Sunday, July 12, 2020

Increase My Faith

In a court of law, good evidence is critical. With it, a jury can feel more confident about making a difficult decision about someone’s freedom. But evidence is key in bringing justice. While that makes perfect sense in the legal arena, what about in the spiritual one?

Jesus said in Matthew 7:16, “By their fruit, you will recognize them!” Meaning that our actions serve as evidence of our faith, or our lack of faith; our love, or lack of love. How we treat people becomes one of the most opportune areas of our life to show a lack of faith. What I mean by that is that people let us down, people have secret agendas, people don’t always show us the respect we feel we deserve, and therefore people probably test us more than any other thing in existence on whether or not we will demonstrate “faith” in God’s will.

Jesus prayed in John 17 an amazing prayer of selfless love for all those who would follow His example. I’ve taken the liberty to modify verses 14-21 to reflect how “the world” is really the people, and “the people” He’s referring to are those who oppose God’s will that we “love one another” (Galatians 6:2). So, prayerfully consider this paraphrase of Christ’s last prayer before His arrest. “I have [revealed to them what Your will is] (Matthew 22:37-39); and [people] have hated them [for it], for [these followers don’t pursue selfish desires] any more than I am [selfish]. My prayer is not that You take them [away from selfish people] but that You protect them from the evil one. They [are not living by selfish standards anymore], even as I am not [living selfishly]. Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. As You sent me [to reach out to selfish people], I have sent them [to reach out to selfish people. So, I set myself apart from that human weakness so they can follow My example]. My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.”

Being “of the world” is more than just selfishness, but that is a flaw in humanity that causes more retaliation, more prejudice, more division, and more hatred than nearly anything else. The Pharisees' selfish desires were not only hurting their neighbors but also jeopardizing their own souls! “...unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20). What must we learn from them? What must we do to increase our faith in God’s plan for mankind?

Sunday, July 5, 2020

The Why Questions of Life

Why? Such a deep question, or sometimes a thoughtless question. Sometimes it’s a lazy question. Truth is many people have the “why” question itching in their minds for a whole host of scenarios in life. We also find ourselves asking a lot of why questions when we read the Bible – “why is that?”

The big challenge is understanding what our Creator wants us to see. But in reality, it's no different than any other relationship we’ll ever be in. We might say of our spouse or a friend, “Why don’t they get it?” Or “Why do they continue to act that way when they know how it makes me feel?” There are just so many times we don’t really understand why someone acts the way they do… including our own actions!

The story of the Rich man and Lazarus has served as a sneak-peak into an “after death” scene for many people. Not all scholars agree that this is the intention of Jesus in telling this. But if not, then “Why tell it?”

One important step to take in trying to understand a passage of scripture is the context. The context is the setting: geographically, or the prior conversations, things like that. (Go back to Luke 14 for some help). Another important step is having an overall gist of God’s plan or His will. (A great example is found in Matthew 22:37-39.) Some might say, “How can I know the will of God?” Yet, that is in part the purpose of giving us a written word to go back through and discover how God reacted to one human behavior versus another. Romans 15:4, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope.”

Paul reminds us in Ephesians 5:17, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” In a sense, the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 was an example of a foolish man. He ignored what apparently was already being revealed to him by Moses and the prophets. Proverbs 10:8, “The wise in heart accept commands, but a chattering fool comes to ruin.”

We’re not told much about the rich man except that he had an opportunity to help someone in need with the wealth he’d been blessed to manage, but he completely ignored that opportunity. Why? Why didn’t he ever feel compassion for the hungry man lying at his gate with boils? Why didn’t he give him anything? How about us? What kind of opportunities are right at our gate that we’ve been blind to?

In this story, the moral was that the scriptures (Moses and the prophets) were revealing God’s will to the rich man so that he could have listened and obeyed and avoided that awful place. He chose to stay ignorant. Perhaps that’s the big lesson that we should take from this passage even more than whether or not this story is a snapshot of the afterlife or not.

“Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest…” (John 4:1-38 – read this passage to get the context) serves as a great reminder of our purpose down here.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

A Rich Father

Fast food restaurants try to figure out the best combo meal deal, so you'll be enticed and satisfied enough to want to keep coming back for more. There probably is some combination of sweet deals, or loving words, or adventure that might catch your attention in life.

What would God use to catch your attention? Eternal life?! Being truly loved? Peace?

Jesus often used a series of parables or teachings to get his point across. One place in particular is Luke 15, the parable of lost sheep, coin, and son. They all tell a story that in some ways "entices" you to long for God's kingdom and how it functions.

But there may be a different set of parables that Jesus was using to help us "get it" than those three together.

The lost sheep and coin highlight the value God places on anyone in his kingdom - no favoritism! (Romans 2:11).

But what if the prodigal son, prodigal manager, and the rich man and Lazarus were intended to be "heard" together?

They all start in a story form, more so than the sheep and coin parables. They all address a rich man. The big difference is between the character of the rich men. One is sacrificial in his giving even to someone who didn't deserve it (the son), the next one focuses on his response to his servant who "blesses" the rich man's debtors with a kind of forgiveness of debts (but for a personal gain purpose), the last one tells of a rich man was stingy towards those needing "blessings."

When read together, it helps shed light on the meaning of the "unjust steward" (Luke 16:1-13). This parable has caused many scholars to scratch their heads in confusion.

God is the rich father who is willing to bless His children (Matthew 7:7-12), and even empowers them to bless other people with what He has entrusted to them (2 Corinthians 9:6-11). He doesn't want us to be stingy with what He has blessed us with (Hebrews 13:16).

In each of these stories, there is a mention of, or a reference to, the fact that generosity is a big deal to God and that's what all of the law and the prophets were pointing towards--a rich father who wants us to use the riches He bestows upon us to bless others.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

A Father's Tale

Sometimes we read stories in the Bible, and they are either so familiar or so foreign to us that we can’t seem to find a focal point in the lesson. The prodigal son is one of Jesus’ most famous parables, but it’s more than a story of a forgiving father. It’s also a picture of how our Father’s kingdom functions. I found this fantastic summary of this parable that I wanted to share with you.

Luke 15:11-32
“Feeling footloose and frisky, a feather-brained fellow forced his fond father to fork over the farthings and flew to foreign fields and frittered his fortune, feasting fabulously with faithless friends.

"Fleeced by his fellows, fallen by fornication, and facing famine, he found himself a feed-flinger in a filthy farmyard. Fairly famishing, he fain would have filled his frame with foraged food from fodder fragments. “Fooey! My father’s flunkies fare finer,” the frazzled fugitive forlornly fumbled, frankly facing facts. Frustrated by failure and filled with foreboding, he fled forthwith to his family. Falling at his father’s feet, he forlornly fumbled, “Father, I’ve flunked and fruitlessly forfeited family favor!”

"The farsighted father, forestalling further flinching, frantically flagged the flunkies to fetch a fatling from the flock and fix a feast.

"The fugitive’s fault-finding brother frowned on fickle forgiveness of former folderol. But the faithful father figured, “Filial fidelity is fine, but the fugitive is found! What forbids fervent festivity? Let flags be unfurled. Let fanfares flare”

"And the father’s forgiveness formed the foundation for the former fugitive’s future faith and fortitude.” -- (Attributed to W.O. Taylor)

Would you be able to summarize this story based on what you just read? Truth is we often get hung up on words or one scene from the story, and we fail to see what the story is really telling us. The beauty of God’s word is that the more you see the big picture of God’s goal, the more you see how each teaching, miracle, or command leads us closer to acting like we’re part of God’s kingdom!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Lost Coin

On March 12, 2009, Bernie Madoff pleaded guilty to operating the largest private Ponzi scheme in history. He defrauded over $65 billion from clients that trusted him for the security of their financial future. Workers at places like Enron experienced an extreme loss of their retirements, and although some of that money has been recovered, many people will end their time on the earth with much less than they planned on.

What happens when our plans change due to someone else’s neglect or irresponsibility? Culturally speaking, it makes our blood boil to hear of those kinds of stories, especially when it involves those we love. However, what would it be like to have been one of his employees that didn’t know anything about the scam? Their next steps might make all the difference to those that knew them well. Did they help fight to get their money back? Or were they helping out in other ways to help people cope with their loss? Those people trusted Bernie to help them have a secure future, but they put their trust in the wrong guy!

Spiritually speaking, the Jews were supposed to be the mouthpiece for God’s kingdom; however, their track record proved that they did a lousy job of that. Paul said in Romans 2:17-24, “Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and boast in God; if you know His will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law; if you are convinced that you are a guide for the blind, a light for those who are in the dark, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of little children, because you have in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth— you, then, who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that people should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples? You who boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? As it is written: 'God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.'”

In other words, they misrepresented the Messiah and God’s kingdom to their own people. Jesus repeatedly reprimanded the religious leaders for their hypocrisy. Consider the story of the Lost Coin (Luke 15) as an example of someone who lost something in his own house. That “someone” was the Jewish leaders who had been negligent of what was in their care – the Kingdom's message. The house represents the nation they possessed – Israel. The object didn’t know it was lost; it just stayed where the careless owner had left it. Jesus is revealing the humility required to admit something is lost and then the effort to find it.

God, and all heaven with Him, rejoices when people turn to God for the help that only He can provide. How about you? Do you need God’s help?

Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Purpose of Parables

What does it take to get the message? Parents will often say something like that to their kids when they keep making the same mistakes. Employers say that to employees; coaches to players; generals to soldiers.

But the truth is we do continue to make mistakes when we should be learning from them. Paul said it this way in Romans 7:18-20, “For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing.”

Any honest believer can completely own those words. Jesus said in Mark 14:38, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

However, sometimes the right story, the right time, or the right person saying it, can hit home perfectly. That’s why preaching is important; maybe someone else saying what you’ve been thinking about helps it all to make sense. (Just consider why there are four gospels, or why there were over 40 authors of God’s inspired word?!)

Jesus told parables as a huge part of His teaching ministry. But they weren’t just cute stories about God; they were memorable ways to get the concept of God’s kingdom into our minds. Ultimately, the parables serve as a kind of “chewable” version of what the Bible has spent over 1500 years explaining how God’s kingdom would function.

In God’s kingdom, the people are the important piece, not the crown, or the castle, or even the titles. He values each person, and He wants every last one of them to accept the invitation to join Him at the Table to celebrate His Kingship together… (2 Peter 3:9) “…[He’s] not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”

God’s kingdom functions upside-down from the principles of this world, but it takes a great deal of faith and maturity to bear up under what seems “unfair” or “unjust” (Ephesians 4:2-3) and trust that God’s will has the power to overcome anything – in this life or the next!

People want things to function like they’ve always seen it function. Sometimes, even if it doesn’t work very well! As we’re trying to “get back to normal,” let’s try to explore what we need to do in order to function more like the image of God’s kingdom rather than our culture.

Sunday, May 31, 2020

Promoting the Kingdom

How do you promote America? Are you proud of this nation? Imagine going to a land where very little was known about how America is supposed to function, or how its laws are implemented. Would it be easy to describe to someone who had never experienced freedom before? Or been part of a democratic republic like ours?

Jesus had a mission to reveal the Kingdom of Heaven to the world. It makes sense that God’s kingdom would have something similar to what God created in the first place. After all, it was sin that messed up His paradise. So, His kingdom would be a kind of copy of what Eden had started off being.

In fact, throughout God’s relationship with the Israelites, reminders of Eden were constantly being brought to their attention. Within the tabernacle, God had a scene that was to be observed that mimicked Eden.

In Exodus 31, God commissions Bezalel and Oholiab to build everything in the tabernacle “just as He tells them too.” Think how a homeowner tries to convey their plans and ideas to a home builder: they want it just right. So does God, and for a good reason.

Eden is seen in the Tabernacle, later the temple. From Adam and Eve being commissioned to care for God’s “temple” or Eden (Genesis 2:15) to the most holy place being where God meets with them every day (Genesis 3:8). The place was filled with images of trees, fruit, pools of water, a never-ending light, etc.

The point is that everywhere the Israelites moved to, they took this image of Eden with them. So, a subliminal message was always being planted in their minds about what God’s kingdom would “look” like, but Adam and Eve (and everyone else) failed to realize is how it functions. That’s what Jesus came to reveal.

Hebrews 9:23-24, “It was necessary, then, for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.”

After Jesus showed us a true and powerful love for all mankind by giving His life to save ours, He established a kind of diplomatic union (church) to go help other people see how His kingdom will function upon Christ’s return.

Take time to reflect on the importance of promoting God’s kingdom.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Favoritism Rejected

What if we could crawl inside the mind of God and see what He sees when He looks at us…all of us? I can only imagine, how on that day that He created mankind as the crowning pinnacle of the cosmos, what He reflected on during His Day of Rest. He saw something with great potential to powerfully impact all that God spoke into existence. But temptation took control of His creation. In fact, it was that very desire to “know what God knows” that caused them to fall (Genesis 3).

The rest of the Bible serves as a tool to get inside the mind of God. As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 2:11-12, “For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.”

What the Spirit reveals is God’s unique look at us! Romans 2:11 reveals this simple truth about our creator: “God does not show favoritism.” Time after time, Jesus healed anyone who would seek Him. The religious leaders even recognized that in Luke 20:21, “Teacher, we know that You speak and teach what is right, and that You do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.”

Unfortunately, Christians can fall under the same temptation as Eve and the rest of the world. We can want to be elevated to a higher position in people’s eyes, but that hunger usually comes at a price.

Jesus warned against that in Matthew 6:2-4, “So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

Or James said in James 2:1-4, “Believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favoritism… If you show special attention to [someone], have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?” (5-8) Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him? … If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, 'Love your neighbor as yourself,' you are doing right.”

Consider how you can practice this kind of Christian demonstration during these odd
and challenging times. To view one another through a God-like lens, it may surprise
you the opportunities around you to bless someone in a special way.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Repentance: A Kind of Graduation

Graduation is a time of celebration when completing one phase of life and moving on to better things.

1 Corinthians 13:11, “When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.”

Philippians 3:12-14, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

In context, Paul is reprimanding the Corinthians for their divisive and selfish nature (1 Corinthians), and he’s encouraging the Philippians to continue in their love for people (Philippians 1:9-11). In either case, he’s promoting the concept of repentance! If repentance is turning away from one way of doing something and turning towards another, then we could say that repentance is a kind of graduating from an old way of living and starting a new way of living.

It’s true that moving on can be a little scary, but when you have the support of experienced “graduates” cheering you on, it’s much easier. That is what Paul spent most of his time writing to churches to repent or to give up that old way of living and embrace the brand-new road ahead that’s filled with promise and hope.

Hebrews 12:1-3, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him, He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.”

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Struggles

The struggle is beyond the planting and raising. 

From the first moments, a mother welcomes the little life of her baby into this world, she understands the responsibility that comes with being a mother. For some, the pressure is too great, but for many others, it’s a noble calling filled with ups and downs. In the end, raising children is the most fulfilling venture in human existence.

But the struggle doesn’t go away at graduation. Perhaps as the mother’s body nurtures that baby while it grows in her womb, so parenting nurtures that child’s life while it's still at home. Time will tell if the effort, the wisdom, the sacrifice, the struggle a parent goes through for 18 years was successful or not.

Every God-fearing parent surely longs to hear the news that John heard about those worshiping with Gaius in 3 John 4, “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” But walking in the truth is more than going to church; it’s living according to the kingdom of God. This helps us see the roles of parents in a child’s life – to teach kingdom principles!

Proverbs 1:8-10, “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck. My son, if sinful men entice you, do not give in to them…”

Psalms 119:9-11, “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”

Share God’s word with your children. They grow up to be men and women who will be faced with decisions of morality, faithfulness, and justice. How will they do it alone? Mothers wear the burden of parenting their entire life. To see their children utilize discernment and wisdom brings such a wonderful sigh of relief.

Sunday, May 3, 2020

Understand

Why didn’t the Pharisees pick up on the many fulfilled prophecies by Jesus (over 300 by His crucifixion), during His ministry? These were the guys trained in the Torah, they read the prophets, and they knew the history – how could they miss it?

In reality, they chose to miss it! After all, King Herod called the religious leaders together years earlier to help reveal when and where the Messiah would show up (Matthew 2:3-6). And Nicodemus (a Pharisee) came to Jesus at night and confessed they knew (John 3:2). But what they “knew” and what they understood was different. At least, when we read 1 Corinthians 2:8, “None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.”

Perhaps the most logical explanation is they were jealous! Jealousy is a destructive force that has left a trail of collateral damage throughout history. Paul describes the human condition by summing up our actions when left on our own. Galatians 5:19-21, “The acts of the flesh are obvious: …hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions…”

Jesus, our king, came to earth to accomplish amazing spiritual things for us that through Him we can live not to the human nature, but to the spiritual nature. To do that it takes patience, kindness, forgiveness… all the fruit of having the Spirit that is mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23!

Our desire, as citizens of the heavenly kingdom (Phillipians 3:20), should be to truly embrace what the Pharisees didn’t want to understand. God’s kingdom has a new way to live that blesses people around us; it embraces times spent with loved ones and even total strangers. Right now, we are living in a unique time in history when our secular government has tried to prompt us to spend time together.

These are serious times with serious issues going on, but the positive side is we’ve had the opportunity to let our jealousies go and seek for ways to encourage one another. And all of this makes our longing to be near to those we love so much even stronger.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Example of Grace

When Jesus used references from Israel’s past, how do you imagine He reflected on those events, considering that Jesus existed from the beginning? The Gospel of John begins with a phrase that we instantly connect with the opening lines of the Bible… “In the beginning was the Word…” (John 1:1-5)

In other words, Jesus was there during every event in Israel’s past. From Melchizedek in Hebrews 7:3, “… [Melchizedek was] without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God.” He was the mysterious priest who met Abraham on his return trip from rescuing his nephew, Lot, in Genesis 14:18-21. Or, we read of the mysterious “one like the Son of God” standing in the furnace with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (Daniel 3:25). Basically, Christ was seen in Israel’s past long before He came to “dwell among men.”

As we journey through the Gospel, it would be wise to reflect on those prophets of the past, just as Jesus did. In Luke 11:29-32, Jesus says, “This is a wicked generation. It asks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. For as Jonah was a sign to the Ninevites, so also will the Son of Man be to this generation…”

It can be an eye-opening event to finally read Jonah not as the runaway servant who happened to get swallowed by a “great fish,” but instead seeing his hatred for his neighbor (thus the reason he ran). Although it is easily justifiable to hate those who mistreat and abuse others, God still loved them enough to send a prophet to warn them.

As Jesus was addressing the Pharisees and those who were ridiculing Him for being in league with Satan (Luke 11:15), or the Jews' early response to Jesus' description of what it costs to follow Him, we begin to see the significance of Jonah’s story.

The story of Jonah picks up after the initial call to go to Nineveh. Jonah ran away instead. He wasn’t ashamed to tell others he was running from God, “They knew he was running away from the Lord, because he had already told them so” (Jonah 1:10). Yet, God loved Jonah enough to save him from the storm, and he loved Nineveh enough to warn them of the cost of rebellion against His will. In the end, we read of Jonah’s successful deliverance of God’s message (even though he didn’t want to); and instead of praising God for His goodness and grace, he sits on a hillside watching the city hoping for the worst for them. He even said in Jonah 4:2, “I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.”

Jonah brought light to Nineveh, but his heart wasn’t light. Jesus’ words to His listeners show us a double meaning in context. The warning Jonah brought Nineveh is true for any who rebel against God – “repent!” (Luke 13:3), but the other deeper meaning directed towards those in religious authority was a reminder of Jonah’s darkness in his heart. Luke 11:35, “See to it, then, that the light within you is not darkness.” What an important reminder for all mankind! Praise God for His example of grace!

Sunday, April 12, 2020

The Resurrection

As Paul stood before King Agrippa and shared his faith in Christ, he said in Acts 26:26, “This thing was not done in a corner.” Those few words ring true for all defenders of their faith. Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection weren’t meant to be “hidden under a bush — OH NO! In fact, every part of Jesus’ earthly ministry was available for inspection by anyone, anytime, anywhere.

In fact, centuries before Jesus set foot on the earth in human form, the prophets had already spoken of many things involving His life. Over 300 prophecies throughout the Old Testament point to Jesus as the Messiah. God did not try to “sneak” the Messiah into human affairs under the cover of darkness and without warning. Instead, God made it pretty clear for those who had “eyes to see, and ears to hear” who the Savior was and what He’d do.

But there are still many who doubt – much like Thomas (John 20:25). Although there may be many things that people would say they can’t believe in concerning Christ – His life, His death, His miracles – it’s His resurrection that becomes the ultimate proof of His Deity. (Read 1 Corinthians 15).

Throughout history, there have been many authors, ministers, even atheists that have acknowledged Jesus’ existence and even what the Bible “claims happened.” For example, in Matthew 28:12-13, the chief priests met with the elders and devised a plan. They gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’” Their story helps to confirm that they recognized something had happened; even though their story was a lie, it testified that His body was missing.

Plenty of other people helped confirm these facts throughout early history. Consider the written works of Justin Martyr, 165 A.D. in his book A Dialogue with Trypho, or Josephus’ history, and the many writings of several other non-Christian’s and followers, who acknowledged either Jesus or the uniqueness of his followers, from Eusebius (260 A.D.) to Pliny the Younger (112 A.D.) to name a few commonly referenced works.

The Apostles believed the claims about His resurrection enough to preach that they saw Him after He rose from the dead, and they were even willing to die for that claim! The fact that the Apostles never buckled under ridicule, torture, accusations, and execution should tell us something about their conviction. Just as Paul said to King Agrippa in Acts 26:8, “Why should any of you consider it incredible that God raises the dead?”

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Faith During Coronavirus

Recently, Governor Stitt joined with other religious leaders to pray for our nation concerning the Coronavirus and the impact it is having on our lives. In scripture, there are several times we read about when one or more people gathered together to pray for a serious event in their time. (Acts 4:24-31; Acts 27:21-26 just to name a few.)

There are also many prayers offered up in the Psalms, and many of those become our kind of model in prayer. There are prayers for joy, prayers for giving thanks, prayers for deliverance, and prayers offered in anger or confusion. The key is realizing that prayer is communication to God. Like any relationship communication is an important ingredient to a healthy or happy relationship. In our human relationships we realize that just talking about it doesn’t always instantly solve it, but by communicating our fears and things we’re disgusted with, it helps resolve our feelings in more godly ways.

One prayer I’ll summarize is from Hezekiah in Isaiah 37:16-20, “O Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, who is enthroned above the cherubim, You are the God, You alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. Incline Your ear, O Lord, and hear; open Your eyes, O Lord, and see; and listen to all the words of Sennacherib, who sent them to reproach the living God. Truly, O Lord, the kings of Assyria have devastated all the countries and their lands, and have cast their gods into the fire, for they were not gods but the work of men’s hands, wood and stone. So, they have destroyed them. Now, O Lord our God, deliver us from his hand that all the kingdoms of the earth may know that You alone, Lord, are God.”

Sennacherib, King of Assyria, was devastating the land by killing, capturing, and destroying towns as he swept through the land. Many nations fell to his sword, but Hezekiah knew that his only true help was in God almighty.

I hope it doesn’t take much to imagine this prayer being offered up to God because of the evil coronavirus that is sweeping over our globe. Fear has gripped most of us, and the uncertainty and anxiety of our future can easily cripple us. However, this is what faith is about. Faith isn’t having access to a magic genie who can instantly solve our problems, any more than communicating a fear or problem with our spouse doesn’t instantly take away our problems. Rather, it is believing that God is the creator and that He truly loves His creation, even when they are going through hardship.

Peter’s reminder to the early Christians was that even if the hardship isn’t instantly removed – stay faithful. 1 Peter 5:9-11, “But resist [the devil, and be] firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world. After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen and establish you. To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Quarantine?

In Genesis 50:19-21, Joseph reassures his brothers that he had no intention of punishing his brothers for the wrong they did to him. He said, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” (Remember they were in Egypt because of a famine outbreak.)

While that may not be much comfort during the Coronavirus outbreak, we can find comfort in knowing God can use this serious problem as a way for his kingdom to really put her best foot forward. Or as Paul said in Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Throughout history, God’s kingdom has been most evident during difficult times. All throughout the persecutions of the second and third centuries, Christians still served the weak and helpless. Often times. their service cost them their lives in the process.

In other major outbreaks of pandemic proportions like the plague of Justinian (sixth century), or the Black Death plague (14th century), or the Cholera outbreak (1852), or the Spanish flu (1918) – all of these had high numbers of fatalities and no real cure. In fact, it wasn’t until 1938 that a vaccine for the flu was first developed.

How do WE turn something awful into an opportunity to promote God’s kingdom? It starts with the words Jesus said concerning the most important thing we can do to do the will of God… “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37-39; John 13:34-35; Romans 12:10; 1 John 3:11, 23; 4:7-12…)

And Paul reminded us in Philippians 2:3-4, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.”

Therefore, recognizing that the best practice in these situations is quarantine and good hygiene, we should “love our neighbor” enough that we do what is most sensible and considerate of those most susceptible to the flu, and simply respect the requests to keep in isolation for a while.

Probably a more expressive way that we can turn a bad situation into a good one, is by demonstrating the value of investing in our families right now. Similar to God requiring a Sabbath Day rest to be spent with family and NOT working so that we could appreciate one another better, perhaps a quarantine could be looked at and observed as a kind of Sabbath rest for our extremely busy lives.

Too many well-intended parents and grandparents have promoted the “busy life” to such a degree that families haven’t spent much time together at dinner or any other time in quite a while. So, perhaps we can see how observing the precautions help us keep families safer, as well as getting to spend more time with one of our most valuable possessions on the planet – our family.

Sunday, March 15, 2020

Did Mary Get It?

Sometimes we go through life lessons that remind us to slow down and “smell the roses,” or at least determine what’s really important in life. We do that in all areas of life, and the wise people recognize what’s worth investing in and then do it.

In Luke 10:38-42, we read of an instance when Jesus highlights that realization for us. Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet was listening to what Jesus said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to Him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” Jesus answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

What is worry? To give way to anxiety or unease; to allow one's mind to dwell on difficulty or troubles. That’s one definition of it, but what’s worry really do for us? Jesus compared a type of soil to the effects of worry. He said in Matthew 13:22, “The seed falling among the thorns refers to someone who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful.”

Worry kills fruitfulness! It’s interesting that God told Adam in Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.” In the garden, Adam had no reason to worry at all – he wasn’t even worried about not having any clothes! Once again Jesus reminds His followers about what is most important… (Matthew 6:25-34) “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? (33-34) “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Did Mary get it? Here’s an example of a woman who was seeking God’s wisdom instead of human wisdom (logic). Eve sought after human wisdom, but Mary was seeking knowledge from the “tree of life” – Jesus! It’s much easier to become Martha by thinking it’s our efforts that bring fulfillment and meaning in life. In Martha’s case, that would have meant a delicious meal; in our case, maybe that’s an appealing life. Can we recognize the difference between a good choice and the best choice? God wants us to be able to see the wisdom that comes from trusting in Him and feeding on His words!

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Decisions, Decisions...

There are lots of decisions that we make every day, and the hard part is knowing how to do God’s will in all of them! But here’s a few categories that might make it a bit easier
There are:
Trivial decisions -- What color socks am I going to wear
today?
Prudent decisions --Should I choose history or geography in school?
Righteous decisions -- Should I spread hateful gossip about someone on Facebook?

These three different categories all involve important decisions, but some have a greater impact than others, particularly those decisions of Prudence and Righteousness. The Righteous decisions are usually a lot more straight forward to make, usually. Whereas the Prudent decisions, on the other hand, are much more grey; they involve the life choices that are not necessarily right or wrong in a moral sense but are still decisions that may have important consequences for your life and direction.

“What is God's purpose for my life?” This is a big question for many folks, which can cause people to either end up "making" God say what they want to hear, or they end up just as confused and aimless as before.
Proverbs 13:6, “Righteousness guards the person of integrity, but wickedness overthrows the sinner.”
Proverbs 16:3, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”

When you're faced with a prudent decision consider how much easier those decisions are when our focus is honoring Christ? Matthew 6:33-34, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

Sunday, March 1, 2020

God's Special Tool

Imagine if God gave us a special tool to help us solve the problems of life… Actually, He has! God's word helps us tremendously, but we have to understand how it works. 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Torah (law) guides us beautifully in helping us understand the essence of God’s will. In fact,  Psalm 119 is a Hebrew acrostic (alphabetical poem) that is believed to have been used as a teaching tool and a praise for God’s law.

Jesus, or the word that became flesh, is also a tool to help us know the will of God, and the right thing to do. He gave us plenty of teachings that clarified the purpose of the law, and He did plenty of acts that proved He had the authority to interpret it the way He did.

Ultimately, His laws keep us safe from the temptations of Satan, just like He modeled in Luke 4. Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 10:13 how His laws and His words will give you what you need so that nothing will tempt you beyond the example of Christ, so that "He will also provide a way out so that you can endure [the temptation]" Just like Jesus did!

His example also becomes compelling evidence that Jesus is the Messiah, the one that promised to be the deliverer of all deliverers. We see how Jesus does things that echo the same things that Israel's most prized deliverer (Moses) did. In Luke 10, Jesus sends out 70 disciples to basically encourage people to live right, which is good. But we read in Numbers 11 where Moses sends out 70 as well. And with a little investigative work, it seems fairly clear why Moses sent them, and that helps us understand why Jesus sent those he sent.

As you dive into the Scriptures, you can be reminded of the lengths God has gone to for us to be equipped to “know” what’s right and avoid sinning. Romans 12:21, “Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.”

Sunday, February 23, 2020

King of Kings

In the movie, The Lion King, young Simba “just can’t wait to be king” so that he can rule over the land. However, he learns just how important and sacrificial being “king” really is through some hard twists of fate in his life. Being a king wasn’t about telling people what to do, but to model the highest level of integrity, loyalty, and faithfulness to those in the kingdom.

Unlike Simba, Jesus understood the sacrifices of a king. In Luke 4 when Satan was tempting Jesus to abuse His power and seek more of it by telling Him, “I will give you all [the kingdoms of the world, because] I can give it to anyone I want to. If you worship me!” But Jesus resisted the temptation to serve self. Instead, He quoted Deuteronomy 6:13, “Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.”

Even as a king, Jesus “didn’t come to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). In fact, His role wasn’t just making a kingdom stronger, but saving it eternally! Paul would later say in 1 Timothy 1:15-17, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners —of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.”

As Jesus ministered among His followers (and ultimately the world), He modeled something that was truly inspirational, and even transformational. His way of living and teaching helped people see what God’s plan had been the entire time. As the fulfillment of his mission drew closer to the end, more and more of the prophecies about the Messiah were coming to fruition.

On the Mount of Transfiguration, a handful of the Apostles witnessed Moses (the Law) and Elijah (the prophets) confirm Jesus as the one with true authority. This scene must have helped to give them even more confidence that Jesus was truly the king of kings; and had they been in the room when Pilate interrogated Jesus by asking, “Are you the king of the Jews?” they would have shouted, “YES!” However, they weren’t there, but they would do what Jesus asked Pilate about how He came to that conclusion, “Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about Me?” That’s our job – tell others about Jesus, our king!

Friday, February 14, 2020

How's Your Sight?

What happens when you can’t see? Recently, my daughter got contacts and glasses because she wasn’t able to see as clearly as she knew she could. Now, she can see fine. There’s hardly a time that you wouldn’t want to see, right? We like to be able to see what we’re doing and where we’re going.

However, there are some things we don’t want to see. Bloody or mangled bodies (for most normal people), or rude or criminal behavior. In fact, one of the most recognizable symbols in our legal system in this nation is Lady Justice, a statue of a woman holding scales in one hand and a sword in the other, but she’s blindfolded. She symbolizes fair and equal administration of the law, without corruption, greed, prejudice, or favor.

Ultimately, that’s the exact picture God wants us to see of Him. That He is without corruption, greed, prejudice, or favor (Isaiah 53, 1 Peter 2:21-25, Philippians 2:5-11, etc.) Jesus wanted His disciples to see and understand this about Him most of all. Because through their words, the rest of the world would be told about God’s plan to save mankind.

God wants us to see Him for who He really is. Satan, on the other hand, doesn’t! 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, “And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”

Satan has always used corruption, greed, prejudices, or favoritism to ruin the work God is trying to do in all of us. Our propensity to please self gets in the way of doing the will of the father.

Jesus shares a timeless parable that depicts the battle for our allegiance to His way. Luke 8:4-15, “…[The explanation] Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God. Those beside the road are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their heart, so that they will not believe and be saved. Those on the rocky soil are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no firm root; they believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away. The seed which fell among the thorns, these are the ones who have heard, and as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life and bring no fruit to maturity. But the seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance.”

How’s your Christ-sight? Do you see what He sees? Or does the “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life” get in the way? It’s “not from the Father but is from the world.” (1 John 2:15-17)

Saturday, February 8, 2020

The Right Heart

Recently, my family and I watched Aladdin, a movie about a poor “street rat (boy)” who found good fortune by finding a magical lamp, where a genie lived. Aladdin was given a chance to ask for three wishes. It’s probably a secret desire of most folks to have the opportunity to ask for anything and—“Poof!”—it shows up instantly. But that’s not reality!

However, there was a time in the Bible when a young king offered 1,000 burnt offerings to God, seeking His mercy, guidance, and wisdom. That night, God came to him in a dream and asked him what he really wanted, to which Solomon replied, “...Give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong.” (1 Kings 3:9)

Was it the number of offerings he offered that helped him get his “wish”? Or the posture of his heart? Throughout the history of the Israelites, the people often used the sacrifices as a formula for blessings rather than an ‘appeal to God from a pure conscience’ (1 Peter 3:21). Too many times the feasts, the Sabbaths, the fasting’s, and any other “ritual” was misused.

When Jesus showed up, He was going to show what God was really looking for in all of those “rituals.” Soon after His ministry began, as He was drawing people to Himself through His teaching and healings, He also addressed the abuse in the religious system.

In Luke 6, we read the “Sermon on the Mount” as a reenactment of Moses reading the law on the mountain. However, here Jesus breaks down who will really be blessed by God’s way of living.
Luke 6:20-26: “Blessed are you…
     who are poor (humble), for yours is the kingdom of God.
     who hunger now (longing), for you will be satisfied.
     who weep now (compassionate), for you will laugh.
     when people hate you … because of the Son of Man (faithful)…
     But woe to you who are rich (arrogant), for you have already received your comfort.
     Woe to you who are well-fed (greedy) now, for you will go hungry.
     Woe to you who laugh (ignore the hurts of others) now, for you will mourn and weep.
     Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you (proud)…

Jesus presented a better perspective of what God had been requiring all along. Seeing how Jesus demonstrated His obedience to God by serving people (Mark 10:45: “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”)

Paul described this new paradigm shift this way in Romans 12:1-2, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is —His good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Your heart matters! Give yours to God, and you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Obedience Is Fulfilling

Many people struggle with faith in God because of unanswered prayers. However, with a more careful reflection of life’s issues, someone with faith in God might realize that unanswered prayers are actually answered in different ways. The key is aligning yourself to receive what you ask God for. What’s that mean? An expecting mother tries to prepare a room for their newborn before the baby is born. A teenager takes Drivers Ed and a test before they begin to drive. A wise person plans for retirement before they actually retire. Basically, they are aligning their life to accommodate what they are hoping to be blessed with: a child, a car, a relaxing retirement.

The same holds true in our faith. We ask God for blessings of all shapes and sizes. We ask because, at least to some degree, we’re hoping He will hear our request, our wish. Psalms 34:12-14 (1 Peter 3:12), “After all, who doesn’t have a desire for prosperity and good things in life? Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from lies. Turn away from evil, and do good; search for peace, desiring it with all your heart. Because the eyes of the Lord are on those like that.”

Jesus reassured His followers of that basic idea about God. Luke 11:11-13, “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Or John 14:13, “I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.”

The spoiled brat in all of us might be tempted to throw a temper tantrum if God doesn’t jump right on our request like a fearful servant. However, with maturity comes a broader view of our request and His answer.

When my view of my life is secondary to the expansion of God’s kingdom, I’m probably in the right mind-frame. This doesn’t mean we hate ourselves or neglect ourselves for the kingdom of God. Rather, we can see how our unmet desire--when handled properly--may do more good for others to hear about God’s kingdom (where eternal peace is extended to those who trust in Christ) over something more temporary.

The Bible is filled with situations where people weren’t able to think past today and right now in order to see tomorrow and the future. From people like Cain who went ahead and killed his brother-- a decision he later regretted--all the way to Judas who valued 30 pieces of silver for today more than the kingdom of tomorrow. Therefore, choosing to trust in God’s kingdom for tomorrow is the mature and wise approach in dealing with what we do today.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

The Kindness Diaries--Jesus Style

Leon Logothetis is the founder of The Kindness Diaries, which has aired on Netflix. He used to be a stockbroker in London but gave it all up to conduct a hands-on humanity experiment of kindness. Leon left “home” to travel around the world showing kindness to others while relying on the kindness of others, too.

During his season one trip, he asked a man named Tony for some help for the night. Tony told him he’d love to but… he’s homeless. However, that didn’t stop Tony from inviting him to stay the night with him on the porch of an abandoned building. Tony didn’t know that Leon had plans of blessing him because of his act of kindness. At the end of the season, Leon helped Tony with a house and paid for his college so that he could fulfill a lifelong dream of being a chef. Today, Tony’s life is a walking testimony of the power of kindness.

Jesus also had a similar mission: to come to earth to inspire people to live to serve. By loving one another, God’s creation would find the most fulfilling peace possible to mankind. Yet, even in Jesus’ ministry, not everyone responded with kindness. How would He respond? Kindness!

Jesus said in Matthew 5:46-48, “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.”

We’ve been called to a higher standard. Modeled by the Creator Himself. Ephesians 2:10, “For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”  When kindness is part of every action we engage in, the world will know (Matthew 5:16); even if their motives aren’t pure or kind. Paul said in Romans 12:20-21, “If your enemies are hungry, feed them. If they are thirsty, give them something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals of shame on their heads. Don’t let evil conquer you but conquer evil by doing good.”

His kindness was part of the way that Jesus would “set the captives free” (Isa 61), by empowering people to let go of the bitterness, jealousy, greed that seems to prevail in our lives too often. Jesus has “given us everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Let’s go do it!

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Heal Yourself First

In the story of God’s Good News for mankind, Jesus introduces a plan that is designed to bless people. He says in Luke 4:18-19, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are oppressed, to proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.” A reference to Isaiah 61, which was also reassuring the Israelites that, although they had been “punished” for their rebellion towards God, He still had plans to bless them… someday. As Jesus is sharing this hope with the people of his day, He reveals how God’s blessings don’t always show up in the most expected way.

As we look into the Good News Luke shares, we get a glimpse of the kind of blessing that we’re called to be for our communities.

“Physician heal yourself” (Luke 4:23); is believed to be an ancient Jewish proverb more commonly stated, “Physician, heal your own lameness.” The meaning of that proverb was that a man ought to look at home, and take care of himself, and of those that belonged to him. Obviously, Jesus is talking about their disrespect for Him. Nazareth, where Jesus had grown up, had a population of about 4 00, so everyone knew everyone else. Traits that many historians use to describe the typical Nazarene (based on the trade and Jewish background) were ‘physically robust, strong-minded, practical, respectful of traditional and loyal to family.’ However, not in Jesus’ case.

Matthew 4:13 says when He got back from His 40 days of temptation, that He “withdrew into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtal," where He apparently began healing people; but His own people weren’t really convinced.

They either weren’t genuinely convinced, or they despised Him because they had watched Him grow up from a child into a man. The physician, Luke, wanted to begin his story of Christ showing how the Great Physician was someone that people like Theophilus could be legitimately convinced was indeed the Messiah that had been prophesied about.

What kind of convincing would we have needed that the carpenter’s nice little kid was actually the Anointed One promised centuries before? What’s different today? Different things might be the compelling factor for different folks. At some point, there is enough proof that He is who He said He was – will I simply believe it? James 4:6, “God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Jesus is the Sabbath

The symptoms of overwork are easy to spot. You’re irritable and tired at work, worn out and not much good to friends and family when you’re at home. When you’ve worked too many hours, or too many days in a row, it’s obvious you need a break. Smart managers realize that a “break” can actually improve safety, reduce errors and increase productivity.

According to one research organization, the U.S. spends nearly 2,000 hours per year at work. That’s almost 20% more than countries like Canada, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain or Sweden. In many situations, laws and regulations prevent bosses from doing dumb things. But not in the case of issuing time off of work. The amount of vacation days you are legally entitled to in the United States is Zero. Zip. Nada. Nothing. Let’s take a brief overview of God’s take on the idea of overworking. Thankfully, God designed one into His scheme: the Sabbath.

The fourth command that God gave to the Israelites was to “remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy” (Exodus 20:8). However, that was a concept (during the 1st century) that wasn’t always shared among cultures. What is the Sabbath? How is the idea of rest seen throughout scriptures?

For example, the Day of Atonement, which was a time designed by God to make people stop and reflect on what they’ve done, versus what God’s done. God creates life and peace, man (by the influence of the Devil) takes life and causes division. Leviticus 16:29-31 (MSG), “This is standard practice for you, a perpetual ordinance… In the presence of God, you will be made clean of all your sins. It is a Sabbath of all Sabbaths. You must fast. It is a perpetual ordinance.”

Knowing that God created the cosmos in six days and rested on the seventh and knowing that God instituted seven festivals or feasts throughout each year helps us see that this is an important idea to God. Jesus arrives on the scene to reveal that HE is the Sabbath that the world was celebrating unbeknownst to them. Luke 6:5, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

Jesus begins to show how His way is actually like a rest to mankind. In fact, He says in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you. Let Me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” (NLT)

Jesus came to give us rest, to set us free, to bring liberty and life. Romans 2:7-11, “to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life (eternal rest); but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek, but glory and honor and peace to everyone who does good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God.”

Sunday, December 22, 2019

God's Backstory

Each of us has a story to tell about who we are. Some may feel their story is more exciting than others. But regardless of the wow factor that comes with our story…we have one. The more a person knows about our backstory, the more they are actually getting a full picture of who we are. However, there is a level of vulnerability that comes with being fully known. People see our struggles, our failures, our embarrassing moments. But what if you were God? What would your backstory look like?

We are given a deep glimpse into who God is by reading His backstory. From man’s first introduction to God back in Genesis to the seriousness of God in situations like the world flood, the captivity, and even the silence, or the times He powerfully delivered Israel from Egyptian slavery or provided for them in the wilderness, or when He used foreign kings to bless them in various ways. All of these events help shape the character of God.

Romans 1:19-21, “They [mankind] know the truth about God because He has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see His invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship Him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like…”

This is where Christ comes in. Hebrews 1:3 reminds us, “The Son radiates God’s own glory and expresses the very character of God, and He sustains everything by the mighty power of His command. When He had cleansed us from our sins, He sat down in the place of honor at the right hand of the majestic God in heaven.”

Jesus was the plan of God to reveal Himself through His own life on earth through His son. Just as Ephesians 1:4-5 says, “Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure.”

Therefore, Jesus’ arrival on earth is better appreciated when we know and understand the backstory of God’s effort to break through our hard hearts to reveal God’s desire for His creation. This Christmas as we celebrate the giving season and a time during which many reflect on the birth of the Messiah–Jesus Christ, try to spend some time reflecting on all the characteristics of God that demonstrate His love for mankind.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Christmas Gift of Gifts

Christmas is many people’s favorite holiday for lots of reasons: decorations, parties, family, and gifts! There’s nothing like surprising our children with just the right gift to show them how much we love them. What about the gift God gave to the world? The gift of His son.

When Jesus showed up on earth as a baby, the angels proclaimed, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11).

The truth is that there was an even greater gift than His arrival on that night; there’s a wonderful message of hope that He gave us that we get to share with the world, a gift that changes lives. Hebrews 9:14, “Just think how much more the blood of Christ will purify our consciences from sinful deeds so that we can worship the living God. For by the power of the eternal Spirit, Christ offered (gave) himself to God as a perfect sacrifice (gift) for our sins."

His gift was given sacrificially, completely, and willingly for us. God wanted to give this gift – even though it cost him so much. 1 Peter 1:18–19 reminds us that we “weren’t redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot.”

Have you ever given a gift that you knew was exactly what the other person wanted? A perfect gift, that would bring joy to the recipient. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” Jesus is that perfect gift we need, whether we realize it or not!

As we celebrate a favorite time of year for most of us, consider how to reflect on the “reason for the season.” God has modeled for us the perfect gift giver. When it comes to our gifts, let us focus on being selfless, genuine, and excited about being givers.

We have a wonderful gift to share with people, and they need it desperately. Jesus gave us comfort that being a giver like God would come with wonderful blessings to everyone involved, (especially when we are genuine, selfless, and excited about it). Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.”

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Giving Responsibly

It’s well known that winter can be a time of year that brings on some of the deepest times of depression for some people. Winter brings on coldness, darker evenings, and even dead things. There are quite a few people that you may even know that suffer from what has been labeled Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). It’s basically a mood disorder that people deal with at particular times of the year; typically, people are more likely to feel SAD during winter.

But it’s kind of nice that winter starts off with another season that many people get excited about – the giving season (AKA Christmas). This is the time of gift-giving and family and laughter, although it is for that same reason that many feel SAD. For the many people that don’t have a healthy relationship with their family, or don’t have the money, or the people to give to, there may not be much point in laughter.

This is why it’s so important to stay focused on how gift-giving can be a tremendous blessing to people feeling SAD, or anyone else too. Perhaps one struggle that many people deal with is knowing who to buy for, or how much to spend, etc. This very normal dilemma can cause us to lose sight of the gifts as a means to bless someone and end up being something almost counterproductive to God’s will.

In other words, we can become people that focus on fulfilling every wish for those closest to us, while closing our eyes to those that need more than more trinkets and treasures. When does accumulating more things hurt our walk with God?

The truth is, that many of us realize that the overabundance of things can become a snare of the devil. 1 Timothy 6:6-10, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

Obviously, nothing is wrong with buying a gift for someone; in fact, many things are right about it. After all, God gave a wonderful gift of eternal life to anyone who will trust in His son and join with Him. The real danger may be that excess can cause arrogance which is a perfect recipe for idolatry. Thankfully, God has given us plenty of direction in His Word on how to give wisely and abundantly without causing obstacles to faith and generosity.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

The Ultimate Gift from the Ultimate Gift-Giver

“Give a man a fish – feed him for a day; teach a man to fish – feed him for a lifetime.” Famous words of wisdom. There’s power in knowledge, but sometimes the knowledge-pill is hard to swallow. When Jesus showed up on the scene, He showed people how to be sincere, something the Jews (and all humanity) struggle with. Reality is that we can be quite selfish in our life, and sometimes embarrassingly so. Unfortunately, “the season of giving” can expose a lot of greedy, selfish people.

The solution is easier than we think. Be humble! But how do you genuinely become humble? Jesus started out what is often referred to as His greatest sermon with these words: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

In our culture, there’s nothing positive about poverty! Yet Jesus saw the value of giving up His divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. He took the lower seat in humanity and didn’t think of equality with God as something to cling to.” (Philippians 2:6-7).

Before Jesus showed up to earth, God had sent several prophets to remind us of the need to take care of other people’s needs before our own. In Haggai’s prophecy for the Israelites, God has him tell the people that their greed will actually cause more economic disaster and hardships than if they would humble themselves and be generous. It seems His plan was to get them to focus on the temple that they had completely neglected and not on their own homes (like they were doing). The temple, after all, was a hotspot of benevolence for the community. People were blessed by the temple being in full working order. The poor were taken care of, the widows and orphans cared for; the diseased and disabled people found help. When the temple was thriving, everyone in the community did better.

Nothing’s different today. When the church is functioning in a genuinely benevolent fashion, the community is blessed. Paul said in Philippians 2:1-5, “Is there any encouragement from belonging to Christ? Any comfort from His love? Any fellowship together in the Spirit? Are your hearts tender and compassionate? Then make me truly happy by agreeing wholeheartedly with each other, loving one another, and working together with one mind and purpose. Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had…” (NLT)

This Christmas, check your heart as you dive into giving gifts and spreading holiday cheer. This was what Jesus helped us understand by living on earth – He taught us how to give in a Godly way!

Sunday, November 24, 2019

The Passover Thanksgiving Feast

The night of Passover. A night that would finally convince Pharaoh to let God’s people go. A night that every home that didn’t have the blood of the lamb around the doorway would experience death. But what was the significance of that event? It’s easy to think of it simply as the final plague to prove
God was more powerful than Pharaoh. However, the more you read the bible the more you’ll probably notice how many times that story is retold with the intention of reminding the Israelites what God is looking for.

The Passover was to be celebrated every year to serve as a reminder of the blessing of obedience to God – death passes over your house. Unfortunately, the Israelites forgot the lesson from that dinner of thanksgiving instituted by God.

Approximately 600 years had passed from the time of the Judges to Josiah king of Judah, and the Passover apparently hadn’t been practiced at all, or at least not properly during that time.

2 Kings 23:21-22, “Then the king [Josiah] commanded all the people saying, 'Celebrate the Passover to the Lord your God as it is written in this book of the covenant.' Surely such a Passover had not been celebrated from the days of the judges who judged Israel, nor in all the days of the kings of Israel and of the kings of Judah.”

Basically, they forgot what God was trying to tell them through that Thanksgiving feast. Romans 15:4, “For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” True for us. True for them.

But the Passover was a symbolic feast representative of God’s plan for deliverance of His people – those who will trust Him. The unblemished lamb was intended to be a representative “scapegoat” for our sins. Although, as Hebrews 10:4 says, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” But there would be a lamb that was capable of take away sins… “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Jesus, the perfect lamb, was sacrificed for our sins. The night that took place, Jesus explained it (in part) to His disciples as they sat around the table at the Passover feast in the upper room. In John 13 Jesus modeled for them the example they should be to the world, an act that would be what signifies to the world who they belong to.

Hopefully, we can see the connections between all the events that surrounded that scary and amazing time of the exodus from Egypt, AND our exodus from a sinful life into a “Promised Land” kind of life. This Thanksgiving, we’re privileged to reflect on some of our nation's own events that help to remind us of important moral attributes that speak volumes to a world of greed and selfishness. Those moral attributes are “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control…” (Galatians 5:22-23). Share these with those in your life!