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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Do Our Doubts Keep Us from God's Blessings?

Mark 11:23-24 (ESV)
23 Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

James 1:6 (ESV)
6 But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.
I do not believe that God gives us everything we want. I do not believe that God gives us things simply because we are deluded into thinking that it will happen just because we say it will. I do not believe that God supplies on the basis of our own desires that our wishes be granted. I believe that God provides on the basis of His word. His word reveals who He is. Therefore, He provides on the basis of His character. So, what do our prayer have to do with it?

The definition of prayer for many must be changed. It is more than "talking to God." Prayer should reveal our hearts. Prayer should reveal our faith. Faith is based on the word of God. We believe because He has said it is so. Our prayers should simply repeat what God has said. Prayers will be in a general attitude, i.e.," God I know you are loving and care about my situation", and specific, "God, I need to pay my rent this week and I don't have it. Will you please help supply my need?" However, there are times we must have more than a general or specific request. We need a specific word from God which allows us to ask and state what God will do. We can do so because we have heard from Him specifically.

Elijah prays that it won't rain. He says he has done so at God's command. Jesus prays that Lazarus will be resurrected because He has already heard from His Father. There must be some times in which we have heard from God and we pray that which He has already told us. Doubt in what God has already said is denying that God is truthful and/or powerful enough to answer our prayers.

God refuses to answer the prayers of people who refuse to believe Him. God desires a people who will know Him. People cannot know Him until they have believed in Him. They cannot believe in Him by doubting Him.

Years ago I spoke to an evangelist who said, "You must believe it is so when it isn't so, so that it will be so because with God it is already so." I asked him to tell me how you know its so. He said, "First, you have to receive a word from God."

I asked, "How do I get a word from God?"

"That's the hard part," was his reply.

Most of us don't want to spend the time receiving a word from God. It may take intense prayer. It may take fasting. It may take losing sleep (remember the Garden of Gethsemene). Yet, somehow God has to speak, we have to hear and believe.

How far can we go in our prayers to God? They are limitless. We can ask Him to speak to us about anything. However, we are ridiculous in asking for something we already know God doesn't want us to have. For example: Please don't let me get caught after I rob the bank!

Listening for a word from God always exposes the possiblity He will refuse our request. He may say that He is simply not going to do so. Paul continued to have a thorn in the flesh. Jesus went to the cross. God's word spoke to them and they quit asking God for what He had revealed. Thus, the answer may not be to our liking but it will speak to our faith.

Often, we need a word from God to be the real anwer to our prayers. Are you willing to ask God to speak to you and continue asking until He does? If so, you must receive what He says by faith and you shall have what He has promised.

Faith in God's word is the key.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

God Is the Only Truly Just Person

I believe that most people long for justice. It is part of our creation. We were made in the image of God. God desires justice. He will bring it about some day. We want justice too. The problem is that we mix the desire for justice with the worldly definition of justice and get something that doesn't resemble justice at all.

Therefore, we don't know how to measure justice because we don't know what is right and wrong. We say that a man who hits his wife should never be allowed to work in his profession again and pardon the murderer. Justice is just when the punishment equals the crime. That is why the Bible told us an eye for an eye. It wasn't about gouging out eyes. It was about having the punishment limited to the level of the crime.

Many people think that this sort of justice is a requirement. A life for a life for example means that everyone who takes a life should pay for it with his own life.  A strict adherence to that rule means that God is not just. He did not require Cain's life after he killed Abel. He did not require David's life after he had Uriah killed. In other words, a life for a life definition of justice means that God is unjust since He didn't follow the definition of justice.

It appears that justice cannot be defined by the maximum penalty. Justice must take in more factors than the crime alone.Maybe we should be seeking the minimum penalty to bring about real justice.That's where mercy comes in.

Mercy is having the ability to do something painful but choosing not to do so. It is looking deeper into the individual and determining what really should be done to correct the flaw. It is believing that the guilty can be redeemed. Our justice system has abandoned this idea.

District Attorneys are charged to convict people who have committed crimes. Juries and judges determine who is guilty. The responsibility for punishment resides with judges.No judge has the time to do any measure of research to adequately decide who is redeemable and what it would take to redeem them. Thus, some get probation who should go to jail and some go to jail who should get probation. This is the inherent problem in our justice system. Humanity cannot really be just because we aren't capable.

However, that is not true with God. He knows exactly what we need. He knows exactly what it takes to redeem us. We fell short of His glory and were worthy of death. Jesus paid the price for our sins. We identify with Jesus in order to be "crucified with Christ." God knows us thoroughly. He knows what it takes for us to identify with Christ. He knows that some will never do so.

My system of justice thinks that an eternity in hell is much too harsh a penalty for sin. It would be if that was all there was to it. Hell is for those who refuse to come to God even though He is beckoning them. They have snubbed their noses at God. Jesus paid much too high a price for people to ignore Him.

I have had people ask me, "What about the people who have never heard about Jesus?" The answer is: I don't really know. I know that God is just. I know that I am charged to tell people about God's love, urge them to identify with Jesus and warn them of the consequences. Yet, I don't know about those who have never heard and could not have heard about Jesus. So, I say again, "God is just."

The real question, though, is what are you going to do since you know about Jesus? Remember, God is just. You know that you need to trust in Jesus and you refuse. Thus, you are without excuse. God's mercy has been upon you until now. You have been allowed to hear the gospel and believe in it if you choose. Making that commitment determines your redemption.

I know a man who told me he is just going to take his chances that God will not condemn him for refusing to identify with Jesus. That makes no sense to me. God is just. He never promised He would take every life that took a life. He did say that all who trust in Jesus have eternal life. This isn't taking a chance. This is committing eternal suicide. It is a more permanent decision than any other that we can make. We are judged by what we have done while in our bodies. No chance remains after we have ejected.

God is the only truly just person. He knows exactly what justice is.

Romans 6:23 (ESV)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Friday, November 28, 2014

When Is Faith the Hardest?

John 14:1 (ESV)
1 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.

Often I visit people in hospitals who are facing medical procedures which could lead to their deaths. . Some of them are very anxious about death when they are forced to face it. Many of these people will openly tell me that they believe in God, the atonement given by Jesus and eternal life. Yet, their anxiety betrays them. They are afraid of dying. They know what to believe and want to believe it but their own flesh rears up and says there is nothing else. They aren't afraid of hell. They are afraid of nothingness.

This same scenario is painted similarly when there is any other crisis in life. The job has been lost and the savings are dwindling. The people facing this crisis want to believe that God is watching over them. They want to believe that He will supply what they need but they can't see Him doing anything. They waver from believing in God who is involved in His creation to disbelieving He will do anything.

Troubles test our faith. They make us dig down inside. They open up our prayer lives. They either bring us great anxiety or deepen our faith. It is the hardest to believe when all that we said we believe is being challenged. Somewhere in the back of our minds is the thought, "What if none of this is true?"

So, I ask you, "Where does your faith come from?" You can't believe in a time of crisis in a faith which you are generating from within yourself. Faith is supernatural and brought to us by the Spirit. It is a gift of God. Our own salvation proves it.

Ephesians 2:8-9 (ESV)
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.

The Christian life can only be lived out in the spirit. Trying to live the Christian life in the flesh is like dressing up a pig, calling it a debutante and taking it to a ball as your date. it doesn't matter how much you want to believe the pig is a beautiful girl, down deep you know the truth. You can't believe from the flesh. No faith is true faith when believed in this manner.

1 Corinthians 2:14 (ESV)
14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.

Thus, the time of crisis demands that we are being filled with the Spirit so that we can believe what can't be believed by the flesh. We crucify the flesh and live in the spirit.The problem is that the flesh doesn't give up easily. It will demand dominance in our lives if we do not keep our minds upon the spirit. The battle is in the mind.

Romans 8:5 (ESV)
5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

Romans 12:2 (ESV)
2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

The mind is not the brain. The brain is merely the CPU. It organizes and interprets the data given by the stimuli it receives. The mind is the decision part of the person. It is with the mind that we determine where we shall place our concentration. We concentrate on this world and what this world tells us is true or on the Spirit and what He tells us is true. We believe what we are focused upon.

What makes faith difficult in times of crisis is that the believer is forced to truly abandon the fleshly world view. It is difficult because the person has a verbal faith rather than a spiritual one. They said the right words but didn't really believe them because they were speaking from the flesh rather than the spirit.

The only solution is to believe from the Spirit. The only way to do so is to set your mind on the Spirit. The only way to do that is to be filled with the Spirit. And the only way to do that is to stop resisting the Spirit.

You must make a complete commitment to God without holding back anything. You must listen to God and do what He tells you to do promptly. You must confess any unconfessed sins. You can't hold back.

The Apostle Paul said that he could do all things through Christ who strengthens him. He said this after saying that he knew what it is like to go hungry and have plenty. He was saying that he had learned to be content in any circumstance. That is a statement of faith. That comes from Christ who strengthens.

This blog is for those who are going through difficult times and whose faith is wavering. Please send it to someone who needs it. Encourage them, lift them up and let your own faith bolster them when their faith is dim. Troubles make faith the hardest.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Just Who Are You Giving Thanks To?

1 Thessalonians 5:18 (ESV)
18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.

Lots of people wished me a happy Thanksgiving yesterday. Maybe it was scripted. Maybe their bosses told them that they had to. I don't know. I wonder if people know that Thanksgiving assumes that there is Someone to give thanks to.

Last year, my wife had surgery for breast cancer right before Thanksgiving. I preached a sermon which told the congregation that we should give thanks anyway because the Scripture tells us to do so in all circumstances. I wasn't thankful for my wife's breast cancer. I was thankful to God for watching over her. He did and as far as we know she is cancer free. This year I have a new crisis. I am thankful to God for handling it. I haven't seen Him act yet but I know that He will.

But what about the people who don't actually believe in a God who loves, knows and works on our behalf? Who are they being thankful to when they tell us that we should be thankful? Should we thank our lucky stars or Mother Earth or someone other nonsense? Why should we even thank each other if there is no God. Without a God who brings grace and goodness into the world we have a population of narcissistic, self-centered, self serving people who are merely responding to our own programming brought on by the environment in which we have existed. In other words, we are no better than the computer I am using with all of its zeros and ones. Why should we thank the computer since it is only responding to its own programming. And if no programmer exists for us, then there is no one to thank for the goodness we bestow on others because we are simply responding in a way which serves us best even if that is working to hear someone tell us thanks.

The lack of God eliminates the need for being thankful at all.

I recently read that a significant number of atheist pray. I am perplexed. Who are they praying to? Why are they praying at all if they say they don't believe in God? Do they believe that the universe responds to people who pray? Doesn't that assume that there is someone running the universe if they can manipulate that person into doing what they want? Or, is this something that is left over from our creation? Is there a longing to be reunited with God even if we vehemently deny He exists? Could this be an instinctive left over from the Garden of Eden?

But, I suppose none of this really should matter to me. I am thankful because I know God. I believe that He knows every crisis that I face and He has a solution for each of them. One day I will face death. He already has a solution for that. I am thankful that I can face that tomorrow because I know Him to keep every word He has said.

I am thankful to the Almighty, Everlasting, Omniscient, all loving God. Who else is there to be thankful to?

Sunday, November 23, 2014

"Better than You" Christians

Corinthians 3:4 (ESV)
4  For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not being merely human?

The problem in the Corinthian church exists today. People try to make principles out of their preferences. They try to say they are better than others because of them. They are superior in intellect or spiritual maturity or sophistication. They look down on others because they do not prefer the things they prefer.

I, personally, have had enough with it. I like the ESV Bible but that is a preference. I like both hymns and contemporary Christian music. That, too, is a preference. It does not make me superior. It does not make me more mature. Saying that I am better than others because of it makes me merely human.

The Christian church must become spiritual in its dealings with everything if she is to be in harmony with one another. Making these preferences into principles simply divides us. It makes us spend valuable effort in proving that we are indeed taking the superior position. It makes us think we have arrived at something. And we have. We have arrived at our own human depravity.

So, we gather a group of people around us who are no more spiritual than we are. We make fun of those who aren't like us. We call the contemporary music "Seven Eleven" or say that the hymns have lost their meaning and don't speak to us. We tell people that the Bible translation we use is easier more easy to read or that it has a majestic sound.

I am always involved in church on Sunday mornings and really don't have a real connection with those who aren't. However, since my wife and I are in Singapore and it was her birthday yesterday, my daughter and son-in-law took my wife and I out for breakfast before church as part of her birthday celebration. It was a nice restaurant on the river. There was even a celebrity there. I noticed that these people had no concern whether anything was happening at church. Their lives were completely outside of that environment. They don't know and don't care what version of the Bible we are using. They don't know any of the songs. They do not care if we are Baptist, Lutheran, Presbyterian or Catholic.

I thought about these people all day. How can the church get caught up in preferences for people who know Christ when those who don't know Him have such an eternal damnation? We will never get an audience with these people which means anything by being merely human.

So, I urge Christians to find where God is working and join Him. Listen to Him and begin new works. Pray for unity in the Church. Be filled with the Spirit.

Get over your preferences. You are not better than anyone.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Content in Nothing

Philippians 4:10-13 (ESV)
10  I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11  Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.  EndFragment

Content is a word that has more than one meaning. In one context it means that which is on the inside. Thus, we look for the "contents" in a box. We say that a movie or book has no "content." We say that someone's speech has great content.

On an other hand "content" means peaceful and serene. It means that we are satisfied with our circumstances. It means that our anxieties are gone. We say that we are "content" after a good meal. We are "content" with the results of a test. We are "content" in our lives.

Or course, we cannot look at the English meaning but the Greek word underlying the English translation. It comes from a compound word which essentially means "self complacent." I don't believe the English can truly give us an accurate meaning. Taken in context, it means a great deal more.

Paul's desire is to tell the Philippians that he if fine. He expresses his gratification of the gift they have sent him. He wants them to know that this isn't the source of his contentment. He is content in all circumstances. His contentment comes from the content that exists within him.

Most people, even Christians, never get to this point. I suppose the world keeps telling them that they must maintain a certain lifestyle. There are things the world says that everyone deserves. The world is wrong.

Contentment is never long lasting as long as we think that there are advantages which are inherently ours. I can't be content if I am hungry when I deserve a good meal. I can't be content when I see someone drive by in a car while I am forced to walk. The funny thing is that abundance in things doesn't actually make our contentment any greater. We always have the capacity to want more than we have. We are always looking at the horizon and never satisfied with where we are for long.

Yet, Paul says he is content whether he has an abundance or nothing at all. He says that he is able to do that with "Him who strengthens me." That makes me think that I and other Christians rarely really depend upon the strength that Christ provides. We look at our circumstances just like the rest of the world. 

Is this because we don't really understand what it is to be content? Have we so defined our contentment with this world that we will hang onto it with our last dying breath? I believe so. I believe we work very hard to be content with the things in the world. We will continue to do so unless we are forced to be content in Christ.

Now, I wished I could say that I was where Paul was. I struggle greatly with contentment when things aren't going well. It makes we reach deep into my faith, call out to Jesus and believe in His deliverance even when I can see no evidence. It makes me do without the things the world says that I deserve. I wish it didn't take a crisis to make me act this way.

So, I know it is possible to be content with nothing to show for it but I struggle to be so. And I reach down today to be that content person.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Burning Down the Houses of All the Snners

Matthew 7:1-5 (ESV)
1  “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2  For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. 3  Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? 4  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? 5  You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

The secular world needs to look in the mirror before calling Christians hypocrites. I have heard this label place on me and my church for a long time. It fits but the statement always has a sense of superiority. It sounds like, "You guys are hypocrites but we aren't." Nothing can be further from the truth.

For example, the world determines what is wrong or right by way of popular opinion. They use the rule: If enough people say it; it must be true. Maybe that's why science isn't science anymore. You don't have to be right, you just have to have enough people saying it.

If enough people say a person is guilty; then that person is guilty. It doesn't matter what the truth is. It doesn't matter how much people need to examine the evidence. It doesn't matter whether or not the rule of law applies.  Judging others is the rage in the news. People lose their jobs over rumors. They are blackballed over accusations. (And you thought the days of Joseph McCarthy had passed!)

The world seems to saying: "Get on our side on what we think is right and wrong or you will be sorry." Unfortunately, it seems that the numbers are growing. The world is shouting, "Let's send those sinners to hell!"

Does this court of public opinion choose favorites? Of course it does. There are people who are untouchable. There are people who can't be right no matter what they have done. They are to be discredited if they have crossed the court of public opinion. How dare they oppose the majority's decisions?

Recently, I have read of Bill Cosby being condemned for actions in his past. I can't say whether or not  he is guilty. I do wonder why these things are coming out so long after they have happened. It is almost impossible to prove something didn't happen years later. Memories are unreliable. The physical evidence doesn't exist. Jumping on the bandwagon of condemning someone is common. I once knew a pastor that had been accused of so many affairs that he would have had to have been Superman to have kept up with all the women. The accusations remained vague. The dates didn't match up. But none of that mattered. He was guilty by the court of public opinion.

Surely, Bill Cosby should be prosecuted if he did what he has been accused of. In court he would be innocent until proven guilty. Maybe that's why the world wants to keep this in the court of public opinion. Maybe he is guilty of everything. I don't know. It is not my place to judge him.

Recently, someone told me of the sins of a man that I admired. The man has passed away. I would have like to have remained naive. I didn't need o know. I didn't know what to do with this knowledge. I realized that I could do nothing for the dead man. I couldn't confront him of his sins nor expect to see him recover from them. So, I decided to forgive him and remember all the good things that he had done.

The problem is that anytime we start burning down the houses of the sinners we will eventually find ourselves standing with torches lit outside of our own house.