Thursday, September 30, 2010
We all know what it is like to make a mistake. Many times we find ourselves wide of where we should be and what we should be doing. There are times when this is a result of pure unintended accident and times when it is through malicious rebelliousness. In any case, having had the opportunity to rethink our decision, usually due to consequences that range from guilt to something, let us say, a bit more substantial, there is not much we would not do for a second chance.
The good news beloved, is that more often than not, our God is a God of second chances. Time after time, His people have gone against Him, betrayed Him, been disobedient to Him and even left Him. And time after time, He has come to their aid. For one example of this, see Judges 10. Our God is long suffering toward us and loving of us in ways that some could not possibly understand and others no only to well.
Let us not take his kindness for granted. Our goal should ever be to live our lives in a way that second chances are not needed. That having been said, it is good to know that they, through the grace of God, are available to us.
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
Many of us feel that if we "go to church," sing the songs, pray the prayers, drop a few bucks into the basket, listen to the message and take the communion, we are doing all that God requires of us. Of course we need to be "good people" and "do the right thing" but for the most part, we are in pretty good shape.
Others feel that all they have to do is (say they) believe. It is not even necessary to "go to church" because the people there are a bunch of hypocrites anyway. They get their morality from televangelists or worse, their own reasoning.
In reality, Christianity is about a relationship and in any positive, healthy relationship, there are a few things that are required. First, it needs to be sincere. We can all spot a fake, God more than any of us. For some it may take a little time, but insincerity will always be able to be discerned sooner or later. Second, it requires effort. Healthy relationships involve both give and take and that not always in equal measure. Similarly, sacrifice is almost always required in one way or the other. No party has things their way all the time, but willingly gives another priority at their own expense from time to time. Finally, positive and healthy relationships require some sort of structure. Whatever they may be, their are agreed to rules of behavior and interaction that define the relationship and govern the activities thereof.
Beloved, this is not meant to be an exhaustive list. I am sure we could all come up with a number of other things that would be true. The point is that it is not about "going to church." It is about participating in a relationship with both God and siblings in the faith. And it is about doing so with sincerity of heart rather than just going through the motions.
Tuesday, September 28, 2010
The simplicity of this verse belies the rich tapestry of events that occurred to make it possible. You may recall that Ruth was the daughter-in-law of Naomi. Through the course of time, Naomi's husband died, as did each of her three sons. Naomi encouraged her daughters-in-law to return to their own land and their own people, not being Jews, and make what they could out of the rest of their lives. Only Ruth refused, and pledged her undying love to her mother-in-law. In fact, the words she used can be heard in many a wedding ceremony to this day.
There were a number of different challenges that the women faced. In those days, to have no husband or son to care for you meant death from neglect of the basic needs of life. Naomi, however, instructed Ruth in the way she should go and the things she should do. The scripture of the day reveals the end result. The subsequent passage reveals that this Moabite woman is found in the lineage of Christ.
Beloved, tough times befall us all. There are many things that happen to us that are beyond our control. In such situations where we have been perhaps victimized, we have two choices. We can give up and go back to the life we once lived or we can persevere and put our faith in God. Should we chose perseverance, we will not find ourselves in the lineage of Christ, but we will find ourselves co-heirs with him as fellow sons and daughters of God.
Monday, September 27, 2010
It is true that God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. All the people of the earth are blessed in one way or the other. We as Christians enjoy additionally spiritual blessings that are unavailable to those who fail to call upon the name of the Lord.
Our problem can sometimes be that we enjoy our temporal blessings so much that we forget about He who bestowed them upon us. We prioritize the gift over the giver. We become distracted easily and lose focus on who we are, what we should be doing and how we are to live our lives. In the Old Testament, this was called idolatry. In effect, it is the same thing under the new covenant.
Beloved, blessings are wonderful things. They are made even more so by the fact that most of them are designed to be shared. Whether it is with those who are in need or not, we never experience God's blessings in a vacuum. We should never take them for granted and allow them to cause us to lose sight of our main objective, serving God.
This passage of scripture goes on to reveal that God becomes angry, calls those who are most needy to the banquet and permanently shuts out those who squandered His opportunity.
Where are your priorities?
Friday, September 24, 2010
Far too often, our Christianity consist of lip service. We behave as if claiming to be a Christian or claiming to believe in God is all that is needed. We construct our own customized religion in which everything we like, goes, regardless of whether it is right according to the word of God. We rarely trouble ourselves with the real work of the Lord and life of the Christian.
Sure, we go to church, some even regularly. But in so doing, we are merely checking a mental box as if to say, "I've done my duty for the week and as long as I keep doing that, I'll make it to heaven." We might not sing when we go to worship. We might not fellowship with the saints nor give heed to he message through which we sleep. We might not pray or give either, but we are there and that's enough isn't it? In reality, we are trying to eat our cake and still have it.
Beloved, this is the very definition of being lukewarm. We want to do just enough to make it. You should know that "just enough" never is. Jesus says that he would rather you be completely turned off of him than sort of into him. In fact, knowing better but not doing better is worse than not doing at all. In so doing we delude ourselves and cook up a recipe for spiritual disaster. Imagine being spewed out of God's mouth like something that has sickened his stomach.
Thursday, September 23, 2010
Beloved, Christianity is about growing and maturing. To be sure, we are all babes out of baptism that need to be feed milk from the bottle. There is so much to learn and so much to understand. But if years hence we are still on that milk rather than having advanced to strong meat, we would have become stunted in our growth and would have failed to live up to both our potential and our responsibilities. Imagine having to feed and diaper a 10 year old. We would regard them as having serious developmental problems.
Let us not exemplify these things in our Christian walk. We must leave the rudimentary elements of the basic faith and advance in our knowledge, understanding and practices. Surely we must crawl before we can walk, but we are called upon to eventually run.
Wednesday, September 22, 2010
When Jesus therefore saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, He was deeply moved in spirit and was troubled,
and said, "Where have you laid him?" They said to Him, "Lord, come and see."
So the Jews were saying, "See how He loved him!"
But some of them said, "Could not this man, who opened the eyes of the blind man, have kept this man also from dying?"
So Jesus, again being deeply moved within, came to the tomb. Now it was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.
Jesus said, "Remove the stone." Martha, the sister of the deceased, said to Him, "Lord, by this time there will be a stench, for he has been dead four days."
Jesus said to her, "Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?"
So they removed the stone Then Jesus raised His eyes, and said, Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.
"I knew that You always hear Me; but because of the people standing around I said it, so that they may believe that You sent Me." John 11:32-42
In a time when we are at our lowest and most hurt, it is comforting to know that our Savior has been there. He has experienced all that we have experienced and was yet without sin. He maintained his faith and confidence in the Father as also seen in the Garden of Gethsemane. Most importantly, he cares for us when we experience our own deep hurts and disappointments.
It is best when we let the Spirit speak through the word, for therein lies peace, comfort, truth, love and healing. Let us rely even more heavily on the scripture today by simply amplifying points that are represented in this passage.
- Jesus is aware of our suffering and comes to our aid
- He is personally affected on both spiritual and emotional levels
- He weeps for our pain and his own that is rooted in his love for us
- There were others present who cared enough to lend their support
- Jesus encourages us to remain faithful
- He reminds us of his teaching
- He maintains his connection to Father
- He (subsequently) heals and restores
Beloved, we experience and endure many things in our lives. Some of these things are due to our own actions and some over which we have no control. The key is to maintain our faith regardless of what brought us to these points in our lives and rest in the knowledge that we serve a God that knows, cares and heals.
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
Dear John was truly in a bad way when his faith seemingly slipped. By all accounts he had lived a righteous life and now found himself in prison for doing nothing more than that which is right. As despondent as any of us might be in his situation, he sent his followers to ask a question that was critically important to him then as it is to us today.
This, however, is not about John's questions. It is about Christ's answer. Christ is not reported to have been annoyed at the question though he could easily have been. You see it was John that baptized him, witnessed the Holy Spirit landing on his head like a Dove and heard the voice of God verify that he indeed was His son. No, Christ answered with indulgence and evidence.
As much as this is about Christ's answer, it is about your answer. Most of us who have obeyed the gospel do a less than stellar job sharing that same gospel. It is like receiving a cure for a fatal disease and then refusing to share it with others who need it because we do not know how it works. Beloved, if you are fortunate enough to have someone ask about the source of your faith because of what they have observed in your walk, you do not have to be a theologian to answer the question. You only have to tell them what Christ has done and is doing in your life. Tell them about how far he has brought you from who you used to be and that even now, he is working in your life. Tell them about the different way you look at and respond to things based on what you have been taught by and about him. Tell them how you fell in love with him. Tell them what you have heard and seen.
Remarkably, this same information is not just an excellent answer, but it is also an excellent conversation starter.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Too often, those who claim to be Christians are so on their own terms. We practice grocery store religion. We figuratively cruise down the aisles of God's word and choose the things we like and leave the things we do not. We pick up the happy things and the promises and reject the things that cause us to examine our own righteousness (or lack thereof).
Beloved our relationship with God is not one that can be maintained halfheartedly. We are either all in or all out. This is not to say that if we are all in we cannot make mistakes or have lapses of judgment or faith. Even David who was after God's own heart made a number of critical errors as it related to his relationship with the Father. The issue is what truly is in your heart. Is your walk in the light? Is your manner of life one that is consistent with the will of God? These are things for you to determine and things that He already knows. We could all use a healthy dose of self examination and a spiritual fill up where we are lacking. Let us avail ourselves of everything in God's grocery store.
Friday, September 17, 2010
Far too often, we treat God as a clerk at a local store while thinking of ourselves as customers. We expect to be able to put in our order with Him and have it filled in a manner that exceeds our expectation and for it to be done right away. Should He, in our minds, fail to deliver, we become either angry and indignant or defeated and hopeless. Many of us will try to fix whatever the problem is or obtain whatever the need is ourselves and will step outside of God's will for our lives if we feel it necessary. "Oh we of little faith."
None of us can begin to know the entire will of God. None of us can see things from His perspective. None of us has access to His intent be it past, present or future. We do, however, have access to His assurances and promises. He has promised to provide for all of our needs (rather than the wants on which we so often base the health of our relationship and even His existence). He has promised to hear our pleas. He has promised a way of escape for any temptation that threatens to overtake us. And He has promised everlasting life to those that are His.
Beloved, if your situation is not covered by one of these or the many other promises and assurances given by the Lord, which is doubtful, be persistent in your supplications. Beseech the Lord in all you do, day and night. Draw closer to Him and He will draw closer to you. In short, as our scripture of the day clearly indicates, bug Him! For after this He has said, "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. "For everyone who asks, receives; and he who seeks, finds; and to him who knocks, it will be opened."
Thursday, September 16, 2010
You may recall that Moses, having escaped from Egypt, found himself in Midian. Through the course of time, he was called by the Angel of the Lord to the mountain of the Lord before the burning bush and introduced to God in a most unique and memorable way. He was then given marching orders to free God's people from the yoke of slavery. It is at this point that Moses began to offer excuses.
Beloved, we have the same problem to this day. God, through the sacrifice of Jesus has called us out of darkness and saved us from everlasting spiritual death. He has restored us to a right relationship and standing with him despite the fact that we deserve death. He then asks us to play a role in freeing others from the slavery of sin and darkness and we begin making excuses. "I'm too busy." "I don't know what to say." "I'm not really a people person." "I don't know enough."
When Moses began offering excuses, God said, "Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes him mute or deaf, or seeing or blind? Is it not I, the LORD?" Exo 4:11. Moses was to understand that he was being charged by an omnipotent God who can accomplish all things. His feeble excuses were nothing to overcome for the Creator.
Regardless of what we think our abilities and shortcomings are, God has made and equipped each of us for His work. He requires nothing of us that is outside of the abilities He has given us. In short, "If God brings you to it, God will bring you through it."
Wednesday, September 15, 2010
Throughout our lives we have been taught to rely on self. We are raised with the concept that if we would simply do what is necessary to achieve our goals, be they relational, financial, professional or physical, we will get what is coming to us. We have an innate sense of fairness and propriety, always aware of what others are getting compared to what we ourselves are receiving. When we ultimately do achieve or receive, we are seldom satisfied, but instead widen our gaze to drive us to even more.
I don't know about you, but all of that sounds rather self serving to me. We may have been taught that by family, academia and society, but we were not taught that by God. Everything we know about Him speaks of love, kindness, benevolence and service to others. In fact He has said that it is impossible to truly love Him without loving each other. These are the things for which we should strive.
Beloved our goals should not be shaped as if we are citizens of this world, but citizens of heaven. Once we have come to a belief and knowledge of the existence of God, we should seek His will at all costs. Though life is but a vapor, eternity is longer time than we can imagine. If we expect to spend it in the splendor of His grace, determining and living His will to the best of our ability should be everything to us. If we were filled with spiritual wisdom and understanding, we would realize that all we strive for and receive belongs to God anyway. He provides for all of our needs whether we acknowledge this or not.
When thinking about our fleshly mindset, perhaps the reason why we sometimes struggle so mightily with even the concept of God is because He really is too good to be true. He offers more than we can imagine free of charge and makes it available to us through no effort or deserving of our own. I suppose we could struggle with that, but why? Sometimes we just need to say "Thank You" and decide to live our lives with the attitude of gratitude.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
We all face the clock. We face it every day. The hair begins to grey (or shed away), the joints begin to ache and the mind just does not seem to be as agile as it once was. Many of us lament the effects of aging. In fact we spend billions on hair color, plastic surgery and various other things designed to improve or preserve the outer person.
Beloved, we must realize that these bodies were designed to wear out. This is so because they are temporary. "For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, "DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory." 1 Cor 15:53-54. To be sure, the effects of aging can be uncomfortable but know that this is not the end of the story. God has promised us new bodies in a new dwelling place, both of which will last for eternity.
Let us focus on the positives associated with a long life. Wisdom, experience, knowledge of God and the ability to better understand His many benefits all come with age. While it is still day, while we still have time, let us pass this information and testimony on to those who are yet young. Let us continue to do the work of he Lord while we are privileged to do so.
Besides, the only way to avoid getting old is to die young.
Monday, September 13, 2010
Moses' father-in-law, Jethro, once gave him some very sound advice. He observed that Moses was (figuratively) killing himself by taking on so much of the duties involved in taking care of God's people and handling their disputes.
Today, many of our leaders are leaving the ministry due to things like burnout and stress. In an effort to give the most and best to the Lord, they often work hard rather than smart. Surely this can be avoided by fully embracing the instructions of the Lord and the example of our fathers in the faith.
You will recall that the apostles assigned the work of providing for the day to day needs of the Hellenistic widows to men full of the Holy Spirit in Acts 6. This allowed the apostles to continue to devote themselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word. Additionally, Paul told Timothy to commit the things he had taught him to faithful men who would be able to teach others also.
Beloved it is important that our leaders conduct themselves in a manner that allow them to endure. There must always be a development program for future leaders and a sharing of the work. Failure to do so can cause a congregation to become dependant on man rather than God. When the leader(s) pass from the scene, the sheep can potentially become scattered and lost without someone able to provide continuity. This, indeed, would be a tragedy.
Let us remember that this Christian race is a relay. We must always have an eye toward passing the baton to the next generation as has been done to us.
Friday, September 10, 2010
So often when we make mistakes, we would rather not suffer the consequences for them. There is not much that we would not do to have them excused, forgotten about and withheld from our account. It is at times like these that we can experience perfect clarity about the difference between right and wrong. When we face consequences, be they actual or possible, we are most often driven to prayer, sincere or otherwise.
The good news, beloved, is that God forgives and God forgives completely. He throws our sin into the deepest part of the sea. He places them behind his back. He pushes them further away from Him than east is from west. This is possible because of the great sacrifice of Jesus. Despite the fact that we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, we have been "justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;" Rom 3:24. This is one of the greatest privileges associated with being a Christian.
There are two important things, however, that we must keep uppermost in our minds. First, God's forgiveness is not a license to continue committing sin. The point of a personal relationship with the Lord is love and obedience. We should be seeking ways to please him rather than ways to get away with things. Second, God never promised to relieve us of earthly consequences. No matter how heartfelt your repentance is, should you be overtaken in a fault of sexual immorality for example, you could still very well find yourself suffering from a disease, destroying a marriage or welcoming an unplanned child into the world. God surely forgives, but there are times He withholds relief. Lessons are better learned by consequences than escapes. The lessons here are to obey God and always do the right thing.
Thursday, September 9, 2010
The Christian life lived right involves a lot of work. To be sure, the work is good, fulfilling, rewarding, beneficial and the right thing to do. In fact, we were made for it. It can, however, get tiresome from time to time.
We all lead busy lives. While most of our "mandatory" time is spent earning a living, getting an education or taking care of a household, for some of us, most of the rest of our time is built on pursuing the things of the Lord. There are classes to be prepared for and taught. There are members to visit in both homes and hospitals. There are things to be done to maintain the place of worship. There are meetings to be had, people to be counseled, administrative work to be done and prayer time to be spent.
Sounds exhausting right? For those who are doing it, there is no doubt that it can be and often is. But the encouragement today beloved, is to not become weary in the good that you are doing. Let us continually be motivated by the tiresome good that is done to us by God, despite the fact that we could not possibly hope to deserve it. Let us also be encouraged by the promises that have been made to us. The greatest of rewards awaits those who remain diligent.
The Christian life is a race of endurance rather than of speed. We need to remain consistent, steadfast and committed to doing that for which we were made. Let us be living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God. When He calls for us, let us not be asleep, but working while it is day, for night surely is on its way.
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
It is important that we know God is intimately involved in our individual and corporate lives. We are his people and He is our God. He knows all, can do everything and is everywhere at all times. Having created us, He has chosen to provide for us, forgive us, extend His grace and mercy to us and even take on flesh to live among us. He indeed is in the midst of our very lives.
In this context, His purpose is revealed in one of His many names, Jehovah-Sabaoth, the Lord of Hosts, our Protector, Psa 46:7. Not only is He present, but He is actively engaged in establishing a hedge of safety around us. You will recall, however, that where God is, sin cannot be. Moses was required to remove his shoes when He was on holy ground. When Jesus asked, "Why have you forsaken me?" it was because God could not be where sin was, even to comfort His own son on whose shoulders the sins of the world hung.
Beloved, we should not be under any illusion that anything has changed. God is still holy and still requires holiness of us. We must be ever diligent as it relates to our individual lives and the lives of our congregations. God will not be where sin is and where God is not actively protecting, the enemy can walk right in and destroy. Do not be caught dead without Him.
Tuesday, September 7, 2010
In today's world, it seems that Christianity is under constant attack. Even a casual look at the evenings television programming will show that reprobate lifestyles are commonplace and even encouraged. Whereas strong Christian role models are almost impossible to find, the popularity of characters who are abusive, fornicating or homosexual are on the increase. Radio programming is now available by subscription in order to avoid the ever relaxing morality clauses required by the FCC. All manner of debauchery is available and millions are willing to pay for access to it. Lastly, though the internet contains a wealth of positive and necessary information, there is no small amount of sinful resources available there.
Beloved, we must be the standard bearers. If we as disciples of Christ do not stand up for a way of life that has been called for since our creation, who will? Those who advocate for godlessness are not shy about their beliefs, nor do they hesitate to inflict them on others. We must realize that we are soldiers in a great battle. We must not hesitate to enthusiastically live our convictions and advocate for policies, principles and laws that reflect this. We continue to be "one nation under God." Let us not live as the defeated. Christ has already won the battle.
Friday, September 3, 2010
Most of us are familiar with Job. His name is synonymous with patience, virtue and suffering with grace. Many of us turn to the pages on which his story is recorded for inspiration and reassurance during times of trouble.
Though the answer may seem to be obvious, have we really ever considered Job? Satan accused God of protecting him and thereby allowing him to maintain such integrity. I believe his statements were tantamount to saying that Job had been made that way by God. This is proven not to be the case. God merely identified him as a unique individual among all men. Noah was so identified in his time as well. They were both men that chose to lead godly lives and in Job's case, continued to make that choice under the most extreme conditions.
Beloved we all have trials and tribulations that we endure in this life. We suffer discomfort, want and loss at various times throughout our lives. Who among us, however, can claim to have endured what Job did? And if any among us can, who can claim to have steadfastly maintained such a beautiful perspective on his relationship with God and the realities of life? Who among us has avoided sin regardless of those trials and tribulations?
We all have the same ability to choose. We all serve that very same God. We can all look forward to the same rewards. Why do we seem to wilt under much lighter circumstances? Was Job anything special? Being just a man who made the ultimate choice to remain faithful no matter what, I would say so. But you and I have that same ability.
One last thought: It is amazing that Job lived such a life among men that it was known in heaven and offered as proof that we as His creation have the ability to truly live and serve as intended. Further, God had so much confidence in Job and his steadfastness that He allowed him to be tested severely. As much confidence as we have in God, can you imagine what it would be like for God to have that much confidence in you?
It could happen.
Thursday, September 2, 2010
Contextually speaking, Paul was making a case regarding the ability to eat any foods. During these tumultuous times, there was much controversy about this and other things as people transitioned from observing the law of Moses to living under grace. People had been under a set of rules for thousands of years that involved not eating meat that was unclean or had been sacrificed to idols. Many had chosen to eat no meat at all in an effort to avoid even the possibility of committing such a sin. This was a hot issue at the time because both Jews and Gentiles were converting to Christianity and they came from polar opposite belief systems. Jews worshipped the one true God and followed the Law while Gentiles often served pagan deities without the restrictions of Judaism. This, then, caused some of the controversy (See Romans 14 and 15).
The twofold point that is being made is that 1) all that God has created that serves as food is suitable to be eaten and 2) that in an effort to help preserve the faith of a brother or to attract one to Christ, it is okay, even recommended to suspend the liberty we have that we might accomplish the will of God.
Likewise today, much is lawful to us in which we need not participate because of the possible effect on those seeking God. One example would be the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Though much can and typically is said about this issue, consuming a fermented beverage is not a sin (as long as you do not do so to excess). However, there are those outside the body that may observe us enjoying libations and immediately decide that Christianity is not for them because we are hypocritical. Clearly this stance comes from a lack of knowledge, but perception is reality. So in this instance, it is lawful for us to consume but not profitable for the cause of Christ.
Beloved we have liberty in Christ. He came that we might have life and that more abundantly. We have though, the power and perhaps even the responsibility to set that abundant liberty aside for the accomplishment of the greater good. Show first then teach.
Wednesday, September 1, 2010
A number of John's disciples were commenting on the fact that Jesus and his disciples were now baptizing and were attracting the attention of many. You see to them, John was "the man." Who was this Jesus who seemed be taking over?
John took the time to properly frame the situation by reminding them that he had always said that he himself was NOT the Christ. He portrayed himself as the friend of the bridegroom, one who rejoiced at his coming and his purpose.
Beloved, those of us who serve must always know that despite honor and praise that may be lavished upon us by those who do not know better, it is always and only about Jesus. To be sure, we have the ability to serve as forerunners, heralds and way makers but the message is always of, by and about our Savior. Those who may be attracted to us as the delivery persons must be redirected to the deliverer. Let us remember both our purpose and our benefactor.