Sunday, November 10, 2019

True Friends

Years ago, a friend and I stopped to get some gas at a station. The clerk was a little rude to my friend as he walked out, and once we were outside, he started complaining. At some point, I stopped him and asked him if he was a Christian, to which he responded, "Yes!" So I said, “Act like one.” I didn’t mean anything rude by it, and I really didn’t even think much about that conversation. However, throughout the years, he’s reminded me how much that was what he needed to hear.

I’ve thought about how many times I’ve had to be on the receiving end of that conversation—sometimes it’s me telling me to “act like a Christian!” It reminds me of Proverbs 27:6, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.” Good friends are hard to come by.
Good friends see your situation and care enough to do something about it (James 5:19-20; Galatians 6:1). Whether it’s help with moving boxes to mending a relationship—they’re there. A good friend is willing to make a commitment to you, even before you are sometimes. Thank God for friends who intervene and help you find a path that improves your life.

For that reason, good friends can be hard to come by. In an age when people are hypersensitive and easily offended, it seems almost taboo to correct anyone or highlight any area of their life they should improve on even if it's true!

In Scriptures, we read of many people who intervened for others to help protect against their own destructive lifestyle. Moses did it for the Israelites; nearly all the prophets did it for them as well, Jesus did it for all mankind, and many letters were written to people to remind them of how they were to conduct themselves.

Consider the role Ananias played in Saul becoming a faithful follower of God (Acts 9). Saul had served God before his trip to Damascus (Acts 23:1), but with the help of unexpected friends, he now served God the right way. It took Ananias obeying the words of God, just like it took Saul listening to the counsel of a stranger sent from God.

God’s Word is in fact like a faithful friend. 2 Timothy 3:16, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Take time to consider the role your friends have had in your life as well as recognizing how you can be an influence for good in the lives of your friends. Then, thank God for them! Perhaps like Ananias, you’ll find out there are friendships waiting to be made by simply doing or saying what God would have you do for them.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Faithful Witness

How did the prophets of the Old Testament prepare for their part in sharing the words of God with rebellious Israel? In nearly all cases, the prophets didn’t ask for the job or want the task they were assigned to do. But they were obedient to God – so they went.

Perhaps similar to how a witness to a crime didn’t ask for that position--they may not want to bear witness to what they know about something in court, and it probably isn’t comfortable to know that their words could be what was needed to convict someone. Yet, as a good citizen, when the duty is theirs, they do their part to contribute to justice.

God’s messengers have a difficult task: confront, convict, correct the actions of God’s children for the purpose of change, or repentance. It’s difficult because we realize how easy it can be to get caught up in sin, to be lured into the snare of Satan. As Paul reminded Timothy that his words and his involvement in the lives of those in Ephesus (and beyond) might help them “come to their senses and escape from the devil’s trap. For they have been held captive by him to do whatever he wants.” (2 Timothy 2:26)

Therefore, the witness has an agenda to wake up the people caught in darkness, trapped in sin, blinded by Satan. Paul said in 2 Corinthians 4:3- 4, “if our Good News is hidden, it's hidden to those who are spiritually sick and dying. In their case, the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” 

Jesus told the Pharisees in Matthew 9:12-13, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.”

Every word spoken by God (via prophet or priest) was intended to help a person or a nation come to repentance. The words the prophets spoke served as a witness to God’s laws; those laws revealed how much God was protecting His people from unnecessary harm and headache. For the most part, God’s commands were actually quite simple to understand, but more difficult to consistently do.

As we read the ancient reminders of God’s provisions and His protections, we also see how He openly expressed the consequences of neglecting to trust and obey His words. It doesn’t take much to see how His instructions (like the 10 Commandments) actually benefit our life and the lives of people all around us. The question is will we heed His warnings and accept the instructions of God’s witnesses who have come so that we can see how much we need God to be our director and captain?

YULE TIDINGS ON SALE NOW!

Yule Tidings, the latest anthology from the writing group Prosateurs, is on sale now. The holiday-themed anthology celebrates Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s with works of fiction and nonfiction.

“Besides making the perfect Christmas gift, Yule Tidings is great for planning your parties and get-togethers, too,” said Kathy Akins, Prosateurs vice president. “We have articles on easy party preparations and, of course, delicious recipes. And the stories, memoirs, essays, and poems will get you into the holiday spirit. It’s the perfect book to curl up with.”

Yule Tidings features works from these authors:

Kathy Akins has won several awards with her poetry, devotionals, and short fiction. Her short stories and poetry have been published in Prosateurs: Tales & Truth, Blackbirds Third Flight, Creations 2015, and Creations 2014. She is a member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc., Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and American Christian Fiction Writers. Visit her website at kathyakins.blogspot.com.

Debbie Anderson wrote the suspense novel Friend or Foe in 2018. Its sequel, Predators Among Us, will be published in early 2020. She writes short stories, memoirs, novels, children’s stories, and how-to books. She has been published in Prosateurs: Tales & Truth, Creations 2018, and Creations 2017.

Stephen B. Bagley's latest book is Floozy Comes Back, a collection of humorous essays. He co-wrote Undying, a book of dark poetry. His other books include: Murder by Dewey Decimal, Murder by the Acre, Tales from Bethlehem, Floozy and Other Stories, and Endless. His plays include: Murder at the Witch’s Cottage, Two Writers in the Hands of an Angry God, There’s a Body in the Closet, and Hogwild. His poetry, articles, short stories, and essays have appeared in Prosateurs: Tales & Truth, Writer’s Digest, Blackbirds First Flight, Blackbirds Second Flight, Blackbirds Third Flight, ByLine Magazine, Nautilus Magazine, Pontotoc County Chronicles, Tulsa World’s OKMagazine, Free Star, Dark Prairies & Deep Rivers, the Creations anthologies 2012-2015, and other publications. He is a member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. Visit his website at StephenBBagley.blogspot.com.

Wendy Blanton wrote Dawn Before the Dark, the first book in a fantasy trilogy, which was published by the Christian fantasy publisher Bear Publications in the fall of 2019. She also co-wrote three fantasy novels, The Dragon’s Lady, Rogue Pawn, and Sword and Scabbard, under the name Elizabeth Joy. Her short stories, articles, and recipes have appeared in Prosateurs: Tales & Truth, Blackbirds First Flight, Blackbirds Second Flight, and Blackbirds Third Flight. She is a member of Realm Makers and Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. Visit her website at wendyblanton.com.

Debra E. Chandler’s debut novel, Bone Sliver, was published in 2015, and the sequel, Nova Wave, in 2018. Weathered, a collection of her short works and poems, was also released in 2018. Her short stories, poems, photographs, and articles were also published in Prosateurs: Tales & Truth, Blackbirds Third Flight, The Green Country Guardian, The Sapulpa Herald, and Sapulpa News and Views. She is a member of Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. and Oklahoma Bloggers and Influencers. Visit her website at dechandlerwrites.com.

Barbara Shepherd is the 2019 Voice of the Fair Poet, the Poetry Society of Oklahoma’s 2019 Poet Laureate, and recipient of more than 350 writing awards in local, regional, national, and international contests. Her books include: The Potbelly Pig Promise, River Bend, Vittles and Vignettes, and Patchwork Skin. Her writing has also appeared in: State Cops Cooking in the Heartland - More Than We Can Say Grace Over, Candle Flames: PSO’s 70th Anniversary Anthology, Oklahoma Centennial Heritage Collection, Harp Strings, A Centennial Celebration of Oklahoma Stories, travelin’ Music, Elegant Rage, Poetry Is For Everyone, Imagination Turned Loose, Beads On a String–Peace, Joy, and Love, From the Heart of Galaxy, Ain't Gonna Be Treated This Way, and other publications. Visit her website at barbarashepherd.com.

Joanne Verbridge was born in Oakland, California, spending her early life experiences in Northern California. Family brought her to Oklahoma where she enjoys writing memoirs and crafting. She works to inspire her young nieces to take an interest in storytelling and writing. Her memoirs, short stories, and articles have been published in newspapers and Prosateurs: Tales & Truth, Creations 2015, Creations 2014, Creations 2013, and Creations 2012.

Yule Tidings is now available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, BooksAMillion, Lulu, and other online retailers, and from the Prosateurs members while supplies last. For more information, including book signing dates and locations, visit Prosateurs.blogspot.com.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Who is Your Witness?

 What does the first day of school remind you of? New friends and experiences? Or feeling alone or overwhelmed with something unknown? For many people, one of these feelings describe that momentous occasion.

The feeling of being alone is scary but imagine standing before God... alone! No one to defend your life. This is when it would be nice to have a supporter, a voice for you, someone who could testify on your behalf. In legal terms, that's called a witness. But it's used a lot in Scripture as well. In fact, the idea of a witness is packed all throughout the Bible and is actually part of the entire plot.

God becomes our witness towards our sinful lifestyle, but also a witness to our faith in Him. "As God as my witness" is a term that echoes the fact that God stands in the gap for us. A great place to see an allusion to this is in the letter to Philemon. Philemon was most likely a wealthy man who had a runaway slave, Onesimus, who had become acquainted with Paul while he was in prison. At some point, Onesimus realized he needed to do the right thing and go back to Philemon.

Paul stands in for or is a witness for, Onesimus. Hoping to help Philemon receive Onesimus back gracefully, Paul writes in Philemon 17-19, "If you accept me as your friend, then accept Onesimus back. Welcome him like you would welcome me. If he has done any wrong to you or owes you anything, charge that to me. I, Paul, am writing this in my own handwriting: I will pay back anything Onesimus owes. And I will say nothing about what you owe me for your own life…"

How glad Onesimus must have been to have a respected witness stand in for him. Consider the power of a good witness in life, do you have one?

Or are you one?

Friday, October 11, 2019

Light of Men

John 8:12, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness but have the light of life.” These are the words Jesus immediately spoke to those who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery. He had silenced them by His silence, and His actions compelled them not to kill the woman who committed a sin. In essence, He helped bring light to their hearts.

Jesus had said earlier in Matthew 5:14-16, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

His demonstration of mercy towards a sinful person sheds light on God’s desire. 2 Peter 3:9, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (NIV)

Deuteronomy 10:12-13, “Now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands…”

Nehemiah 9:17, “You are a forgiving God, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. Therefore, You did not desert them, even when they [rebelled]”

Hosiah 6:6, “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

For centuries before Jesus’ arrival, God had revealed the kind of heart that would make a difference in people. Therefore, God wanted His creation to love Him wholeheartedly. Jesus’ demonstration of mercy to the woman caught in a sin, was like shining a light on a better way to live – for the woman,
“Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.” But His response obviously shed light on her accusers as well – they dropped their rocks on the ground.

Light exposes the dark corners of our agendas and motives (John 1:4-5). That’s why Paul said in Ephesians 5:11, “Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them.” Jesus did that, many times; and each time pointed towards God’s heart and desire. We are called to know and understand His will, which is full of light.

Before God made all the things man (and animals) would need to sustain life on earth, He said, “Let there be light!” That’s where we must start. We serve as ambassadors of Christ modeling our actions after His, and by doing so we shed the light of God onto the world. 1 John 1:5-7, “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Obedience

“In the beginning…” God gave some quite simple commands to His creation – “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it...” (Genesis 1:28) And, “...of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17)

However, it didn't take long for humanity to disregard His words. Soon enough they did what “seemed right in their own eyes,” which became a common theme for the people during… well, all of us! From Adam and Eve's kids to our own kids, obedience has been a struggle. Why? Consider every sin you can remember committing, did you know better? If so, why did you do it? Because of sin! The deceiver worms his way into our minds with “compelling reasons” to do what we want to – our will, not His be done.

Paul describes this in Romans 7:19, 23-24, “For the good that I [want] to do, I do not do; but the evil I [do not want] to do, that I practice... But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?"

James also sheds some light on how this work in James 1:14-15, “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.”

The Bible is filled with situations where people lived these verses out in their decisions – they were enticed by their own desires, they engaged in a battle in their mind that led them away from doing the will of God. One place, in particular, is a story about a prophet who shared with Jeroboam the consequences of dividing the kingdom. The prophet left that region to encounter another prophet who closely resembles Satan in the Garden of Eden. That false prophet lured the other one into a situation that ended up costing him his life. (1 Kings 13:11-34).

At the end of the day, we must obey the words of God. Sounds easier than it is, but ponder these words from 2 Corinthians 10:5, “[we should be] casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…”

Friday, September 27, 2019

Miracle

Probably most of us could come up with a definition of a miracle that would be accurate enough. A miracle may be defined as a surprising event that cannot be explained by natural or scientific laws. While we can quickly come up with a definition, we might not be as quick to come up with an explanation for them. We’re told in John 20:30, “Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.”

Miracles could be described as proof of God’s design or power. Everything He has ever done has been part of a bigger picture that help(s) (ed) people to trust in Him as our heavenly father. Therefore, Jesus, His only son, did the same things that God had done in times past. Jesus was proving to His followers that the words He spoke truly were connected with God and eternal life.

God told Peter (and the others with him) on the Mount of Transfiguration, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matthew 17:5) “Listen to him!” It is important that we listen to the words of God if we expect to see or understand how His kingdom is structured and who will live with Him someday.

But to listen, there has to be someone speaking. “How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, who bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)

People often argue over the existence of miracles today. People claim to do great and amazing things in God’s name, but many times, the rest of their story doesn’t match up with Jesus’ teachings. However, there are others that are so blind to what God is doing all around them that they fail to see the opportunities to discover the hope of living by the Spirit or the blessing and faithfulness of bringing hope to someone else through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Miracles were designed to point the one witnessing it towards God; therefore, Christians are intended to live their lives like little miracles that the world can’t quite explain but by doing so we point people to God. Matthew 5:16, “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” Godly living is like witnessing a miracle. When we actively search for opportunities to bring hope to the hopeless, then we are mimicking our Savior – Jesus Christ.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Decide Not to Sin

What keeps you from indulging in sin? Perhaps there could be several answers to that; the Holy Spirit’s guidance, positive peer pressure not to sin, a friend’s intervention? All of these are part of God’s design to keep our hearts tuned in with His.

James 1:14-15, “Temptation comes from our own desires, which entice us and drag us away. These desires give birth to sinful actions. And when sin is allowed to grow, it gives birth to death.”

Therefore, as far as it depends upon me, self-control becomes key to saying ‘NO’ to sinful choices. But the desire to say NO and actually saying NO can be two different things. Paul shares a struggle he had that all people have. Romans 7:15, “I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate.”

We do what we don’t want to do, in part, because we justify how, or why, a particular “gray area” is actually okay, when in fact it isn’t. Or perhaps we don’t test the advice we receive on things like getting revenge, pursuing a desire, or accepting a doctrine. God’s word was designed to serve as a testing manual to help us make decisions that are rational and wise, and, most importantly, to honor God!

Hebrews 5:12-14, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.”

When we are humble enough to recognize that we need another source to be our aide in making decisions, and when we recognize that source to be found in the Spirit’s guidance through the Word, then perhaps we can be more hopeful that our decision-making process will end in less regret, and instead, more praise to God.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

The Power of the Word

On September 11, a terrorist attack--consisting of a series of airplane hijackings and suicides-- marked the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil in U.S. history. Eighteen years later, that day on which nearly 3,000 people lost their lives is still fresh on our minds, becoming a notable transition in our economy, our security, and our overall outlook on the integrity of our nation. Or as some have stated, “a dawn of darker times.”

Personally, we go through our own dark times of serious trials, and it’s important to know how to turn to God for the answers. Do we know how to use the Bible as a resource? Paul says in Romans 15:4, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”

Jesus helped many people deal with rejection, failure, fears, isolation, depression, and even explained what to do with our wealth and knowledge. All these instructions serve as a reminder to us of the power of God’s word. When “the Word (Logos) became flesh and dwelt among us (Tabernacled), and we beheld (observable behavior) His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

His life served as a landmark for a change in all societies for all times for the good. Yet Satan works hard to keep people in the dark. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, “If the Good News we preach is hidden behind a veil, it is hidden only from people who are perishing. Satan, who is the god of this world, has blinded the minds of those who don’t believe. They are unable to see the glorious light of the Good News. They don’t understand this message about the glory of Christ, who is the exact likeness of God.”

Which is why its so important that we understand the value of scripture in helping people deal with losses, fears, worries, etc. Too many times we can be quick to spout verses and not really know how to use them to help people going through an “attack” (1 Peter 5:8), people who are still bound up in darkness. Let us never forget or underestimate how powerful God’s word is.

Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”

John 12:48, “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.”

1 Thessalonians 2:13, “…when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”

Friday, August 30, 2019

Labor Day 2019

Monday, our nation will celebrate Labor Day, a day to honor those who worked to help build our nation. It’s a day that has been celebrated since Sept. 5, 1882, starting in New York City. Although all workers are recognized equally today, the original purpose was to honor the field workers, and mine workers, the factory seamstresses, etc.

According to the U.S. Census Board, about 13% of our nation was made up of foreign-born citizens, roughly 10 million immigrants, during the 1880’s. The National Bureau of Economic Research records that there were about 17 million laborers during the 1880’s. I found this data interesting because a large percentage of the labor done in our nation during the time of the first Labor Day holiday was done by people that weren’t even from America. That shouldn’t be too much of a surprise to anyone.

This is the point I hope to share here: People who weren’t natural-born citizens played a big part in shaping the New World, even though their home was someplace else. Consider how Christians are also citizens of another Kingdom, a truly New World. Philippians 3:20, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” We, too, are called to work while we wait! Paul encouraged a congregation in Corinth (and ultimately all believers), that in spite of the struggles of life, the frustrations of working with people you don’t always see eye to eye with, or the injustices we sometimes face – to stay focused! “Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

He tells those in Thessalonica, “But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” Jesus wants us to live and work amongst His creation for the good of His kingdom. In the same way that God put Adam in charge of cultivating the Garden of Eden (Genesis 1:28) by laboring in it, caring for it, nurturing it, we too are called to let our light shine (make an impact on people’s lives) so that they see God working through us.

Thankfully, God isn’t forcing us to labor in His kingdom, but rather He works along with us, helping us be the people that point to a New World. Titus 2:11-14, “For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.”

Let us never rest from the labor of sharing God’s love.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Significance

Significance. It’s what ultimately drives most human beings to go farther, to reach higher, to try more. We long for significance in life. That’s another way to say we want to have a purpose and to make an impact on the world we live in.

Solomon wrote in great length of the efforts he went to in order to leave his mark on the world. He said in Ecclesiastes 2:4-5, “I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes for myself and by planting beautiful vineyards. I made gardens and parks, filling them with all kinds of fruit trees.” His conclusion: Vanity!

But if simply “being noticed” is the end result in our search for significance, then we might find ourselves making major compromises to our standard we have.

Education opens doors of opportunities. Being educated also is a means to help communicate with others, even specializing in something that really has the power to impact others—and bring more significance to ourselves. A good education can help us work in harmony with God’s goal for mankind and our own search for significance.

The opposite can be true as well. When our “education” is more focused on things that go against our standard found in Christ, then we can find our self truly lost in the end.

Jesus had said in Matthew 16:25-26, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for My sake, you will save it. And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? ”

Paul said in 1 Timothy 6:9-10, “But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”

Our education points us in the right direction and becomes the standard we live by. If we make Christ be the standard behind any kind of education we seek to gain, then we will find significance and peace.

Solomon said in Proverbs 16:3, “Commit your works to the Lord, and your thoughts will be established.”

Jesus modeled the level of involvement and the sacrifice and the determination it took to make a significant impact on the world without losing sight of God’s high standard. Make Christ’s ways part of your ways; you might find that others can find a way because of your choices today.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Undivided

On June 16, 1858, Abraham Lincoln used this passage from Matthew 12:25 in his campaign speech – “A house divided against itself cannot stand. I believe the government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free. I do not expect the Union to be dissolved — I do not expect the house to fall — but I do expect it will cease to be divided. It will become all one thing or all the other.”

It’s not just the government. Any organized body of like-mindedness that becomes polarized on issues to the point of division, will not stand long. As we look out over the scope of our nation from the last decade or more, it doesn’t take much to see how divided we really are.

What’s it take to bring unity? Laws? Education? Prosperity? Thankfully Jesus modeled for us what it takes to bring unity, and ultimately peace, to a group of people. However, God’s way of bringing two halves together will be rejected by the world (John 15:18-25, John 1:6-13).

David said in Psalms 86:11-12, “Teach me Your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth; unite my heart to fear Your name. I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore.” He recognizes what it would take to keep his kingdom together, he also recognized that it would take similar steps to keep any relationship together.

Teach me. Not just classroom learning. In fact, God does more show than tell (James 2:17-18). From Abraham to Joseph, from Moses to Elijah, and obviously in Jesus – God has shown us what He wants us to do.

Micah 6:8, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Jesus taught all of these things, which ultimately defined His Way. A path that He invited people to “follow” Him regularly on.

When Jesus is our model, we have to walk and talk the way He did in order for us to achieve the kind of unity that only God can bring (John 17). It was Jesus’ truth that would set us free (John 8:32), not our own. It was Jesus’ guidance that would lead to eternal life, not our own (John 14:6).

But David highlights an important ingredient in the “following God” that leads to unity – “unite my heart to fear Your name”. The New American Standard Bible says to “give me an undivided heart…” James says in James 1:7-8 that the man who doubts God’s ways is a "...double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Double mindedness is thinking and acting in two different ways expecting the same result (Kelley’s definition). Jesus offered the rich young ruler in Matthew 19:16-22 the guidance that could have led him to achieve what David was praying for in Psalms 86; but he was a double-minded man. God wants our heart to want what He wants; and He wants all people to be saved because He loves them. It’s the love for our neighbor that proves to be the secret ingredient to unity – nationally, spiritually, and personally.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

The Words of God

In life, and especially in business, documentation is important. Whether it’s a written contract, receipt, instructions, etc., having things written down actually helps more than just the immediate people involved – it helps those who are interested in what’s being documented.

In the ancient Hebrew culture, nearly everything was passed down by oral traditions. But it wasn’t because God was opposed to the written word. After all, He inspired the writing of the bible we have. However, there was another reason that we could speculate on why He began His relationship with mankind (in the formal sense) in oral law.

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph all had a unique relationship with God, where God spoke directly to them. But it wasn’t until Moses delivered the Ten Commandments to the Israelites that we have a written law. In fact, most biblical scholars and historians agree that Moses wrote the first five books (Torah) of the Old Testament.

But rather than just a collection of official documents and receipts, God still wanted something in these opportunities to talk about God to be present. Deuteronomy 6:6-7, “These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.”

God’s plan was that we would build the relationship with other humans, sharing God’s will with each other. After all, He spent quality time walking and talking with Adam and Eve in the garden, basically sharing His heart with them.

Proverbs 10:31-32, “The mouth of the godly person gives wise advice, but the tongue that deceives will be cut off. The lips of the godly speak helpful words, but the mouth of the wicked speaks perverse words.”

Whether written or spoken, our words have the power to reveal God’s will; they have the power to build up or tear down, to encourage or discourage, to express love or hate. As followers of Christ, we have not only the privilege but the responsibility to encourage each other with God’s words – written or spoken.

In time, God began inspiring writers to write down the words of God for future generations to be encouraged. One benefit of having something written down is that you can look back on it and see that word of encouragement, instruction, even a word of rebuke.

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.”

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Hero of Faith

What do the old Bible stories mean to you? Most of us have grown up hearing the stories of people like David and Goliath, Jonah and the whale, Daniel and the lion’s den, and Adam and Eve.

Have you pondered the lessons in those stories? Paul said in Romans 15:4, “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope.”

Moses told Joshua in Joshua 1:8-9, “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

This “law” of God was designed to be a guide to a new pattern of thinking. It would have been natural to be afraid to enter into a land you’ve never been in, because you’ve heard of the giants that lived there, their strong armies, or their fierce and brutal tactics against outsiders. Yet, God called Joshua to step across the Jordan river and go confront the enemy.

One lesson that seems obvious is that Joshua only had God’s word to go on concerning his success. Meanwhile, the world around him was telling him that these foreign people couldn't b beat. Even his own kinsmen said things like “We are not able to go up against the people, for they are stronger than we.” (Numbers 13:31). We can hear those same voices today all around us. We have to rise above the temptation to believe them, and instead Believe God!

Hebrews 13:5-6, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you. So, we can say with confidence, The Lord is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?”

Jesus had to remind His closest followers of that fact as well. “Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you…” (John 14:1-2). Joshua’s example of trusting God throughout his conquest of Canaan, should serve as a lesson to us as well. Remember Ephesians 3:20-21, “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.”

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Freedom

What’s freedom really look like? The ability to do whatever you want? That sounds like freedom on one level, but as we dive deeper in our understanding of the concept of freedom, we realize there’s much more than doing whatever you want. In fact, freedom might have more to do with voluntarily doing what is good for other people.

Our nation has a rich heritage of the concept of freedom from that perspective. They risked a lot to help set the groundwork for a free nation. But what did that mean to them? Many of them were already wealthy, already had the option to “do as they wanted.” They realized what oppressive tyranny would do to the poor and the defenseless, and ultimately all people.

Their reasons for rebelling against England wasn’t really for personal gain; as much as the fact that they truly believed that the loss of freedom was worse than death. We look to their words as inspirational today. Here are a few of them.

“You will never know how much it has cost my generation to preserve YOUR freedom. I hope you will make a good use of it.” - John Adams

“If ye love wealth greater than liberty, the tranquility of servitude greater than the animating contest for freedom, go home from us in peace. We seek not your counsel, nor your arms.” - Samuel Adams

“They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty nor security.” - Benjamin Franklin

“I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country.” - Nathan Hale

“There is a certain enthusiasm in liberty that makes human nature rise above itself, in acts of bravery and heroism.” - Alexander Hamilton

“It is when people forget God that tyrants forge their chains.” - Patrick Henry

“The price of freedom is eternal vigilance.” - Thomas Jefferson

“Nothing so strongly impels a man to regard the interests of his constituents, as the certainty of returning to the general mass of the people, from whence he was taken, where he must participate in their burdens.” - George Mason

“Those people who will not be ruled by God will be ruled by tyrants.” - William Penn

God compels us to live a life of FREEDOM that is really only made possible when we follow Christ’s example. Who will learn from our example?

Friday, June 28, 2019

Wisdom Is Better Than Easy

Do you remember the "Easy Button" at Staples? When life throws a bunch of curve balls, wouldn’t it be nice to just hit the easy button? All of us would love to have something that would eliminate all tough things from our lives, but that isn’t reality

But God does share with us His wisdom which can see us through all the difficulties and stresses of life. As we conclude a brief explanation of the Wisdom Books of the Bible, I hope we can gain a better understanding of how God’s wisdom isn’t designed to tell you how to act, but to help guide you to a place where, by faith, you can see which way honors God by bringing peace to whatever you face.

Peace isn’t just a happy feeling, but rather contentment. Paul said in Philippians 4:11-14, “Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.”

That verse that is often interpreted misinterpreted, but it actually holds tremendous evidence of God’s wisdom. God’s ways are rarely safe, but they are fulfilling. They aren’t usually easy, but rewarding. God wants us to bless us, but not only with worldly things. In fact, at times the best blessings come when the worldly things are removed from our lives.

Jesus instructed the Rich Young Ruler in Matthew 19:21, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasures in heaven. Then come, follow Me.” Was Jesus telling the truth? Was He only misleading a man who worked hard and perhaps was a good steward of what God had given him? NO. Jesus had also modeled for him, and for us, that giving up those things that seem like His blessings, but ultimately cloud our understanding of God’s wisdom and keep us from relying on God's strength. Jesus said in Matthew 6:33, “Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and He shall give you everything you need.” That’s real wisdom—to seek the King of the Universe and follow Him.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Hardships--A Glimpse of God's Wisdom

"Vanity! Vanity!” The famous words of the Preacher, Solomon. In his experiences, he discovered through all the different roads offered to a person in life that they all ended in death. So, ultimately nothing was really worth it. However, as followers of Christ, we do realize that there are blessings even in not-so-good things in life (Romans 8:28). But how could a person possibly think of a hardship as a glimpse into God’s wisdom? (James 1:2-4)

Those are the kinds of answers we find in the books of wisdom found in the Bible: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Each of these books reflect a unique perspective on how God looks at the experiences in our lives that can draw us closer to him or that end up driving us away from him (James 4:7-8). Deep within them, there is a message that gives us confidence and power to face the trials ahead.

Just like James said to do in James 1:5, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

As we strive to better understand our purpose for being on Planet Earth, we quickly realize that it really isn’t about us, as much as we may want it to be – it’s not! Therefore, the words of God reflect what it is about and ultimately where I’ll find purpose and satisfaction in life.

Too many people chase after the things that only end in death. However, the things that God wants us to grasp through his wisdom, is that life is most fulfilling when lived to serve others. After all, Jesus did just that and therefore took away our need to fear death. Hebrews 2:14-15, “…[He] shared in [death], that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

In the same way, His eternal words reveal how His wisdom isn’t like the way of the world. God’s wisdom shows us how life is filled with dissatisfaction, BUT He gives us the words we need to see past those things – even the problem of death!

1 Corinthians 2:6-8, “We speak wisdom among those who are mature, yet not the wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…”

Aim for His wisdom and trust that you’ll understand His will better, whether in good times or bad.

Friday, June 14, 2019

Fatherly Wisdom

Our fathers’ have worn many different hats. Throughout life, he’s been our mentor, our coach, our hero, even “the bad guy.” Most of us realize he wasn’t really bad; he was just doing what we needed to become better people.

Hebrews 12:10-13, “Our earthly fathers disciplined us for a few years, doing the best they knew how. But God’s discipline is always good for us, so that we might share in His holiness. No discipline is enjoyable while it is happening—it’s painful! But afterward there will be a peaceful harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way. So, take a new grip with your tired hands and strengthen your weak knees. Mark out a straight path for your feet so that those who are weak, and lame will not fall but become strong.”

It's said that mended bones and muscles actually grow to become stronger. Our weakest point can actually become our strongest. Jesus told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” The discipline and instructions of our fathers are what God uses to shape us into people that reflect His image and should help us be more eager to adopt His ways of thinking.

That’s why its so important that a father not “go beyond his authority” and “should not provoke their children to anger by the way they treat them. Rather, bring them up with the discipline and instruction that comes from the Lord.” (Ephesians 6:4)

It’s such a great responsibility to be a father. David gave some helpful advice in helping to keep a father (or anyone for that matter) in check. He said in Psalms 26:2, “Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart. For I am always aware of your unfailing love, and I have lived according to your truth.”

Perhaps David’s strong desire to be right before God influenced his son Solomon. Because he wrote several books that reveal the wisdom of God. In the first nine chapters of the book of Proverbs, he encourages his son to hold tightly to the teachings of their father and mother. Today, many people rely on the wisdom found in the book of Proverbs, but the Wisdom books (as is sometimes called) contain several other opportunities to learn wisdom. Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes are also part of the collection of the books of wisdom.

Each book is written from a different perspective:
Proverbs (the overall benefits of living “right”),
Job (don’t give up on God when things don’t work out as they should),
and Ecclesiastes (fearing God is more valuable than chasing anything of the material world we live in).

Our father’s discipline trains us to know how and why to respect God’s directions. His example of patience and perseverance trains us to never quit, and his teaching and coaching helps to tie it all together and show us the blessing of wisdom.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Forgiveness, Part Two

If you’re in a relationship with someone, it’s probably fair to say that you’ve had at least one moment of regret on how you treated that person. Even a healthy relationship will experience regrets, but it’s how you address those issues of conflict that make it a negative thing or a positive thing.

When it comes to our relationship with God, we’re the ones that repeatedly add moments of regrets. Although we may not always understand God’s involvement in our lives, we have faith that whatever He’s doing is intended to help us rather than hurt us. (Jeremiah 29:11, James 1:1-4, Romans 8:28)

But it’s our intentions that may be less than honorable. Thus, the reason we need forgiveness. Thankfully, Jesus came to make forgiveness possible. Colossians 2:13-14, “He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”

By taking away our sins, He also opened up a practical guide to forgiving other people’s offenses against us. It doesn’t take a sociologist to realize how much a lack of forgiveness has caused permanent damage to so many relationships. Yet Jesus had every reason to NOT forgive the people who had rejected His gift of life, when they had Him crucified on the cross.

Instead the example He offered by His life serves as our motivation to “forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Forgiveness serves as one of the most difficult demonstrations of our faith. To swallow our pride and do as Paul said in Ephesians 4:2-3, “Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace.”

There are numerous physical benefits to letting go of hard feelings, disagreements, and conflicts in the name of being a “peacemaker.” But first and foremost, there are great blessings in being called a Peacemaker, because... “they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9).

Friday, May 31, 2019

Forgiveness

In John 14:25-27 Jesus encourages His disciples with the promise of the coming Spirit to help them deal with life. They would encounter rejection, betrayal, hatred, fear, frustrations; thankfully, we’re offered the same comforting Spirit to help us along our journey, too.

“These things I have spoken to you while being present with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you. Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives I give to you….”

That’s the key for us as well--remembering all the things the Word has taught us when we find ourselves in our own state of frustration, rejection, betrayal, etc. Jesus’ words link us to God’s age-old promises: “The Lord goes with us, wherever we go” (Joshua 1:9); “Let those who fear the Lord now say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’ I called on the Lord in distress; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me? The Lord is for me among those who help me…” (Psalms 118:4-7); “As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Psalms 103:12).

God gives us the strength to continue walking in His path, living by His standards, and loving the way He does. But sometimes mustering up genuine compassion for those who have wronged us isn’t easy or natural. That’s why we have to trust in His process of being formed into His image.

In fact, the opposite of living according to His principles adds tremendous stress and unrest in our lives. Some psychologists recognize the physical damage that the failure to forgive does to our bodies and mind.

First of all, forgiveness is different from condoning, excusing, forgetting, even reconciling (even though this is an important step in bringing unity to a relationship). But the health benefits some professionals recognize are:
• Less anxiety, stress, and hostility
• Lower blood pressure
• Fewer symptoms of depression
• Stronger immune system
• Improved heart health
• Higher self-esteem

It takes greater strength, wisdom, and faithfulness to seek forgiveness, even if the other party isn’t interested in it. In the same way, Jesus sought to rectify the separation between God and man, even before we cared to embrace it (Romans 5:8). Gandhi once said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”

Jesus gave us something to help us to be stronger spiritually and physically. Trust God’s ways over your own!

Friday, May 24, 2019

What's the Catch?

“You’re cancer free!”
“We’re giving you a raise!”
“Congratulations!” These are all phrases that would be good news that we’d love to hear. How about “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joys of heaven” (Matthew 25:23)?

What makes that such great news? Because something I didn’t deserve was given to me. Something I had no hope of obtaining on my own was made possible through Jesus’ sacrifice. When we really begin to realize the weight of our sin and the gift God gave us, that is what typically causes us to want to follow him. (Romans 6:23)

Regardless of what compelled us to follow him and trust in the words and instructions of Jesus, there’s a catch! Usually when someone says, "I have good news, but there’s a catch," that means it’s not as good as it sounds. However, in the case of the good news of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection, “the catch” isn’t bad or tricky.

It’s about sharing our good news with others and helping them see how that good news can be theirs, too! Many times, WE get in the way of that process. We let our ego, our pride, our fears, or our laziness dominate our responsibility to promote God’s gift to the world.

Perhaps for that reason Jesus said in Luke 9:23-26, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will save it…” And He tells some potential followers in Matthew 8:18-22 that the “Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” As a follower of Christ, we must be willing to sacrifice just like He was AND for the same reasons. He gave up all so that He could reach more people and be less encumbered by the things of the world.

Consider the Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” We can look at this as a command (which we should), but we can also look at this as our opportunity to talk about the good news of God’s grace by sharing with others what makes the good news, our good news.

The book of Mark starts out with Jesus’ first words, “Follow me,” and they end with “Follow me.” Even though “follow me” may not be included in the Great Commission, we know this is exactly what Jesus devoted His life to doing – “follow me” in sharing the hope of eternal life.

Our biggest challenge as a church is to be faithful to the last words of Jesus’ earthly ministry. How far will we go to share our faith? Will we give into fear? Will we make excuses? Rather than focusing on how you might not do it perfectly, instead reflect on how God did something perfect in your imperfections by making eternal life possible.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Happy Mother's Day!

In Mark 7 Jesus contrasts faithful service to God from the mockery many of the Pharisees had made it. He explains how their lack of willingness to sacrifice for their parents (for example) was a rejection of God’s will, and therefore it was in vain. (Mark 7:6-13) He uses the word Corban, which He defines as a gift for God. In the Hebrew, the word is Qorban, which has a lot to do with “closeness” and “a relative.” What God would have liked to see the children do for their parents is to be willing to sacrifice for them when they were in need.

A 17th Century theologian said, “Sacrifice is a part of life. It's supposed to be. It's not something to regret. It's something to aspire to.” There’s no higher honor than to sacrifice. This was what God wanted from the Israelites during the days of animal sacrifices, and it’s what He wants from us today. Romans 12:1, “…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God,” which is truly the way to worship him.

Many people say they are willing to sacrifice anything to be happy, but would they give something up to bless someone else? Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.” And in Acts 20:35, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

Perhaps it’s for this reason that we feel so compelled to honor our military, or our teachers, or our police and other servicemen. But as satisfying as sacrifice may END UP feeling, we don’t always feel that during the sacrifice.

This Mother’s Day, we honor our mothers for the continual sacrifices they make for others. They set the standard of genuine love, nurturing, compassion, and selflessness. The Bible has several examples of women who were willing to give up so much for those they loved. Hannah, in particular, gave the child she prayed for over to Eli the priest to serve God (1 Samuel 1-2). It might be hard to put ourselves in her shoes to understand giving up someone you waited so long to get, we can also realize that when we give our children over to God, then we are perhaps giving the greatest blessing of all to the ones we love – the Love of God! (John 3:16)

Sunday, April 28, 2019

What is the soul?

What is the soul? Or maybe, who is the soul? Perhaps it's helpful to determine how the word has been defined by mankind. In the Wycliffe Bible Dictionary, the word for soul is defined as life, person, breath. The Hebrew word Nephesh is further described as the man himself, or we might say individual (as was a common old English usage of the word).

Although the usage of a word can drastically alter how we might describe it, however there are some words we don’t need to look up to understand – even if we don’t fully understand it.

When it comes to things we feel, we may not always understand how to describe the feeling, but we recognize it as something. Similarly, there is something within us that recognizes what our soul is regardless of how someone defines it. “We just know it deep within our soul.”

If Nephesh, soul, simply means life, then all living things have a soul. Is that important? Going back to Jesus’ summation of the scriptures in the iconic passage found in Matthew 22:37-39, we can see the importance our soul’s engagement into the things of God and things he created. He said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with  all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”

We are therefore commanded to love life (Nephesh). 1 Peter 3:8-12 describes how the soul should be part of our nature. “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion for one another; love as brothers, be tenderhearted, be courteous; not returning evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary blessing, knowing that you were called to this, that you may inherit a blessing. For he who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil, and his lips from speaking deceit. Let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and His ears are open to their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”

Hopefully we can see why loving God with our whole soul is key to showing love towards others. As an introduction into the nature of our soul, perhaps focusing on how my love for all life will be what helps my soul to thrive and be the part of me that God delights in.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Our New Altar

Have you ever thought about the purpose of an altar? It is a sacred place for sacrifices and gifts offered up to God, and the word Altar just means “high.” Therefore, it was upon these authorized “high” places where people under Mosaic law would offer up animal sacrifices as a gift to God. But animal sacrifices went away because Jesus’ sacrifice was greater, and He was ushering a new time when our offering to God would have less to do with our guilt, and more to do with serving God through our love for others. Hebrews 9:14, “How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?”

But it took Jesus dying. Hebrews 9:28, “Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many.” He didn’t need to continue to offer Himself, because He was perfect! (Hebrews 10:1-18) But His sacrifice showed us a purer picture of God’s love, and that helps us know how to walk in a similar way. Ephesians 5:2, “Walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.”

It’s interesting to see how God used death as a way to help us show love towards one another. Jesus told His followers in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends.”

It’s clear throughout scriptures that sacrifices had a deeper meaning than just killing an animal and cooking it (read Malachi 1:6-13). The sin (moral infractions) and trespass (contractual breech) offerings were intended to be eaten by the family and friends of the one offering the gift to God. (Leviticus 6-7). So that, just as Jesus’ death brought life to our lives, the animal’s death brings fellowship to those participating in that sacrifice.

Therefore, the resurrection of Jesus is another thing that sets His sacrifice apart from the previous animal sacrifices – death wouldn’t stop Him! In the animal sacrifices, once it was totally eaten, it was finished. But Jesus is the lamb that never dies; therefore we never cease to feast on His grace and mercy. He served us so that we could better know how to serve each other forever. Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

His resurrection conquered sin and death once for all, and therefore those who trust in Christ (Matthew 7:21, Romans 5:1-5, John 14:15) will also share in His power over the grave. Remember the words of Paul to the Romans in Romans 12:1-2 and consider them instructions for our sacrifices today. “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sacrifice

What is the purpose of sacrifice? Sacrifice is the offering of food, objects, or the lives of animals to a higher purpose as an act of worship. But what does God want? Bloody corpse? Death?

The Old Covenant (Testament) was inaugurated in Genesis 15:8-19, where God tells Abram of his inheritance that will come someday in the future. Abram’s job in the meantime was to trust God. The Old Testament, therefore, focuses on Abram’s descendants’ failure to fully trust God. In other words, mankind broke their end of the covenant.

What were they trusting God to do? To bring a new kingdom, a new land where their enemies would never harm them, where peace was the theme, where God could once more fellowship with them.

The sacrifices were necessary to connect man’s guilt to God’s promise. The promise could only be fulfilled by God’s faithfulness. Our righteousness wasn’t going to do it. But, every time they had to kill an innocent animal, it was supposed to remind them of that covenant: the animal had to die because of their failure to keep the covenant).

One of the interesting things about many of the animal sacrifices was that the animal had to be fully consumed before the third day (except the entrails and certain organs). But how could one family fully consume the animal? Some portions were easier to eat than others, but the way to do it was to join together with other friends and family to share in the meal provided by this sacrifice.

Although the animal died because of man’s sin, the result of the sacrifice brought people together sharing an important reminder-feast of God’s promises expressed in repentance and fellowship. God’s plan has always been to unite His children together for the purpose of close, meaningful relationship (like it was in the Garden).

But as Hebrews 10:4 says, “For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins.” Those were just a shadow of the real sacrifice that was to take place by the perfect man AS the perfect lamb to be slaughtered. Isaiah 53:5-7 prophetically describes Jesus this way, “He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter… (11) He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities.”

Is there any doubt that God instituted animal sacrifices to show His people how terrible sin is? And Jesus, the Son of God, had to come down and fulfill our end of the covenant too. Take time to read Mark 11:1-11 to get a glimpse of the beginning phase of this ultimate sacrifice offered by Jesus, the Messiah. Then consider the importance of fellowship and repentance in what Jesus established in the church.

Sunday, April 7, 2019

Who Is God?

Who is God? What kind of answer do we expect to hear? When it comes to ourselves, we expect to hear things like: gender, ethnic background, personality, occupation, or religious affiliation. And each of these descriptions help us come up with an image of someone. However, God’s description is unique because His physical features are not really even comprehensible to us.

Human nature seeks long and hard to know more about the physical nature of God. First of all, is He real? Then, people start looking at what He looks like; much like the question some of the folks at Corinth were asking, “How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?” But Paul pointed out in 1 Corinthians 15:40, “There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.” In other words, don’t try to understand the physical attributes of God so much that you overlook the spiritual nature of God.

Deuteronomy 29:29, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but those things which are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.” The part of His nature that He has spent the most time describing is the part that shows what He’s doing to help us.

God said at the inauguration of His covenant with Abram, in Genesis 15:1, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I AM your shield, your exceedingly great reward.” Since that time, God has continually shown us how much He is a shield to us, how much His life truly is our reward.

David wrote many songs recognizing God’s nature in various ways, like in 2 Samuel 22:3, “The God of my strength, in whom I will trust; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge…” Or in Psalms 3:3, “But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One who lifts up my head.”

All the way to the end of the Bible, after Jesus came to earth to offer Himself as a sacrifice, after the establishment of the church (the body of Christ), all the way to the end of the last book. Jesus says in Revelations 22:12-13, “Behold, I AM coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to everyone according to his work. I AM the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last.”

In Exodus 3 God introduces himself to Moses as “I AM”, which ultimately has been defined as meaning the totally self-sufficient one, I AM able to provide for all needs (Psalms 50:8-15), I AM all powerful (Jeremiah 32:27), I AM loving-kindness (Psalms 117:2). It seems "I AM" is a perfect starting place to explore who God is and how He loves us.

Wednesday, April 3, 2019

The Way God Sees You

Corinthians 6:20, “...for God bought you with a high price. So, you must honor God with your body.” (NLT)

It takes a lot of work to see yourself as God sees you. It’s easier to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to others. You see how you don’t say the right thing or do as good in school as a friend does. You see how no matter how hard you practice, you aren’t as good as the other players on the team. All the comparisons can make you feel discouraged.

However, there is hope. Regardless of whether you say the most intelligent or clever things or make the winning point for your team, you have value to God. God paid a great price for you. You have value because God was willing to give everything He had to make a relationship with Him possible, and He's completely worth it.

So, if you have struggled with insecurities, failure, and low self-esteem, be encouraged. God doesn’t love you based on your ability; He loves you because he does. Because God loves you in such a wonderful way, it causes us to want to honor Him.

Romans 8:31-37, “If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since He did not spare even His own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for His own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and He is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (37) No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.” (NLT)

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Are We Humble Enough?

The Bible has proven to be a great mystery for mankind. A glimpse into the mind of the one who created all. His story isn’t always pleasant to read; it's not always logical from a human standpoint, but it is a book that—to those who seriously meditate on it—is a powerful ray of hope. As one poet said, “The Holy Scriptures are like the veil that separates a beautiful paradise from a world of survival and pain. To those who venture into its pages will peak underneath to catch a glimpse of the glory of God.”

Yet, Scriptures are full of mysteries that will ONLY be revealed at God’s return. In the meantime, we strain to better understand God’s way of thinking and quickly realize that His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts higher than our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). But that’s why we need to do as God tells the Israelites in Isaiah 1:18-20, “Come now, and let us reason together, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword.”

It’s in the reasoning together that we better understand what God is looking for in His followers, in His children, in His people. Scriptures reveal that what He’s looking for is not about self, it's not about greed, it's not about revenge, it's not about fear…but that He can cleanse us from all unrighteousness, from all of the internal turmoil that many of us struggle with daily.

An example of His paradoxical (seemingly contradictory) teaching is in Proverbs 11:24, “One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” But that’s just the beginning, because the deeper we get into who God is and what He wants to see in us, the more we see the genius and liberating nature of God. Think about who Jesus told the Apostles would be the greatest in the kingdom of God: “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35)! Time after time, Jesus turned the common way of thinking about relationships, faith, charity, and even God upside down. This mysterious telescope into the throne room of heaven reveals that humility is a key ingredient to being able to understand God’s nature (Philippians 2:5-11James 4:6-10, Matthew 18:2-5).

Are we humble enough to meditate on God’s word to better see how to live, how to find purpose and meaning in life, how to succeed, and how to find peace? God “has given us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.” (2 Peter 1:3-4).

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Passing the Torch

Every generation has a fear of passing the torch to the next generation because what they may, or may not, do with what they’ve been given. So, how does a “young person” view the future? One survey taken on Linked-in showed some of their fears about the future…

(1) Weak Connectivity. But it’s not just about WiFi. They are concerned about the growing number of people who struggle with weak connectivity in their relationship, or parents who have issues relating to their children. Or those waiting to find that special someone to connect with. Or people who feel alone and unconnected to community. Connection, or the lack of it, is a huge issue in our lives today.

(2) The annoying buffering symbol. The wait for something good to download can seem like an eternity, but you can look beyond YouTube or a stubborn website and see how the fear you’re only getting half a story and not seeing the full picture, because seeing the full picture explains so many things: it gives us perspective, understanding and meaning. The fact of “not being able to get to that” can be a real fear for folks.

(3) Low Battery is not only a smartphone or computer problem. It symbolizes the stress of limited resources, not enough money or time to do what you want to do in a day or in life, or lack of health or strength keeping you back. The worry about not having enough of what we need affects us, young people in the workforce, or looking to get into it, older retirees, and families with children. It’s even a problem for the governments. We want to do and accomplish so much but need the resources to be able to do it.

These fears may be real, but they shouldn’t keep us out of the game. Instead, we read godly instructions in God’s word like Psalms 119:9-10, “How can a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed according to Your word. With my whole heart I have sought You; oh, let me not wander from Your commandments!”  These, and many like it can help us find purpose and meaning in life and help us avoid chasing after things that don’t matter, or things that cloud our view of life.

The better our grasp on the reality of this life the more we can face tomorrow with confidence. 1 Timothy 4:12, “Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity.”

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Faith of Our Fathers

Frederick Faber was an Anglican priest and hymn writer that made many efforts to bridge the gap between the Catholic church and the Church of England (Anglican) during the mid-19th century.

His hope, in his poetry and songwriting, was to help express the Saxon thought to the Catholic church, and even broader goal was to influence the “church” to recognize how desperately people everywhere need to hear and understand the message of God’s power, love, and discipline (2 Timothy 1:7), and by doing so, highlighting the power of unity from the non-believer’s perspective.

As Jesus prayed in John 17:23 expressing the power of unity, “[I pray] that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”

Frederick was a devout Englishman and a loyalist to the English traditions, but he wanted his love for his tradition to positively influence his ever-changing world. His most famous hymn, Faith of Our Fathers, acknowledges the legacy of Catholic martyrs in England who had died since and during the time of Henry VIII.

While this may not have a lot of deep meaning to those living outside of the realm of Catholicism, it does show his efforts to “bridge the gap” between his generation and the previous ones. Perhaps, we could learn from his desire and ask the question, “What are some qualities about your generation that you feel others could learn from?”

Faith of Our Fathers
By Frederick Faber

Faith of our fathers, living still
In spite of dungeon, fire and sword,
O how our hearts beat high with joy
Whene’er we hear that glorious word!
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

Our fathers, chained in prisons dark,
Were still in heart and conscience free;
And blest would be their children’s fate,
If they, like them should die for thee:
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

Faith of our fathers, we will strive
To win all nations unto thee;
And through the truth that comes from God
Mankind shall then indeed be free.
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!

Faith of our fathers, we will love
Both friend and foe in all our strife,
And preach thee, too, as love knows how
By kindly words and virtuous life.
Faith of our fathers! holy faith!
We will be true to thee till death!