Friday, April 9, 2021

Following Jesus – Not An Easy Path

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?” – Matthew 5:43-46

So – You think that you are a Christian – that you have “arrived” spiritual speaking. Then you meet someone who is unkind – treats you disrespectfully – harshly. Perhaps responds to your “good deeds” with disdain or as if they were of no value.  Hmm -  sounds a little bit like the world treated Jesus – the Son of God who came to offer himself as a sacrifice for others. The condition for our service cannot be how that service is received. If it is, then the objective of our service is not glorify God but to glorify ourselves. To use the response of those we are serving or even those we are serving with as a barometer for our own worth is a big mistake. We will eventually be disappointed and discouraged.  Many people do good for the purpose of feeling good about themselves – validating their worth. That happens when they have lost sight of Who has called them – if they had been called to the service by God at all.

When we were serving in Haiti we participated in a get-together on Sunday nights for a few months.  People, mainly U.S. citizens serving in some way in Haiti, would gather. After a couple of meetings, I noticed that many of them were struggling – it was by their words and repeated complaints about how difficult being in Haiti was. Being in Haiti is difficult by definition – and how much more difficult for the Haitians who do not have the option to return to the United States.  One night, I was asked to lead a devotion. I told the group that if God had not called them to be in Haiti – if they were there because they wanted to do a good thing in their own strength then they should go home. Not one person asked for an elaboration. They didn’t want to go home, they just wanted to complain.  I was not asked to share a devotion about, by the way. Relating that story, I was just reminded of a verse in Philippians.

Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” –Philippians 2:5-8

In a small way, leaving the “Promised Land” and all of its conveniences was like Jesus leaving Heaven to go to the cross.  As you can see, the issue is one of Agape love and humility.  Serving others requires sacrifice and inconvenience. It is humbling. If feeling good is a requirement for continued service, you won’t serve for long. In fact you will most likely become discouraged and resentful instead.  What exactly did you think Paul meant when he wrote that we should “offer ourselves as living sacrifices” or when Jesus said “to follow Me you must pick up your cross” What exactly did you think that you would be sacrificing?

A sacrifice is not a sacrifice if it doesn’t cost you something. What it gets down to is the question, “Are you willing to pay the price – to suffer the cost?” Are you willing to walk in Jesus footsteps? The life we have been called to is not an easy one – it is humbling and humanly impossible. 

When the young man asked Jesus what it took to have eternal life, Jesus gave him a list of actions, to which the young man said he did all of those. Perhaps he was a little smug as he impressed the people who had gathered with his goodness. Then Jesus, knowing the man’s heart said “Sell everything you own and give it to the poor.” The man went away sad because his sense of worth was found in himself and not God. (Matthew 19:16-24)

What does the Lord require of you? But to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” – Micah 6:8

Believe it – walk in it. Let your light shine and give God the glory.

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

Are You Willing To Be A Stepping Stone?

My speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom…” – 1 Corinthians 2:4

“Belief in Jesus is a miracle produced only by the effectiveness of redemption, not by impressive speech, nor by wooing and persuading, but only by the sheer unaided power of God. The creative power of redemption comes through the preaching of the gospel, but never because of the personality of the preacher. … If it is only because of my preaching that people desire to be better, they will never get close to Jesus Christ. “And I, if I am lifted up…, will draw all peoples to Myself” (John 12:32).” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest

I have often marveled at how God uses mere men and women as messengers to proclaim the Gospel to the world with words and their very changed lives. But it is important to understand that it is not the messenger but the message that brings salvation.  And not just any message.  I think we often get the “cart before the horse”.  My witness to anyone never precedes God … Salvation is a spiritual event and the Spirit of God always precedes the witness.  But, amazingly, God has ordained that we are a part of the salvation process.  Paul said “Some plant and some water, but God brings the increase.”  (1 Corinthians 3:6)

Let me share an example from my life. A Gospel seed was planted in my step-dad’s heart in 1951 on a hill in Korea.  He was a young Marine, part of a 81mm mortar crew. After a particularly intense battle, a Chaplain gave him a small New Testament bible with a reference to John 1:12 written on the inside cover. “Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—”  I don’t know what the conversation between them was, but it was not until 1969 did he pray to receive Jesus as his savior and Lord.  He still had that Bible in 1969 and it is in the keeping of one of his children today. That chaplain was a stepping stone, maybe the first on the path to his salvation. We can’t save anyone. We might be the first stepping stone or, if we are so fortunate, the last when a person surrenders their heart by faith in Jesus. You should not think more of your role in sharing the Gospel, but then, you should not think less of it either.  In His wisdom, God has chosen to use us for the hearing of the Gospel as someone walks the path toward salvation. You should not worry about saying the right words. You should worry that you will surrender to the leading of the Spirit. Everyone is saved by grace through faith – not my words and not yours alone.

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” –Romans 10:14-15

Don’t believe for a minute that you have the power to save. At the same moment, don’t think that you telling someone about Jesus when the Spirit prompts you is not necessary.  You don’t know which stepping stone you are on the path someone takes to salvation.  But God does!

Believe it – walk in it. Let your light shine and give God the glory.

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Culture And Christianity, Do You Know The Difference

Since you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.” – 1 Peter 1:17-19

“Supernatural sense is the gift of His Son, and we should never put our common sense on the throne. The Son always recognizes and identifies with the Father, but common sense has never yet done so and never will. Our ordinary abilities will never worship God unless they are transformed by the indwelling Son of God. We must make sure that our human flesh is kept in perfect submission to Him, allowing Him to work through it moment by moment.” Oswald Chambers, My Utmost For His Highest.

The nature of the natural man is to cling to his culture.  What he or she has been taught is right and wrong by family traditions, friends, the culture they live in. When I was in grade school I can remember reading about the United States being a “melting pot”  where many nations came together to be one people.  Actually , it was man’s attempt to do what only God can do.  That attempt failed.  What I see today is one nation with many cultures trying to cling to what they were before they or their ancestors came to the United States.  People set up enclaves centered on their ethnicity or nationality.  European, African, Hispanic, the list goes on.  It is the nature of man to associate with people who look and act like themselves.  Among Christians, it is the same.  Someone said that 11:00am Sunday is the most segregated hour of the week in the United States. For most people when they read this, their minds will think I am referring to black and white, but it is more pervasive than that.

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” – Galatians 3:26-29

2 Corinthians 5:17 says - old things – including your primary devotion to your race or ancestors nationality – are gone and all has become new.  That is a spiritual truth – a spiritual – supernatural fact.  A truth which many Christians have a hard time living with and applying.  Why? Because devotion to the traditions of their natural fathers are very strong. I have said several times, if I was standing with a group of men and said something against their fathers or ancestors, they would become angry, but if I used God’s name in vain, few, if any, would care.  Why? Because they are more devoted to men than they are to God. When I would preach in a Haitian church for the first time, I would always begin with “Mwen pa blan, mwen fre nou” which is to say “I am not white, I am your Brother”  That was a hard truth to digest for a congregation of mountain people who rarely saw a white man.  My point was that I was not standing before them as a white American, but as an adopted son of God, saved by the blood of Jesus and His resurrection.

How do you want people to see you?  How do you see yourself? First as a Christian? If you believe Matthew 22:37, that you are to love God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Where does that leave your natural heritage and the traditions of your fathers?  Listen, what I am telling you is truth, but it is a hard truth.  It is difficult to embrace for most Christians.  We don’t all have to speak with the same accent or eat the same food or like the same clothing style, but we serve the same Lord and belong to the same family. What the founders of this country tried to set in place with written law, God has already put in place through His Son by His Spirit. So maybe we should act like it.  

Believe it – walk in it. Let your light shine and give God the glory.

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone

Monday, April 5, 2021

Living Life With A Spiritual Perspective

Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight.” Luke 24:30-31

We live our lives, most often I think, only vaguely aware of the Spiritual reality that surrounds us.  As I listened to Luke 24 being read during an Easter sermon this past weekend, I was reminded of that. Two men, keenly aware of what happened to Jesus were unaware of His presence as they walked the road to Emmaus.  But, when Jesus broke the bread – they were suddenly aware that they were with Jesus.  Can you imagine walking through your day – maybe even talking about Jesus – but then, suddenly – in the blink of an eye – you are aware that you are walking with Jesus.  Would that change your conversation, your thoughts, your attitude, even your actions, knowing that the resurrected Lord – the Son of God was with you. 

And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.’” – Matthew 28:18-20

Most often we focus on the “Go” part of those verses. But, don’t you find it interesting that Jesus said He will be with us – always. Does that strike your heart like it does mine? As a born-again Believer, there is not a deed – a thought – that I do or think where Jesus is not present – walking beside me. I suppose that the more important question is – do you care? I mean so what if He is. If we are not devoted to God – loving Him with our whole hearts, then – even though we know it to be true – it will have little to no effect on how we live our lives.  It is like me and carbohydrates. I know that if I eat carbs then I will blow up like a puffer fish. My metabolism is just not what it used to be. Sadly, the “furnace” is not burning as hot as it once was. There was a day when everything that went in was consumed by the fire in the furnace. Not so much anymore. Knowing that and wanting to be healthy, I should stay away from carbs in my diet. I know that, but if I don’t do it – then I know what they consequences will be. In the same way – I know what my life is like if I ignore the Lord’s presence. If I don’t take care to focus on who I am spiritually and how I should consequently live my life.

The New Testament is replete with admonitions to the churches to do just that. People have not changed. The challenges for Christians living in a sin-sick world have not changed. People do not change even though the way they live and the technology they use to live does.  The heart of man is still prone to wander and seek its own way.

My point is that every life experience will fall into its proper place when God is in His proper place.  When we live as if we believe that the Lord is with us. A classic question is “Do you believe that what you believe is really real?”  If you do – God will always be first – and if you don’t – God will often be left in the dust in favor of what is urgent – what your flesh tells you is important.  We are faced with these decisions every day.  But – if we are not spiritually minded – we are bound to choose poorly.  If the Chief End Of Man is indeed to “Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever” then God must be first and must be the One who determines how we respond to life.   

Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers: that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” – Ephesians 1:15-23

Jesus is head over all things. If you are a Christian, and I so hope that you are, then He is your Lord. I once read that “If Jesus is not Lord OF all then Jesus is not Lord AT all.” “All” does not leave much room for anything else.  Does your heart buck-up against that thought? If so, that is not a good thing.  Be ready, you are going to be challenged today with this dilemma – your challenge is how to respond.  Not eating the carbs that are calling your name – that look so delicious – that promise life and joy but will never deliver on their promises. If you are a Christian – the choice is clear but the choosing requires faith and obedience if you are to respond correctly.  Keep the things of life in their proper place … don’t let your emotions rule .. that place belongs to the Lord of All.

Believe it – walk in it. Let your light shine and give God the glory.

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Balancing Priorities – Deciding What Is Most Important

 “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” – Galatians 5:25

Charles Hummel wrote a book “Tyranny of the Urgent”  The idea behind the book is that we often let what seems urgent be the deciding factor with respect to what we do.  What is “important” is juxtaposed with what is “urgent”.  (OK hang with me here!) There are 4 possible combinations of life situations that we will encounter  – Urgent/Important – Urgent/Not Important – Not Urgent Important – Not Urgent/Not Important. 

So what does that have to do with our faith?  Well, our emotions are tied to what we perceive as urgent.  Something happens and our emotions – “Spidey senses” – tell us that this must be acted upon immediately, it's urgent.  The key is knowing what if it is important and keeping life in perspective with respect to that knowing.  To not respond to the pressure our natural emotions. We make so many decisions based upon how we feel and very often have long lasting negative consequences because of our decision to act, solely based upon the feelings of the moment.  And so, Christian, our challenge is to determines what is important to each of  us.  The text-book (Bible) answer is God, others (world, culture, family), and lastly you. (Matthew 22: 37-39, Romans 12:1-2, Mark 9:35) There are many other references, but those are sufficient for my point.  What should be important is determined first by our relationship with God and our willingness to trust and obey – and not by our feelings/emotions. 

The difficulty starts with the tension between the old life and the new life – that we live in a physical world but have a new spiritual reality that is supposed to be our primary perspective – the filter by which we determine what is important and what is urgent.  In the context of Hummel’s book – Our relationship with God is the determinant with respect to deciding what is important and what is urgent.  For some Christians – it’s OK to agree that we should not love the world or the things of this world (1 John 2:15) in principle but we fail because we do not believe in fact. It becomes a principle not necessarily to be followed, especially when it applies to us, personally.

What my point, friend, is that every that experience will fall into its proper place when God is in His proper place.  A classic question is “Do you believe that what you believe is really real?”  If you do – God will always be first – and if you don’t – God will often be left in the dust in favor of what is urgent – what your flesh tells you is important.  We are faced with these decisions every day.  But – if we are not spiritually minded – we are bound to choose poorly.  If the Chief End Of Man is indeed to “Glorify God and Enjoy Him Forever” then God must be first and must be the One who determines what is important and what is urgent. 

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” – Galatians 5:16

You are going to be challenged today with this dilemma – what to respond to and how to respond.  If you are a Christian – the choice is clear but requires faith and obedience to respond correctly.  Keep the things of life in their proper place … don’t let your emotions rule .. that place belongs to God.

Believe it – walk in it. Let your light shine and give God the glory.

By Faith Alone By His Grace Alone And For His Glory Alone