Thursday, January 30, 2014

To Be Real – Part 1: New Life

He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son.  And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.1 John 5:10-12

When my son was growing up, Disney movies were all the rage.  As each would be released, we would go get the movie.  But with a shelf full of selections, his favorite was Pinocchio. It’s a wonderful story about Mister Geppetto, who was a toy maker, his cat Figueroa, and his goldfish, Cleo. One day Geppetto made a marionette puppet boy out of wood and named him Pinocchio.

As he lay in bed that night, Geppetto wished upon a star. He wished that little Pinocchio would become a real boy. Geppetto drifted off to sleep. The Blue Fairy heard Geppettos’s wish, and that night, while he slept, the Blue Fairy came to visit Pinocchio and gave life to the little puppet boy. He was still a wooden doll, but he could now walk and talk on his own with no one holding his strings.  The Blue Fairy told Pinocchio that if he wanted to become real, truly real, he needed to prove to be three things: brave, truthful, and unselfish.

God wants to give us life too – eternal life. That’s why He sent Jesus to be our Savior.  He wants us to have eternal life, and never be lead around by the strings of sin again.  While many people may wish we were saved through their faithful prayers, no Blue Fairy is going to come and give it to you.  You have to ask for it yourself. Your parents, grandparents, Christian friends, and many others may pray for you to be saved. But becoming God’s child doesn’t happen only because of their wishes. You have to want it for yourself.  You have to want to be made different.  Salvation is a gift, but God only gives it to those who ask for it.

Do you want real life? Do you want to be free from the life you lead, and the strings that sin pulls? Real life, eternal life, is a prayer away.

Believe that Jesus was God’s son. Even demons, the devil’s crew, know it to be true. James 2:18 says “Even the demons believe—and tremble!”  At Jesus’ baptism, God spoke in Matthew 3:17 with an auditable voice saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”

Admit to God that you are a sinner, and you’re ready to stop being one.  New life comes when the old life is no longer wanted. Romans 3:23 says we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Jesus died to right your wrongs, to cleanse you from your sins.  1 Peter 3:18 says “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the [Holy] Spirit”.

If you can believe those things from your heart you can be saved and made into a new creation.

God waits for you to ask for it – to wish for it. Simply pray, talk to God, and tell him you want him as your Father, you want the new life he has promised, and that you accept Jesus as your savior. Then tell others that you have been given new life! Romans 10:8-10 says “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Just as the new life given to Pinocchio was only the beginning of his story, your being made ‘real’ through salvation, the gift of eternal life, is also just the beginning. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Trust More – Worry Less

“Jesus said to him, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:23-24

If anyone were to ask you if you had faith in God, what would you say? 

Many of us would dogmatically say that we do.  We’ve trusted Him with our eternity, and we’ve found security and peace in knowing that when we die, we will be with Him in Heaven.  Yet I believe for many of us, that trust is more like trusting in an insurance policy to pay off than trusting in a tight rope not to break.  When you walk a tight rope, you step out on nothing but faith.  You believe that the rope will hold you up.  The truth is, if we fully trusted in God, more of us would be walking the tight rope in life.  More of us would be seeking our dreams with a rooted faith that God would not fail us, and living out the expectation of answered prayer.

I believe the problem is one of logic.  We want to understand how God can accomplish things before we can believe in them.  Far too often I’ve prayed asking God to do things, and then told Him exactly how I’d like it done because that’s how I could perceive it being completed.  But as Isaiah 55:8 says, His thoughts are not our thoughts, and His ways are not our ways.  We’ve tried to fit God into a box of our own understanding.  And therein the believable boundaries of the box, we can trust God, because we can believe for the possible.

But what about believing for the impossible?  What about believing God to do the things we cannot dictate a means and method for completion?  We’ve all read Luke 1:37, which says that with God nothing is impossible.  We’ve read Matthew 17:20, which says if we have faith even as small as a mustard seed, nothing will be impossible for us.  Yet, while we claim to believe the Bible, front cover to back cover, and we claim to have faith in God, our lives are riddled with worry and doubt.  We pray for our finances, and worry that we won’t meet our bills.  We pray for our health, and stay focused on the sickness.  We pray for our children, and continue to spend sleepless nights worrying about them. 

If there’s one thing God has taught me in life, it’s that every trial I face has a greater purpose, a lesson to be learned, a spiritual strength to be earned.  Our faith is strengthened by being exercised in trials.   What if the things we worry about are truly not the issue, but the issue is God’s desire to woo us into trusting Him more and worrying less?

In Mark 9 we read the story of the young mute boy who was demon possessed, and the spirit that possessed him often threw him into the fire or water to try to destroy him.  Or, is this story about the father of the young boy, who needed to believe more?  Is this story about the disciples, who as the story is told in Matthew 17, Jesus tells that they could not deliver the young boy because of their lack of belief in God? 

In Mark 9 Jesus tells the devoted father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”  Did you get that?  All things - as in nothing omitted - and no disclaimer.  All things are possible to you – with a four word condition: “If you can believe”.  The father of the young boy answers Jesus with a simple statement.  He said “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

While we each believe in God for some things, we also carry a factor of unbelief.  It may be to a single area of our life, a single situation, or it may be overwhelming our entire life.  While we should pray for the issue and problems we face, let us also pray, “Lord, help my unbelief!”  It is within the unbelief that worries live and rob us of the peace that is ours in Jesus Christ.  Trust God more - worry less.

“Lord, help my unbelief!” 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Lacking One Thing


Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.” – Mark 10:21

What do you give the one that has everything?  That’s the question we often ask when we’re trying to find that perfect gift for someone that has all the things they need.  Jesus had the answer to this question when He spoke to the rich young ruler in Mark 10.
Picture this young man.  He was wealthy and he was energetic!  On this day, in spite of all he had, he still desired one thing.  And he desired it so much that when he saw Jesus in the distance he ran to him!  Kneeling at His feet, all he wanted to know was how to get what he wanted.  His words were few as he addressed Jesus saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

I imagine he had spent considerable time thinking about death, pondering the brevity of life, and realizing the riches he would leave behind.  At some point, he had decided that what he needed most wasn’t more stuff, but everlasting life in order to enjoy the things he had.  So he ran to Jesus looking for eternal life.
Jesus, in Mark 10:21 looked at the young man and loved him.  What Jesus saw when He looked at the young man was who he really was, from His heart.  But even in looking at Him, Jesus saw one deadly flaw.  The love of Christ is seen in how He doesn’t condemn the young man with that flaw.

Jesus tells him, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’   Jesus lists the commandments regarding how we are to treat each other, but omits one, the last one.  He chooses not bring up the command regarding covetousness, the desire for things and possessions.  I believe He already knew the heart of this young man, and that even though he desired eternal life, there was one thing that prevented him from truly wanting to receive the free gift.   The young man had kept these commandments since he was just a young boy.  That’s commendable!  Not many of us could say we’ve done that.

Then Jesus answers the one who has everything by saying, “One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.”  He lacked “one thing”.  He lacked the willingness to sacrifice, to suffer, to give it all away for the cause of Christ.
We often read this and think about how the young man couldn’t deal with losing his riches.  But I believe it’s more than that.  “Take up your cross” had purpose.  Jesus was speaking to him about crucifixion.  You only need a cross if you’re going to be crucified, and Jesus told him to go get one.  No one was going to kill the young man, but what he needed most was to die to himself. 

We’ve all read the poem about going through ‘God’s grocery store’ and picking up the spiritual fruits along the way and putting them in an imaginary shopping cart.  But the truth is, being a Christian is not a trip to the mall, but more like a trip to the morgue.  Those spiritual fruits are grown from your life by dying to yourself and following Christ, by trading in your will and ways for His. 
Being a Christian is an invitation to your own crucifixion.  It’s an invitation to be tried, tested, and to persevere.  It’s an appointment with things that will challenge your patience.  Its pathway may tear away from you the things and people you hold all too dear.  And all this, all these painful times, God will work to your good (Romans 8:28), because He has said that “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6)”.  He continues to purify us through trials, suffering, and sacrifice, so that we can be equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17).

It is so sad to read that the rich young ruler went away saddened because of his riches.  He gave up so much more than he would have lost in following Christ.  He chose to keep what he had and didn’t consider what more he could have had.  What Jesus had promised in return for His sacrifice was that he would have treasure in heaven, eternal treasure, which was a bonus to what the young man was seeking, eternal life. 
The young man went away and Jesus spoke to his disciples, saying, “there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time—houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions—and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).

We are promised that if we will follow him, devote our life to him and the gospel message, dying to ourselves, we will have the things we desire in this life through persecutions.  But this life is so short in the span of eternity!  The greatest reward will come when we are awakened to eternal life and all the riches of Heaven.  Yet, just like the rich young ruler, we lack one thing: the willingness to be crucified. 

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Staying Inside the Lines

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.” – Ephesians 5:1-2

When I was a little girl I was easily occupied with two things: paper and crayons.  I could sit for hours and color one picture after another.  There were birds, flowers, houses, dogs, horses, cats, crazy designs of lines and different colors, and anything that I could imagine to put on paper! 

When I entered elementary school we begin coloring sheets.  These were usually some sort of image to color with a letter or number on the page represented by the image, like “A” for Apple.  What I found out was I didn’t care much for coloring sheets.  Oh yes, I’d color them, and rather quickly – so that I could turn them over and color whatever I wanted on the back.  I just didn’t like having to color someone else’s picture, and staying in the lines.
“Stay inside the lines, Faithie!”  The teacher must have said it a million times.  Yes, I could do it – but that took slowing down, thinking about it, and truly working at it.  That would take more time than we had in class, and then I didn’t get to do what I wanted to do – my own masterpiece on the back of the paper.  But eventually, I saw the benefit of keeping the teacher happy, if you know what I mean.  Then I started doing things her way.  But, rebellious as I was, I would sometimes take a crayon and go over the lines VERY DARKLY to be sure it was clear that this was now MY drawing that I was coloring!  I made it my own before I would finish it.

We don’t like to stay in God’s lines either.  His ways are so simple, and yet, we just refuse to do things His way sometimes.  In Matthew 22:34-40 Jesus has a talk with a lawyer.  The lawyer, being somewhat of an authority on laws and staying in the lines of the laws, wanted Jesus to tell him the greatest of all commandments.  Jesus gave him two and told him that all the laws given rest upon following those.  He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind”, specifically saying that one was “the first and great commandment.”  But then He followed with the second and said “the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
So there we have it: Love God with heart, mind and soul, and love each other as we love ourselves.  Love isn’t so hard, is it? 

It would appear to be impossible if we were to measure its difficulty by our actions.  To love God with all our heart would mean we never want to disappoint Him.  To love Him with all our mind would mean that we stay focused on Him, His word, and His way.  To love Him with all our soul would mean we don’t give up the throne of our hearts to serve anyone or anything else.  But if we look around, we see we perform poorly in keeping this command.
Can we even love each other as ourselves?  Without first loving God with all we have, I don’t believe it is possible.  To love each other as we love ourselves would mean we have to have a self-less love, loving with no ulterior motives.  We would have to love in deeds and feelings, and do it just for the sake of loving.  We couldn’t just give fake love, like saying “How are you?” and not waiting to hear the answer. Sincere love is the love we give ourselves.  It’s self-protecting, self-lifting, self-giving, and self-admiring.

We don’t stop loving ourselves when we are unlovable, but we most certainly fail to love the unlovable.  To love others as we love ourselves, we would have to love without ulterior motives or expectations of love in return.  Think about that.  When is the last time you tried to show love to someone who you knew would not show you love in return, who would reject you?  Jesus did it all the time.
In Ephesians 5:1-2 Paul speaks again of the second of these commands, and says “Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us”.  Love is godliness.  Loving makes us more like Christ.

Sometimes we want to draw our own picture of what love looks like.  Love is a mom holding her child’s hand. But could it be you holding some else’s child’s hand as well?  Love is visiting the elderly.  But could it be visiting the imprisoned hardened criminal as well?  Love is spending time talking to a friend who needs consoling. But could it be consoling someone who you don’t even know?  Love is hugging our church family, and they hug us back.  But could it be giving someone a hug that doesn’t know how to accept love? 
We want to fulfill our own ideal of what love is, but God’s idea of love is much greater, must different, than the image of love we have drawn.  To please God, to follow His instruction, we have to stay inside His lines, “be imitators of God”, “walk in love, as Christ also loved us”.  He loved us while we were unlovable, while we were sinners, His very enemy (Romans 5:8). 

Loving God’s way means a strong relationship with God.  “God is love” (1 John 4:7-8) and if we are to imitate Him, we have to start at loving Him.  He is our source of love, the well in which we must draw from.  His love is pure.  We have to love with our heart, mind and soul – and the sequence is important.  Until He gives you a new heart, through salvation, you are not a vessel for Him.  You can’t love with His love.  Then He can move in, change your mind, and take possession of your soul.  A relationship with God is easy to attain, but like all other relationships, the desire to strengthen it determines how strong it is. 
Love also takes time.  You can’t rush love, not real love.  Real love may mean asking God to change how you feel toward others, to show you what He sees instead of what you see.  It takes planning, thinking, praying, and determining where God needs you to show your love. 

Love has to be perfected, to be made into what God defines love to be.  The only way to perfect it is show love to one another.  1 John 4:12 says “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.”  Perfect love, God’s love, is fearless (1 John 4:18), and doesn’t consider the possibility that we could get hurt.  It considers love to be worth the risk. 
I once read a sign that said “You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving.”  I think that sums it up.  I can show love without “staying in the lines” God has given, like writing a check for a cause.  But true love causes us to give more.  It gives of itself, just as Christ gave Himself for us.