Archive for March, 2013

Faith Without Conditions

Faith. It is a fruit of the Spirit that is essential to our spiritual progress, and even our salvation. Much is said in the Scriptures about having faith enough to receive whatever we ask of The Lord. And it is correct to say that God rewards the faith of those who diligently seek Him.

But there is a deeper level of faith than the one required for receiving an affirmative answer to our requests. A question we all need to consider is this: “Do I have enough faith to get a ‘no’ from God?” Please let me illustrate what I mean.
If you are faced with a terminal illness, do you have enough trust and faith in God to continue to follow Him if you are not healed? Do you trust Him enough to die if that is His will? I submit to you that this takes more faith than receiving an instant healing.

That kind of faith was shown by the three Hebrew young men who refused to worship the golden statue of the king.

If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king. But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up.” (Daniel 3:17, 18 NKJV)

Did you catch what they said? They believed that God could protect them, but were determined to follow His commandments even if their deliverance did not come. That is the kind of faith God is looking for — unconditional faith! I think it was there “no matter what” attitude that helped them to be delivered from the fiery furnace without even a hint of smoke on them. You see, faith is not belief without evidence; it is obedience without reservation.

In the Gospels, Jesus showed that same kind of faith in the Garden of Gethsemane.

He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will. ” (Matthew 26:39 NKJV)

Jesus’ depth of faith and trust was displayed by His willingness to receive form The Father whatever the divine will entailed. It involved subordinating His own will to that of the Father. It begs the question about our own faith. Am I willing to not shrink back in my faith if it means the will of God leads through the valley of the shadow of death? When it all comes down to it, will we be able to say what Job said? “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him (Job 13:15a).”

Too often today, the lost are told that they need to come to Christ because of all the things He will do to make life better for them. It’s a “me” centered message that is both harmful and unbiblical. Television preachers talk incessantly about how healing or deliverance hinges on how much faith they have. But salvation is not about having “our best life now” or being a success in business. It is about complete and utter surrender to the will of God, no matter where that leads us. That is why we need to be able to put aside what we desire and accept what He desires without reservation.

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A Tale of Two Trees

The poet, Joyce Kilmer once wrote that “only God can make a tree” and she was right. Many important events in the Bible happened on or around trees. But I would like to consider what are arguably two of the most significant events in history that involved trees.

To look at the first event, we need to go back to the Garden of Eden. From the beginning, Adam lived in complete freedom to partake from any tree in the garden, except for one.

The Lord God commanded the man, saying, “From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die.” (Genesis 2:16, 17 NASB)

Pretty simple, right? But as we all know, Adam and Eve both ate from the tree after satan convinced them that Jehovah was trying to withhold something from them. Once they stopped trusting what God had told them, they were setup to fall.

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Genesis 3:4, 5)

After the Fall in the garden, they were kicked out of paradise and sin, or a sinful nature that predisposes us to sinfulness, passed to all. It was like someone dented the bread pan and from then on every loaf had a defect.

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned- (Romans 5:12)

But that was not to be the end. Even though death and sin entered the world because of what happened on a tree, the remedy for our situation would come from a “Second Adam”, at it would also happen at a tree.
The early church father, Irenaeus, put it this way:

“Through a tree we were made debtors to God; so through a tree we have our debt canceled.”

And he was right! The death that came through the sin at a tree was atoned for by the perfect sacrifice of the Son of God on a tree. Paul, by inspiration, described it like this:

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us-for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree “- (Galatians 3:13 NASB)

Jesus took the cross, a tree of death, and turned it into the new tree of life for us. An implement of torture and cruel punishment for sin, is now a source of life and forgiveness of sin.

who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness— by whose stripes you were healed. (I Peter 2:24 NKJV)

Yes, Joyce Kilmer was right when she wrote that “that only God can make a tree”, but even more significantly, only God can take a tree of death, and make it a tree of life! Where the first Adam fell and brought death, the second Adam has paid for life and immortality for all who would receive it!

but now made visible through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus. He has broken the power of death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel! (2 Timothy 1:10 NET)

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The Vicar of Christ

Last week, many around the world were watching with rapt attention as the Roman Catholic Church went through the process of selecting a new pope. Among the people’s many titles, is “Vicar of Christ” which means he is Christ’s representative on the earth. “Vicar” is the word we get “vicarious” from, and it is used when describing Christ’s vicarious death for us, as he took the punishment we deserved.But the question to be asked is this: who is the real Vicar of Christ? Surprisingly, the New Testament does answer that for us. Because, whether you realize it or not, if you are a born again Christian, YOU are the Vicar of Christ to those around you. Here’s how I got there.

Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. (II Corinthians 5:20 NKJV)

Christ uses us to be His mouthpiece to the lost. Jesus is not showing up personally and telling lost people to follow Him. No, that is what He commanded His disciples to do, and He is not going to give us mission and not expect for us to carry it out. We are His voice, His hands, and His feet to carry the Gospel message to the world and plead with with them to be reconciled to God. That is why Jesus began the Great Commission with “all authority has been given to me….go therefore”. We aren’t going out for our own sakes. We go in the authority He has been given, and has delegated to His servants.

And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:17 NKJV)

Not only is our message one that is from God, but our actions are done in His name as well. In context, this verse is talking about the way we minister to one another in the church. But the principle carries over to all that we do. With that in mind, we need to always be cognizant of the fact that, as Christians, everything we do on a daily basis should be something that represents who Christ is. Being a vicar of Christ is not a part-time job.

You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men; clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (II Corinthians 3:2, 3 NKJV)

Not only do we as Christians carry His message, we are often the message itself. The saying that “you are the only Bible some people will ever read” is definitely true. In fact, if people don’t see the truth of our message being lived out in front of them, they will give no credence to the message we speak. In gourmet cooking, presentation is important because food must look appetizing or no one will want to eat it. The saying goes, “the eyes eat first”. The same is true of our walk with God. People need to see the truth of our message before they hear the truth of our message.

I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me. (Galatians 2:20 KJV)

So there you have it. While the world press have been guessing who the Vicar of Christ was going to be, they didn’t realize that all the needed to do for an answer to that question was to go and find a Christian. We are all Vicars of Christ as He lives and speaks through us.

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Eating Every Day

Much of our everyday existence is filled with routine. While some things are only done occasionally, there are a whole host of things that we do on a daily basis that are so routine that we may not even realize that we do them. And that’s not always a bad thing, for there are spiritual and temporal habits that are healthy and should be second nature to us. What I want to talk about are the things we ought to do on a daily basis so that they become part of who we are, but that get relegated to one day a week or times of deep distress and spiritual need. The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Colossians talked about some of those things.

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him. (Colossians 3:16, 17 NKJV)

The foundation for all of this, is letting the word of Christ dwell in you. But not just a sparingly, but richly. We need to have an overflowing abundance of the Word of God inside of us, so that it is always coloring whatever we do on a daily basis. Now I don’t care how good your preacher or teachers are, they cannot get this level of the Word into you, any more than you could sit down one day and eat enough physical food to nourish your body for the rest of the week! We have to hunger and thirst after spiritual food, and that happens when we go to the Word and take it in on a daily basis.

In the physical realm, there comes a point when someone is starving that they lose their appetite. In time, they become so weak that they lack the energy and will to eat. The same thing can happen spiritually if we do not feast in the Word of God. What is amazing about the Word of God is that the more you read it, the hungrier you get for it. We need to feast on the Word in order to grow and thrive.

as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby, (I Peter 2:2 NKJV)

What will the result of an overflowing abundance of the Word of God be in our lives? We will begin to have the Word come to mind just when we need it, or when someone else needs it. We can be a resource to help others along the way. We also begin to see things from a scriptural perspective, which is good, because in the end, it only really matters what God thinks about things, not what our own opinions are.

Your word I have hidden in my heart, That I might not sin against You. (Psalms 119:11)

If we continually feast on the Word, there can press on towards the time when whatever we say and do will be affected by what we have taken in from our consumption of the truths of God’s Word. Does that mean that we cannot do anything at all without chapter and verse to authorize it? Of course not. Try finding a verse that says to floss your teeth! But the point is that when we start to see the pattern, albeit through a glass darkly, of how God thinks and the principles that we should live by, we can slowly move to conform our daily lives into ones that honor God and our Savior Jesus Christ. We can start doing things “in His name”, for we are His ambassadors here on the earth.

The natural and continual by product of this type of living is a spirit of thanksgiving. Our gratitude will be another thing that permeates out thinking and our actions. In turn, that gratitude will spur us on to greater love and good works. Which will make us grateful, etc. it’s a continual upward spiral! But again, the foundation is a continual taking in of the Word. If we stop and depend on what we read in the past alone, we will grow weak, lose our spiritual appetite, and starve. We will also be ungrateful.

So the next time you pick up the table, try doing this: open it up, pray, and then as you begin to read say, “lets eat!” and spiritually chow down. After all, you have to be full before you can overflow.

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Levi Meets His Maker

He was a traitor to his people, his family, and his own integrity. He had been kicked out of his family, his faith, and his nation. No one wanted anything to do with him, unless it meant casting further scorn on him or even killing him. He had nothing left but a nagging conscience, which he tried to drown out in the pursuit of wealth at the expense of those who had cast him out.

Things had not always been this way. He was from a priestly family, and had been given the name of his tribe — Levi. But somehow, somewhere, the temple worship had lost its luster for Levi. Perhaps it was the hypocrisy of the Pharisees as the paraded around like pious peacocks wanting to be admired for their meticulous obedience to the traditions of the fathers. Then again, maybe it was the greed of the money changers, who were stealing from the people like the hated tax collectors, but whitewashed it as holy commerce. So Levi left it all and went to the dark side. He began collecting taxes for the emperor, with extra added on for his personal “needs” as he saw fit.

His father Alphaeus (Clopas in Hebrew) was heartbroken, as was his mother Mary. His brother James had severed ties with Levi long ago and would not even speak to him or acknowledge that he was even alive. This family, once admired for their priestly piety and decorum, was coming apart at the seams.

But then He came along. A prophet from Nazareth of all places. His name was Jesus, and He taught in a way none of them had heard before. Instead of rambling quotes from rabbis of the past, He taught with authority. What especially appealed to Levi was the man, Jesus, who was not afraid to say out loud some of what he had been thinking all along about the Pharisees and the money changers. From what he could tell, his mother was the first to become a disciple, followed soon after by his brother James and father Alphaeus. It was all well and good for them, but what Levi had done was so heinous as to be irreversible. There was no path back into the fold once you sold your soul to Rome.

“Good for them!” he thought. At least they had found the answers he had been looking for but only discovered too late for redemption. Even if, somehow, this Jesus would let him follow at a distance, his father and brother would never publicly accept him back into the family. And he was wrong. Jesus was teaching about forgiveness and restoring relationships with his Father in heaven. Perhaps there was a chance, but did Levi dare to get his hopes up? No, it was best to resign himself to making the most of life as an outcast.

And then one day, as if out of nowhere, Levi was blindsided. Before he had time to consider the “what ifs” Jesus of Nazareth walked by his tax station. Would he be today’s object lesson, or the brunt of righteous indignation? Levi braced himself. What he heard instead were the sweetest words ever to enter his ears and pierce his soul. As their eyes met, Jesus simply said, “Follow me.” And that’s exactly what he did. Levi had messed up enough things in life, and he was not going to miss this opportunity. For instead of scorn and condemnation, he heard words of forgiveness and redemption from his Creator.

Levi (or Matthew) was now reunited with his family, including the brother who once counted him as dead. Soon they would both be apostles. They were not brought together as priest and traitor, but as brothers in Christ, and the old had passed away forever. I wonder sometimes if Levi and Jesus ever discussed what it was like to have a mother named Mary and a brother named James? This family, once so broken and shattered, had been reconciled around their love for Jesus Christ. Love does that; it restores. Levi could be “brother” to James, and the other disciples (even Simon the Zealot).

Have you wandered so far that you think there is no way home to God? If that worries you, then no, you can still come home. But do not delay to do so, for if you refuse His offer of restoration and reconciliation to God, the urge will wane and you will lose the desire and eventually the ability to repent. Come back now. Jesus is still looking at each one of us and saying “Follow Me” on a daily basis. Make today “that day” for you.

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