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!”