Tuesday, November 2, 2010

True Relationship: Amos 5:21-6:7

"I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols. But let judgment run down as waters, and righteousness as a mighty stream. Have ye offered unto me sacrifices and offerings in the wilderness forty years, O house of Israel? But ye have borne the tabernacle of your Moloch and Chiun your images, the star of your god, which ye made to yourselves. Therefore will I cause you to go into captivity beyond Damascus, saith the LORD, whose name is The God of hosts. Woe to them that are at ease in Zion, and trust in the mountain of Samaria, which are named chief of the nations, to whom the house of Israel came! Pass ye unto Calneh, and see; and from thence go ye to Hamath the great: then go down to Gath of the Philistines: be they better than these kingdoms? or their border greater than your border? Ye that put far away the evil day, and cause the seat of violence to come near; That lie upon beds of ivory, and stretch themselves upon their couches, and eat the lambs out of the flock, and the calves out of the midst of the stall; That chant to the sound of the viol, and invent to themselves instruments of musick, like David; That drink wine in bowls, and anoint themselves with the chief ointments: but they are not grieved for the affliction of Joseph. Therefore now shall they go captive with the first that go captive, and the banquet of them that stretched themselves shall be removed." Amos 5:216:7

As sinful humans, every one of us is from birth under the impending divine wrath of God. Every man must decide at one point or another how he will respond to this. Each person chooses one of three ways to respond: religion, a relationship with Christ, or complacency. This passage talks about the two incorrect choices of the three, religion and complacency.

One popular response to the situation of mankind is religion. This takes many forms in many cultures. Religion is any attempt to make oneself right with God. The problem is that we as sinful men are absolutely powerless to do anything to make ourselves right with God. No religious actions, rituals, or sacrifice is enough to separate the gap between us and God. In Micah 6:6-8, Micah tells us that it isn’t anything which we can offer to the Lord that will bring us closer to Him. We can only be made closer to God on His strength. We can have no part in accomplishing our salvation. The problem with sacrifices is that they still require a cost to us. Only Jesus could be our sacrifice because He is the only sacrifice that costs us absolutely nothing. For more on the inability of sacrifices, see Psalm 50. Satan tries to use religion to fool people and keep them away from Christ, knowing that so many beliefs about how to escape the wrath of God would fool many. The problem with every religion is that they all require us to find our way to God. Only in a relationship with Christ does Christ come to rescue us and bridge the gap for us.

The second response is perhaps the more dangerous of the two, complacency. This is the opposite of religion. Complacency is a lack of response to our separation from God. There are a few reasons why someone might be complacent. It could be because he doesn’t realize that he is in danger, he could think that he is safe for one reason or another, or he could not care. Someone could think that because they have Christian parents, they are saved. They could think that they deserve to go to Heaven or that they can fight their way out of Hell. Some believe that Hell is no big deal, or some even think that it is better than Heaven. Still others don’t believe in God and thus have no reason to be made right with Him. No matter what the reason, complacency is a response, or lack thereof, which puts man in terrible danger. Religion shows a lack of understanding for the inability of man. Complacency shows a lack of understanding of the greatness and the terrible wrath of God. Everyone outside of Christ falls into one of these two categories. Both need to be told the Gospel.

Unfortunately, these are not problems which affect those outside of Christ only. Religion and complacency are both major issues within the body of Christ. Some struggle with religion. They try to create their own Christianity. We often call these people “self-righteous”. They do all kinds of service for Christ, but the relationship with Christ is not there. These are the Pharisees of the Church, the Christians who want everyone to know what a great Christian they are, but inside their heart is not following Jesus. However, today it is complacency which is more prevalent in the Church, just like the Church of Laodicea in Revelation 3:14-22. How many believers do we see today that are merely content on “fire insurance”? They go to Church, but Christ is their back-up plan, their last resort, their genie in a lamp. We see so many who claim the name of Christ, but how many truly live in the way Christ wants them to live? How many have even read in their Bible to know what that means?

Are you either? Are you religious? Is God someone you serve, but not someone you know or have a real relationship with you? Are you complacent? Does Christ mean anything to you? Is He a name, a label, an idea? Is He even real to you? Do you care what He said or how He wants you to live? No one is ever going to strike the perfect balance on this side of eternity and in all likelihood you will struggle with one if not both. But do either of these define you? If they do, you really need to examine your relationship with Christ, if you even have one. If you do have that relationship with Christ, we should be burdened for those who struggle with either of these. Those who are religious, we need to show them our powerlessness to be made right with God. We don’t meet God halfway. He comes for us if we allow Him to save us. To the complacent, we need to show them the urgency of where they are at and God’s mighty power to save them. They need to hear of His redeeming grace. A relationship with Christ is truly the only way to be saved (John 14:6).

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Character sketch- Micaiah: II Chronicles 18

"Now Jehoshaphat had riches and honour in abundance, and joined affinity with Ahab. And after certain years he went down to Ahab to Samaria. And Ahab killed sheep and oxen for him in abundance, and for the people that he had with him, and persuaded him to go up with him to Ramothgilead. And Ahab king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat king of Judah, Wilt thou go with me to Ramothgilead? And he answered him, I am as thou art, and my people as thy people; and we will be with thee in the war. And Jehoshaphat said unto the king of Israel, Enquire, I pray thee, at the word of the LORD to day. Therefore the king of Israel gathered together of prophets four hundred men, and said unto them, Shall we go to Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And they said, Go up; for God will deliver it into the king's hand. But Jehoshaphat said, Is there not here a prophet of the LORD besides, that we might enquire of him? And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always evil: the same is Micaiah the son of Imla. And Jehoshaphat said, Let not the king say so. And the king of Israel called for one of his officers, and said, Fetch quickly Micaiah the son of Imla. And the king of Israel and Jehoshaphat king of Judah sat either of them on his throne, clothed in their robes, and they sat in a void place at the entering in of the gate of Samaria; and all the prophets prophesied before them. And Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah had made him horns of iron, and said, Thus saith the LORD, With these thou shalt push Syria until they be consumed. And all the prophets prophesied so, saying, Go up to Ramothgilead, and prosper: for the LORD shall deliver it into the hand of the king. And the messenger that went to call Micaiah spake to him, saying, Behold, the words of the prophets declare good to the king with one assent; let thy word therefore, I pray thee, be like one of theirs, and speak thou good. And Micaiah said, As the LORD liveth, even what my God saith, that will I speak. And when he was come to the king, the king said unto him, Micaiah, shall we go to Ramothgilead to battle, or shall I forbear? And he said, Go ye up, and prosper, and they shall be delivered into your hand. And the king said to him, How many times shall I adjure thee that thou say nothing but the truth to me in the name of the LORD? Then he said, I did see all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd: and the LORD said, These have no master; let them return therefore every man to his house in peace. And the king of Israel said to Jehoshaphat, Did I not tell thee that he would not prophesy good unto me, but evil? Again he said, Therefore hear the word of the LORD; I saw the LORD sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left. And the LORD said, Who shall entice Ahab king of Israel, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one spake saying after this manner, and another saying after that manner. Then there came out a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will entice him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go out, and be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And the LORD said, Thou shalt entice him, and thou shalt also prevail: go out, and do even so. Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil against thee. Then Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah came near, and smote Micaiah upon the cheek, and said, Which way went the Spirit of the LORD from me to speak unto thee? And Micaiah said, Behold, thou shalt see on that day when thou shalt go into an inner chamber to hide thyself. Then the king of Israel said, Take ye Micaiah, and carry him back to Amon the governor of the city, and to Joash the king's son; And say, Thus saith the king, Put this fellow in the prison, and feed him with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I return in peace.And Micaiah said, If thou certainly return in peace, then hath not the LORD spoken by me. And he said, Hearken, all ye people." -II Chronicles 18:1-27

Micaiah is found only twice in the Bible (here and a nearly identicle account in I Kings 22). However, this brief account of his life is loaded up with examples to learn from. We need people like Micaiah today in our generation.

We first learn something about Micaiah even before he appears on the scene. Look again at how Ahab describes Micaiah to Jehoshaphat:

"And the king of Israel said unto Jehoshaphat, There is yet one man, by whom we may enquire of the LORD: but I hate him; for he never prophesied good unto me, but always evil: the same is Micaiah the son of Imla." -II Chr. 18:7

Ahab was one of the most wicked kings Israel ever had. He already had had many prophets of the Lord slain. Micaiah apparently had a habit of prophesying evil against him. He must have feared God more than he feared Ahab in order to do that. Also, he was willing to rebuke the king. This is very unpopular today. Many people are afraid to call out a brother or sister in Christ who is living in sin because they are afraid of what the other person might think. Micaiah didn't care what Ahab thought, he was going to say what God wanted him to say, even if that meant rebuking the king of Israel who could have him killed on the spot.

We see this same idea again when Micaiah first enters into the scene. The messanger told him to speak the way the other prophets had spoken. He replies by saying that he will say what God tells him to say. Micaiah would only speak the truth. He wouldn't lie because it was what the king wanted to hear. He wouldn't lie because everybody else was doing it. He wouldn't lie because he feared for his life. Micaiah said only what the Lord told him to say.

A final point worth noting is in the last words we have recorded of him. Read the last few verses again. Micaiah had faith in his message. He was not afraid of his word being tested because he knew it was from the Lord. It is crucial for any messanger to first trust his or her message.

We have messanges that God wants us to deliver too. To non-believers, God wants us to share the Gospel. To brothers or sisters in Christ who are living in sin, it might be a rebuke that God wants us to give. Whatever the message, we need to tell it, and tell it exactly and only as God tells us. Our message can't be watered down or changed to fit what people want to hear. Our message can't be changed to match what the world says. Finally, we need to ourselves trust the message enough that we can allow it to be tested. In this age of compromise, where truth is so often belittled, watered down, or conformed to what the world says, if not completely twisted or deformed, we need more Micaiahs who are willing to take a stand for truth.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Lessons from Absalom: II Samuel 13-18

The story of Absalom is probably one of the saddest stories in the Bible. I reccomend reading II Samuel chapters 13-18 for the full story, but I'll recap it briefly for you. Absalom, one of David's sons, rebelled against his father and tried to take over the kingdom. He was unsuccessful and was killed by David's men. Looking at his life, we can learn from many of his mistakes, but I want to take a look at his father David's perspective. I should warn you, this is something you probably don't want to hear. This is not an encouragement, but a challenge and a warning.

Sins as big as a rebellion usually don't just happen out of the blue. Absalom's sin was a culmination of several events in his life. Luckily, the Bible clearly lays out these events. In order to understand why he did what he did, let's look at his past so we can understand.

Absalom's story begins in II Samuel chapter 13. In that chapter, his step brother Amnon rapes his sister Tamar. This event is what starts his story all off. As you can see, there is no fault here on the part of Absalom. However, as a result, he kills Amnon as revenge. Then out of fear, he flees for three years to Geshur, a nearby country. This is where things get interesting. Eventually, David calls for his return in order to forgive him. However, David does not permit Absalom to see his face. In fact, the Bible says for two years he was not permitted to see his father's face. Imagine how that must have made Absalom feel. It wasn't until finally after two years that he asked Joab to talk to David and finally saw his father. Then came his rebellion.

Now of course, obviously everyone is accountable for their self. Everyone is responsible for their own salvation. However, when you go through the events leading up to Absalom's rebellion, notice how not all of it was in his control. This all started with his sister being raped. He couldn't have done anything about that. Even worse though is the treatment he got from his father David. Like I said, ultimately Absalom was responsible for his own salvation and what happened to him was no excuse, but that doesn't it make you wonder if this could have all been avoided had David recieved him the way the father of the prodigal son recieved his son (Luke 15:20-24)?

Absalom went to Hell for his rebellion. David realized this. Unfortunately, when he did realize it, it was too late. Look at his response to the knews of his son's death in II Samuel 18:33:

"And the king was much moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept: and as he went, thus he said, O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

He knew that his son was in Hell, and he knew that he could have done something about it. It happened to David, arguably the most godly man (not counting Jesus) in the Bible. It could happen to you. David wasn't the reason his son went to Hell, but imagine the pain of knowing that he could have done something about it.

I guess a better name for this message would be "Lessons from David". Perhaps, like David, you're saved and, for the most part, living a very godly life. However, is there an Absalom in your life? Is there someone who you could be going on the wrong path and you are not helping one bit? Are you wronging an unsaved friend or family member, driving them away from Christ? Well, I think we all have something we need to do now. At least, I know there is something I need to do.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Grabbing hold of God's promises: Joshua 5-12

The Israelites have finally made it out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and across the Jordan. Through much complaining, trial, blessing, judgement, and miracles, Israel had finally made it to the promised land. As you examine their conquest (read Joshua chapters 5-12 for the full story), there are several lessons to be taken.

First of all, you see that this generation had the faith in God which their fathers lacked. God had promised them the land. He promised that all of the nations dwelling their would be subdued. In Leviticus 26, he says:

"If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them... And ye shall chase your enemies, and they shall fall before you by the sword. And five of you shall chase an hundred, and an hundred of you shall put ten thousand to flight: and your enemies shall fall before you by the sword." -Leviticus 26:3,7-8

Despite all the promises God made, when the spies went in to search, they were still afraid and did not have faith that the Lord would give the land to them. All they had to do was trust God, and He would give them the victory, but they were too afraid to grab ahold of the blessings God had for them, so God punished them and would not allow them in the land. Fast forward 40 years later and Israel is faced with the same decision. This time, they go out in faith and God rewards them for that faith with victory and control over the land.

If you read the chapters, you'll notice in every victory (not including their defeat at Ai), there is no recording of struggle, close victories, or heavy losses. In each battle, Israel utterly destroys their enemy with little or no report of any Israelite casualties. Once again, all they had to do was trust God to give them the victory in order to take ahold of His promise. Look at chapter 12 verse 24 and you will see that under Joshua, Israel overcame and killed 31 kings of other nations. It is unheard of for any one nation to overthrow 31. Not only that, but Israel had the disadvantage of having been wandering for years before and some of those they went up against had walled cities in which to defend themselves. Such victory would be impossible by chance. Only God could give them so many victories. He gave them the promise that He would do it, and all they had to was take ahold of His promise.

Now look at Israel's only loss- the first battle at Ai. Comparitively, it seems like Ai was one of the least intimidating of their foes, as evidenced by chapter 7 verse 3:

"And they returned to Joshua, and said unto him, Let not all the people go up; but let about two or three thousand men go up and smite Ai; and make not all the people to labour thither; for they are but few."

This was supposed to be one of the few "easy victories" for Israel. One would think that even without God's intervention, Israel could still win this one. However, because of Achan's sin (see Joshua 6:18-19 and 7:1), the Lord was not on their side. As a result, Israel was defeated and humiliated. This shows us that God was not just the one who gave Israel victories which they couldn't have won alone. God was their victory, and the absence of God's help was their defeat. Every single battle was dependant on God. Don't we do the same thing sometimes? Don't we trust God with the big things in our life, but we try to do what is "manageable" on our own?

The battle in chapter 10, on the other hand, would seem like one of the toughest opponents Israel had to face. Five kings had aligned against Israel out of fear that Israel would continue to win battles and destroy them one by one. Once again, when it comes to the battle, it doesn't even sound like Israel even struggled, but what is even more interesting is that in chapter 10 verse 11, it says:

"And it came to pass, as they fled from before Israel, and were in the going down to Bethhoron, that the LORD cast down great stones from heaven upon them unto Azekah, and they died: they were more which died with hailstones than they whom the children of Israel slew with the sword."

God made sure that Israel knew that it was He who won their battles. He didn't want them to be prideful. He made sure they knew that He had given them all of these battles, all they had to do was go out in faith and obedience and grab ahold of the blessings.

The verse that sums up this section is in chapter 10 at the end of verse 14:

"And there was no day like that before it or after it, that the LORD hearkened unto the voice of a man: for the LORD fought for Israel."

Notice, it doesn't say He fought with Israel, but for Israel. You see, when we do what the Lord says, He will come through with His promises. All we have to do is go out in faith and obedience and grab ahold of the Lord's promises, and He will give us the victory.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Wholly committed: I Timothy 4:12-16

"Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity. Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all. Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee. " I Timothy 4:12-16

As believers, we've all been given a calling. Now God doesn't call the equipped, He equips the called, meaning He doesn't choose your ministry based on your skill set, He chooses you for a ministry and then gives you the skill set to perform it. This is good when you think about it, because that means that rather than trying to find someone who happens to have the qualities He wants, he makes sure He gives you what you need and you can know that God has specifically equipped you for your ministry. What does that mean for us?

Since God wasn't random and didn't give us senseless gifts which would be totally unnecessary, we need to be wholly committed to using them for His glory. It is necessary to take full advantage of the gifts God has given you. This is true for many things in life, so how much more for our Spiritual lives? For example, imagine a skilled musician. He may have the gift and the potential to produce great music, but he must commit himself wholly to his music. He needs to be constantly playing music, listening to music, practicing music. If he isn't committed, then we say his talent is going to waste.

Timothy is our example here. We know from Scripture that he was a skilled teacher. Paul exhorts him to be wholly committed to that. Notice some of the exhortations he gives in the above passages. "Give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" and, "Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine." should stick out. Notice how they are specific to teaching, Timothy's strength. He isn't called to do everything in the church, he is called to do one thing as well as he can.

Obviously, in order to expand on your strength, you must fist know what it is. Is it teaching like Timothy? Maybe it is worship, evangelism, missions, working with children or youth, or maybe it is something else. Whatever it is, it is very important to identify what God has given you in order to discover His calling for your life. If He hasn't given you a heart for children, he obviously has not called you to work in children's ministry. If you can't play an instrument or sing well, you most likely were called to do something outside of the worship ministry.

Once you identify your gift, work on building it and usuing it to the fullest. If it's teaching, get in the Word, listen to the Word, saturate yourself in the Word, pray about the Word. If it's something else, wholly commit yourself to expanding on that gift and praying that God will use that gift for His glory. Think of what it would be like if you got to Heaven and had to explain why you totally neglected a gift you had. Then think about how awesome it would be for Him to tell you, "Well done, good and faithful servant." Remember, these are gifts, not superpowers or acquired skills. What I mean by that is that we must remember, we were not born with these, nor did we attain them, nor does God owe it to us to impart them on us. These are purely from Him, they were His to give, it was His choice to give them, we did nothing to earn them, and, like most gift-givers, He would be extremely disappointed if we didn't use them. What are you going to do about this?

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How far we have fallen: Romans 1

"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them."
-Romans 1:18-32

We are currently living in an age full of wickedness. There is no more moral standard, no more prestige in integrity or purity, no more respect for those who do what's right. I recently saw a small yet epitomizing example of how far our culture has fallen. I was in a bus when I saw a gas station. I glanced at the price board where something caught my eye....the price of $5.11. I thought, I know gas prices are high, but five bucks? I glanced over to see that this was, in fact, the price of Malboro cigarettes. We have fallen so far that people are just as intrested in the price of cigarettes as the price of gas. I'm left to wonder, how did it come to this?

Need more examples? I was reading my Sports Illustrated recently when I saw an article on the only admittedly gay pro athlete in the world.....and it was praising him for his bravery to admit it! This man practiced homosexuality, cheated on his wife, and was being praised for it. If that wasn't bad enough, a few issues later, in the letters section, there was a letter saying that he should be called SI Sportsman of the Year......for showing the "freedom and joy that comes from shining a light on a darkness that you've held inside of you." Have we really sunk this low?

This is our culture today. No absolute values. As verse 32 of the above chapter says, they not only sin, but they take pleasure in doing it. Abortion, homosexuality and bisexuality, drugs, murder, adultry, lying....you name it, we do it today. In public shools, a teacher may ONLY say the name of Jesus as a curse word. It is cool to destroy your life with drugs, but you must be out of your mind to want to read the Words of life. That is todays message. What do we do?

We aren't going to be able to talk to everyone. Many people won't give us the time of day to briefly mention Jesus, let alone share the Gospel. However, there is a great way we can reach people who way may never be so lucky as to say the word "Jesus" to. You can be a living testimony. Look at Philipians 2:14-15:

"Do all things without murmurings and disputings: That ye may be blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation, among whom ye shine as lights in the world;"

A living testimony is one of the most fitting mean of sharing the Gospel in these times. The worse the culture is, the more effective a living testimony is because the more set apart Christians are from the world. Think about that example of stars. During the day, the stars are still out, you just can't see them because they are light surrounded by light, but at night, the darkness brings out their light. In the same way, as Christians, our lights shine more when they are put up against the darkness of this world. I know most of my audiance are teens around my age. Little is expected of us, and many people would be happy should they never have to speak a word to us. People look at you based on your age and you are belittled for it. Timothy faced a similar issue, and look what Paul told him:

"Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." -I Timothy 4:12

There is no age requirement on example-setting. Even if speaking to people freaks you out, a living testimony is always a great witness. What if sinners got saved because of our testimony of sexual purity? What if a drug addict got saved because he saw that a believer got his satisfaction in Christ, not the next high? What if a backslidden adult recommitted his life because he saw a 16-year-old living for Jesus? Our lives may be the only Bible that someone ever reads. Will they see Jesus in it?

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Head knowledge or Heart knowledge?: Luke 10

"And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou? And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live. But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour? And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him, And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee. Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves? And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise." -Luke 10:25-37

Any child who has attended Sunday school for a while could recite to you the story of the good Samaritan. Even in the secular world, the term "Good Samaritan" is thrown around when someone goes out of their way to be good or helpful. The same thing can be said about many stories in the Bible. For so many people growing up in the Church today, we know all about the Bible. Most likely, this is you. You can list the nine fruits of the Spirit. You know all of the Ten Commandments. You can recite the books of the Bible in 30 seconds flat. Enter the lawyer in Luke 10.

This lawyer was not someone off the street who had never heard of God. Like a good Sunday School kid, he knew exactly what the Scriptures said. Where his struggle was, just like so many believers today, was in doing what they said. He probably memorized many Scriptures, knew the words to every worship song, gave money to the Temple. But when it came to doing what the Scriptures said, he was lost. He tries to find a loophole. He tries to justify himself.

Look at how Jesus answers his question. The question was, "Who is my neighbor?" Jesus answers by telling him how to be a neighbor. This lawyer did not need more head knowledge. He didn't need more rules. He needed to obey and follow Christ.

Many of us have been going to Church for most of our lives. We fill our lives with head knowledge about Christ. When situations pop up, we know what the Bible says to do, but do we know what the Scriptures mean? We know every story from Genesis to Revelation, but do we apply it? It is time to make all this head knowledge ABOUT God heart knowledge which we use to SERVE and OBEY God. When we hear messages at Church or read in our Bible, we need not just to read them but to go and do likewise.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Suffering for Christ: II Corinthians 11:23-28

"Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prisons more frequent, in deaths oft. Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep; In journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness. Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care of all the churches." -II Corinthians 11:23-28

Paul had probably the most radical Christian life in the history of the Church. He did great miracles, saw revivals, planted churches, and turned the world upside down (Acts 17:6) for Christ. However, these awesome events were not all that his life consisted of. Suffering was a huge part of his life. Paul's example in suffering is extremely powerful, and it is one that every believer should aim to follow.

Notice that suffering came from everyONE and everyWHERE. It was not dependant on company or location. First look at who the suffering came from. He mentions robbers, his own countrymen, the heathen, and false brethren. Suffering came from people like robbers who you would expect and people like his own countrymen which you might not. It came from people he didn't know like the heathen and robbers, and people he knew and probably loved such as his countrymen and false brethren. It came from the heathen outside the Church and it came from false BRETHREN inside the Church. All types of people caused him suffering. Now look at where he suffered. The three locations he mentions are the city, the wilderness, and the sea (and waters). Once again, these three locations cover everywhere he went, so there was no place where he escaped suffering.

His sources of suffering were everyone and everywhere. He also had a wide variety of MANNERS of suffering. These can be put into three main categories. In the first are the stripes, imprisonments, beatings with rods, and being stoned. This was suffering from man. Through this, not only was he subject to some of the worst tortures of the day, but he also felt the rejection and hatred of other men. The second category is the shipwrecks and being at sea. This is a natural, circumstantial event. Finally, there is the destitution category. This includes hunger, thirst, fastings, cold, and nakedness. He was able to give up his physical needs and wants for Christ.

Paul's life was marked by complete suffering. He suffered everywhere, every way, at the hands of everyone. Suffering that alone must have taken every ounce of Paul's energy.With this in mind, his statement in verse 28 is mind-blowing: DESPITE all this, he DAILY took care of ALL the Churches. What a huge responsibility. That is near impossible for someone without any suffering in their life, let alone someone who suffered as much as Paul. This puts a lot of things into perspective. All THAT in mind, look at what Paul says earlier in the same letter:

"For our LIGHT AFFLICTION, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory;" -II Corinthians 4:17 (emphasis added)

Paul got it. If anyone could say that they had it rough, it would be Paul, and yet he calls all that he was suffering "light affliction". He understood that all of his suffering was temporary. He knew that all that he was enduring now was working towards an eternal reward in Heaven. He could endure trials because his aim was not to gratify himself now but to gain eternal glory. Imagine his reward in Heaven! What are YOU aiming for? Where is YOUR reward? Are YOU ready to give it all for Christ?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

God of blessings: Psalm 68:19

"Blessed be the Lord, who daily loadeth us with benefits, even the God of our salvation. Selah." Psalm 68:19

What a powerful promise! So often, Christianity is stereotyped as a list of rules, of "dos" and "don'ts", and bondage to serving a demanding God. This is so far from the case. Yes, our God does ask us to do certain things, but He is not a slave master who expects work without ever giving to His workers. I want to focus on three key words of this amazing verse: daily, load[eth], and benefits.

Daily- The word "daily" is constant. It is not conditional. Nothing will change the fact that every 24 hours, a new day will begin. God doesn't make us earn our blessings or bless us on a random basis when He feels like it. It is a constant, continual, and frequent stream of blessings. This is also a very sure promise. We can know that each day we will be blessed by God. We don't have to live in fear that today will not contain blessings from the Lord.

Load- This is the abundance of His promise. We don't have a "one blessing per day" limit. If we truly examine how we have been blessed, we should never be able to say, "That's it? That's all You have for me today, God?" God never gives us the short end of the stick. Our days are marked left and right with blessings from God. Evidence of His provision are all over. Dictionary.com defines the verb "load" as "to supply abundantly, lavishly, or excessively with something". It doesn't just imply that God gives us a few blessings a day. The word load means to give EXCESSIVELY. We recieve way more than we need or deserve from God.

Benefits- We, as Christians, recieve the benefit of salvation, and, if we had the worst possible life but still had salvation, Christianity would still be worth it. However, God, in His grace, does not subject us to that. When (I know this is ridiculously cliche) we count our blessings, we realize the insane amount of ways God provides. It starts with the simple blessings which we are so often, and yet so truly, told we (also cliche) take for granted, such as breath, life, food, safety. Then of course, there is the Holy Spirit, which is second only to salvation on the list of greatest possible gifts. There are simple blessings like hearing from a friend you haven't seen in a while, recieving encouragement, or even something like having your favorite food for dinner. Then there are the huge, major, obvious ones, such as accomplishing something that was extremely difficult or being able to face a fear or overcome a disability. The list of blessings goes on and on......wow!

Daily loaded with benefits......how awesome is that promise! The three main words work perfectly together. Not only do we get many benefits, but we get them daily. We get a constant flow, and that flow is abundant. However, now put this into perspective.....as we see how much God does for us each day, think about what we do for God each day. Of course it is obviously impossible to outdo Him or come even close to giving Him what He deserves because we are imperfect humans and He is a perfect. However, this should at least convict us to want to do more for Him each day. We can praise Him and thank Him for all He does for us, we can spend more time hearing from Him in His Word, speaking to Him in prayer, and living for Him in the way we act and live our lives. Let us live each day in perspective of how God blesses us.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Failing Faith: Genesis 27

[Read Genesis 27]

Some of the coolest stories in the Bible were made possible by incredible faith. Gideon was able to defeat the mighty armies of Midian because he had faith that God would deliver them into his hand. David was able to defeat a man not only twice his size but also wearing full body armor and possesing far superior weapons. If David had even the tiniest lapse of faith, he would have been doomed. Instead, he went into the battle with the faith that there was no way he could loose, and as a result a miracle so amazing happened that even non-believers know the story. The list goes on and on, from Abraham to Paul and countless times in between. Every time we see the same quality (faith) end the same way (mind-boggling victory). Now look at the story of Jacob and the stolen blessing.

Now all of these faith stories started with conflict. Gideon had to face many thousands of Midianites with a much smaller force. David had to fight a man who in all aspects was clearly a better fighter. Jacob was watching as Isaac, his father, was about to give his twin brother Esau the blessing that was rightfully his. All three started with the same ingredient- conflict. Yet the final results were very different. In Gideon and David's cases, we have some of the most amazing stories in the Bible. In this case, we have a sad story characterized by lying and manipulation. It isn't because Gideon and David knew God, because Jacob knew God too. The place where Jacob and Rebekah go wrong is faith.

Let us pretend for a minute that Jacob exercised faith in this situation. What would have happened? Well, Jacob had the birthright. That meant that he was also going to recieve the blessing from Isaac. Now God's promises materialize 100% of the time. Since God said Jacob was going to recieve the blessing, there is no way that this story could have turned out with him not recieving the blessing. This means that, if Jacob had faith, something miraculous would have happened in order for Jacob to recieve it. Another awesome story of faith and God's power would have occured. Instead, this story is remembered for the sins Jacob and Rebekah commited rather than a miracle from God.

This is in no way an indictment against Jacob's faith. In fact, Jacob is found in Hebrews 11, a passage many like to call the Hall of Faith. Instead, I want to look at this in relation to us. God has colossal plans for our lives. Obviously, His plan for our life is one of victory, because why would God make His plan for our lives a failing one? So, just like Jacob, we already have victory in our lives just waiting to be snatched. Our problem is in faith. If we have faith in God's plan, our lives will be ones of victory for His kingdom. It is already in His plan for us to succeed. The only thing in our way is....ourselves. No outside force can stop God's plan for our lives. If God says something will happen, it will happen if we walk in faith that it will. I encourage all of you, brothers andd sisters, to walk in faith today. God has the victory for me and for you, all we need to do is grab it.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Glory: II Corinthians 3

“But if the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance, which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory. For even that which was made glorious had no glory in this respect, by reason of the glory that excelleth. For if that which is done away was glorious, much more that which remains is glorious. Seeing then that we have such hope, we use great plainness of speech. And not as Moses, which put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not steadfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” -II Corinthians 3:7-18

The call to spread the Gospel, the good news of Christ, is the most glorious calling one can have. In order to illustrate this point, Paul uses an Old Testament story found in Exodus 33. After returning from Sinai with the law, Moses’ face was shining because of the glory of God, in whose presence he had just been. Because of this, Moses needed to put a vail on as the glory faded from his face. Paul uses this story in a few ways to illustrate the beauty of the ministration of the Spirit.

First, Paul uses this story to show us just how glorious such a ministry is. For this, he uses comparison. Moses had God’s glory on his face from receiving the law. In the context of the New Testament, the law is the condemnation from God to show that man is imperfect, dead in sin, and needs a savior. Basically, the law shows us that we are dead on our own and need Jesus to live. Doesn’t that mean that Moses was being the minister of death? Yes, it does. So if Moses was covered in glory, so much so that he needed a vail so that people could look at him, think about how much more the glory will be for us someday as ministers of life, ministers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ! And with such glory as our hope, we should be all the more bold to share the Gospel because no matter what opposition or persecution we may face here in this life, our future glory is greater still.

Paul also uses imagery to relate this story to today and give us a plan of action. Throughout scripture, vails are used to symbolize the Old Testament law system. In the story, the vail prevented the Israelites from seeing God’s glory on Moses’ face. It was blinding them from the glory of God. Jesus came to remove the vail, which would allow us, by a relationship with Him, to enter into the glory of God. He did not nullify the law, so that everyone’s vail has been removed, but He gives us the opportunity to have our vail removed if we turn our heart to Him. He frees us from the blindness we had with the law. Verse 18 says that we can now see the glory of the Lord unveiled….but that’s not all! Not only do we behold His glory, but we are transformed into the very image of His glory. Wow!

This glory is great, but it means absolutely nothing if we do not respond to our call to be ministers. Just like the moon, which reflects the glory of the sun, now that we are transformed into His glory, we need to reflect the glory of the Son. Since we now are in the image of God’s glory, those whose vails have not been removed should see His glory when they look at us. When someone looks at you, do they see the glory of Christ? My friends, we were not given this glory without purpose. We need to use this glory bestowed on us to be ministers of Christ to the world. This does not mean that everyone must be a professional evangelist or missionary. Instead, wherever God puts us, we should tell people of the glory of the One in whose glory we have been molded into. I urge everyone to be a vessel God can use to remove vails from others. That is our glorious calling!

Monday, February 8, 2010

True Worship: Psalm 30

"I will extol thee, O LORD; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me. O LORD my God, I cried unto thee, and thou hast healed me. O LORD, thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. Sing unto the LORD, O ye saints of his, and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness. For his anger endureth but a moment; in his favour is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning. And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. LORD, by thy favour thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: thou didst hide thy face, and I was troubled. I cried to thee, O LORD; and unto the LORD I made supplication. What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise thee? shall it declare thy truth? Hear, O LORD, and have mercy upon me: LORD, be thou my helper. Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; To the end that my glory may sing praise to thee, and not be silent. O LORD my God, I will give thanks unto thee for ever." Psalm 30

The primary eternal act which we are called to do as Christians is worship. Missions and outreaches are important, but they are only purposed to satisfy a temporary need. In Heaven, there won't be unsaved people to convert or destitute people to provide for. Missions are temporary. Prayer is a HUGE part of life now, but in Heaven, we won't have any problems for God or sins to confess which leaves only prayer of worship as necessary. All other aspects of a relationship with Jesus are important now, but what does God's Word say we will be doing as we spend eternity with Him? In Revelation 4:14, it says that the 24 elders worshipped Him FOREVER. Gee, if worship is going to be what I'm doing for ETERNITY, shouldn't I start on that now?

Worship is only possible when we examine ourselves before and after Christ. Anyone can say, "Lord, I love to sing your praises." Do I actually mean it? Blindly saying words is dead praise. If you say, "I will give You all of my life," then you are held accountable to actually DO what you are saying. When you say, "Burn it all away, all that does not glorify You," you better be ready to give up that thing which you know you are supposed to give up. Praise without the heart is folly. We are guilty of lying to God, promising what we have no intention to do, and saying we love Him when in fact our mind is on the hang out this weekend, the history test you didn't study for, the really funny joke you came up with, the movie you are seeing tonight, etc. Don't think that I am saying this is something wrong with others but not me. If anything, I feel like I am directing this at myself, but perhaps you struggle with this too.

What are we praising God for? It has nothing to do with our present circumstances. Imagine this: a guy gets saved. The minute following his surrender of his whole life to Christ, he is put in to jail for a crime he never committed. He is young, only 12, and is sentenced to a life in prison. The next 60 years of his life, he is subject to the most cruel tortures when he is not in his solitary confinement cell. He is forced to watch each and every one of his friends and family members die a slow, cruel death in front of him. He is given a small cup of diseased lake water and a slice of moldy bread each day to live, and frequently gets sick from these things. His opressors refuse to kill him in order to prolong his suffering until 60 years later he is so diseased that there is no hope of his survival, so before his disease took him they executed him in the most painful manner possible. I could go on and on. This, by definition, would probably be the worst possible life deviseable. Does this man, of any man, have an excuse to not praise God? No, because even in the deepest depths of human torture, the state of Hell which his soul was delivered from was is worse still, and because the hope of Heaven outweighs the darkness of any experience on earth. We are not praising God for His goodness to us now, but the eternal goodness of His grace which salvaged us from the depths of destruction and lifted us up to eternal glory that could never be surpassed.

Now I know that none of you have come even remotely close to the condition of the poor man I described. Our praises should be all the greater for Christ's mercy toward us now, because such a condition would be getting off way easy compared to the tourment of what Christ suffered. When we look at where we were, our praises our exponentialy more alive. When we look at where we now are in Christ, of our heirship to His riches and residency in His kingdom, the praises grow stronger still. That alone is enough reason to fall on my knees and praise God, but there is more still to praise Him for.

Say you got into some major debt, debt in the range that you could work a whole lifetime saving every penny and still never be able to pay. Bill Gates comes, pays it all for you, and says it was his gift. I know this is a cliche example, but it works. First of all, you probably would do whatever he says exactly how he says it. You might go above and beyond what he would ask you to do. You probably would not constantly nag him for favors, and you'd probably at very least thank him for everything when you did ask for a favor. Do we do the same thing for God? Let's look at each of the things I just said. Do we do whatever He says exactly how He says it? Do we completely follow these:
1 Peter 1:16 "Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy."
John 13:34 "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, that ye also love one another." (emphasis added)
1 Thessalonians 5:17 "Pray without ceasing."
Those are just 3. The list is endless. I'm pretty sure we are all 0/3 on that one. How about going above and beyond what we are asked. Jesus also tells us to do that:
Matthew 5:41 "And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile, go with him twain."
Anyone do that all the time? Didn't think so. As for my third example, though Jesus does tell us to pray, as we saw in 1 Thess. 5:17, how often do we do the next verse, "In EVERYTHING give thanks;" (emphasis added)? It looks like we don't do a very good job of thanking Jesus for the debt He payed, which was not a monetary debt with temporary consequences, but an eternal one with indescribably huge ones. So what does this all have to do with praise? If Bill Gates payed that huge debt and all we did was treat him like garbage, he would probably (a) demand his money back and (b) get revenge on us for what a jerk we were. God doesn't do that! He doesn't take away our salvation, no matter how much our life is defined by failure to live up to what He asks. In fact, He actually speaks of rewards in Heaven for us! That is so crazy! If that does not make you want to praise Him, I don't know what will.

True worship is not the singing of a song. True worship is looking at where we were, where we are, and how we got there, and thanking God for His grace and love. I hope that this refreshed you with a new vision of worship. My prayer is that everyone, including myself, would look at the Cross and find the fervent passion to love our Lord, our Savior. My purpose was not to make anyone feel guilty about what kind of person they are, but to look at what kind of God we serve, this God who rewards those who deserve everything opposite of rewards, and in Him find true worship in your heart.

The Body of Christ: I Corinthians 12

Originally written as a letter to my friends, here are my notes on I Corinthians 12:

Paul starts out by saying that only those in Christ have the Holy Spirit, and everyone in Christ has the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What a sweet promise that is! I can be assured that I am never alone, that I always have the Spirit on my side, that the greatest Power in the universe is with me, helping me, strengthening me, guiding me. What a sweet power the Holy Spirit is, and I can take comfort knowing that his gifts are with me as well as with all of you. Now here is where you guys came into my thoughts. Next Paul says that though we may all be different people with different gifts to do different things, we all are serving the same God, working for the same purpose, and recieved our gifts from the same Spirit.

Then the gifts of the Holy Spirit are listed (9 in all). God thought of so many ways to bless us! The cool thing is, we all have one of these. I used to think that since I was curing lepors or speaking in tongues that I wasn't spiritually gifted. Maybe you've thought that too. But in this chapter it says were all gifted. In Hungary, after having each one explained to me, I found out that I did have one all along! How great God is! You all have one too, but maybe you don't know it. If so, pray and ask God to show it to you.

Then it gets really awesome. Many of us have read the passage about the church being compared to different parts of the body with each one doing its function, but in context it's even more beautiful! All of us are blessed with different spiritual gifts, all of us were specially designed to do something that maybe the rest of us could not do. People that some of us might be able to reach might not be reachable by others of us because of our design. However, when put together, we have an awesome functioning body of Christ able to do whatever Christ desires and all working in conjunction for our greater purpose- to glorify God and further the kingdom of our King! I thought it was a beautiful chapter (as is the next one, the more famous I Corinthians 13- who knew that such a great chapter was before it?) Anyway, I love each and every one of you and thank God for putting all of you guys in my life. He is so wise to put all of us together, and together we can reach the lost, dying world. I hope this blesses you as much as it is blessing me.