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Wednesday, September 21, 2016

God Calls Us to Live our Lives by Faith


God Calls Us to Live our Lives by Faith

Scripture says: “…The person who lives uprightly and justly, shall live by faith” (Romans 1:17b) And Scripture also says that “without faith it is impossible to please God.”  (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is all important to God, and to us too, so just what is faith in God? The Bible is not talking about having faith in ourselves but we are to live by having faith in God. Living by faith is leaning on God, giving ourselves and our lives to Him. Faith is believing that God is what He says He is and what the Bible says He is -holy, loving, just, forgiving and merciful.  Faith is believing that God will take care of us.  And faith is going ahead and doing what you believe you are supposed to do. 

The Bible is filled with stories of men and women who did great things by their faith in God. These men and women of God all faced their fears and followed God anyway. God reassured each one with promises that He would be with them, and they believed Him. God will also do the same for you if you believe Him. God offers you faith but Satan offers you fear. Which one will you take? We can be stuck and trapped in a miserable little life if we play it safe and listen to our fears.  Or we can live the great adventure of following God and allowing Him to provide if we let go and trust God. God keeps calling us to give Him our fears and step out in faith and give Him our lives. The answer to fear is faith that God is with us.  Scripture says: “Be strong and courageous, do not be afraid, for the Lord your God is with you, wherever you go.” (Joshua 1:9)

Too often we have faith in ourselves, or faith in others. Then others let us down or we let ourselves down and we become fearful and discouraged. Jesus said: …” Apart from Me you can do nothing.”  (John 15:5)   If God calls us to do something He will give us the power to do it. Sometimes we are looking to ourselves and our problems when we should be looking to God.  God promises to be with us and that is really all we need.  His strength is made perfect in our weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9)

The Holy Spirit will pour strength into our human spirit as we follow Him.  Great joy is released into our lives by believing in God!   It is an exciting way to live, this living by faith!  Scripture says: “May He grant you out of the rich treasury of His glory to be strengthened and reinforced with mighty power in the inner man by the Holy Spirit indwelling in your innermost being.”  (Ephesians 3:16) When we step out in faith, God never fails to provide what we need.  Scripture says: “…Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that it is granted to you and you will receive it.”  (Mark 11:24)
 Sometimes in this life we can be overwhelmed by heavy sorrows and problems.  If we give these sorrows to God, He will comfort us.  Scripture says: “Casting all of your cares and sorrow onto Him, for He cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:7) The unconditional love of God is the cure for everything that hurts us.  God’s grace is always available for us in any situation.  His grace will lift us up and enable us to get through a tough time.  We live in a world where everything is based on seeing and feeling.  But that is backwards. God’s kingdom operates on a different principle.  In God’s world we are to first believe and then see later.   

 We are missing out on so much when we try to be our own person and run our own life!  When we don’t give our life to God and let Him run it with His wonderful love and power.  Some people don’t want to give their life to God because they will need to change some things. It is pretty much impossible to be spiritually successful when we allow willful sin to stay in our lives.  We must try to turn from our sins if we are to walk in the power of the Lord.  We can’t have it both ways. If we are just out for fun or worldly success, we will never glorify God with our life by being all He intended us to be.    

 Jesus Christ calls us to Himself.  He loves us and will guide and strengthen us to do the work we are meant to do.  He promises so very much to those who follow Him! Scripture says: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength: they shall mount up with wings as eagles: they shall run, and not be weary: and they shall walk, and not faint.” (Isaiah 40:31

Scripture also says: “We are more than conquerors and gain a surpassing victory through Him (Jesus) who loved us.”  (Romans 8:37) Next time you are feeling down and defeated, remember that you are more than a conqueror through Christ.  In other words, in Christ you already have the victory before you get the problem.  Jesus Christ never fails and when you are in Him you won’t either.

If we have given our lives to Christ, we should start believing what Scripture says about us.  Believe in our ability in Christ.  Believe that we hear from God and that we are led by the Holy Spirit.  See ourselves as gaining the victory in Him.  Next time Satan tries to tell you how bad you are or how impossible your situation is, order him out in the Name of Jesus.  Scripture says that Satan is working to deceive us and cause us to question our faith in God.  Don’t let him get his foot in the door.  Scripture says: “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”  (James 4:7) 

Take another step of faith and decide to build yourself up in the Lord.  Don’t allow yourself to become downhearted.  Scripture tells us that David was very upset, because the Amalekites had burned his town and taken his family members away.  They had also taken the wives and children of his fighting men away and his men were very upset and angry at David, their leader, for allowing this to happen.  His men were even thinking about stoning David since he was their leader and he had not been there to fight when the enemy had come to rape and plunder.  In this terrible moment David could have hit rock bottom but Scripture says that “David encouraged and strengthened himself in the Lord his God.  (1 Samuel 30:6)  After David  prayed God showed him where the family members had been taken and he and his men rescued them.  But without God it could have been a very different outcome.

David was confident in God, even in that dark moment when his family was missing and his men were talking about stoning him.  He had no one to believe in him, so he believed in God’s ability through him.  And we can do that too!  When the problems and sorrows come, instead of becoming upset and fearful we can do what David did and “encourage and strengthen ourselves in the Lord our God”.   Remind ourselves that God is with us and in us and that He will give us strength and help. 

Stop and praise God and worship Him. When I remember to sing praises to God and worship Him, I am always amazed at the way it changes and strengthens me.  When doubt starts tormenting you, start speaking out the Word of God.  Remind yourself that you are triumphant in Him. Scripture says: “Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ Jesus…”  (2 Corinthians 2:14)


Many of these ideas and Scriptures were taken from Joyce Meyer’s books, “How to Succeed at Being Yourself” p. 67-74 and also “Living Courageously”.   






   

 




Thursday, September 15, 2016

Does Everything Happen for a Reason?



Does Everything Happen for a Reason?


How many times have you heard people say, “Everything happens for a reason.”? This popular saying almost has a religious ring to it and it is usually repeated after something bad happens! Just this morning in church a friend of mine said, “Everything happens for a reason,” right after another friend explained that years ago his son had broken off any contact with him. I jumped in and argued that God didn't allow that to happen for a reason!.

The idea that “Everything happens for a reason,” has been popular down through the centuries. But let's take a step back. This idea implies that God preordains bad things. Or causes them to happen! That bad things are sometimes part of God's will and plan. But Scripture tells us that God,”makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matthew 5:45)

Scripture tells us that God is just and holy and cannot do evil acts. We misuse the holy Name of God when we say that He plan bad things to happen for a reason. God is good and merciful and loving and just and forgiving. “Everything happens for a reason.” Does it really? Jesus' answer is a definite “No.”

Along with this idea is a similar idea that bad things happen to bad people. In Scripture we read that Pilate put to death some people from Galilee who had been worshiping and offering sacrifices to God. (Luke 13:1-5) Some of the Jewish people came to Jesus asking, “Were these people from Galilee worse sinners than others because they suffered such a terrible thing?” (Luke 13:2) These folks who questioned Jesus had interpreted the deaths of their fellow citizens as God's punishment for their guilt.

But Jesus answered them:””I tell you no, but unless you repent you will perish. Remember those eighteen people on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them. Do you think that they were worse sinners than any others in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will perish.” (Luke 13:3-4)

Jesus does not agree that suffering happens to an individual person because of their individual sins. But He does remind the Jewish people that life is short and challenges them to turn from their sin while they are still alive and able. The sudden deaths of these people who Pilate killed can be a reminder to them that life is fragile and that now while they are living is the day for salvation. At that time the nation of Israel was not accepting their Messiah and Jesus was warning them that they needed to turn back to God.

Another time Jesus was asked this same kind of question by his disciples. Jesus healed a man who had been blind from his birth. (Luke 9:1-13) And the disciples came to Him and asked what caused this man to be born blind, his sin or his parent's sin. Even the disciples seemed to believe that illness and suffering were caused by the afflicted person's sin. Jesus answered them: “Neither the man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” (Luke 9:3) Every time Jesus spoke about this subject He made it clear that the people in life who suffer the most are not suffering because they are being punished for their own personal sins. That God was into forgiveness and not retribution.

We humans sometimes blame God when things don't go the way we want, and judge Him as if He were a person..And when some folks can't understand God they refuse to believe in Him. We try to make God fit in our little boxes of reason and insist that He must answer our prayers the way we expect. But The God of heaven and earth and the Creator of the universe cannot be corralled or squeezed in our little boxes. If we could understand God then He wouldn't be God. His ways are higher than our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts. And His mysteries are past finding out. We are called to trust Him. God promises to be there for us and answer our prayers if they in His good will. But His time frame is not always our time frame. Sometimes our prayers are answered after we die and when we reach Glory.

Scripture says: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) Scripture tells us that all of us will die physically and that death has come upon the whole earth because of our collective sin. But death does not have the final word. God loves us and wants us to have eternal life in a sinless world after death. We can take this gift from God by obeying and wanting to turn from our sin and by believing and trusting in God.

The book of Job deals with the subject of God's justice in light of human suffering and sin. In other words, why do bad things happen to good people? Job was a Gentile (non Jew) who lived perhaps 4,000 years ago in the land where Syria is today. Scripture says that “Job was “blameless and upright, and feared God and shunned evil. He had seven sons and three daughters, and he owned seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen and five hundred donkeys, and had a large number of servants. Job was the greatest man among all of the people of the East.” (Job 1:1-3)

But terrible trouble and grief swiftly came down upon Job all on one dark day. All of his camels and oxen and donkeys and sheep were stolen or died and his servants were killed. His ten children were all together on that deadly day when a storm arose and blew away their house killing all of them instantly. Job tears his robe and shaves his head – signs of deep grieving in the ancient world. Then Job falls down and worships God saying: “Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. May the name of the Lord be praised.” (Job 1:20b) Job has lost all of his children and all of his wealth but he has not lost his faith in God.

A few days later Job is afflicted with painful sores from head to toe. (Job 2:6-7) He stumbles around desperate and sick and in terrible pain and finally sits down in a heap of ashes. He finds a piece of broken pottery and he scrapes his oozing sores with it. Then his wife comes to him and encourages him to “Curse God and die.” (Job 2:9b) Job is at his lowest point and three of his friends, Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar come to visit him and be with him in his suffering.

After awhile Job's three friends tell him that he must be suffering because he has sinned. Here again is that popular idea that a person's personal sins may cause God to afflict him with something terrible. Job's friend Zophar says: “Know therefore that God exacts from you less than your sins deserve.” (Job 11:6) Job's other two friends agree with Zophar and insist that God shows His disfavor on sinful people by allowing trouble and suffering. They don't take into account that God's blessings or punishments might extend past this present life. Job's proud friends have God and His ways all neatly figured out!

Job lashes back that he hasn't done anything wrong and that even though he doesn't know why he is suffering so, he still trusts God. “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” Job professes (Job 13:15) He will always trust God, no matter what happens! That's just the way it is. But then Job adds that God owes him an explanation. Yes that's it, Job wants to question God! God needs to answer for His ways.

About this time God shows up! He shows up and speaks to Job out of a whirlwind! “Who is this that darkens my counsel with words without knowledge? Brace yourself as a man: I will question you, and you shall answer Me. Where were you when I laid the earth's foundations? Tell Me, if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know!” (Job 38:2-5b) God goes on listing some of the things He has created: birds, animals, stars, etc. Does Job understand the many details that go into these creations or how God provides for the needs of His created ones? If Job can never begin to understand how God works in the physical world, how can he judge God's actions in the moral and spiritual world?

God doesn't attempt to tell Job why he is suffering. It was not for Job to know the reason why. Some things have to be taken on faith. But now that Job had seen God he no longer wanted an answer from Him as to why he had had such losses. It no longer mattered. Job answered God: “Therefore I uttered what I did not understand. Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know...I have heard of You, but now my eyes see You. Therefore I abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42:3 and 5)

Job recovers from the sores covering his body and God gives Job back twice the wealth that he had had before. He is given fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand oxen and a thousand donkeys. And in the latter part of his life, Job has ten more children – seven sons and three daughters. The book of Job ends with Job living to a ripe old age and dying after a full life.

What can we learn from the book of Job? First we learn that Job's faith was a great treasure to God. We learn from reading the book of Job that God doesn't give Job an answer for why he suffered, and God may not give us an answer for why we suffer either. Can we trust God like Job when we are put to the test and don't know why? We learn that Job loved and trusted God just because God is who He is – good and loving and faithful. God promises to be with us and be our strength and our shield. To give us eternal life. He tells us that that nothing can separate us from His love. And God calls us to trust Him no matter what happens.

We live in a sinful world. God gave us free will to sin if we wanted to sin. And we did. Mankind rebelled against God's laws and bad things always happen when our world is outside of God's will and laws. Bad things happen to good people in our world because our present world is sometimes run by bad people- not God- and it is under the curse of sin. These bad things aren't God's will and they don't happen for a reason in our lawless imperfect world. But the day is coming when God promises to change all of that! Scripture says that on that day Jesus will come in power and glory and there will be a great judgment day and then there will be a new heaven and new earth. God will rule this new earth and no more sin or bad things will happen anymore. In a sinless world, only good things will happen. And then everything will happen for a reason!

















Saturday, September 3, 2016

Hypocrisy




Hypocrisy

They followed after Jesus and his disciples always accusing and finding fault. “This is sinful,” “That is against God's law” On and on they went with threats and criticisms that never stopped. Even when Jesus healed the sick and raised the dead, the priests and Pharisees found something wrong with that.


Their hatred for Jesus was followed with more hatred and then still more. Never ending hate. And to make it worse, all of these attacks and accusations came from supposed men of God using God's Name! The priests and Pharisees were Jewish religious leaders that the people of Israel respected and obeyed! And it was the relentless accusations from these pious religious men who were supposed to be teachers of God's Word, that finally sent Jesus to the cross!


One day the scribes and Pharisees came to Jesus asking Him why He and his disciples “transgress the tradition of the elders? Your disciples do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” (Matthew 15:2) they fussed. They had been spying on Jesus and his disciples before they rushed over accusing them of not washing their hands. Washing hands back then did not include soap and running water like it does today. Washing hands back then meant that the person was to put a drop of water on the back of each hand and that action would make them ceremonially clean! One of their man made traditions..


God had given the Jewish people many laws, but the religious leaders had added many more man made laws and traditions of their own to God's sacred laws. This put extra burdens on the people to perform all of these busy work things. Jesus quotes Isaiah 29:13 in charging the Pharisees with setting aside God's laws with their traditions. Jesus dismisses their worship because their hearts were not aligned with their lips.


Jesus answered the scribes and Pharisees question about hand washing by giving them back a question. He asked them: “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying 'Honor your father and your mother' and, 'He who curses father or mother let him be put to death.' But you say, 'Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God.' 'Then he need not honor his father or mother.' Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you saying, 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips. But their heart is far from me. And in vain they worship Me. Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'” (Matthew 15:3-9)


One of the Ten Commandments calls for us to honor our fathers and our mothers. (Exodus 20:12) Evidently back in ancient times it was expected behavior for Jewish family members to not only honor but to take care of one another in time of need. If an elderly parent could no longer care for her/him self, their children were expected to provide food and lodging for them if they were able. Jesus also seems to be saying that that is what this command means. Today we have retirement funds,Social Security, Medicare and often other savings accounts that senior citizens can fall back on. But two thousand years ago in ancient Israel, the elderly did not have these benefits to protect their survival.

We Christians in today's modern world usually take this commandment regarding honoring parents to mean that we are to respect our parents and to try to be a part of their lives. To treat our parents and other family members with graciousness and love. We humans are all vulnerable and need one another. But we live in a society today that teaches us to value our individuality and our independence. In Scripture we see that often God's blessings and laws were written not just for individuals alone but with families and groups and nations in mind. Whole tribes were blessed or cursed because of the way they treated one another. No man is an island. We do have a communal life and God put us together to fulfill that life.


Sometimes counselors today advise individuals who are having family problems to do whatever they want if it is in their best interest. If they could better themselves by cutting off a relationship with a family member, then that is what should be done. Today parents sometimes abandon their children and grown children sometimes cut off their parents. These harsh actions are approved of by some modern Pharisees to protect the individual from a “toxic” relationship. Everything is done for the wants or best interests of the individual. And holding the family together for the common good may come in second place..

But in the background God's laws still stand. He calls us adult children to “Honor our father and our mother.” (Exodus 20;12) And God's Word also says that: “If anyone does not provide for his own children, and especially for those of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an infidel.” (I Timothy 5:8) I believe this verse is talking about the mother or the father running away from their responsibilities for their children. Of course illness and other problems can make it impossible for a parent to take full responsibility for their children.


Jesus was accusing these Jewish religious leaders of making up a new man made law saying that if a Jewish person wished to give money to the religious leaders and to the Temple, then God would not require that person to help their elderly parent if they were in need. Money – even money given to God – did not come before God's desires to see family members loving and being faithful to one another. Jesus finishes by saying that “the Pharisees and scribes make the commandment of God of no effect by their tradition”.(Matthew l5:6) And then Jesus turned on them and called them “Hypocrites!” (Matthew l5:7)


It seemed that there wasn't much that made Jesus angrier than hypocrites! What is a hypocrite? A hypocrite is a fake. He or she or she is proud and pretends to be someone that he or she isn't. He looks good on the outside but he only cares about himself and how important he is. He pretends to praise God to impress others but he is using God to show off. The Pharisees' laws were tacked onto God's laws, and forced upon the ancient Jewish people who believed that the Pharisees' words represented God's will . But these traditions were not God's will and the people were fooled into believing that man made traditions were the same as God's laws.. This really angered Jesus.


Jesus warns us to “beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and the Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6) Beware of what looks good on the outside but is not good all the way through. There are modern day Pharisees. Religious leaders today who tell us that we don't need to concern ourselves with God's laws. That we are smarter and know better now. That we are in charge of our own life and we can do whatever we want. Rebel, be brave and break the rules, who cares! But there is a God in heaven and He does care. And our life belongs to Him. And He calls us to trust and obey. .