Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Responsiblity of Being Your Own God



“Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” – 2 Corinthians 12:10

Let’s be real here.  There are times in all our lives where we just don’t want to ask for help when we need it.  I am certifiably the world’s worst independent person.  I would rather struggle for 10 minutes opening a jar, buy every contraption known to man to make my struggle easier, or just not use mayo on my sandwich after all than to ask for help! Can you relate?
But there comes a time when we all need to be able to say “I can’t do this, can you  help me?”.  Those can be hard words, I know.  I’ve even struggled with no wanting to ask God for help, thinking my needs were too small for his Almighty Hands.  I’ve truly struggled with asking others for their prayers, thinking if they can pray, so can I. 

I think they’re even harder for some of us who have been taught that we should stand on our own two feet, face it “like a man”, never quit, don’t give up, no pain no gain, and so forth.  Perseverance is great, and self-accomplishment is wonderful.  But we all have to realize our weakness at some point, ask for help and move on.  Finally, God was kind enough to show me that when I am weak, then He is made strong.  I need the people around me to pray for me at times, and I need them to help me carry my burdens at times.  This is why He gave us the Body of Christ.  It’s okay to admit you aren’t complete without Him.  It’s okay to admit that you need Him and others.  That does not make you a “needy” person!
I truly worry about two new characteristics I see taking rise in our people.  One is entitlement, a feeling that society, parents, or government owes you everything you need, and you shouldn’t even have to ask.  This is the “me” generation, who put themselves before everyone else and choose to be fed rather than feed.  They won’t work, won’t contribute, refuse to achieve anything of value, and leave even the basest responsibilities they have to others.  If this continues, brother and sister, we and all our time and resources will be consumed by them.

The second characteristic is even more troublesome.  It’s one I think found more in my own generation than the younger ones, where we feel we cannot rely on anyone but ourselves.  We believe that if we cannot do it, it can’t be done.  While many of us would profess that we believe in God, and that God is in control, we don’t allow Him control over the issues of our lives.  We have, without consciously doing so, become our own God.  We want to control our own destiny, our own future, our own finances, our own children, our own jobs, our own family life, our own ______________(you fill in the blank!). 
Oh how great a responsibility that has put on our shoulders and how unnecessarily we struggle and feel continually defeated. 

While He desires to be our refuge (hiding place from trouble) and our rock of strength (Psalms 62:7), we deny Him the right by not submitting to His plan.  He says “Go”, we say “”Stay”.  He says “Don’t” – we say “Do”.  He says “Kneel” and we say “Stand”.  And the whole time we sink just a little deeper into the pit of our lives, refusing to reach up and take His hand.  The bills pile up, the kids get out of hand, our lives become filled with manipulators and users, and we slowly are destroyed to the point we are continually beaten down by life.

He says that He is our provider, Jehovah Jirah.  Let Him provide.
He says that He is our healer, Jehovah Rapha.  Let Him heal.

He says that He is Lord of all spirits and beings, Jehovah Sabaoth.  Let Him take over.
He says that He is our peace, Jehovah Shalom.  Let Him bring peace.

He says that He is our shepherd, Jehovah Raah.  Let Him lead.
Friends, God is a very short prayer away!  Admit your weakness and reach up! 

“God, I am nothing without you but a failure.  And you are all I need. Help me! Amen.”

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Seal of Redemption


 

In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.” – Ephesians 1:13-14

There are many kinds of seals.  There are Ziploc bags that seal food to prevent it from spoiling.  There are seals on envelopes that keep what’s inside from falling out.  But was this God’s purpose in giving us the Holy Spirit as a ‘seal’ toward His promise of our inheritance in Heaven?  Why does Paul choose to use the word ‘seal’ in the above passage? 

Seals have been around for a long time, beginning with those created in wax.  Long ago a King would seal a decree with melted wax into which he would press a signet ring that identified the King, and was worn only by the King.  The seal not only identify the person making the seal by the stamp, but they often provided a legal jurisdiction.  Other seals were made onto mankind himself when in slavery.  These were often called a ‘mark’ and placed on the thigh of the slave as a tattoo or iron branding.  The mark represented the master of the slave.

The Greek word used in the original text of the above verse for “sealed with” is sphragiz┼Ź (Strongs G4972).  It has three base meanings.  It is a seal of security, to which Strong’s adds that it is secured from Satan.  It is concealment, as in the contents of a letter that is sealed until opened later.  It is also to mark a person, such as the seal put upon a diploma or a legal document such as a marriage license.  It is also used to prove and confirm the authenticity of something, such as the seal of a testimony or a written document.

Under the first covenant, sacrificial goods such as lambs, calves, doves, etc…, to be given to God were often given a seal to show that it was dedicated to God.  The items of the temple would have a seal that would show that they were dedicated to God.  This marked them so that they would not be used in any other way, or eaten by the priests household.  But under the second covenant, the covenant of Christ’s righteousness given to us through faith, the seal is the Holy Spirit, and the seal is within us. 

Paul tells us in the above passage from Ephesians 1:14 that the Holy Spirit has been given to us like a receipt, “until the redemption of the purchased possession”.  When going to the movies, you pay up front, receive a receipt or ticket, and then enjoy the movie.  If you take laundry to a dry cleaner, you receive a receipt which you have to bring to claim your garments when they’re clean.   These tickets are redeemed at the point that you want to receive something in return.  They prove possession.  Ephesians 4:30 says that we were sealed with the Holy Spirit of God “for the day of redemption.”

Rewind to Genesis 4:15.  Cain kills his brother Abel, and God drives him out of the land and Cain says he will no longer be in God’s presence, and is worried that someone will do to him as he has done to his brother Abel.  Then “the Lord set a mark on Cain, lest anyone finding him should kill him”.  The mark in which Cain received was a mark given because of his sin. 

We all were once a slave of sin. In Romans 6:17-18 Paul writes “But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness.”  A slave to righteousness is what we are when we are saved because God has given us His mark, His seal, until the day of redemption.  The mark of slavery to sin is removed, and we are now identified through the Holy Spirit, our legal seal with jurisdiction in the court of God, the highest court.  It is a seal that changes our identity from being sons of Adam, as was Cain, to sons of God, as was Jesus Christ. 

Romans 6 goes on to say in verses 22-23, “But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  What will we receive on redemption day, when we meet God with our receipt, the “gift of God”, the Holy Spirit?  We will receive eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord – and the rewards of Heaven!

The “seal of God” has a second meaning in Hebrew language.  It is the word emeth, which means truth.  Jesus Christ proclaimed His own identity when He said in John 14:6 “I am the way, the TRUTH, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.  Through faith, belief in Jesus Christ, we receive His Spirit, the seal of God, the truth.  The purpose of the Holy Spirit is then revealed in us.  In John 16:13-14 Jesus tells of the coming of the Holy Spirit and says “when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth”, which is the purpose of His Spirit in us.  He leads us in the path of righteousness, teaching us and guiding us away from our sinful nature and tendencies.

But Jesus also proclaims an identity change in this passage when He says “He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.”  What belongs to Jesus Christ will become ours through the inheritance we receive that changes our identity from sons of Adam to sons of God. 

In 2 Corinthians 1:20-22 the truth of Jesus Christ, His authenticity and therefore the authenticity of His Spirit, is revealed in us with “Yes” and “Amen” confirmations.  Paul writes, “For all the promises of God in Him are YES, and in Him AMEN, to the glory of God through us.  Now He who establishes us with you in Christ and has anointed us is God, who also has SEALED us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.”

Brothers and sisters in Christ, we were bought with a precious price, and have received our seal.  He does lead us into all truth, and leads us in the path of righteousness “for His name’s sake”(Psalms 23:3).  The mark of sin is gone!  We are sealed! And upon that redemption day, we will be heirs with Christ through the Holy Spirit within us, as our legal and binding seal in the court of God.  Praise be to God! YES and AMEN!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Christian Bystanders



 
"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 6:1-3


We have become Christian by-standers, watching as others fall into sin and the consequences of sin.  We say that we're "not supposed to judge" and let that being our excuse to not get involved, to not come to the aid of our brother and sister when they are struggling.  But that is not the way a body, the body of Christ, connected by love, is to behave!
We have made the problems of others common entertainment.  "Did you hear about sister so-in-so?" "You'll never believe what I heard about brother ....." "I cannot believe they've allowed their lives to get into such a mess!"  Maybe its time to stop running our mouths, and check back in as a member of the body again.  In the Body of Christ, there "should be no schism in the body" (1 Corinthians 12:25), no division.  If you find that members of that body are struggling - check yourself.  Spiritually, you're struggling too.  The body does not grow sick in a single member.  If we live out the love of Christ, being ONE as He prayed for us to be, we would all live in His Power.  We cannot look at the problems of one as if that member of the body could be amputated and the Body of Christ become whole again.  We are all connected, all given a purpose.  If one member suffers, all the members suffer with them (1 Corinthians 12:26). 

When we see someone struggling, "overtaken in any trespass", we are to step in and "restore" them, helping them come back to the previous state.  Those living with addictions are to be broken from the bondage they are under.  Those suffering physical/verbal/mental abuse are to be restored to power and removed from abusive relationships.  Those suffering from rejection are to be loved.  Those suffering from financial failure are to be made prosperous.  Those dealing with depression are to be restored to joy.  When we see any issue that is overtaking them, reducing their effectiveness and power in the body, we MUST step in!  Brothers and Sisters, if your own body were having an ailment in one of it's members, you would rush to the doctor to be restored.  The body of Christ should receive the same urgent care when one of its members is struggling.
I've often heard this verse read with a warning "considering yourself lest you also be tempted".  If you are walking in the Spirit, living out the life of Christ, why are you afraid of the temptation of sin?  Christ ate with sinners, touched leapers, befriended a prostitute.  The problem is not their sin, but your own disobedience and lack of confidence in the Spirit if you have to protect yourself from another member of the body.  Strengthen yourself, for the body must be made stronger.

Lastly, we are warned not to place ourselves on a pedestal, feeling as if we are above their problems.  If anyone thinks he is something, the truth is he is nothing but deceived.  "But for the grace of God, there go I" should be the only words uttered out of our mouths regarding the problems and obstacles of another in comparison to ourselves.  Gods grace, His mercy, and His blessings are all that separate us from the same painful problems.
God never called anyone to be a by-stander.  If we live out our calling, which is to love each other as we love ourselves, we cannot be a by-stander.

Spoken in love, with a broken heart for the suffering members of our body. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

The Mark of the Lord Jesus



“But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.  And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God. From now on let no one trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus. “ – Galatians 6:14-17

In Galatians 6 Paul talks to those who are believers and have been under pressure of the Jewish church to be circumcised as their law required.  He tells them that these only want to glory in their own flesh, and that they should be glorying in the cross of Jesus instead.  All we have to be prideful of is that Jesus died for us.  That’s it.  Nothing more.

But then Paul says something interesting to me.  He tells them to not trouble him any more, because “I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.”.  This is beautiful when we understand what he is saying. 

In those days a slave would have a mark put on their thigh or leg that was to identify them by their master’s mark.  What Paul is saying is that he is a slave to Christ, and not man’s opinion.  He warned them in the prior chapter not to be put back into a “yoke of bondage” by following the pressures of religious people.  Instead, he tells them to walk in the Spirit, letting the Holy Spirit guide their every action.

Brothers and sisters, there can only be one God in your life.  Either you allow the Holy Spirit to rule over you, or you allow yourself and others to rule.  One master, that’s all we can have.  To have the Holy Spirit’s seal upon your life and follow another master is a dangerous thing.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Walk In the Spirit



“For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love SERVE ONE ANOTHER. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall LOVE your neighbor as yourself.”  But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!

I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are:

adultery,
fornication,
uncleanness,
lewdness,
idolatry,
sorcery,
hatred,
contentions,
jealousies,
outbursts of wrath,
selfish ambitions,
dissensions,
heresies,  
envy,
murders,
drunkenness,
revelries,

and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

But the fruit of the Spirit is

love,
joy,
peace,
longsuffering,
kindness,
goodness,
faithfulness,
gentleness,
self-control.

Against such there is no law.  

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” – Galatians 5:16-26

A few verses earlier Paul addresses the Galatian believers and says in verse 7, “You ran well.  Who hindered you from obeying the truth?”  There’s only one answer to that question, no matter who it is asked.  Self.  For believers, we are the only ones standing between our disobedience and our obedience to God.  Through the Holy Spirit given to us we have every tool we need to be obedient, and produce the fruits of the second list.
 
Take a look at the first list.  Which of these ends in anything good?  Is there a single thing on the list worthy of occupying your short life?  No, not one!  So why do we neglect the power within us and get bound up in these sins?  If we can “do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens” us (Philippians 4:13), then does that not mean we can overcome sin?  If it means anything at all, it means we have power over sin. 

Our flesh will always prefer sin because it is of a sinful nature.  But we have to submit to the desires of His Holy Spirit and overcome those desires to sin. 

Our only obstacle is ourselves.

I < † >

 

 

Monday, March 10, 2014

Our Common Calling


 
"Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For

“He who would love life
And see good days,
Let him refrain his tongue from evil,
And his lips from speaking deceit.
Let him turn away from evil and do good;
Let him seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
And His ears are open to their prayers;
But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.” - 1 Peter 3:8-12

We often wonder what our calling in Christ is.  There's one calling we all have.  We're all called to be a blessing to each other. If we're only good to those who are good to us, we've not done more than the average Joe.  Matthew 6:46-48 teaches that these have earned our good responses.  We're giving them what they deserve. 
But to be good to those who have done nothing for us and cannot do anything for us, to those of who we expect nothing in return, that is being a blessing. That is the calling we all have.  Yet how we do it determines whether we will be rewarded here, or in Heaven.  

"Take heed that you do not do your charitable deeds before men, to be seen by them. Otherwise you have no reward from your Father in heaven.  Therefore, when you do a charitable deed, do not sound a trumpet before you as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory from men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly." - Matthew 6:1-4 
An act of kindness from an unknown source is a sweet feeling.  But being the source of that joy for another is a sweeter feeling because in doing it we live out our obedience to Christ and our calling.  Find someone to surprise today, and just be a blessing that they cannot repay!  Live to your calling.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Every Saint Has A Past



And I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ.  But they were hearing only, “He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God in me.” – Galatians 1:22-24
Paul lived both sides of life.  He began life in Jewish Law, and became one of the greatest in his nation at the laws and traditions of Judaism. When the church began and Jesus Christ was being hailed as the Messiah, he was hot on the trial of all who were standing for grace instead of the law to destroy them.  By his hands many were killed and persecuted who believed in Jesus.  But that wasn’t the end of his story.
In Acts 4 we read of Saul on his way to Damascus to murder more Christians - which was the right thing to do - according to his religion.  Yet along the way, Jesus himself, already crucified and risen, appears to Paul.  The very Messiah that he was fighting against, his highest enemy, appeared right in his path!  We cannot know what that looked like or felt like to Paul.  Even the men travelling with Paul didn’t see or hear Jesus.  But it was enough to make a murderer tremble and fall to the ground! 
For three days Paul was without sight, either blinded by seeing the glory of God, or blinded at the command of Christ.  Regardless of which, his eyes grew something over them that he described to be like scales.  For three days he did not eat.  We don’t know if that was a fast or if he was so disturbed that he had no appetite.  But suffice to say, Paul’s Damascus road moment was a life changer!  An encounter with Jesus Christ is always a life changer.
Choosing not to leave Paul in blindness, Jesus came to a prophet named Ananias in a vision and commanded Ananias to go to him, providing the exact location of Paul, and give him back his sight.  Ananias had heard of “Saul of Tarsus”, the name of pre-salvation Paul.  He had a nasty reputation!  Ananias was afraid to go to him, even at the call of Christ to do so, because Saul had been given the right to kill anyone who claimed to believe in Christ.  Yet, Jesus’ command was clear, and with purpose, saying in Galatians 1:15 “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel”.
Saint Augustine once said, “There is no saint without a past, and no sinner without a future.” What we fail to understand is that a redeemed sinner is a saint.  He may not be a perfected saint, but in God’s eyes, God who looks on the heart and not on the outward appearance of man, the saint is there.  Once the Holy Spirit dwells in the heart, the work to perfect the saint begins.  Once the Holy Spirit moves in, the sinner will never be the same.
Yet, we neglect and shun those that are still in sin.  We walk around like we will dirty up our white robes if we come near them.  We complain when their children who were not raised in church don’t know how to act in church.  We whine like spoiled babies when they take our seats, come in late, or come irregularly to church.  We say they’re insincere in trying to find Christ.  We judge that they’re “riding the fence” when they fail, and fall into and out of sin.  But worst of all, we don’t let them drop the reputation we heard of them before they reached out to Christ.  We don’t run to their aid when they fall, and encourage them to keep going.  Have we become so self-absorbed and religious that we cannot see the sinner in our past?
Ananias looked beyond Saul’s reputation and believed Jesus for Paul’s ministry.  He believed he was a chosen vessel, and would preach the gospel of Jesus to many and bring them to salivation.  He believed GOD.  How many around us could we free from their reputations if we only saw the saint instead of the sinner?  How many ministries could be born from the pain of their reputations if we would see God’s plan for them instead of their past?
Father God, remove the scales from our eyes so that we can see our brothers and sisters in Christ as You see them.