Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Not far from the kingdom of God!

So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher. You have spoken the truth, for there is one God, and there is no other but He. And to love Him with all the heart, with all the understanding, with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Now when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, He said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” But after that no one dared question Him. (Mark 12:32-34 NKJV)

This comes from the passage in which the scribe asks Jesus what the greatest commandment is. Of course Jesus' response, in short, is to love God and to love your neighbor. The passage that Jesus quotes is of course a part of the Hebrew Shema which was the very center of the law and written mostly to establish that there is only one God. To read more about the Hebrew Shema you can go here.

The scribe is excited because that is exactly what he believes as well. He says "Well said, Teacher." And proceeds to repeat in his own words what Jesus said. This answer prompts one of the best responses Jesus ever is recorded giving one of the scribes, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Not too long ago I wrote a few posts exploring what Jesus said about the Kingdom of God and also the importance of studying the Kingdom. Here we have a strong hint as to what the kingdom is all about. It is a kingdom built on love. It was established by the love Jesus has for us and it is spread forth by the love we have for God and for our neighbor.

If we want to seek the Kingdom of God then we should start by seeking what it means to love. Seek opportunities to show love to people around and do it just to love them not to try and convert them. Nothing will bring you closer to the Kingdom of God then practicing love in your day to day life. 

Get out and show love and spread the Kingdom!

Monday, March 24, 2014

The Awesomeness of God! (re-post)

"My last sermon before I was arrested was on the awesomeness of God. My congregation didn't understand it. Neither did I, I wondered about what I said. Now I begin to understand, because I understand less and less what God is doing with me" Richard Wurmbrand (If Prison Walls Could Speak)

I found this quote in a book I'm reading and it really hit me. We always talk about how God is awesome, and we are usually referring to how good he is, or maybe a specific thing that He has done for us. We rave about how awesome God is when He fits in the box that we have created in our minds for Him. Then, when He does something that we don't understand, we begin to question Him:

Why are you doing this? What happened to your goodness? Where are you now?

Then as we go through it and eventually see Him work the good out of the situation, we begin to understand, and again talk about how 'awesome' He is. It is like we limit His awesomeness to our understanding. As long as we can see and understand how what He is doing is good, He is awesome. But when we don't understand it then we question His goodness and His awesomeness. There are even a multitude of people in the world who have rejected God because they did not understand Him. We often hear the question:

If there is a good, all powerful God then why is there evil in the world?


How could God just be, how could He come out of nothing?


Why did God have to take the punishment of sin on Himself, why couldn't He just do away with the punishment altogether?

We hear all these questions and then we as Christians try to make up rational explanations so that it can make sense. We think that in order to convince people that God is real and that God is awesome, that we have to get them to understand Him. But by definition the fact that we do not understand Him is the very thing that makes Him so awesome. It is the fact that He does not fit in our man-made box that inspires awe in us, or in other words, if we could understand Him perfectly He would not be awesome.

I think it is great that we can not understand God. For one, it gives us something to strive for. We can spend the rest of our lives seeking after Him and attempting to better understand Him and when we get to heaven we will still be shocked, and in awe for eternity at how great He is and how wise He is. Secondly, what kind of creator would He be if His creation could fully understand Him. Think about the science fiction movies with the robots. Even though robots are always more intelligent than humans, because they can simply enter data and store it, they will never understand their creator. They are always trying to understand humans but never can. Why do humans do things that are against logic? Why do humans cry? or laugh? The creator is always more complex than the creation! So why do we continually act surprised when God does something that we do not understand? Why do we wonder when He does something differently than we would?

We need to continue to strive to know God more, but we must also understand that we will never completely understand Him. Maybe I understand Him better than a new believer, because I have spent more time studying His Word, and more time in His presence, but there is still so much that I do not understand. This is why we can learn from anyone. This is why we can always learn more. Keep striving after God! He is awesome!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Will you rejoice?

Though the fig tree may not blossom, Nor fruit be on the vines; Though the labor of the olive may fail, And the fields yield no food; Though the flock may be cut off from the fold, And there be no herd in the stalls— Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will joy in the God of my salvation. The Lord God is my strength; He will make my feet like deer’s feet, And He will make me walk on my high hills. (Habakkuk 3:17-19 NKJV)

Is your trust contingent of God's blessing? Do you rejoice in Him only when things are good? Habakkuk struggled with this as I believe most of us do. He came to God asking why God was not listening to him, why doesn't He hear Habakkuk's cries? Then when God tells Habakkuk His plan Habakkuk starts questioning that plan. Why would you judge an unrighteous nation (Judah) with a nation that is even more unrighteous (Babylon)?

I believe this a place that we often find ourselves. We know that His ways are higher than our ways but sometimes we have difficulty trusting that. We don't know why the blessing that we have been believing for isn't here yet. We don't know why we are stuck in this same job that we hate or why a family member had to die. We struggle with the hard times that life throws at us and struggle with why God doesn't step in like we want Him to, or like we think He should.

It's okay to be in this place. God understands and He wants us to approach Him with these frustrations just like Habakkuk did. But somewhere along the line He wants us to come to the same conclusion Habakkuk did. Even when the barns are empty and the storehouses are bare I will rejoice! I will rejoice in the Lord! 

Chris Tomlinson wrote a song recently called "Even if the Healing Doesn't Come" and to be honest it was hard for me to accept this song. I grew up in a 'faith church' and I believe strongly that it is God's will to heal and it is God's will for us to be blessed in all areas of life. However there are times when that blessing doesn't come when we think it should and there are times when that person that we were praying for doesn't get healed. We can argue all day about why that didn't happen but what's more important is for us to come to this point. 

I will rejoice in the Lord no matter what!

Have you had a recent trial in which you had trouble rejoicing?

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Simply Living or Daily Walking, Your Choice!

"If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit." - Galatians 5:25

Paul makes an interesting statement here. Often we would think that these terms were interchangeable. We would say that living in something and walking in something is the same thing. However we see here that, at least in this case, it is not. Paul states first: 

"If we live in the Spirit..."

This statement seems to apply that the reader does live in the Spirit. As we received Christ we received the Spirit and began to live in the Spirit. It was at that decision, regardless of what we had done, that allowed us to move into the Spirit and to live in the blessings associated with the Spirit. This is done regardless of our own actions or behavior but simply according to the grace of God. However, Paul doesn't stop there. 

Paul tells us, in this simple challenge, that there is a step beyond 'living' in the Spirit, he tells us that we should also walk in the Spirit. Somehow there is a difference between the terms 'live' and 'walk'. For me the difference is the following: to live in the Spirit denotes a permanent place, it references where we stand in God's eyes. After we accept Christ, the Father looks at us and sees the Spirit because we are living in the Spirit. This is something we receive simply through our acceptance of and relationship with Christ. 

On the other hand, to walk in the Spirit is to make the daily decision to follow the Spirit's guidance. Ever since we began living in the Spirit the guidance of the Spirit has been available to us but sadly, most of us have never actually opened up our spiritual ear to listen for Him, let alone follow Him. A part of this is the willingness to sacrifice. This is why Paul, before this statement writes:

"And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires." - Galatians 5:24

In order to move from the simple location status of living in the Spirit to the action status of actually walking in the Spirit we must first crucify our fleshly passions and desires. This is not to be confused with the passions and desires in our Spirit. There are passions and desires that God has placed into your Spirit which He expects you to pursue, however there are also passions and desires that have to do with our flesh, our carnal or sinful nature. Not all of these are sinful in themselves, for example hunger is a normal desire and we are expected to eat to satisfy that hunger. However in order to truly walk after the Spirit we have to be willing to spend time fasting. This can also be true with sleep, another natural desire that is needed to take care of ourselves, but there might be times we need to prioritize our time with God and cut our sleep short. 

In addition to these normal desires we also have desires like lust, laziness, greed, pride, etc. these one we see more as being sinful but we still all struggle with them to some degree. We need to be willing to crucify those things in order to fully learn to walk by the Spirit.

Ultimately we are given a choice. We can stay in the stage of living by the Spirit and ride the free gift to heaven, or we can make a daily decision to sacrifice our desires and follow the guidance of the Spirit no matter how hard it may be. In the end I challenge you in the same way Paul did. If we live in the Spirit, if we reap the benefits of the free gift, then let us also make the daily decision to sacrifice our fleshly desires and walk in His guidance.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

We are all One!

"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus." - Galatians 3:28

The Gospel was always meant to be for all. Even in the Old Testament you see that God called the Jews to be "a kingdom of priests" (Ex. 19:6) to the entire world. Then even after the people rejected this call that God had placed on them, God placed plans in place for any foreigner who wanted to become a Jew and accept God as the one, true God (Ex. 12:48). So ultimately it was not a new idea that God was wanting all the world to come to Him, it was just forgotten until Jesus came. Somewhere along the line the Jews got the idea that salvation was only for the Jews. Now Paul is reminding them that Jesus came and made us all one as long as we believe and put our trust in Him.

Today, in the United States, the statement would probably read a little different. We don't worry so much about nationality and we no longer keep slaves, but we still tend to divide people in our own ways. If Paul were writing this idea to the church of America he might say something like this:

"There is neither Baptist or Methodist, Charismatic or Pentecostal or any other denomination; there is neither Protestant or Catholic; there is neither male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus."

Over and over again the Bible makes it clear that we are one church, one body, with Christ at the head. It's time for us to realize this and act like it. It doesn't matter what denomination or church government you have, let us all work together and support each other in our pursuit after God and His kingdom! This means we should be learning and studying together, doing outreach together, supporting each other financially, pooling our resources. Think of how much more effective we would be in reaching this nation and the world if the entire Body of Christ rose up and truly united together!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Lord, Help Me! (Re-Post)

Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you; 
And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you. 
For the LORD is a God of justice; 
Blessed are all those who wait for Him. 
For the people shall dwell in Zion at Jerusalem; 
You shall weep no more. 
He will be very gracious to you at the sound of your cry; 
When He hears it, He will answer you. 
And though the Lord gives you 
The bread of adversity and the water of affliction, 
Yet your teachers will not be moved into a corner anymore, 
But your eyes shall see your teachers.
Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 

“ This is the way, walk in it,” 
Whenever you turn to the right hand 
Or whenever you turn to the left. 
Isaiah 30:18-21

History and Context:
For a short history on the book of Isaiah you can refer to my post from June 8th, 2011  Fear of Man. This particular chapter begins by rebuking the king of Judah, Hezekiah, for seeking help from the Egyptians instead of seeking help from God. The Lord begins by saying "Woe to the rebellious children" (Is. 30:1) and continues to rebuke them for creating their own plans and strategies, without acknowledging or seeking God. The prophecies predict that the strength of Pharaoh will in the end be their shame and will fail them (Is. 30:3,6). This is later shown as true as the Assyrians respond by invading the land of Judah. At first Hezekiah submits to them in despair but is later encouraged to resist Assyria and he finally takes it before the Lord who answers and rescues them. (Isaiah 37)

The Text:
When reading this chapter, this passage (especially verse 18) stuck out to me. In verse 18 Isaiah says about the Lord, "Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you". It really hit me that the Lord was waiting for the opportunity to be gracious to the kingdom of Judah. The first 17 verses talk about how Judah has rejected the Lord and how they will have to repent of their lack of trust in Him and return to Him in order to be saved, but then it says "the Lord will wait". I can picture Him in heaven sitting on the edge of His throne just waiting for the first cry of His people. "When are they finally going to ask me? When are they finally going to invite me in their situation?" It hurts Him to see us hurting, but He desires that we choose Him. He doesn't want to force Himself on us. In James He laid out the plan "draw near to God and He will draw near to us" (4:6). He is up there just waiting for that first step, that first cry, that first prayer "Lord, help me!"

The Challenge:
The challenge of course is to call upon Him. To invite Him into your situation, whatever that may be. This is always the challenge and it is hard to understand why it is so much of a challenge. Why is it that we always attempt to trust in the Egypts of the world rather than God. Why is it that we trust in doctors to heal us but we can't trust God who has said "I am the Lord, who heals you"? (Ex 15:26) Why is it that we can always trust in our jobs to give us a paycheck but we can't trust in the Lord when it says in the Word that "The Lord will provide"? (Gen 22:14) We trust in the government, the health system, our paychecks, our family, our friends, our church, etc. but we can't seem to trust in God. He is waiting on the edge of His seat for someone to finally cry out to Him and say "Lord, help me!"

The Prayer:
Lord, help me! Help me in my family, in my finances, in my church, and in my friendships. Help me in the very situation that I am in now. I trust in you and not in these other things. I know that you can and will use people around me to provide for me but I understand that it is ultimately you who provides and not those other things. I trust you Lord. You are my provider, you are my healer. You are everything that I need. I thank you Lord! In Jesus' name, Amen!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

What is your excuse?

But the Lord said to me: “Do not say, ‘I am a youth,’ For you shall go to all to whom I send you, And whatever I command you, you shall speak. (Jeremiah 1:7 NKJV)

God called Jeremiah to be a prophet to Judah and this was Jeremiah's response. Throughout the Bible we see that the people who God called all had an excuse why they couldn't do what God had called them to do. Here's a quick rundown of examples:

Abraham and Sarah were too old (Gen 18:12)

Moses stuttered and couldn't speak well (Ex 6:30)

Gideon considered himself to be the least of his family in the lowest clan of his tribe (Judg 6:15)

David was the youngest and wasn't even invited to the party (1 Sam 16:11)

Jeremiah was too young (Jer 1:7)

Matthew was a tax collector (Matt 9:9)

Peter, Andrew, James and John were just fishermen (Matt 4:18)

Paul was a persecutor of Christians (Gal 1:13)

These are just a few examples of people in the Bible who seemed to have the perfect excuse to not do what God had called them to do. 

What has God called you to do? What excuse do you have to not do it? If God can overcome each one of the previous excuses don't you think He can overcome yours? Let's stop using so many excuses and let's step out in faith that "with God all things are possible"! (Matt 19:26)