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Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Ain't Going to Worry No More

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. 34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:31-34 (ESV) 

Worry comes from the Old English word "wrgyn." which means "to strangle." Those whose superpower is worrying understand this all too well. They feel strangled by their own worries but don't know what to do about it.

Anxious comes from the Latin word "angere" which means "to choke." How could these words be more similar. They are rooted in an expectation of the future that has little or no hope. They both take the life out of us. They remove anything fulfilling. They keep us from being  what we are and should be. It is no wonder that Jesus and Paul (Philippians 4:6) would tell us that we aren't to be anxious or worry.

But where it is rooted? Why do we worry about things that might happen or predict that the things that will happen are catastrophic? Why couldn't we simply put our trust in God and no longer be troubled by events we can neither affect nor adequately predict? Most worriers are worse than weathermen. They are only correct about ten percent of the time but predict rain nearly every day.

The answer came to me as I was riding my bicycle home last week. I was about to preach a message titled "Prayer that Calms" and had read several scriptures which prohibited worrying or being anxious. I thought that there was no answer to the reason why until it struck me. It hit me so hard that it must have come by the Spirit. The answer was: "People become anxious when they want tomorrow's grace today."

It came to me. God gives grace for today. His grace is intended for today. We do not receive tomorrow's grace today. Matthew 6: 34 was very clear. That there will be anxieties that will come tomorrow. We will receive God's grace for them when we need them. This is God's dealing with us.

How much bread did Jesus say we should pray for in the Lord's Prayer? Daily! How much manna did the Israelites pick up in the desert (with the exception of the day before the Sabbath)? A day's worth! How much gathering do the birds of the air receive? A day's worth. Worrying about tomorrow causes us to miss the grace we have received for today.

Sure, you may get the word that you have terminal cancer. You can either decide to worry about it or you can rejoice in this day that the Lord has made. You can roll over and die or you can seek the kingdom of God and His righteousness for today. This places the worry in God's hands and He is not worried about it at all.

Thus, you have a bill that you can't pay today. God gives you grace for today. You seek His kingdom and His righteousness and all the needs are met.

No one needed this message more than me. I was worrying over the church budget. It is not going well. Some of the problem may be that we are in a building campaign and some of the people may be directing their giving into the building rather than into the budget. I decided that I, too, needed to seek His kingdom and His righteousness and let Him supply what was needed.

Will He move people to give to the church budget? I don't know. I just know that I seek His kingdom and His righteousness today. And I have grace in that.

I will no longer allow tomorrow's worries keep me from today's grace. I am absolutely sure of one thing:  I have grace for today.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Living Faith Rather Than Legalism

Each day I understand prevenient grace more completely. God first sought me or I would never have sought Him. I did not do Him a favor by pledging Him my life. I received His amazing grace. He gave it to me by faith. He gave me the faith when I needed it. I accepted this faith and live by faith.

That's why I am so perplexed by those who want to live by legalism. They want a religion which allows them to feel accepted because of their works. Their works do not need to be encumbered with a relationship with God. They treat God as an idol by whom they make sacrifices. They pray to Him as if He never responds. They are cold in their worship because it is just another work to please their "stone" god.

My life is not like that. I know that I will never be justified by my works. I am not accepted because of them. I have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus because I have identified with Him. There is no work on my part in doing so.

The life I live is one of a continued identification with my Lord. I listen and obey. I do not know all the days of my life but place those days in the hands of the One who does. I walk with Him and hear Him speak to me. My actions are changed because of my continued walk with Him. I cannot be with Him and come away unchanged.

That doesn't mean that every conversation is pleasant. Sometimes I am brought under deep conviction that I have done something wrong. I have to admit that I didn't just make a mistake; I sinned. I feel the pain of that sin and am sorry that I committed it. I repent.

Sometimes we say that we will make things right but that really doesn't ever happen. I can't unring the bell. I can't unsay the words I have said. I can't un-sin what I have done. Therefore, I really can't pay for the sin. I can't make it go away by myself. I must have His forgiveness. Again, I am amazed by this grace.

Legalism realizes sin as an intellectual exercise. The law has been violated. It is like realizing that a wrong answer has been given on a math exam. Correction requires writing in the right answer. It does not require engaging any other person. The answer was wrong and now the answer is right. So, how is that done? Unfortunately, it can't be. How many faithful days will erase one unfaithful one? Even giving double the money back will not erase the theft.

We simply cannot make things right. We depend upon the grace of others to forgive us of what we have done. Only the offended party can "make things right." That requires a living relationship. That can only be found in a living faith when we have sinned against God.

Then, each day we see God before us. He has been where we are. Each day we see God with us. He never leaves our sides. Each day we see Him in the future. He is making provision for us before we even know we need provision. Each day we live by faith.

I cannot imagine wanting to live by legalism when I can have a living faith.

Galatians 2:20 (ESV)
20  I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

They Know the Truth

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Romans 1:18-19 (ESV)

Lots of people, many of them Christians, want to give people a pass because they don't know what is right. They say that people can't be responsible for what they do because they don't know what sin is. The Bible begs to differ.

People suppress the truth by unrighteousness. In other words, they know what is right but they do it anyway and try to justify what they have done. They keep the truth from being recognized much like the person who yells at the top of his lungs so that he won't hear what another person has to say. He never would have yelled if he didn't know what was going to be said.

Thus, the wrath of God is justified because people really do know what is right and wrong. They want to do what is wrong and their practice of doing wrong suppresses the truth of what is right.

I have a puppy. She likes to unroll toilet paper and shred it into tiny pieces. She will do so with a whole roll. She refuses to go with us when we enter a bathroom in which she has shredded toilet paper. She knows what she has done is wrong. The moment of shredding the paper was so enticing that she did it anyway. The person who sins acts in much the same manner.

The person sinning knows what he or she is doing is wrong but enthrall themselves in the act so intently that acting rightly no longer seems relevant. These people can't adequately answer the question of why they sinned. They will either try to further justify it or honestly answer, "I don't know." They don't know why they did the things they did that hurt others and themselves. They simply know that they weren't focusing on right or wrong when they did it. They are like alcoholics who realize their alcoholism but continue to convince themselves that they can control it each time they take a drink.

Those who try to justify their sins use many techniques. They use the bad history excuse. They did what they did because their past led them to do so. Murder, adultery, pornography or any other sin can be excused using this means of self-justification.

People try using the deserved excuse. The reason they did what they did was because they deserved it Others either were doing it to them or they had earned it because of how good they have been in the past. In other words, the world is a place where everything balances itself out. The bad that others do to you can be balanced by the bad that you do. The bad that you do can be excused because of all the good that you have done.

Everybody else is doing it has been used by people from childhood on. This excuse is perpetuated by a majority rule. Majority determines what is right and wrong. This is an effective way to promote sin because those who stand for righteousness are looked down upon by those in the majority. Notice how vehemently the media jumps on anyone who presents a righteousness which opposes the majority understanding of right and wrong. Why do they need to do so if they already believe what they are doing is right? Are they afraid that people will wake up and declare that the Bible's standard of right and wrong  the truth?

The extreme danger for individuals is that they will face the wrath of God because they have suppressed the truth. Suppressing the truth will prevent them from seeing Jesus as their Savior. Their sins will go with them into eternity.

The extreme danger for any society is the anarchy which will be produced when the truth is suppressed. Chaos will reign when there are no stable standards. Everyone should be frightened by a society which creates its own standard of right and wrong for right soon becomes whatever is expedient, convenient and feeds the flesh.

Thus, our responsibility exceeds our own desire to live righteous lives. We halt the advance and take back the territory of righteousness. Either of these is a daunting task. We must depend upon the power of God to change either turn back the sinfulness. We must be on our knees in prayer to ask God to reveal the truth.

Realizing the task at hand has again reminded me that we don't fight against flesh and blood. The war will be fought on the spiritual battlefields. Maybe that's why Paul first told us to put on the Belt of Truth.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Are You Pleasing God?

Hebrews 11:6 (ESV)
6  And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

I don't like living by faith. There! I said it. I like money in the bank. I like a clear path. I like things worked out before I go to work. I don't like praying that the bills can be paid. I don't like taking on tasks which get so much opposition from the congregation because they don't like to live on faith either.

June 2007 was an important month for our church. That was the first month in a line of months in which we took in less money than we spent. I knew the recession had hit before it became public. You can tell by church offerings. People were losing their jobs and money was getting tight. They quit giving like they did.

Since then we have lived like the Israelites on manna. Each day there is enough to pay the bills but there is nothing left over for tomorrow. God has been extremely good. We had gone in debt before the recession. A lady in our church who had never been married gave all that she had to the church. She didn't live like she had any money at all but what she gave in the end, along with some money we had in savings, paid off our debt. We have lived debt free since that time. Some former members gave nearly $100k one year toward our budget. It allowed us to continue to operate. We have lived week to week, month to month and year to year by faith that God would supply.

I don't like living this way. I would rather have a Promised Land flowing with milk and honey. I would rather have the barns full and the treasury bursting with gold. (I am being honest even if I'm not proud of it.) I want to be worry free because of what I have rather than what God has.

But living by sight does not please God. Living by faith does. It requires me to act in obedience even when there is nothing in the bank. It required Joshua to go into the Promised Land and attack Jericho first. It required many to preach the gospel without knowing how they would be received.

Don't get me wrong. I want to please God. I just don't want to please Him by acting by faith. That's the story of the parable of the talents isn't it. The man with only one talent failed to act in faith and simply returned it to the master. Somehow he thought that was going to be okay. The master expected each one to take what he was given and make more. It took faith to make more. The one who merely kept it safe didn't act by faith at all.

But if I want to please God I must act by faith. I must accept His will and go into areas without sight. I must take on things that aren't guaranteed. I must believe that He will walk with me, give me direction and provide for whatever He desires to do.

Of course, in the end I will love that I acted by faith. It's taking those steps into the unknown that is hard.

Are you pleasing God? What can you point to that you are doing that causes you to depend upon God to provide? What acts are you doing by His will that cause you to fully depend upon Him?

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Is There Anything in Your Retirement Account?

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Matthew 6:19-21 (ESV)

Sometimes I check on the stock market to see how my retirement is doing. Its a meaningless activity. I can't change what is happening. Why should I look? It isn't my treasure anyway. I also don't want to retire. I would rather be able to preach until I am too old to drive than to retire and do nothing for the last years of my life. Yet, for some reason I want to know that I can retire on what I have in stocks. Does that make sense? I guess its the world creeping in on me. It is so easy for it to become my treasure.

The world is very deceptive. It tells us that our riches lie here. Therefore, we should get all we can, can all we get and sit on the can. This world tells us that this is what life is all about. It tells us to grab the good life, take as much ease as possible and work only when you have to.

And its hard not to agree with the world at times. After all, it is hard to watch others taking their ease while you work. It is hard to continue to sacrifice for the Lord while others make no sacrifices. Many of them come to church. Many of them have bought into the thinking and actions of the world. They give little, serve little and expect that their lives are not any different from anyone else's. They never know what an intimate relationship with the Lord is. They are better acquainted with religion than a walk with the Lord. Religion lets them leave their god at the church.

The tragedy is that these people do not know the joy of the Lord either. I have to remind myself of that as I watch them ride by in their new cars on their way to their huge houses. Would I rather have their vacations and retirement accounts and leave my relationship with the Lord behind? Too many times my actions will reveal that I might. So, I look at what I have right now. I have a God whom I know. I have a Savior who has provided peace between me and God. I have a Holy Spirit who speaks to me and gives me wisdom. I have Someone who fills my life. I have a treasure that is being built in heaven. And heaven is forever. Everything I have on this earth will end up falling down. Everything I have in heaven is mine forever.

And what will my treasure in heaven be?

The relationship that I have with my Lord will be a treasure in heaven. I will know Him when I see Him because I know Him now. The love He has given me will be completed then. The lives I have changed will go with me. Those whom I have led to the Lord and discipled will be a treasure to me. The gifts I have given to spread the gospel will bring some of those to heaven with me. Those whom I have discipled will bring even more. My treasure will be multiplied and I will have no regrets if I am faithful to the Lord.

But what about those whose treasure is on this earth?

Maybe they will die without any regrets. Maybe their names will be on the wings of hospitals and endowments at universities. Maybe their children's children will never have to want because of what they have made in this life. But if this is their treasure then their regrets will begin very soon after death. They may or may not walk into heaven but they will certainly walk into eternity. They may have had much on earth but they will be empty in this eternity. This regret cannot be changed. There will be no time to correct it.

I must admit, it is easier to motivate people to work toward treasures on earth than to work toward treasures in heaven. It is easier to get them to give to a building project which will have their names placed on plaques outside than to make them realize that their names will be associated with the souls that will be saved in the building. It is easier to get them to read their Bibles when they are being checked than to get them to have a daily time with God in which only God knows. It is easier to have the display righteousness than to become righteous.

Maybe people need to check their retirement accounts. No, not their IRAs or pension funds but their accounts when they retire from this world. Maybe we all need to see if there is anything in them.

Monday, May 5, 2014

We Rejoice in the Hope of the Glory of God

Romans 5:1-5 (ESV)
1  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. 2  Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.  3  Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance,  4  and endurance produces character, and character produces hope,  5  and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. 

Let me see if I get this. Sufferings for the Lord produce endurance, which produces character, which produces hope. Am I the only one that thinks this is backwards? 

I would think that hope would produce character which would produce endurance which would carry us through our sufferings for the Lord. But that's not what the Bible says. Why is that?

Let's look at the scripture more closely. We are justified by faith. We identify with the Lord Jesus which results in our salvation. Salvation is peace between us and God. That peace causes us to realize the grace that has been given to us. We cannot really understand this while we stand as enemies to God. We are enemies until we join His side. We identify with Him and become a part of His army. Therefore we have peace. Then, we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. Realize we started with faith received peace realized grace and have hope.

Then we suffer because we are committed. We already have hope before we suffer. We hope in His glory. The scripture says that we are His glory.

Hope produces rejoicing in our sufferings because we know they have a purpose. We know that they change us into what we were created to be. We were created to be conformed to the image of Jesus. We will be as we endure the sufferings. Character is steadfast action under adverse circumstances. We decide to continue in our commitment to the Lord even though we don't like what we are going through. Eventually, we become a people who don't have to make the decision to continue. We just do so because it becomes who we are. We become people of true character. That creates hope again in us for we know the Lord's love.

People of character walk with the Lord for there is nothing that keeps them from Him. People of character realize their own new creation. They rejoice over the very different way in which they walk with the Lord.

I once knew of a young lady who was living with a young man. They were not married though they came to church. Eventually, he quit coming. I felt like she was making him come to church anyway. She began to really walk with the Lord and realized that their relationship was not in line with what the Lord wanted for either of them. She moved out. The young man thought he could shame her by saying, "It appears to me that you love the Lord more than you love me." He didn't realize that he was actually praising her. She was developing character.

I like to think I am developing character too but I still have time rejoicing in the sufferings ( however slight they are ). But how could character ever develop if everything was always good? Character is steadfast action under adverse conditions. I suppose I would never really be different if I wasn't faithful during the tough times.

And here lies the hope: That a nobody like me would become somebody because the Lord has made me a new creation which He changes to become like His Son. That is really a huge hope. I can be like Jesus. What is greater than that?

Friday, May 2, 2014

We Are Always in Need of God's Great Mercy

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 1 Peter 1:3 (NIV)

Peter knows about God's great mercy. He denied his Lord when He needed him most. He even cursed to convince those listening that he didn't know Jesus. He must praise the Lord.

The Greek word is eulogetes. We get the word eulogize from it. It means that we say good words. It results from the great mercy that God has given to us. He gave us new birth. He changed our destiny. He gave us a new relationship with Him. He made us into a new creation. He caused us to be born again.

We were given a living hope. Hope depends upon Someone who is able to give a better future than the present reality. This hope changes because it is living. It adapts to the situation that we are in. It pursues us when we deviate from His path.

The resurrection of Jesus gives us this hope. He was dead and was resurrected. We declare ourselves dead to sin and become resurrected to Him. His resurrection enabled our resurrection. His resurrection assures our physical resurrection.

All of this is mercy. Plain and simple. Mercy does not depend upon the one who needs the mercy but depends upon the One who gives it. The inability of the one who needs mercy so desperately magnifies the greatness of that mercy.

This past Sunday we met in our Fellowship Hall for worship Our 9,000 sq. ft. (approx. 836 sq. meters) sanctuary is being renovated. The Fellowship Hall is around 2700 sq. ft. (approx. 250 sq. meters). We were unable to take any recording equipment into the Fellowship Hall because of space limitations. I brought a hand held digital recorder to record the services. I forgot to turn it on in the first service. and gave it to someone else in the second. I decided to listen to the message to evaluate the sound quality.

It was awful! The recording was great but the sermon was terrible. My first thought was how bad I had done. My second thought was, "What is wrong with these people?! I would get up and walk out if I had to listen to preaching this bad!" I realized again that I needed God's mercy and that I needed to listen more carefully to what He wanted to say.

Realizing that mercy is needed is like being hungry and realizing that you need to eat. The hungrier you are the better the food tastes. The greater the mercy seems when you need it very badly.

It is grace when God uses me. It is mercy when He makes something happen which reveals His glory when I muck things up so badly. So while I need His grace for doing what is right, I need His mercy in what I have done so wrong. His mercy is always great and as long as I am a sinner,  I am always in need of it.

So, this Sunday I will ask for His grace. I will do my best to walk in that grace. I will always need His mercy for my sins. I just hope I won't need His mercy for my sermon.