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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Count Your Blessings




 

Count Your Blessings

 

 

It took a week for my Grandfather Richard to die from Meningitis.  The country doctor rode by on his horse every day to check on Richard but there was nothing much that he could do to stop the raging infection.  The year was 1911 and antibiotics had not been discovered then.  Six other people on nearby farms had died from Meningitis that winter and fear was spreading throughout the community that more would catch this contagious disease..

 

My Grandmother Eva was thirty years old with two little children when her beloved husband died and she became a widow.  She wore black dresses and cried a lot those first few months.  Her grief and fear were more than she thought she could bear.  She was fearful for herself and her children.  How could she run the farm all by herself?  How could she feed her children?  There was no welfare system in place at that time and few jobs outside the home for women.  Fear and depression settled in over her like a dark cloud.

 

But shortly after my grandfather’s death my grandmother was in church one Sunday when the congregation sang a favorite hymn, “Count Your Blessings” (published in 1897).  As they were all singing this hymn my grandmother thought to herself that perhaps she should do what the words of the hymn were encouraging folks to do – to count their blessings.  So she promised herself right then and there that she would do that.  That she would thank God for all of her blessings. Even though she had lost her beloved husband and had no money to raise her children, she would trust God and develop the habit of thanking Him for any blessing she might have. 

 

Gratitude is a discipline.  It involves a conscious choice. The prophet Habakkuk chose to praise God in the midst of terrible times.  Let’s listen to what he had to say:  “Though the fig tree may not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines:  Though the labor of the olive may fall, And the fields yield no food:  Though the flock may be cut off from the fold.  And there be no herd in the stalls.  Yet I will rejoice in the Lord.  I will joy in the God of my salvation.”  (Habakkuk 3: 17-18)  My grandmother told me that if Habakkuk could praise God during his dark night of the soul that she could do it too.   

 

So after that, every day my grandmother counted her blessings.  And every day she thanked God for each one that she counted.  She told me that she found more and more blessings every day to thank God for.  And the more she was thankful the more blessings seemed to pop up. New ones every day! 

 

 Her father promised to come over to her farm and help her one day a week with the farm work.  And she rented out part of her house to a single woman and used the rent money to hire another farm worker to do more of the work that her husband had done.  My grandmother told me that her decision to remember her blessings and to thank God for each one turned her life around and gave her the strength to keep on going during a difficult time.

 

The concept of remembering what God has done for us (and is doing) is an important biblical theme.  The command not to forget is given more than four hundred times in the Bible.  We are to remember the wonders of God’s creation. (Deuteronomy 4:32)  And we are to remember that the world belongs to God. (Psalm 50:10)  The Israelites were to remember that God delivered them from captivity in Egypt.  (Deuteronomy 5:15)  And we are to remember the sacrificial gift of Jesus Christ on the cross for us.  (1 Corinthians 11:25)

 

Remembering keeps us from the sin of ingratitude.  It helps us face the future with confidence – like it helped my grandmother so long ago.  Scripture says:  “I will remember the deeds of the Lord: yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.”  (Psalm 77:1) 

 

My grandmother had an old piano and she began singing her praises to God as she played hymns on the piano.  She told me that it helped to sing out her thanks to God for all that He had given her.  She said that when she quietly gave thanks to God sometimes her thoughts were still on herself and her problems to some extent.  But when she sang out her praises she focused on God and His glory and all of her problems faded.  She told me that she felt that she could sing her cares away easier than she could reason them away.

 

My grandmother chose to be thankful when it would have been easy to grumble.  And we can choose to be thankful for the things we have instead of complaining about the things we don’t have.  It is so easy to complain.  I am very good at it so I know. The antidote for grumbling is gratitude.  When the Israelites were in the desert traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land they had so much to be thankful for but instead it seems they spent much of their time grumbling!

 

God had miraculously delivered them from bondage and slavery in Egypt and He had opened up the Red Sea so that they could cross it and not get caught by the Egyptians who were chasing after them.  God fed them manna every day when they were in the desert which was quite a number of years.  (Numbers 11:4-6)  And God miraculously gave them water that sprung up out of a Rock when they were thirsty.  God led them and protected them all the way across the desert on their long journey.     

 

You would think that the Israelites would have thanked God and praised Him for His many gifts and mercies during that difficult time!  But no, Scripture says that the Israelites fussed and grumbled all the way across the desert to the Promised Land. They grumbled about the food that God provided and they fumed and didn’t trust God’s leading and worried that they would never get into the Promised Land. They missed the good old days in Egypt when they had been slaves in chains.  And they grumbled because they were commanded not to worship idols like all their neighbors did!  

 

It seems that God took their grumbling personally, because God angrily asked Moses: “How long will these people treat Me with contempt? …”  (Numbers 14:11a)  Does God also take our grumbling personally after all that He has done for us on our life journey?    

 

There is a story in the Bible of a time when the Jewish people like my grandmother, sang their songs and praises to God while He took care of them.  Scripture tells of a time in antiquity when strong neighboring countries with large armies surrounded the little tribe of Judah and were preparing to attack and kill and destroy!  The Jewish people were in big trouble!  The king of Judah called for every Jewish person to fast and pray and then he called everyone together to stand and sing praises to God as the enemy approached.  And this is what happened.  “As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.”  (2 Chronicles 20:22)   

 

So as the people of Judah was singing and praising God together, God confused the brutal band of soldiers who were rushing in for the bloody kill screaming battle cries and waving swords and spears.  God played a trick on these violent attackers and messed up their brains.  Instead of slaughtering the men, women and children of Judah that they were going for, these crazed enemies suddenly turned in confusion and began fighting one another.  Not one Jewish soldier had to fight that day.  They all just stood there and sang praises to God and watched in amazement as their violent attackers turned away and savaged one another as they went.

 

Some of us may have a day, like Habakkuk or even like the ancient tribe of Judah.  A day when it seems like everything is coming against us.  It is comforting to know that we have God who loves us and we can turn from our own limitations to a God who has no limitations. And from our own time limits and come to God who works outside of time and doesn’t have to hurry.  There are no deadlines against which He has to work and He will hear our prayers and take care of us in His own way and time.  He has a plan and a purpose for each one of us and He can do things that we never thought of or imagined possible.  He can take care of problems that we considered impossible.

 

We have a God who is everlasting and un-changing.  He is full of grace and we are cleansed and perfected and will be taken to glory through His overflowing grace. .We have so much to be thankful for.  Psalm 100:1-2 reads:  “Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!  Serve the Lord with gladness.  Come before His presence with singing.”  If we are not already coming before the Lord often with our thanksgiving, then let’s choose to start doing that now.  Let’s start counting our blessings and thanking Him for each one every day.    

 

 

 

 

 

Some of these ideas were taken from “A Daybook of Grace”– A Year of Devotions – Mark Gilroy and Jessica Inman and Patti Hummell   pp. 320-349. 

 

             

 

    

 


Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Written Word of God



 

The Written Word of God

 

I was having lunch with my friend Suzie when she leaned over and told me that she was depressed because she didn’t think that we were worshipping God the “correct” way.  She had joined a discussion group at church and now she doubted her Christian faith!  Surprised and shocked I asked her what exactly had caused her to question her faith. 

 

Suzie replied that she no longer trusted the Bible, that the Bible was outdated and we need new revelations to fit our modern lifestyle.  Anyway, the stories in the Old Testament didn’t really happen but were metaphors or made up myths, she added. But if the myths are real in our minds then they are indeed real for us! – say again?  A seminary professor had told her this, so it must be true!  I guess she was saying that our faith is all in our minds!  

 

Sue saw how upset I was getting but she just kept on talking. “And the God of the Old Testament is judgmental”, she spoke louder, “outmoded”.  We need to update God –maybe create a new god who doesn’t take sin so seriously, she explained waving her hands in the air!    

 

By now my head was spinning but before I could catch my breath she went on fussing about the judgmental God in the story of Noah’s ark.  The story of Noah’s ark tells of a God who caused a flood that ended the lives of all the people in the world at that time, except Noah and his family.   What a terrible story!  Sue ranted.  How could we worship a God who could do such a thing?  We need a God who doesn’t judge, she added! 

 

Suzie face was twisted with pain as she poured out her concerns.  Depression and confusion had taken over Sue’s life where there had once been faith and joy.  My friend no longer believed the Bible was God’s Word and now she had lost the joy of her salvation.  I was angry – angry at this church group that had torn apart her precious faith and angry that such heresies are out there to harm other young believers like Suzie.     

 

Evidently Suzie’s church group has a low view of Scripture.  Many of the books in our Bible painstakingly give us the genealogy and history of the Jewish people and other ancient peoples who followed God.  The Bible’s history accounts tell us in detail how God worked with His people from one generation to another over thousands and thousands of years. Our Christian faith developed over the ages and came to us through God’s preparing and working through Israel and then through the Gentiles also. To throw away this rich heritage and water down these accounts as “myths” or “metaphors” is very wrong I believe.

 

If a small Italian child is taken from his family and later told that his parents and brothers and sisters and all of his relatives were just figments in his imagination or myths – and  metaphors, he might be confused as to his national identity and he would also lose his close identity with his family. And if we believe those who would discount the Bible stories and accounts as myths, we might become confused as to our identity in Christ and lose our way when we read God’s Word.      

 

If the Biblical stories of Noah and Moses and Mary and Joseph are just metaphors or myths  - then how would we know that the story of Jesus and His death on the cross is not a myth also?  When we believe that part of God’s Word isn’t real don’t we raise the question that all of it may not be real?  What parts of the Bible are myths and what parts are true in this slippery slope?  Do we pick and choose which parts we want to believe and which parts we don’t like?  Do we just believe the parts that fit in with our lifestyle and throw the rest away?

 

Not knowing what to say to Sue I jumped in and suggested that in the story of Noah and the flood we are judging God when we accuse Him of being evil for sending a flood to end the lives of a group of violent evil people.  According to Scripture (Genesis 6) God did this because these ancient violent people were constantly performing evil acts.  Scripture says that it broke God’s heart and He finally stopped it.  We do not judge God as if He were another person.  God is not only the Redeemer but He is also the Judge of the world.  His ways are past finding out.   

 

 Scripture says that “It isn’t God’s will that any should perish but that all should have everlasting life.” (2 Peter 3:9)  God is a God of love but He is also a God of justice.  He loves us too much to allow us to forever continue to ruin ourselves and others with violent and evil acts.  There will be an end to sin someday.    

 

 I believe that some folks reject parts of the Bible because there are accounts in the Old Testament of God judging and punishing tribes and nations who continued on and on in rampant sin.  Eventually the wages of sin is death.  But some don’t like to hear that God judges sin.    

 

I believe that another reason that people reject parts of the Bible is because they don’t know what the Bible says and they haven’t studied it.  One of the reasons to read God’s Word and know it ourselves is that it protects us from these false prophets.  In every age there have been people who use the Bible for their own purposes and not to build God’s kingdom.  We need to know God’s Word well enough to know when someone has an agenda that is not God’s.

 

Scripture says: “But false prophets arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you, who will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing swift destruction upon themselves.”  (2 Peter 2:1) 

 

St. Peter warns us about our responsibility in handling God’s Word.  We are to be careful in how we interpret and teach the words of the Bible.  Those who deliberately distort God’s Word will be held accountable.  Scripture says; “…Ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.”  (2 Peter 3:16) 

 

Another Scripture tells us: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  (2 Timothy 3:16-17)   And “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.”  (Hebrews 4:12)

 

Martin Luther made the proclamation of “sola scriptura” – “only the Bible” - as the only authority for the Christian life.  But part of the phrase has been ignored.  He actually said, “Only Scripture rightly divided,” which means “interpreted correctly.” And Saint Jerome once said: “A false interpretation of Scripture causes the gospel of the Lord to become the gospel of man, or, which is worse, of the devil.” 

 

We don’t need to over analyze every word of the Bible to keep from falsely interpreting Scripture.  If we are believers in Jesus we have been given the Holy Spirit as a helper and guide and He will allow us to hear the Father’s Voice when we are reading the Word.  If we have questions concerning a Scripture we can ask God to help us understand the meaning.  And we can study the “living” Word where God reveals Himself in His words.  He gives us Himself and His love and His life to those who receive these words.  Indeed God’s Word gives us God Himself. 

 

 

 

 

  

 

  

 

 

 

 

 


Saturday, November 16, 2013

Waiting on the Lord




Waiting on the Lord

 

 

The Bible says “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him.”  (Psalm 37:7)  Waiting upon God is often necessary in order to feel His presence and to hear His voice.  Often we have to wait for the things we want the most and there are times when we will need to keep waiting and knocking and asking and seeking and fasting in order to receive what we are praying for.  God’s timing is not always our timing. 

 

Hannah was a Jewish woman who lived about 1,100 years B.C. and she prayed and waited on the Lord for many years before her prayer was answered..  Hannah was married to Elkanah, but Elkanah had another wife, Peninnah, as well as Hannah.  It was a common practice in ancient times for men to have multiple wives.  Over the years Peninnah gave birth to many children but year after year Hannah remained childless and barren.  Peninnah would make fun of Hannah because she could not become pregnant and Hannah would cry.  In ancient cultures a woman was something of an outcast if she was not able to bear children. 

 

Year after year Hannah prayed to God, crying out to Him for a child, but the years passed by and she remained barren into her middle age.  Once a year she would go with her husband and his other wife, Peninnah and their children to Shiloh to worship God and to sacrifice before Him.  And she would bring sacrifices to God and pray before Him at the altar. 

 

Finally one year when they went up to Shiloh to worship, Hannah spent an extra amount of time in prayer before the Lord.  When the high priest, Eli passed by, Hannah was bowing down before the altar and praying and crying before God.  Eli the priest thought that she was drunk and he asked her if she had been drinking.  But Hannah assured Eli that she was not drunk she was just crying and begging God for a child.  She had promised God that if He would give her a child she would give it back to Him.  After Eli, the priest listened to Hannah he said to her: “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of Him.”  (1 Samuel 1:17)   

 

Soon after that trip to the altar in Shiloh, Hannah finally became pregnant and she had a son and named him Samuel!  Hannah was so overjoyed and thankful that she sang jubilant praises to God and because God had answered her prayers and given her a baby, Hannah gave her baby back to God.  When Samuel was just a young child she took him to Shiloh and  gave him to Eli, the high priest so that he could learn to serve God.  Samuel stayed in the temple with Eli, the high priest and served and learned God’s Word.  In the end God gave Hannah and Elkanah more children and Samuel grew up to be a great man of God.  Samuel was used by God to prophesy and guide and bless the Jewish people.

 

  We can only wonder whether Hannah would have gotten pregnant and given birth to Samuel, if she had not pounded on the closed door of her childlessness and prayed and waited on the Lord for so many years!  There are blessings of the Kingdom that are only given when we do not give up!  When we wait on the Lord.    

 

One of the Bible’s most mysterious stories is told in Genesis 32:24-32.  It is the story of Jacob wrestling all night with an angel.  Jacob was traveling to meet his brother Esau and he was worried that Esau might try to kill him as he had threatened to do.  Jacob had wanted God’s blessings so badly that he had stolen them from his brother Esau many years earlier.  And then many years later he was about to meet Esau and his armies.  Jacob was alone in the evening praying to God for help when Scripture says that a Man appeared before him and wrestled with him all night.  When Jacob was winning the Man touched his hip and the socket of Jacob’s hip went out of joint.

 

 At dawn the Man (an angel) said to Jacob, “Let me go for the day breaks.”  And Jacob answered, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”  (Genesis 32:26b)  And the Man (angel) answered: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.”  (Genesis 32:28)  Jacob told everyone that he had wrestled with God and the prophet Hosea later wrote that Jacob wrestled with an angel.  This story holds many unexplained mysteries.   

 

Some Bible scholars believe that Jacob limped after he wrestled with God, because when we move out in God’s power we faced heavy persecutions.  Or perhaps God gave Jacob this painful hip that was out of joint for the same reason that Paul was given his thorn in the flesh.  Perhaps Jacob needed to be given something to help keep him humble since God blessed him with such special blessings.  St. Paul also had a physical problem – a thorn in his flesh -because God had given him visions and power to heal and do miracles and evangelize.  Both Jacob and Paul moved in the Spirit with more power and were given more blessings than most others.  It might have been easy for them to have become proud and use their God given power the wrong way if they had not also been given physical problems.  I don’t know! 

 

The name “Jacob” means “Supplanter” or “Deceiver”.  Jacob had supplanted his brother Esau and deceived his father Isaac in order to get God’s blessing.  And the name “Israel” means “Prince with God” or “He strives with God” or “May God Persevere”. In spite of his sins and his character weaknesses, God commends Jacob for being a fighter and not giving up and for wanting all that God had to give him.  So he is given a new name. Scripture says that all of God’s children will also receive a new name! 

 

Hosea sees Jacob as a model to be emulated whenever one is facing difficulty, or asking for a needed blessing.  (Hosea 12:2-6)  For some blessings we may want, God may choose to make us part of the process by encouraging us to contend and ask and wrestle in prayer for what we need.  Very occasionally the Holy Spirit may urge us to wrestle in prayer and contend for the blessing.

 

God was pleased that Jacob wanted more of God in his life – more of His power and more of His will in his life and more of His blessings.  And God was pleased that Jacob wanted to walk in His ways and obey His commandments.  And God will be pleased if we want more of Him and want to walk in more of His ways too. 

 

Sometimes we don’t know how to pray.  But hopefully we want what God wants for us.  But Scripture tells us that the Holy Spirit is a great Helper when we prayer.  “The Spirit helps us in our weakness.  We do not know what we ought to pray for.  But the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.”  (Romans 8:26)

 

 In the Lord’s Prayer Jesus taught us to pray: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  (Matthew 6:10)  Christians in humility are to lay themselves and their prayers at the feet of God to be taken care of as He in His love and wisdom sees best.  We pray “in His will” or submit to God’s will, remembering that God loves us and He is all merciful.  We can trust God to do what is best.

 

Constantly coming to God with our prayers and not giving up keeps our focus on Him.  Jacob and Hannah both contended and wrestled with God over a long period of time and God was pleased with each of them and blessed them.  Their prayers were answered and they were blessed.  Jesus invites us to do the same when He gives us the parable in Luke 18:1-5.  Persistent prayer is not overcoming God’s reluctance, but it is laying hold of His willingness. 

 

 

 

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Sunday, November 10, 2013

Jesus' Love is Wide and Long and High and Deep




 

Jesus’ Love is Wide and Long and High and Deep!

 

 

When everything around us crumbles, we will always have the love of God.  His love endures forever.  Scripture says: “And I pray that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”  (Ephesians 3:17-19)  Are our lives rooted and grounded in love like that Scripture says?  And have we even begun to grasp how wide and long and high and deep Jesus’ love is for us?

 

In fact Scripture also says that God’s love for His children is beyond reason.  God spoke to Israel through the prophets in the Old Testament.  Hosea was one of God’s prophets and God spoke to Israel through Hosea about His unbelievable love for them.  Instead of Hosea standing in front of the people and preaching to them with words and sermons, God instructed Hosea to instead live out in his own life what God wanted to say to the people.  Hosea put on a “show and tell” drama in front of his surprised neighbors to demonstrate what God’s love was like.  

 

To begin his “show and tell” God told Hosea to go and marry a prostitute.  So Hosea obeyed and found Gomer, a local prostitute, and married her.  Gomer and Hosea had three children together but then Gomer left Hosea and ran off with other men. She went into the highways and byways and shamelessly threw herself at any male that she could find.  Finally her life of debauchery and loose living caused her to be sold into slavery.  

 

Hosea could have been glad that his unfaithful wife was finally getting what she deserved.  But no, God told Hosea to act like God would act and go and buy Gomer back from the slave traders while his fellow Israelites watched in amazement!  I’m sure the gossip about Hosea and Gomer spread all over town!

 

 Hosea was to redeem Gomer and bring her home to be his wife again.  When the Israelites asked Hosea why he was doing this he would answer that God wanted them to see that they were like Gomer, the unfaithful wife and that God was like Hosea in that he never gave up and never stopped wanting His people to come back to Him.  At that time many of the Israelites had rejected God and were worshipping foreign gods.  They were also cheating one another and forgetting to help the poor among them.  So God was comparing His people to Hosea’s unfaithful wife, Gomer.     

 

Hosea showed God’s people that God would always love them no matter what they did.  He might be angry, but He always wanted them back!  God loves us, His children the same way!  And even when we are unfaithful to Him, God keeps running after us and offering to redeem us from our slavery to sin and bring us back to Himself. 

 

Calvary is proof that God loves us.  “But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”  (Romans 5:8)  God does not buy us back to be His slaves.  But He would hope that we would serve Him in love.  We are always free to do whatever we wish since there is always freedom in the Lord.

 

God calls us to love the same way that He loves – to love the unlovable and help the person we may think doesn’t deserve to be helped.  If love doesn’t love the unlovable it is no virtue at all.  Scripture says: “Therefore as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.  Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.  Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”  (Colossians 3:12-13)       

 

One of the ways we can love others is by praying for them.  Richard Foster once said that if we truly love people, we will desire for them far more than it is within our power to give them, and this will lead us to prayer: Intercession is a way of loving others.  Scripture says: “As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by failing to pray for you…”  (1 Samuel 12:23a) 

 

God calls us to pass on His great love to others.  Scripture says: ‘Carry each other’s burdens and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”  (Galatians 6:2)  We are to mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice. (Romans 12:15)  We  not only receive God’s love but we are to pass it along and give it away.

 

  If we only receive and do not give we soon lose our vitality.  A river that has no outlet – like the Dead Sea – soon cannot sustain life.  Love without action is empty. We are meant to pass on God’s love – to be a loving presence in the lives of others, even in the lives of our enemies.  We are to seek goodness in others and forgive their mistakes, because we are children of our loving and forgiving Father. 

 

 First Corinthians 13 is often referred to as the “Love Chapter” in the Bible!  The “Love Chapter” starts out by telling us that we can do great things and give great sums of money and time and learn great mysteries, but if we do not have love we are nothing!  I get the feeling that God cares much more about how we love each other than any other accomplishment we may achieve.  Love is described in the “Love Chapter” this way:  “Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always keeps on going.  Love never fails.”   And the chapter ends with: “Now these three remain:  faith, hope and love.  But the greatest of these is love.” 

 

We don’t love God because of our intellectual beliefs or theological arguments.  But we love God because we know that He loves us.  His Spirit bears witness with our spirit that He loves us and He promises to be with us.  He says:  “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  (Matthew 28:20)  Jesus told us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.  And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”  (Matthew 22:37-39)

 

Jesus is saying that we are to love God with everything we’ve got – our heart and our mind and our soul and our strength.  That makes our Christian faith less of a belief system and more of a love affair! 

 


Saturday, November 2, 2013

Obedience to God is Part of the Christian Walk




Obedience to God is Part of the Christian Walk

 

On his missionary journeys Paul spent a lot of time establishing the truth that salvation is a gift from God and that we do not enter heaven on the basis of our own works.  But then he insisted that good works, obedience, sacrifice, commitment, discipline and lifestyle are a big part of what it means to be a Christian.  Our actions don’t make us children of God, but we do them because we are children of God. 

 

There are three common traits that have always been part of the Christian walk and they are faith, trust and obedience.  Faith is a belief in the reality of God and that God is good and loving and wants to have a relationship with us.  Trust is an ongoing expression of faith.  It is placing our confidence in God and counting on Him to be with us through our lives.  And obedience is when we accept Jesus as not only our Savior – but our Lord.  We trust God so much that we submit to His commands. We don’t obey because we have to but because we want to.

 

Paul encouraged the people in his churches to offer themselves completely to God for His use and purposes.  He told them: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.”  (Romans 12:1)  And Jesus calls those who follow Him to deny themselves and take up their crosses.  (Mark 8:34)

 

It is a burden to try to be our own master – to try to run our own life.  But it is so much easier to submit to God and listen for His voice.  We are off the hook.  Scripture says: “Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way: walk in it.’”  (Isaiah 30:21)  Maybe the “ears” that hear God’s directions will be the “ears” of our hearts. But God has His own ways of speaking to us and guiding us.  If we ask God for wisdom and directions, He promises to give us that.  (James 1:5) 

 

Jesus invites us to submit to Him.  He says:  “Take my yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:29)  Teresa of Avila said: “I know the power obedience has of making things easy which seem impossible.”   Obeying God brings joy and freedom.  One of the gifts of the Holy Spirit is joy and He gives us joy when we obey God.

 

Jesus also said that if we love Him we will keep His commandments.  (John 14:21)  Obeying God is like an act of worship.  Jesus tells us that He is our Shepherd and we are His sheep.  And He says: “My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow Me.”  (John 10:27)  And Jesus gives us plenty of reasons why we should follow Him.  In verse 11 He says He lays down His life for us.  Verse 14: He knows us and knows what is best for us.  Verse 10: He has come to give us abundant life.  When we follow Him we will have green pastures and abundant provision for our needs.  And Verse 28:  He is strong and will protect us.    

 

God has a call on our lives.  We are not here to just live for our own pleasure, but Christians are to make following God our goal.  If we are Christians our life doesn’t belong to ourselves but to God.  Scripture says: “You are not your own, but you are bought at a price.(Jesus’ blood) Therefore honor God…”  (1 Cor.6:20)   Scripture says that we are here to bear fruit – or do what is good.  Fruitfulness does not happen unless seeds of good works and acts of love are planted.  What seeds are we planting?  

 

One thing that is taught in Scripture is that while God gives us His gifts freely, He requires an accounting of them in the end.  We may know the story in the Bible that Jesus told of the three men who were given talents by their master.  The first man was given five talents.  The second man was given two.  And the third man was just given one talent.  Then the master left on a journey and asked the three to use their talents for good while he was away. (Matthew 25:14-30) 

 

The man with the five talents worked and gained five more talents.  And the man who was given two talents worked and gained two more talents.  But the third man who had only been given one talent did nothing with it.  He was lazy, followed the easiest course.  Since he was afraid that he might lose it he went out and buried it. When the master came back he was pleased with the first and second man and rewarded them with riches and more talents and responsible positions.  But the master was angry with the third man who did nothing with his one talent.  He took the one talent away from him and gave it to the man who had the most talents. 

 

Is that fair?  What if the man with the one talent had lost the talent on a bad investment?  Wouldn’t he have been in bigger trouble?  Jesus’ story doesn’t seem to say that that would have been a problem.  Jesus says nothing about being judged on the basis of failing.  Judgment is based not on failing but on doing nothing, burying the talents that God has given us.  It seems that it matters what we do with what we have been given.  Scripture says: “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.”  (1 Peter 4:10)  

 

The Bible says: “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.”  (Psalm 119:105)  God’s Word sheds light on how we are to live our lives and how we are to obey.  And in the Bible we read God’s commandments for living.  Basically we are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We are to be humble, kind to others and we are to forgive everyone because God has forgiven us.  If we are obedient to God we will try to obey these commands.

 

One of the tests of our character is what we do with our money.  And God calls us to give a portion of our income to Him.  (Numbers 18:28)  Scripture says:  “Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  (2 Corinthians 9:7) 

 

We may remember the Bible story of the wise man who built his house on the rock.  I’ve always thought that the “rock” in the story is Jesus.  Well when the rains fall and the floods come and the winds blow and slam against the house, the house built on the rock will not fall down.  It will stand firm because it is built on the Rock.  (Matthew 7:24-25)  But then the story goes on and the foolish man builds his house on the sand.  And when the rains and floods come along, the house built on just the sand smashes into many pieces and is destroyed and is blown to smithereens!

 

 Scripture says that the house built on the sand that falls apart in the storm is the person who doesn’t obey God.  And you guessed it - the house that is built on the rock – the house that stands firm through strong winds and high waves and the worst of storms –that house is the person who does obey God.  One house or one life is built on the sand – its foundation doesn’t include God.  And the other house – or life – the one that is built on the Rock – its foundation is obeying God.  It seems obeying God makes all the difference!  Two houses - each on a separate foundation, one on the Rock and one on the sand.  Which house are you?