husband of the vineyard”, their overseer.  James is speaking of having our hearts focused on the things of the world rather than the things of God. 

We often pray, and see no results because we pray for worldly things.  It’s not wrong to pray for things like a new job, a car, a house, and so forth.  But when we pray for them so that we may show it off to our friends, or the better job so that we can “spend it on our pleasures”, God realizes we are no longer concerned with His Kingdom.  What is your ulterior motive in asking?  Sometimes our prayers are focused on being heard.  We get prideful in our words, and the thought that we can somehow pull God’s strings, so to speak, through our words.  We let the ideal that we can call upon the power of God, as if it was our own, swell our pride.    

When we do, we are asking out of our own lustful, prideful, and covetous hearts.  God will not promote our covetousness and pride by granting prayers to fulfill those desires.  Coveting is sin and so is prde, and God will not be part of it.  We do not have because we ask “amiss”, which means out of our own wicked desires and wants, without His divine direction.  But when we align our prayers with the things of God, we will experience successful prayer lives. 

Friendship with the world is like an affair we have, going away from the relationship we have with our God for that season of frolic and self-gratification.  As with any affair, both sides experience the hurt.  We become defeated and discouraged, praying for things we don’t receive and feeling distanced from God.  And our God is a jealous God.  He longs to be first in our heart, mind and soul.  We are His beloved. 

A successful prayer life comes from a successful relationship with God.  The closer you are to Him, the less you will want to pray for the things that don’t matter, that are desired by your flesh.    As a wife desires to please her husband in all that she does, we will desire to please God.  And then when we ask, we will not ask “amiss”, and God will answer.


Monday, December 8, 2014

He Is Our Peace

Perhaps the greatest gift you can ever receive is peace.

Love without peace is misery.

Wealth without peace is less than poverty.

Life without peace is not a life worth living.

Without peace, we are unhappy, discontent, and depressed.  We must have peace to feel any joy or happiness.

Peace is defined as “freedom from or the cessation of war or violence.”  Yet it wasn’t always that way.  At one time, peace was the norm, not the absence of war.  The war began long ago in a place called Eden. 

Eden was peaceful, and life was easy there.  Our relationship with God was pure, undefiled, and intimate.  God would walk through the Garden, talking to Adam and Eve, and giving them all they needed from the fruit that grew in the garden.  They had no need for clothing, because like the animals, they felt no shame for just being in their skin.  They had no need for housing, because God took care of the climate and their well-being.  There were no struggles - none at all.

In the garden there were many trees which bore fruit, and God told them to eat as much as they wanted.  But two trees in the Garden received names.  One was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  This was the tree in which God said “Do not eat of it, for on the day that you eat of it you will surely die.”

The second tree was the Tree of Life.  Eating of this tree would allow you to live forever.

There was peace for a period of time in Eden. How long we do not know.  With one rule to follow it would seem so easy not to sin, just not to eat of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  But then satan entered the garden.  His words to Eve were lies, and Eve bought the lie.  He said, “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.”  And Eve ate of the tree, and shared it’s fruit with her husband.

At that point, peace left us.  Peace with God was gone.  We had sinned and we felt it.

The curse of sin is death, and though Adam and Eve did not physically die on that day, they did eventually experience death.  Romans 6:23 tells us that “The wages of sin is death”, and we had earned our wages.  We earned death.

Yet God’s unfailing love continued. 

He could have stopped there.  He could have given us justice, which was to experience death as any other animal, and death would be the end of our life.

But God’s love would not let Himself do that.  In Genesis 3:22-24 we read:

“Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken.  So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.”

When God set a guard around the Tree of Life He did the most loving thing He could do.  He prevented our eternal life in sin, and apart from Him. 

In Jeremiah 31:3 God says I have loved you with an everlasting love”.

Our sin did not take God by surprise. Isaiah 46:10 tells us that God knows the end from the beginning.  He sees the future as history.  And He planned for our return to Him, our sins removed, our peace returned, even before we were created.

Christmas is when the plan was enacted through the birth of Christ, but not when the plan for us began.  Revelation 13:8 tells us that Jesus was the “lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”  And in Ephesians 1:4 we read that God chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love”.

To be holy and without blame can only occur when sin is gone.  John the Baptist when introducing Jesus to the crowd in John 1:29 said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” 

Through believing in Jesus Christ, Jesus takes away our sins. 

Peace is returned to us through a relationship with God, which Christ makes possible by removing our sins.

Ephesians 2:14-16 says FOR HE HIMSELF IS OUR PEACE, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.”

What Jesus did for us was to remove the wall of sin that separated us from God.  And God planned the whole thing.  Why?  Because He loves us with an endless love.  In our worst state, in full rebellion, He loved us, and He continues to love us.

C.S. Lewis said it best when he said “God cannot give us happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.  There is no such thing”.

Faith in Jesus Christ returns to us everlasting life, because those that believe in Him will die in the flesh, but the Spirit lives on eternally with Him. 

But perhaps the most important gift Jesus gives in this life is peace.  There is no war between us and God when we choose to return to the perfection of Eden, walking with Him.

Beth Moore said “God’s peace is like a river, not a pond.  It is not stagnant.  It is not confined.  It moves.  It brings life.”  Your peace with God not only benefits your life, but the life of all who know you. 

Jesus said in John 14:27 “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”

His peace is unlike anything else we can experience.  His peace is eternal, unending, and built on a strong foundation of love.

Peace.  It’s what the Angels sang about when they announced His birth to the Shepherds.

“Glory to God in the Highest.  And on earth, PEACE, good will toward men!”

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Walk With God

God started speaking to me long before I woke up today and just giving “Deuteronomy 4:4”…nothing more.  It started about 3:00 AM and lasted until I got up around 6:45.  Every almost-awake moment, every partial vision in a dream – “Deuteronomy 4:4” and I finally started telling myself in my sleep, “I’ll look that up when I get up.  I’ll remember it as a cube – 4 x 4.” 
But you who held fast to the Lord your God are alive today, every one of you.” – Deuteronomy 4:4

Moses is speaking to the children of Israel, and telling them to continue pursuing God, walking in obedience to Him.  He tells them to remember Baal Peor, which was an idol that many started to worship, and He had destroyed all from among them that turned and followed Baal Peor. 

In all the commentaries I could use this morning to further understand this, nothing was specifically mentioned about the verse.  They talked about the ones before, and the ones after, but not Deuteronomy 4:4.  But what I did find, again, is that God’s word discerns God’s word.  When the subject matter is reviewed (obedience to God, perseverance, cleaving to God when it’s hardest), God’s word speaks to His favor on those that stay on course.  We can look at the lives of those who have followed God through times when their personal lives were tough, their church families fell apart, when their kids ran loose and broke their hearts.  When God seemed so distant, we can see that He was right there, blessing after blessing, sheltering them through every storm. 

“But take careful heed to do the commandment and the law which Moses the servant of the Lord commanded you, to love the Lord your God, to walk in all His ways, to keep His commandments, to hold fast to Him, and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” – Joshua 22:5

“And the Lord said to him, “Go through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and cry over all the abominations that are done within it.” To the others He said in my hearing, “Go after him through the city and kill; do not let your eye spare, nor have any pity.  Utterly slay old and young men, maidens and little children and women; but do not come near anyone on whom is the mark; and begin at My sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were before the temple. Then He said to them, “Defile the temple, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out!” And they went out and killed in the city.” - Ezekiel 9:4-7
Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good.” – Romans 12:9

"When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
My soul follows close behind You;
Your right hand upholds me.” – Psalms 63:6-8

“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth. And all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the Lord your God:

“Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country.

“Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground and the increase of your herds, the increase of your cattle and the offspring of your flocks.

“Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl.

“Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.

“The Lord will cause your enemies who rise against you to be defeated before your face; they shall come out against you one way and flee before you seven ways.

“The Lord will command the blessing on you in your storehouses and in all to which you set your hand, and He will bless you in the land which the Lord your God is giving you.

“The Lord will establish you as a holy people to Himself, just as He has sworn to you, if you keep the commandments of the Lord your God and walk in His ways. Then all peoples of the earth shall see that you are called by the name of the Lord, and they shall be afraid of you. And the Lord will grant you plenty of goods, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your ground, in the land of which the Lord swore to your fathers to give you.  The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season, and to bless all the work of your hand. You shall lend to many nations, but you shall not borrow.  And the Lord will make you the head and not the tail; you shall be above only, and not be beneath, if you heed the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you today, and are careful to observe them. So you shall not turn aside from any of the words which I command you this day, to the right or the left, to go after other gods to serve them.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-14

There are two ways to go through this life - on your own, or with the blessings of God's presence.  What is life like without God's presence in your life?  Read the rest of Deuteronomy 28 starting at verse 15.  It's not pretty.


Friday, October 31, 2014

World Peace

“The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb,
The leopard shall lie down with the young goat,
The calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze;
Their young ones shall lie down together;
And the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play by the cobra’s hole,
And the weaned child shall put his hand in the viper’s den.
They shall not hurt nor destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord
As the waters cover the sea.” – Isaiah 11:6-9

I was thinking the other day about all the things I ask of God.  There are big things like to heal those that are terminally ill, and then there are little things like a good parking spot at Wal-Mart.  I tend to just ask for stuff all the time.  I mean, He’s listening – why not ask? 
Then I wondered, if we could all ask God for anything, what would it be?  What would you ask for?

We’ve all been asked at some time what we would wish for if we could get three wishes.  I usually say that the first wish would be for an infinite number of additional wishes to be granted.  (Feel free to stop and pray now, thanking God that I didn’t get it! What a mess we’d all be in if He had given that!)  But most of the time when the question is raised, someone will say ‘world peace’.  It’s a noble answer and one that seems to be possible only by the granting of a magical wish. 
Imagine what world peace would be like.  If everyone in the world was content, at peace with each other, then things would be wonderful.  Granted, they would be much better than they are today, but we would still have problems.  We would still have issues with elements of weather, the decay of the world itself, and all of nature.  There would still be famine and disease.

We think so much smaller than God does.  When we imagine world peace, we figure that’s as good as it can get.  But it’s sort of like the little kid that asks for his two front teeth for Christmas without asking that no more teeth fall out!  God can able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). Yet because we cannot imagine it, we ask for less than possible.  We are small thinkers with an unimaginably powerful God.
World Peace? God has already granted us that wish, and even more, in the span of eternity.  In Isaiah 11 we’re told that when God’s Kingdom is given to God’s children, even nature itself will be at peace.  Shepherds won’t have to protect their sheep from wolves, because they’ll be at peace.  Lions will be led by children, and bears and cows will graze the same fields.  Children can play with snakes, and yes, that makes me cringe too, but when it happens, we will be at ease with it.

We think small when we ask God for things, even when we think they are big things.  His thoughts are so much bigger than ours, not encapsulated within dates and times, nor left to only what we can see as possible.  World Peace - that’s a small thing with God. He’s already planned to one-up us on that request.
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts,
Nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
So are My ways higher than your ways,
And My thoughts than your thoughts” – Isaiah 55:8-9

Thank you God, that your ability isn’t defined within the realm of our understanding.

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Message To Those Hurt by Church Goers

This is an apology. It’s an apology to any and all who have been hurt by “Christians” when they attended a church, or in some other way came in contact with those that call themselves “Christians”.  For the purposes of this discussion, let’s just call them “church goers”.

Have you ever been to a doctor and found that even with the degree to be an “M.D.” he or she apparently did not know what to do to help you? 
Have you ever taken your car to an auto mechanic, and even though they said they knew how to fix your car, you get it back and it’s still messed up? 

Have you ever gone to a restaurant to get a good meal only to later wish you hadn’t?
Church and the people that go there are no different I’m afraid.  But you can’t stop going to the doctor, you can’t stop getting your car fixed, and you can’t give up on eating out just because there are those that aren’t what they claim to be.  So PLEASE don’t give up on us all just because of a few who “the enemy” has sown among us.  Jesus explained it like this:

Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field;  but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares [weeds] among the wheat and went his way.  But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared.  So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’  He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.”’ – Matthew 13:24-30

You see, we do sometimes know which ones are the weeds in our church families.  But we can’t tell them to leave because of their bad attitudes and lifestyles because they would take with them their friends and family.  The ‘tares’ can’t be taken out of the family yet.   But one day, God will harvest us all.  He will be the one true judge of which were weeds and which were good crop.
So please, know that not everyone who sits in a church or calls themselves a Christian is a Christian, just like not everyone who sits in a garage is a car.  There are a lot of frauds out there.  We sometimes even know which they are.  But we have hope for them to change, just as we hope for ourselves to change as we learn more of God, and allow our relationships with Him to change us.

And know that not all churches are the same, just like not all doctors are the same, not all auto mechanics are the same, and not all restaurants are the same.  If you like Mexican food, you don’t go to a seafood place.  Find one that fits, and then realize that not everyone there is Mexican…if you know what I mean. 
And now a message for the church-goer:

God will hold you accountable for every action and every word.  Straighten up or stop calling yourself a Christian and misrepresenting the Christ you are to portray.  Some of you know you’re a fraud, just as God knows you are.  What you may not have realized, is that you’re chaining those that would come to Him to your ankles and dragging them into Hell with your criticisms, un-Biblical lifestyles, ungodly mouths, and your finger pointing.  James 3:1-6 says that your tongue defiles your whole body, and “sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. 

And finally, a message for Christians, from God’s own words and not my own:
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. 

“Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.”  - Ezekiel 3:17-21

Correct each other in love and gentleness, because the Kingdom of God is at hand!

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Sweet Tea

Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” – 2 Timothy 2:15

If there’s one thing always present at a meal here in the south, its sweet tea - the “wine” of the south.  You can order it in any restaurant, and it’s always in a pitcher in the fridge (or “ice box” if you’ve over 60).  While I’ve never seen a recipe for it, we all seem to make it the same way.

But if you leave the south and ask for sweet tea, just cross your fingers and pray because there’s just no telling what you’re going to get!  It could be anything from a cup of hot tea and a bottle of honey to a watered down weak looking glass of what my grandfather called “dish water tea”.

There’s nothing quite as disappointing to a southerner as dish water tea.  It’s so weak that that you can see through it.  And if you add more sugar (which you’ll almost always have to do) or lemon, it tastes like what you add – not what it is meant to be.  You might as well just order a Pop if they’re serving dishwater tea.

If I had one vision, one wish for the body of Christ, it would be that we would not be like dishwater tea -  so weak that we have no flavor, and always becoming the thing added to our lives, never strong enough to stand alone.  Yet, without God’s word written on our hearts, we are weak!  We will fall into all the traps placed before us, and we will fail ever test given to us. 

Timothy says “Study to show thyself approved unto God”.  Knowing God’s word does come with tests, but not in the written multiple choice kind we would like.  It comes through life experiences and trials, and how we react to them.  It comes through being tested with lies, to determine if we can “rightly divide the word of truth”. 

Now that I’ve had sweet tea, I know what it’s supposed to taste like, look like, and yes, even what it should sound like when poured into my glass.  We as the Body of Christ should know His Word in the same way.  We should know when His Word is watered down or when it is twisted and mingled with some other crazy concoction (mango tea is not sweet tea!).

I learned sweet tea a little each day over the course of my life.  “Faithie Jo, make the tea, and Bubba, get the glasses and ice” was said at my dinner table every night. And every night, I made the tea.  Through the repetition of doing it, I learned how.  There was constant correction of “Gracious! This is too sweet”, “This is weak as dishwater!” or “Did you put any sugar in it at all?” We learn God’s word the same way, a little at a time through a repetitive process of study and refinement.

Friends, do not neglect the sweet word of God.  There will be a test!

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Worm Food

“Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country. So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them.  And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!”  Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.” – Acts 12:20-23

There’s an old saying that pride comes before the fall.  It originated with a Bible verse.  Proverbs 16:18 says “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”  Why is it important to know that it comes from the Bible?  There are a lot of saying that are nothing more than quotes, superstitions, or old wives sayings.  But because it originates in the Bible, we can know that it holds truth.  Therefore, when you feel pride, expect to the fall of your pride and destruction on the horizon.

Pride is a terrible disease of the heart.  It is a form of idolatry whereby we begin to worship ourselves, seeing ourselves as better than others.  There’s nothing wrong with having good self-esteem, but there is something terribly wrong when we begin to see ourselves as more worthy than someone else. 

For many years before Herod Agrippa I’s reign, Galilee had supplied Tyre and Sidon with all their provisions.  Tyre and Sidon were small in territory and needed the supplies to survive.  King Solomon sent grain and oil to them every year as reported in 1 Kings 5:11.  But for some reason, Herod was angry with them. 

This put fear into the hearts of the Tyre and Sidon citizens, who depended on the supplies from Galilee to live.  Having a friend on the inside of Herod’s household, they decided to appear before him and beg for peace.  Keep in mind that these people were not wealthy.  They could not afford food to buy for themselves.  And on that day when Herod appeared before them, he donned himself in the great apparel of a roman emperor – royally dressed, crown and all.  When the people began to shout “The voice of a god and not a man!” he accepted their praise. 

What happens next is gruesome!  God struck him with worms.  Notice that it says “he was eaten by worms and died”.  The worms didn’t eat him after he died, but before! 

God’s reasoning for giving such a punishment?  Herod did not give God the glory for all that he had, and for what he was giving to the poor in Tyre and Sidon.

We often come in contact with people who we believe are blessed with material things above what we are.  Sometimes we can be jealous of their lifestyle and financial ease.  But understand that even with little material goods, we can fall into this same trap of pride. 

Pride isn’t tied to material goods.  We can have pride in our looks, our abilities, our relationships, our intelligence, or any number of things.  Recognizing you are blessed in these areas is not a sin.  But believing that you are of greater worth because God has blessed you greatly is pride.  Pride never has a happy ending.

Give God the glory He deserves for all your blessings.  For without Him, we are without even the breath we breathe. Consider that he made us out of dirt – nothing but dirt, the food of worms.  Without the life that he breathed into our nostrils (Genesis 2:7) we would still be nothing more than worm food.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Who’s Afraid of Isis? NOT ME.

So Herod had already killed James, John’s brother.  Why? Because it was good entertainment for the Jews! They loved to see Christians die.  Christians, they believed, were their enemy! (Sound familiar?)

And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.” – Acts 12: 3-4

Peter.  This was the same Peter with the boldness to attempt water-walking (Matthew 14:29), declaring He would be willing to die with Jesus (Matthew 26:35), cutting of an ear of the opposing army guard (John 18:10), denying Christ three times (Matthew 26:69-75), “Do you Love Me? Feed My Sheep!” (John 21:15-19) Peter.  Yes, God had His hands all over Peter’s life. 

And when Herod said He would kill him, God just said NO.

“Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him BY THE CHURCH. And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, BOUND WITH TWO CHAINS between TWO SOLDIERS; and the GUARDS BEFORE THE DOOR were keeping the prison.

Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And HIS CHAINS FELL OFF his hands. Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.”

So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they were PAST THE FIRST AND THE SECOND GUARD POSTS, they came to the IRON GATE that leads to the city, which OPENED TO THEM OF ITS OWN ACCORD; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him.

And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.” – ACTS 12:5-11

So tell me again….why should I fear ISIS or any other enemy of God?  I’m not going to live in fear of them being at the Mexican border, being in Ohio or any other state.  I’m not going to read all the so-called “news” from sources that you really should (seriously) check.  I’m not going to fear when my God says fear not!  Either it will be God’s will I die and I’ll be with Him, or it won’t be God’s will I die, and I’ll be delivered from it.  Either way – I win.  I’m just going to pray about it and see what God says. 

We all have to die.  That’s a given.  But for those of us that have eternal life, death is a passage to a better life – not the end of life.  I refuse to live in fear of what might be, what could be, in light of the fact of who my God is and what He can do. 

I’ll take that a step further.  I refuse to stop travelling and doing what I love just because there is an enemy.  Get this – THERE HAS ALWAYS BEEN AN ENEMY! 

Could it be that the whole time God was molding Peter, checking his faith through walking on water, through the arrest of Christ, through the fishing excursion that could have been a career detour, could it be that God was testing his faith for that day?  Father God, let me be faithful.  Let my faith stand!

People get ready…there’s a day coming when you will want to know God and be at peace with Him.  Even today there are chains to be broken, doors to be opened, deliverance to be gained.  Christianity isn’t for what is to come.  It’s for NOW, for a better life here.