Friday, August 31, 2007

Trying to Believe?

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.
(John 17:17 – ESV)

People who truly believe in something do certain things. That goes for Christians and non- Christians, what you believe in dictates what you actions are, for the most part. The problem for many Christians is that when they hear an exhortation, they feel as if they must do these certain things in order to establish their belief. But the belief in the truth creates the action, not the other way around. If you will think clearly with me for a moment, perhaps the Lord will be gracious to show you something you may have missed.

This may seem like semantics, but it is not. People think they believe and so they feel like they must do the things, but the truth is that they don’t want to do those things because of unbelief. It isn’t simply a matter of trying harder to do those certain things; it is a matter of unbelief. If you would believe, then you would do. And doing to gain belief is the wrong way.

But oh so many will not hear this message in their hearts, and they will read this and just jump back on the boom and bust cycle, instead of searching their heart and realizing that they need to deal with the unbelief first, not the behavior.

This is the reason why we must keep studying the Bible over and over again. We think we have it, but we don’t, we must continue in the Word until it sinks in, until we believe, and then corresponding action will naturally, supernaturally flow.

Again, people here this particular exhortation, that if they believe they will do, and so they think that they do believe and so then they go about and try to do, in order to establish what they think is true. Well, they may think it, but they don’t actually believe it, not in their heart, not yet. Listen to me; you must get the Word down in you to the point where it flows out because you believe, not because you think you believe, and not just because you want to believe. If you don’t want it, it is because you don’t believe.

Jesus said if you continue in the Word, then you would become disciplined to obey it, you would know it, you would believe the truth, and it would set you free (John 8:31-32). Don’t go trying to obey to be set free, but start believing by starting to get that Word into your heart, keep reading it, praying over it, meditating upon it, asking and pleading with God to give you this Word. I am talking about basic stuff here, like why you keep doing this or that sin; it is because you don’t believe. I am telling you, and Jesus has and is telling you. If you continue on in His Word, if you continue to keep it front burner and not just acknowledge it but acquire it. You don’t just identify with the truth you internalize it.

The struggle is not to do this or that, or to refrain from this or that: the struggle is to believe. If you believe you will be sanctified, you will act in accordance with what you believe. “So we just read the Word and understand it and then “poof” we act like a Christian acts?” No. “So we read the Word and understand it and do the deeds it says we are to do and then…?” No, that is the problem with most. “So we read the Word and understand it and believe it and then we don’t try and do the deeds they just happen because we truly believe?” Yes that’s it. Do you believe it?

In Mark 9:23-24 Jesus said that all things are possible to someone who believes. He wasn’t giving a blank check for our desires, or promises that aren’t actually yours, He was saying that anything God has said is true of the Christian is available and can be had if one truly believes. The father, whose child Jesus was going to deliver knew this, and said, "I believe; help my unbelief!" This should be your prayer today. I pray for faith to be born in your struggling soul.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Scratching the Itch

…unto every one that walketh after the imagination of his own heart…
(Jeremiah 23:17)

This passage in Jeremiah 23 deals with false prophets. They would cry peace when there was no peace. They spoke a vision from their own wicked hearts, not from the Lord. This has been going on for ages, as this passage points out, and so it continues today, and if the Lord tarries, we will see it tomorrow.

Paul warned Timothy – For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears (2 Timothy 4:3). Martin Luther, in the 92nd of his famous 95 theses, echoed the same sentiment in his day, declaring, “Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, "Peace, peace," and there is no peace!” Think of the prophets of today and their “prosperity gospel”. Isn’t this what we are seeing?

We may be so far gone and our consciences so seared that we seek signs wherever they may be found. We can be deluded to such a degree that we will be ready to accept almost anything that has a semblance of truth, especially when we believe that it is our circumstances that need to be fixed, not our heart. We are led to believe that if we are in God’s will, that we will not see trouble. And we believe that if we are in comfort then we must be in Christ. The Bible declares otherwise: In the world you shall have tribulation (John 16:33). Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution (2 Timothy 3:12).

The Lord chastens all those whom He loves (Hebrews 12:7). We won’t get on with God by seeing signs and doing miracles, but by believing the right things and acting in accordance with those truths. And one great truth that is neglected by the merchants of the microwave miracle is the fact that as Christians we are called to suffer (Romans 8:17 / Philippians 1:29 / 2 Timothy 2:12). Even Christ learned obedience by His suffering, not by His signs (Hebrews 5:8).

The peace that we have is in Christ, not circumstances. We must remember that the goal is not our comfort, using godliness as a means of gain, but contentment, knowing that “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me” (Philippians 4:13). But godliness with contentment is great gain (2 Timothy 6:6). Having been “hooked” on signs and wonders, a believer is in danger of being taken captive by the signs themselves, and does not realize the deception that is taking place. They are scratching the itch, but the rash is still spreading.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Christ the Convertible?

…Paul, being grieved, turned and said to the spirit, I command thee…
(Acts 16:18)

We believe that the presumption of faith is borne of a lack of humility, and this passage helps demonstrate why. Of course, an evil spirit was using this woman and this caused her deception. However, while many today may not be possessed by a demon, they may have been taken captive to do his will nonetheless (2 Timothy 2:26). This plays out as us presumably submitting ourselves to God, but in reality, we are just using God like a taxi driver, hoping He will get us from one point to another, with the fare being lip service.

In this passage the woman was used to having power, and the only way to keep her demonically inspired self-importance intact was to tell everyone else that she knew the truth. So even though she wasn’t the “men from God”, she would be their herald: a John the Baptist role, if you will. Can you imagine the response to Paul’s rebuke, if given today? Sure you can, you’ve heard it before: “I was only trying to help!”

Rather than letting God work as ordained through the Apostles, her psyche needed to be involved somehow. She must have thought she was doing the right thing, by being “helpful”; she was telling the truth, after all. But hers was a presumption of faith, and Paul saw through this; he understood that this was only a distraction to God’s work, not a benefit. Just because we know truth does not mean we know how to use it correctly. This example of presumption shows the ability of our sinful nature to be “rightly” doing wrong.

It would seem that some think to surrender to Jesus, but have the mistaken notion that they can do what they want as far as service is concerned. But God wants us to be humble enough to admit that we aren’t right to have the mentality of, “If I decide to serve I get to do it my own way”. That isn’t service that is selfish. You may sacrifice time, money, talent, or whatever but still not sacrifice your will. “Okay I’ll serve but you still aren’t going to tell me what to do”, is the intent of the heart.

Service without submission can be well-intentioned, but will be ineffective, it is often professional, paternalistic, problem solving, and wanting to do good by “sharing” from a position of superiority. The Bible deliberately pushes us into the area of discomfort, forcing us to accept a posture of submission until our pride is exposed, and our desire to be controlling is revealed. Instead we have no control over our own lives and yet we want to and think we can help others.

Acts 8 tells the story of Simon, another who was accustomed to being important. He presumed that when he became a Christian he could “use” his supposed relationship with Jesus to further his own selfish ends, all in the name of God. How often we turn Christ into just another means of getting what we truly want. Many claim Christ, but whether they see it or not, they are using Jesus as a vehicle to achieve their own fleshly desires. We may come to Him as financial broker, family counselor, job hunter, personal doctor, and all these things, yet He doesn’t have our heart. We treat Him as our servant instead of our Master. He is to us but a tool for our personal gain. He becomes one of the fleet of methods used: the convertible model, if you will.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Monday, August 27, 2007

Faith Is As Faith Does

They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works.
(Titus 1:16 – ESV)

I want to give hope to the backslidden and those who are struggling with sin. I also want to sound a warning to those who remain in unrepentant sin and believe they are in the same boat as those who are struggling. The difference is that some continue to struggle with habits, and others don’t struggle at all, they never try and stop they just look at the others who are struggling and think this justifies their lack of action. The question is what does genuine saving faith look like?

Faith is agreement, but faith is also trust, and the truth about trust is told by the toil of the soul. What is that soul working toward, chasing after, following hard to achieve, and so forth. Who is the soul following after, that is whom the soul trusts, and whom the soul has faith in.

Jesus tells us that if you truly believe in Him, if you truly have faith, if you are truly saved, then you will come after Him, and you will follow Him. Luke 9:23 (ESV) – And he said to all, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." Jesus said that the soul, who puts his hand to the plow, yet keeps looking backward, is a soul that hasn’t been fitted for the kingdom (Luke 9:62). This is not a one time looking back, or a return to the world, but a reluctance to break with it in the first place. An unstable soul is a soul whose faith acts in double-minded ways (James 1:8). A soul that keeps looking back is a soul who is in control, not a soul who has surrendered control to Jesus, and Jesus said that we must lose our control of our lives for His sake (Luke 9:24). Someone who keeps looking back is someone who is still in control, and that is where their faith is, in their own control, not Jesus.

Faith is not just agreement faith is action: not just a faith in facts but a faith that acts. It isn’t just signing off on a statement of faith; it is living a life of faith demonstrating what that statement says. It is not simply theory, but practice, not just orthodoxy but orthopraxy. Faith is as faith does, faith is following after what we have faith in. What we follow after is what we want, and what we have faith in.

We have been saved by grace through faith, but it is a grace that preserves us, not a grace that paralyzes us. This same grace that saved us leads us into good works that God preordained us to do (Ephesians 2:8-10).

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (James 2:14 – ESV) So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. (James 2:17 –ESV) For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:26 – ESV) James tells us that our faith shows that it has been made alive by the good works we do. Is your faith alive or is your faith a lie?

The problem is where to draw the lines. Some will say they have works and faith, but they are using their own definitions of works and faith. Some may indeed show fruit, but is it fruit of and for the kingdom, or a false fruit that only makes them feel justified?

Jesus said we must take up our cross daily, so staying in a situation is not an option. Falling into sin is not the same as following along with sin. The struggler who is genuinely saved is trying to take up their cross daily, they just keep letting it slip. The other is perhaps doing “better” than the struggler in all other areas, but in the one area they refuse to stop, they stay in and think all the other things they do justify them.

It would be like the person who struggles with a drug addiction, but they are seeking treatment, they admit they are an addict and that it is wrong, and they falter, but they want to do better and by all other indications thy are trying to follow Christ, and are asking for help. The other may not have an addiction, they have a situation, and they are not asking for help, just that we leave them alone, they are not faltering they are failing to get up in the first place. They are not taking up their cross and following Him, they are leaving it behind and think that following Him in this way is enough, and they are dead wrong.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Come On In!

Neither give place to the devil
(Ephesians 4:27)

Is all sin the same? No, when Jesus said that to even so much as look at a woman with lust is adultery, He wasn’t saying that you might as well go ahead and do it. You have to have the sin in your heart and mind before you do it in action, but to add the act adds more sin. See?

There's a difference in degree (seriousness), a difference in progression (how far the sin has gone), and a difference in consequences. All sin has been paid for and all sin is damning, but different sins have different temporal consequences.

People often miss the point about the consequences of sin. The simplistic notion that to make more of a deal over some sins than others is somehow wrong reveals ignorance instead of a more mature understanding of the heinousness of all sin, whatever its kind.

Some sins are worse than others. Yes they are. They are worse in what they do. They wreck you faster and more completely. They damage others more severely. They reach out further and make it harder for you to come back to God. Oh, His hand isn’t so short it cannot save you, but the further you are away, the more it is going to hurt you to get back, that is for sure.

How many people are leaving the door open for the devil? Many, but how many are assigning him a permanent place at the dinner table? It is a different question, and I want to give an example for us to think about.

People are trying to convince themselves that living together, as an unwed couple, is the same as any other sin. Well, it is the same in THAT it is a sin, and it is the same in that it is the same as some OTHER types of sin, but it is NOT the same as any old sin. It has much more disastrous consequences than many people realize or are willing to admit. Staying in sin is much worse than playing with sin. Yes any sin is bad, but inviting it to stay is like inviting the devil to come in through an always-open door.

There is a difference between continuing to make bad choices, falling back and repenting, etc., and having ONE choice to make but refusing to do it, like the difference between someone who is trying to overcome homosexuality and the person who won’t move out of the house from his gay lover, and the person who marches in the gay pride parade, actively promoting it. Homosexuality isn’t the issue with this missive, however, cohabitation is.

Fornication is wrong, of course. However, moving in with and then continuing to live with a sexual partner, as an unmarried couple, is outright rebellion. It is open warfare and it is different. You are leaving the door open for Satan 24/7 while in that state. At least the fornicator who is trying to repent isn’t in that state at all times, they keep making bad choices and letting the devil in. The outright rebel who only needs to make the one choice is always in their state; they always have the devil right there. They are always leaving the light on for Satan to come on in. The person who slips falls into a snare the person who sits is living in one continually and likes it.

There is a difference, a BIG difference between someone who falls into a snare and someone who dwells in the den. The person struggling with sin is leaving God’s table and eating the world’s food. The person who stays in the house of sin is having the devil over for dinner every night, with a permanent place at the table.

Whenever we sin, we are in danger of allowing the devil to get a foothold. If it continues and forms into a habit, that foothold becomes a stronghold. Those that fall into habitual sin are battling against a stronghold that the devil has gotten in their lives, and they keep fortifying it by their sin. That stronghold becomes a fortress. In our scenario, where some live as an unmarried couple, they move into the fortress itself, and they are paying the devil for the mortgage. You might as well put a sign on the front door that says, “welcome to the devil’s place”…

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Forgiving, Forgetting, and Fellowship

But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all men
(John 2:24 – NIV)

Our lives are built in, on, and around relationships, and some are meant to be closer than others. There is nothing wrong with that at all. Jesus had many followers, but twelve disciples who were closest, and three in the innermost circle. What then of other relationships, where do we draw lines, or do we let everyone have the same level of fellowship with us? For us, considering the marriage covenant, we can easily see that not all relationships are to be the same. There are levels of association that we must consider when thinking of these matters.

For simplicity’s sake we can categorize levels of association as Retaliation, Toleration, Cooperation, and Participation. Of course, for a Christian, initiating physical retaliation is never an option (Romans 12:17-21), and spiritual warfare in apologetics and defending the faith are matters where God determines the parameters (2 Corinthians 10:5). We are talking primarily about individual relationships, and also to an extent church cooperation between fellowships. What we want to do is have our relationships advance to the furthest point advisable.

What do we do when someone wrongs us, and then repents? Or when they do not repent, what then? “I’ll never do that again!” How many times have we heard it, or said it ourselves? You can forgive someone but still not be able to trust the person; and that can be wisdom, not unforgiveness. What does forgiveness look like, though? What about those who knowingly take advantage of our "HAVE TO" style of forgiveness (notwithstanding Luke 17:3-4)?

Regarding forgiveness and Christians, let’s paint a picture for your consideration.

Lets say you and I are roofers, and we own a roofing company. One of the members of our small church desperately needs a job, and tells us what a great roofer he is. He is known by us to be a "great guy", and a true Christian, as far as we can tell.

Well, we give him a job. Lo and behold, he is a terrible roofer, he messes up several jobs for us in just a week’s time, and we now doubt if he even had any roofing experience in the first place.

He comes to us and says "sorry, I really needed this job, but I can't do it. But you HAVE to forgive me, right?"

Of course we forgive him. But the question is, would we now say "okay, we forgive you, now you can go right back and get on that roof, we love you."

No, we wouldn't. That would be stupid.

What would we say, then?

Perhaps something like, "yes we HAVE to forgive you, but that doesn't mean that we have to let you keep on ruining our business. Tell you what; go and get some training, get a license, do an apprenticeship with another roofer, and then, maybe, we will TALK to you about coming back to work for us again." "Of course we love you, but we can't let you roof anymore."

Forgiving but not forgetting? Is this right or wise? Where is the line: 70 x 7, or what?

It is what we mean by forgiveness that comes into play here, and what those who know just enough of the Bible to try and justify his or her bad behavior will use to wear someone out with.

Consider this food for thought. I have used this "roofer" example a few times with people who are being used but feel guilty about having to stop someone from using them. It is applicable if they are not trying to get out of "going the extra mile", but that they recognize the other person is in the fold and they don't want to do the wrong thing. You wouldn’t retaliate, and you most certainly would have to tolerate, and you will cooperate in witnessing endeavors or other church activities, but to participate with them in doing a roofing job, now that would be a different matter. Of course, you could do their roof for them, as a way to show your forgiveness, without having to let them ruin your business and your fellowship.

This applies to everyday life, for sure. And church life also. Minor doctrinal differences ought not to divide us completely. We should be at least in the cooperation level, for example regarding disaster relief, let’s say, when talking of Baptists and Presbyterians. Just because we have a disagreement about water (baptism) doesn’t mean we cannot pull together to pull someone out of a fire (physical or spiritual)!

Yes, participation in other matters will be more complex, such as what to do with each other in communion and defining church membership. These issues cannot be dismissed with a simple “let’s just all get along”. Still, if we would understand where we are at regarding the cooperation level, we might not have to have so many exclusions. It is good to have strong convictions, let’s just make sure we don’t take our convictions and then convict others of like precious faith.

What say you?

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Turkish Delights

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, so I'll let this picture, taken by me on a recent visit to Frank Turk's (centuri0n) bookstore, do most of the talking. Notice the authors on the one side, Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer, and the authors on the other, John MacArthur and John Piper...also notice cent's eyes are trying to say something...indeed, we really should be paying more attention to what we spend our time reading...

As a bookseller must sell books to remain in business, Frank does have to stock certain books he might not actually agree with theologically at all, but he does draw T.D. Jakes, praise God! Also, I was delighted to see that he had moved the meaty stuff up front to a prominent section, and still more delighted to hear that the sales of such books had grown considerably, amen...

BTW Daniel, I did buy "Exegetical Fallacies" by D.A. Carson (as well as Carson's book on the Emerging Church and Mac's "The Truth War")...

Hey everybody, do us all a favor and pray for favor for the Kingdom Bound Bookstore and other God exalting stores to prosper and God exalting books to be read...and if you are ever in NW Arkansas, be sure to visit Frank there...he is delightful in person, as I have twice experienced now...

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Monday, August 20, 2007

M-I-S-S ing the Mark

I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.
(Philippians 3:14)

What was Paul pressing toward, what was this mark he was speaking of? It might seem obvious that he was speaking of a spiritual prize, but a cursory look around the church world today would reveal that we are missing the mark, we are not longing for and pressing on and into that thing about which Paul was speaking of. Because we take our salvation as a common thing, as granted and over and done with, and because we still have that old man of sin still kicking around in our fleshly members, we have substituted the mark for other targets, namely Money, Influence, Success, Significance. These have become the standard of spirituality in the world today. Sin is defined as missing the mark, and if we have a different mark than God, well then of course we will miss it.

By aiming at the wrong target we are guilty of M-I-S-S ing the mark. When these things become the measure of our sanctification we are as deceived as the rest of the world. We say we don’t do this, but how many times have we looked to someone who seems successful as our spiritual mentor? How is it that the pastors of mega churches seem to be listened to when some of their doctrine and practice is as horrible as any self-help book out there? Why do so many come, supposedly to Christ, and yet they think that God is supposed to bring them up the social ladder. Friends the social ladder is real, but it leads down into hell. Upward mobility isn’t the upward call, and upward mobility isn’t as important as spiritual mobility. Spiritual mobility is where God can move you to any situation and yet you will still be content.

Paul had all these but gave them all up. As a Pharisee he had all the clout that any Jew could have. He had influence as a member of the Sanhedrin, he had studied under a storied rabbi, and was known throughout his world and beyond as a man to be reckoned with. As much as any Jew at the time, Paul had money, influence, success and significance. Yet he left all this for beatings, jail, being despised, and the trials of being the Apostle to the Gentile nations. No, those things he left behind weren’t the mark he was speaking of. The prize is the high calling of God that is in Christ Jesus, all the other stuff is a wrong marker, and it is missing the true mark.

We all seem to want to be skilled Christians, and by that I mean Christians who are skilled in the ways of the world. We want money, influence, success and significance. We are M-I-S-S ing the mark that God has set, because we don’t have our eyes on the real prize. You see skill is being able to hit a target consistently that others miss. But genius is being able to hit a target that no one else sees. As Christians we are not in this to be able to hit worldly targets that we couldn’t hit before. That is not what God is helping us to aim at. We are to hit the target that God sets and no one else sees.

Can you see the mark of God? Don’t ask God for money, don’t seek to be influential, don’t knock on the door of success, and don’t desire to be significant. Instead, be a spiritual genius. That is the upward call, the mind of Christ.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Saturday Special: Pastor Dave Arnold #8


The late C. M. Ward, in one of his Revivaltime sermons called “Bruised,” quoted the following letters from a child, then a lady facing divorce. The child wrote, “Our mother drinks. I don’t mean just a cocktail at parties. I mean all by herself – during the afternoon. Sometimes the woman next door comes in, and they get drunk together. When my sisters and I come home from school, Mom is usually in terrible shape. Most days, she doesn’t make the beds or clean the house. We have to do the housework, or it doesn’t get done. Then I go to the market and beg for credit, so I can have dinner on the table when Dad comes home…Please help us.” The woman in divorce court was described by her lawyer as, “haggard and overthin from loss of sleep and food, her eyes dimmed and rimmed with red because there were no more tears, quivering and shaken, although not a finger had been laid on her.” Brother Ward then asked his worldwide radio audience, “Are you that woman? Are you that living, tormented, bruised soul?”

The story of Malchus is found in the Garden of Gethsemane as Christ was being arrested for crucifixion. He must have been an important fellow, because all four writers of the Gospels record his story. Matthew, writing to the Jews, and Mark, writing to the Romans, reveal that a servant of the High Priest got his ear cut off by one of Christ’s disciples, using a sword. Luke, writing from a physician’s perspective, informed his Greek readers that it was the man’s right ear, and, also, that Christ healed him. Finally, John, penning his version to the Christian Church, gives us names. He says it was Simon Peter who did this, and the injured man was Malchus.

There are three things about this story to consider, because great things were going to happen to Malchus that night. First, MALCHUS GOT WOUNDED. In the emotions of the moment as Christ was being unduly arrested, the former fisherman was carrying a sword. He drew it, running up to the soldiers, slashing away at them. A poor slave named Malchus became his victim, avoiding having his head split open, but having his ear cut off. See the scene, Peter at one side, holding a bloody sword in his hand, and there is Malchus groaning in severe pain, blood running down his neck and over his shoulder from where his ear had been – WOUNDED! Suzanne Somers starred as herself in a special ABC Sunday night movie called “Keeping Secrets.” The ad stated, “It was a life she couldn’t bear to talk about…until now.” She confessed, “Messing up is what I did best. My life was in chaos. I destroyed my marriage. I got arrested. I was always living on the edge. There were times when I felt that this world would be better off without me. I know why all this happened. I am an adult child of an alcoholic. This is my story.”

Second, MALCHUS GOT WOUNDED BY A PERSON. Here is a man who suffered personal injury at the hands of one of the Twelve. John is the evangelist who tells us that Simon Peter was the one who wielded the sword. “Then, Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant,” John 18:10a. The Greek shows a clear separation between Simon and Peter. It was natural for Simon to act this way, so John uses his old name in connection with the sword. Malchus met Simon Peter at his worst, not his best.

Third, MALCHUS WAS HEALED. Luke says, “And Jesus…touched his ear and healed him.” In the Garden of Gethsemane, one His own followers has wrongly wounded Malchus, and the Lord takes action to vindicate the slave. Injured by a good man, but healed by Jesus. This was the last miracle of the Savior before He laid down His life. In a moment, Malchus’ ear was replaced, indistinguishable from the left ear. Note that all the gospel writers emphasize that he was only a “doulos,” the personal slave of Caiaphas the High Priest, having little time of his own and few rights. He obeyed his master in everything. The name, Malchus, was commonly found among the people of Nabatea and in Syria, so he was probably a slave of Arab or Syrian extraction. He had no light on true salvation, but in the darkness of Gethsemane, an extraordinary Light begins to shine on him. The Lord Jesus looked at Malchus and He doesn’t say, “Well, he’s just a slave, and besides, it’s only an ear.” There are no small wounds to Jesus. He will not acknowledge anyone to be a little person. He doesn’t know insignificant people. It is time for compensation, even though he is a mere slave. Further, the Son of God would not abandon a bleeding slave to go on to an encounter with the chief priests, and Herod, the king of the Jews, and Pilate the Roman Governor. He has time to help a slave, and He has time to help YOU, because He is rich in mercy.

Question: Have you been wounded? Husbands and wives can wound viciously in their marriage relationship. Parents can wound their children. David cut Absalom to the heart because of his illicit relationship with Bathsheba, a wound that Absalom never did allow the Lord to heal. Growing more resentful and bitter, he sought to destroy his own repentant father. Sadly, as is often the case, he only destroyed himself. Children wound their parents. Esau deliberately married young ladies against his parents wishes. “And they were a grief of mind to Isaac and Rebekah,” Genesis 26:35. Family members wound one another. Joseph was terribly wounded by his brothers, yet, as Malchus, he allowed the Lord to heal his heart with forgiveness and mercy. Relationships in the church can be just as hurtful. We have all played the role of Malchus, but also Peter. There is “Simon” in all of us. Paul said during his imprisonment, “No man stood with me…all forsook me,” 2 Timothy 4:16. And then, we can wound ourselves through sin and failure, as did Peter in his denial of the Lord. Thankfully, he was willing to be restored, and became a pillar in the Church.

John was the only one who identified Malchus by name. At the time of his writing, Peter was dead. Church tradition says the fact that John names Malchus indicates that he was most likely saved later on. Evidently, the Christians, to whom John was writing, knew Malchus. His names means, “king.” He could have condemned Christians and the Church, but he didn’t. He forgot the injury and allowed the healing touch of Christ to be the ruling factor in his life. Psalm 147:3, “He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.”

We have all met Malchus, and will face the same choice. A man who had been severely wounded by others gave this experience of his restoration. “I just crept to the feet of Jesus, and greatly, to my astonishment He did not scold me – He knew I had been scolded enough. He did not pity me, and He did not give me advice, either. He just put His arms around my neck and loved me. I was a new man!”

“Then Simon Peter, having a sword, struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus…touched his ear and healed him. The servant’s name was Malchus.”
Dave Arnold,

Pastor, Gulf Coast Worship Center, New Port Richey, Fl.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Friday, August 17, 2007

What is Your Passion?

He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.
(Matthew 27:18 – NLT)

Palm Sunday was all about a misunderstanding of power. The people were shouting hosanna in the hopes that Jesus was about to rid them of their Roman rule. However, Jesus was not about to lead a political insurrection, but a spiritual awakening. His revolution had eternal purposes. The same people that were claiming Him as king would just a few days later curse Him as counterfeit. It seems that the passion of the people had changed during the Passion Week, but the truth is, the people were looking for a different Jesus than the real Savior.

The people had wanted to make Him king (John 6:15). How many of us want “King Jesus” so long as He is going to take away our “social shackles”? Jesus, however, said that His kingdom was not of this world (John 18:36). Why then do we want to “fight for our rights?” He didn’t see Himself as victim; He was the ultimate victor. Yet they wanted another Jesus, Barabbas (son of the father – Matthew 27:16-17).

We see this mentality manifested today in Dominionism, Reconstructionism, Kingdom Now, Joel’s army, etc. We seem to think that we need to “take over” the systems of this world for Jesus. We deceive ourselves; whole movements deceive themselves into thinking that Jesus wants us to take over this fallen world in order to usher in His return. It is the same old story. The question is, do we want Jesus, the political savior, or Jesus the true Savior?

On an individual level, we act as if Jesus came to take us out of our disenfranchised state. We think Jesus is the key to the ultimate life, our best life now, or the secret to finding our purpose. Now Jesus did come to liberate us, not from our social situation, but from our sinful situation. And so we are not to preach a social gospel, or go too far into what is known as “liberation” theology, where the “gospel” that is preached is primarily about the emancipation and empowerment of individuals against “the man”; which is whatever power is seemingly holding them down.

One mega church pastor in our state sells the idea that God wants you to move up the social ladder, from struggling, to stable, to successful, to significant. It’s an easy sell to our flesh and its desire for self-rule, but Christ is concerned about your “spiritual mobility”, not your upward mobility. The prevailing notion that God wants Christians to have worldly success or influence so that they will have respect, an audience, a platform and be listened to is garbage.

That being said, Jesus does indeed give us a new standing as members of the Body of Christ (Galatians 3:28-29). The key to having the “right Jesus” is to know His role as liberator (John 8:33-36) and our role as the liberated (Galatians 2:20).

We want to worship the God who worships us. When He demands our allegiance, without earthly recompense, and brings us hardship instead, we become hard hearted against Him. When He tells us to take up our cross, we demand He be placed on the cross instead. Consider again the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. They thought they knew who He was, but when He was something different than what they wanted they turned on Him, much as we turn our backs on the real God, and instead worship a God of our own desires. Are your passions stronger than your Jesus?

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Chocolate Milk

feed me with the food that is needful for me
(Proverbs 30:8b - ESV)

Have you understood the truth that where God places you He graces you (2 Corinthians 12:9)? When you look back on your life, and as you grow in grace, you discover the hand of providence has always been there for you. It has taken on and worked through many forms. The life of Christ has incarnated in more than one person you have encountered, and this has helped you along your way.

One way is through the parents. Babies cannot feed themselves. Toddlers may be able to stuff food in their mouths, but they cannot handle proper eating utensils. Children may be able to use a knife and a fork, but left to their own devices they would subsist on a diet of sweets and snacks. Teenagers may be able to cook for themselves, but how many would have a regular menu of burritos and fries, sodas and chips? No, the parents have to control the diet of their children, in order to best facilitate their growth and health. The child’s responsibility is to eat; the parent’s responsibility is to feed.

This is the way it is with God. When we pray and study as “baby Christians”, we are not so ready yet to be able to feed on the meat of the Word. The Bible declares that we are to “as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter 2:2). Just as a toddler moves into adolescence, and can now feed themselves, yet they remain in need of a parent to control their diet, lest they eat nothing but “junk food”.

However, just as a toddler isn’t ready to eat a steak, some of us as believers are “such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat” (Hebrews 5:12). We haven’t yet moved on into a more mature state. This is why Paul told the Corinthians that “I fed you with milk, not with meat; for ye were not yet able to bear it: nay, not even now are ye able” (1 Corinthians 3:2 – ASV).

Indeed, it would seem that even considering milk, we often have need of help digesting the truth. Perhaps you have known of children, whom their mother or father was trying to get used to drinking milk? The children resist, but will comply when a small amount of chocolate is added. “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down” it has been said.

The problem is when our “daily bread” is the “bread of affliction” – what then? Well, hard as it may seem, one of God’s gifts to us in affliction is that we may experience His Word in a way that we otherwise could not. It is in this place of grace where we learn some of God’s most profound truths. “It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:71).

Martin Luther discovered this “method” of seeing God in His Word. He said there are three rules for understanding Scripture: praying, meditating and suffering trials. The “trials,” he said, are supremely valuable: they “teach you not only to know and understand but also to experience how right, how true, how sweet, how lovely, how mighty, how comforting God’s word is: it is wisdom supreme.”

Therefore the devil himself becomes the unwitting teacher of God’s word: “the devil will afflict you [and] will make a real doctor of you, and will teach you by his temptations to seek and to love God’s Word. For I myself . . . owe my papists many thanks for so beating, pressing, and frightening me through the devil’s raging that they have turned me into a fairly good theologian, driving me to a goal I should never have reached” (What Luther Says, vol. 3 [Concordia Publishing House, 1959], p. 1360).

Well, that is Luther, a “spiritual giant" you might say. What about us as adults, as we are growing in grace? We are told to ask for our daily bread (Matthew 6:11): but is it okay to ask for “chocolate milk” when we ask?

The answer is yes. Perhaps it might be the necessary ingredient we need to be able to digest the truth God is feeding us on. We might liken this to James telling us to ask for wisdom (James 1:5), or to finding the way to escape out of temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13). In any event, we can be sure God has made a provision for us (Genesis 22:13-14). His grace is sufficient.

We must let God control our diet, and not eat too much junk food. But when the going gets tough, it could be wise to ask for a little “chocolate milk” to go with the bread of affliction.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Christian Success

…Then you will be prosperous and successful.
(Joshua 1:8 – NIV)

One sign of spiritual immaturity is the desire to minister before the time is right. People start to “get right” with God, they finally attend church regularly, and then they feel like they are supposed to go out and conquer the world for God. A person starts to really believe, and they want to put into practice the things they are learning, and that is good. They should be sharing their faith, yes, but not starting some “big idea” ministry. The problem lies in the fact that they aren’t as equipped as they think they are. They are well intentioned, but they are not ready to lead. They may be great leaders in the world, but that doesn’t mean they are ready to lead in the kingdom of God, not yet at least.

They need to learn more than simple desire for God. You have to learn to lead, and it is a process. They need to learn to serve before they can learn to lead, and they have to learn to submit before they can learn to serve. They need to learn to obey before they learn to submit. That is the order: obedience, submission, service, and then, and only then, leadership. Said another way, your actions, attitudes, availability, and then ability.

Most people understand how material stuff has a way of keeping you from God. Well it is the same with ministry stuff. We go from one bad thing to another, we trade one love of stuff for another, we feel like we have licked the covetousness bug concerning material things, just to turn around and find that bug right back on us regarding ministry things. Instead of acquiring material we acquire ministry, and we are blind to the fact that God still doesn’t have our heart, not in that area, at least.

If this is you, you need to realize that this isn’t the way to please God, by doing more stuff for God. Just as your money doesn’t buy influence with God, neither will that big plan you have. What God wants, and requires, of you is that you stay humble, and worshipful, repentant, and submissive, and in order with your family life, loving your wife or husband and respecting them, giving to your children’s lives before you give to your church life, building your personal and family spiritual life before you build your ministry life, and so forth. That is Christian success. No amount of ministry success will change that.

I challenge you to redefine what you think is Christian “success”. Have you truly replaced your understanding of worldly success with a biblical one, or are you just using the same standard and “baptizing” it with words like ministry, and victory. Look again at “acquiring” and “avoiding” – this is what most people, even after they become Christians, think victorious living is about, and they are wrong, dead wrong. Faith without works is dead, yes, but works without faith is death itself. Trying to acquire in order to please God is not faith, and doing for others without caring for home is not faithfulness. Avoiding is not faith its fear. It’s not care, its control.

Remember what Jesus said about faithfulness in another ministry (Luke 16:10-12)? What makes you think you can have this pulpit or parachurch ministry when you cannot even commit to the ministry of the local church, or your ministry at home? Learning to serve means learning to do what the church already knows it needs, not coming up with something you want to do and calling that service. Acquiring ministry is not the measure of spirituality.

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

King's Kids

…he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time…
(Mark 10:30)

Should we be able to expect abundant blessings in this life, and in what form would they or do they come in? The problem is that some would use our verse above, and others like Matthew 6:33, “seek ye first the kingdom of God and all these things will be added unto you” and then declare that if you follow God that things such as money, influence, success, and significance will follow you. Using verses such as John 10:10, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly”, they declare that God desires for all His children to have these “things” in abundance on earth.

You need to know how easy it is for someone to twist the text to say what they want it to say. The things Jesus was talking about in Matthew 6:33 were about physical provisions, yes it is true. Yes we will get some "things" taken care of, but how much we do not know, nor should we really care. We hear promises of a 30, 60, and even 100 times return on our “investment in the kingdom” thrown around a lot, but what many do not realize is that the investment is into a man's kingdom not God’s.

Indeed seek ye first, then God will care for you, but not always in the way we want, and I would contend that those whom seek Him as a means of social respectability or upward mobility first are not actually seeking Him at all, but seeking what He can give them.

"We are King's Kids, of course we should expect ‘favor’", they will say.

To that I reply, "Yes, we should, and so that we know what kind of favor we will get, what did His #1 kid get, and how about His cousin?"

The Apostles considered persecution the favor of God (Acts 5:41) did our Lord Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:11-12)...are you serving the right King?

“Living For Today With An Eye For Tomorrow”©

Monday, August 13, 2007

Follow Your Heart?

The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?
(Jeremiah 17:9)

“Listen to your heart”, “there’s an answer in your heart”, and “what does your heart say?” Books are written, songs are sung, and the beat goes on and on: the cry of the world is to look inside for all your answers. But God has given us the revelation of Himself to guide us, because, as this verse points out, our heart can deceive us. We may “feel” that our heart is right; but we are not to judge our heart, our actions, our experiences, or our motives, based on our feelings. God is the one who, through the Word primarily, determines the state of our heart. Too often we go with our intuitions without truly testing our thoughts by the Word of God.

The presumption is that if we have our eyes “on the Lord”, that all our thoughts and feelings will be “right”. Often this idea is used to propagate the belief that if we ask God for a move of the Holy Spirit in our life that whatever happens is of God. People will then use verses such as Luke 11:13 to justify behavior that is contrary to biblical teaching. This is wrong. While it is true that if we ask for something from God that He is not going to give us a counterfeit, that does not mean that He is going to give us what we ask for at all. He may have done nothing, and we may be acting out of our carnal nature. He may have done nothing, but the Devil and his minions are right there to give us what we want: a feeling, and emotion, an experience.

Certainly we need faith that God will lead us, but not a presumption that our own feelings are God’s will, even when we have good intentions, and they seem right. We must remember that we still have a sin nature, we are not perfected yet, and we must test, not trust, our intuitions.

We hear a lot of talk about walking by faith (2 Corinthians 5:7), and walking in the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), but too often these are taken to mean walking according to our irrational (but we believe supra-rational) intuitions. It is as if we believe our feelings were some kind of force through which we ascend to a higher plane of spirituality. Faithfulness is dependence, but not simply a feeling of dependence. In Christian circles, just as in the secular world, people always seem to want to be “in a groove” or going with the flow. However, as believers you are not supposed to relax your mind and just go with it, that’s hippie talk. Charles Hodge once said, “Faith is not a form of feeling”. Think about that.

Let us call upon the Lord to reveal to us our hearts first – Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139:23-24). Before we blindly accept something, or some manifestation, as God given. There is a way that seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death (Proverbs 16:25) (See also 2 Corinthians 11:14).

The world tells you to follow your heart, but Jesus tells you to follow Him (Mark 2:14).

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Saturday Sermon: Solving the Identity Crisis

Ephesians 1:1-9

Friends, do you know what the great epidemic in the world is today? It’s not global warming, terrorism, or even aids. Let me give you a clue. It is the same problem that has been around for centuries. People have been asking the same questions and trying to fill the same voids, and will continue to do so, through history. Give up? Well, the great epidemic in today’s and every day’s society is the great identity crisis.

The problem of identity crisis is much larger than the church. In the history of mankind, a running theme is to be found among all tribes, nations, and tongues. This stretches to all times, all genders, and all people groups. It cuts across all social, religious, and political strata. This theme is best stated in the questions, “Who am I?”, and “What am I here for?” The great yearning for identity is the warp and woof of religious studies, cultural research, philosophical and theological inquiry, as well as consuming the thoughts of the rank and file of society.

This manifests itself in any number of ways. You hear of it in an almost constant drumbeat of desperation: so and so is “trying to find themselves”. The mid-life crisis seems to have crept into the teenage and every other “age” as well. Popular culture feeds us with movies and books that promise to help us find our purpose. Religious minded works speak of finding out God’s will or finding one’s calling. Most assuredly, the desire of everyone is to find out who they are, why there were created, and what to do about it. Everyone wants to know where and how they “fit in”.

Because of this all-encompassing desire, there are myriad “solutions” offered. The advertisers and marketers have picked up on this, and tell us if we just have this or that item, that we will find true fulfillment. “It will change your life”, if you go to this place, see this person, do this thing, etc. If you watch television, notice the movies that are released, read the paper, and look at the banner ads on your computer, you will see that there is no end to the search for significance, the desire for sufficiency, and the need to feel secure.

To put it another way, every person who was and who will ever be born is really looking for only three things: safety, satisfaction, and rest. Think about it and you will agree that any desire can fall into one or more of these categories. This is why it is so critical that Christians understand that it isn’t who we are, but whose we are. Jesus said that if we seek to find our life we would lose it, but that if we lost it for his sake we would find it (Matthew 16:25). Instead of needing a certain social or political status, religious, professional or community standing, we need to identify with who we are in Christ. The truth is that in these days of increasing tension, compromise, and apostasy, unless we find ourselves in Christ, we will find ourselves in hell.

When the pressure is on and life becomes hard or boring, the temptation is to let the world begin pressing us into its mold. Christians are in danger of falling away if their faith hasn’t matured to the point of Jesus living his life through them (Galatians 2:20). The great need of this or any hour is for Christians to know and experience who they are in Christ. Indeed this seems to be the thrust of the Pauline revelation (cf. Colossians 1:27).

Unfortunately, most in the Church today have no perception of who and what they really are in Christ. It would seem that there are four chief reasons for this: the lack of belief, the lack of understanding, the lack of knowledge, and the lack of application. Some believe that they are living only for the sweet by and by, and that this life is only to be endured, and never to be enjoyed. They fail to realize that “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8).” The hope of glory is only for the future, they reason, and don’t have the revelation that this hope should vitally affect life for the Christian in the here and now (1 John 3:2-3).

Others are trying to live out the Christian life in their own strength. They are trying to work to please God. However, the thing about working to please God is that you never know when you have done enough or performed well enough. The devil will tell you, “You could have prayed longer. You could have gone to one more church service. God is not pleased with you.” But when you understand God’s grace, when you understand God has already done all the work, then all you need to do is receive His gifts of grace. All the pressure is off, and peace is the result.

Thirdly, there are Christians who don’t have any knowledge of this, they have never been taught who they are in Christ, or haven’t grown in their knowledge of God. 2 Peter 1:2 points out that grace and peace can be multiplied to us through the knowledge of Jesus Christ. Understanding of God’s Word always increases our capacity to handle more of His blessings. As we increase our capacity, God increases the amount He gives.

The lack of belief, the lack of understanding, and the lack of knowledge have led us to where we are today, where Christians, who are supposed to be enjoying “life more abundantly (John 10:10)” are languishing in a sea of despair. When such a weak life is presented, no wonder the world is not turning to this Christ. No wonder self-empowered (instead of Spirit-empowered) Christians are becoming like the world. We haven’t applied the identification truths of Christ to our lives.

Christians need to ask themselves some important questions: Do you really know who you are in Christ? How do you see yourself as a Christian? Do you see yourself as powerful? Or do you see yourself as impotent? Do you understand the true extent of what it means to have the Son of God living inside of you? Do you hold your head up high because of your relationship to Christ, or are you sometimes embarrassed? Do see yourself in rags or in riches?

Jesus said, "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free (John 8:32). Sometimes we emphasize the fact that the truth has the power to make us free. Truth is truth whether you believe it or not. Facts change, but truth does not. And truth is truth whether you know it or not.

Let us approach this from a different perspective. There are times when we can never be free unless we "know" the truth. If you do not know the truth, you may be acting on a lie. If you act on the basis of an untruth, then the untruth becomes the reality for you. We often shortchange ourselves by believing we are less than God says we are. What a shame it would be to believe you are a pauper when you are really a prince.

I have got good news for you as Christians. The book of Isaiah, in its prophecies about the coming Messiah, tells us that safety, satisfaction, and rest are to be found in Christ. Isaiah 32:2 – And a man shall be as an hiding place from the wind, and a covert from the tempest; (this is safety) as rivers of water in a dry place (this is satisfaction), as the shadow of a great rock in a weary land (this is rest). This was a prophecy looking forward to the coming of Christ, and to what he would do for us.

Now we look back and see what Christ has done for us. The first chapter in the book of Ephesians tells us of what God has done in Christ for us to be significant, so that we can rest from all our striving to be somebody. It tells us that we are sufficient in Christ, and that we have all we need and can find satisfaction in Him. It tells us that we are secure, that we have safety in Jesus. Today, I want to assure you of who you are in Christ, and call you to act in faith upon these truths. If you do, you will indeed have safety, satisfaction, and rest. Amen.

In the first nine verses of Ephesians, we discover at least three characteristics of who you are in Christ. And these three comprise a revelation that is most needed by the church today. If these three were understood, it would solve the identity crisis in the church.

The first point I want to make is that in Christ we are significant. Looking at our text, Ephesians 1:1 says that we are saints. Think about that. Not just a sinner saved by grace, but much more. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that we are the righteousness of God in Christ. If the clothes make the man, then we have it made, because Jeremiah 23:6 says the Lord Our Righteousness, it is His righteousness that we clothe ourselves with. Nothing can make us less or more holy than we are in God’s eyes right now.

We are significant, we matter to God. 1 Peter 2:9 says you are part of a royal priesthood. That sounds important to me. Revelation 1:5-6 says that Jesus has made us kings and priests in the kingdom. In the Kingdom of God we are players, we are significant.

We are significant, we matter to other believers. 1 Corinthians 12:14-24 says that we cannot function properly without one another. Ephesians 4:16 says the body of Christ, that’s us, must come together, using all of its parts. You are just as important to the body as me, and you are just as important as Billy Graham, or any body else for that matter. When a team wins the Super Bowl, every person on that team, even the backups, get a ring. Everyone counts in the Kingdom of God.

This is how we apply this knowledge of our significance in Christ. Hebrews 4:16 says that we are to come boldly to the throne of God. Ephesians 3:12 says that we are to have boldness and access with confidence because of Him. Amen. Our prayers are like prophecy, we just call on God to fulfill in our daily lives what He has already deposited in us; we make a withdrawal on our heavenly, and inexhaustible account. 1 Peter 4:10 says there are many graces in God, we all have been given grace, we all have something to give. We all are significant.

The second point I want to make is that in Christ we are sufficient. Ephesians 1:3 says that he has blessed us with all spiritual blessings. It’s not that he will bless us, but that he has blessed us. It’s a done deal. Colossians 2:10 says that we are complete in Him. Complete is even more than sufficient, isn’t it? Complete means lacking nothing, sufficient for anything. You have got what it takes, no matter what it takes.1 John 2:27 says you have an anointing, and no man has to teach you, God will teach you by the Holy Spirit himself. You are sufficient; you are anointed. Romans 5:2 says we have been given grace which gives us peace with God, enough grace to stand in any circumstance.

To apply this we need to look at 2 Peter 1:4-10. We partake of the divine nature through the great and precious promises. We need to take the Word as the Word about us and act on it.

The third point I want to make is that in Christ we are secure. Ephesians 1:4-9 says that we are chosen, holy, blameless, predestined, adopted, accepted, redeemed and forgiven. We know His wisdom, insight, and His will. It says that this was a pleasure to God; it makes God feel good that we are in Christ. It says this gives Him glory. I ask you, does this sound like we are secure? Would you throw someone out of your house who made you feel good, and who praised you and brought you nothing but glory? Would you give them all these things if they weren’t secure with you?

We are secure. Romans 8:35-39 says that nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ. Somebody say “nothing.” We are secure no matter who is against us, what we do, and no matter what happens. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 says we have hope, that even when we die, we have a reception in glory, a resurrection of our body, and a reunion with the saints. These promises tell us that we are as secure as secure gets.

The application of this truth is found in 1 John 1:9. When we sin, we go to God and ask for forgiveness, and He does so not only because He is faithful to us, it says that He is just in doing so. It is the right thing to do, to restore our fellowship with Him. He longs to be in close communion with us. James 4:8 says that if we draw close to Him, He will draw close to us. In Christ we are secure in that we can never lose our salvation, our relationship cannot end because it is based on the Father’s own relationship with His perfect Son, and we are in Him. We have an eternal, legal forgiveness. Justice has been served, and we are justified, just as if we had never sinned.

Now we still make mistakes, we still sin, and we seem to lose fellowship. But take heart, because we can get right back into pure fellowship with God by coming to Him for daily cleansing, like washing our dirty spiritual feet. The holiness has been given, we are already made holy (Hebrews 10:10), we do not work for it; we work from it. We have legal, judicial forgiveness, what we need is parental forgiveness. Judicial forgiveness is what makes God our Father. Parental forgiveness is calling on God as Father. It is as if you have a child who tracks mud through your house and on your new carpet. They are still in relationship, but until they ask for forgiveness and the dirt is removed they are not in good fellowship. Judicial forgiveness deals with sin and eternal damnation, parental forgiveness deals with sin and temporal defilement (2 Corinthians 7:1). The daily cleansing is a matter of humility, repentance, and devotion. Allow God to wash your feet. And learn to wash the feet of others. This is what Jesus was teaching in John 13.

You see you are a minister in God’s kingdom. Sure we all have different roles, but we all have a part to play. We are instructed to be part of the process of one another’s forgiveness. Not in the judicial or parental sense, but as a part of the fellowship of the saints. We all minister to one another this way. James gives us clear instructions on how we can fulfill this command Jesus has given us (James 5:16) The context of James 5 is that Christians can get really defeated in their spiritual lives. Persecution, trials, and the sufferings of this life can weigh so heavy on a Christian, he sins, he backslides, his spiritual feet get muddy and filthy, and his fellowship with God is broken, he loses his peace and joy, he gets spiritually sick inside, spiritually depressed, he doesn’t feel like praying, he doesn’t feel like reading his Bible, he doesn’t feel like going to church. If this is you what should you do? You should confess your sins to a brother or sister in Christ. Let them pray for you. Let them wash your spiritual feet. Let them be significant. Let them fulfill their ministry.

We must realize that God loves us, and He has accepted us. There is nothing we can do for God to love us more. There is also nothing we can do for God to love us less. God doesn't change us so that He can love us; He loves us in order to change us. It is His love that changes us. If believers would surrender to that love, bask in it, and rest in their relationship in Christ, they would feel secure and understand that they are accepted. Then they could wash one another’s feet.

In Christ you are significant. In Christ you are sufficient. In Christ you are secure. You can say it another way. In Christ you are righteous. In Christ you are rich. In Christ you are received. You are a saint, so learn to realize your righteousness. You are blessed with every spiritual blessing, so learn to rely on your resources. You are accepted in the Beloved, so learn to rest in your relationship.

In closing, I want to stress how important this is to our everyday lives, and what it is that Christ has done for us in the here and now. If you live based on what others say about you, you may or may not be any better off. It depends on whom you talk to. If you live based upon who God says you are, then you can hold your head up high. You are somebody because Jesus lives in you. In Christ you have all you will ever need. And in Christ you are totally secure. There is no person, power or thing that can ever take that away from you.

We are significant, we are sufficient, and we are secure. We have found safety, satisfaction, and rest. We need to stop identifying with our hurts, our hindrances, and our harassments, and start identifying with Christ. He has already identified with all your troubles (Hebrews 2:14 / 4:15), and has taken them away if we will only allow them not to come back on us (1 Peter 5:7). When the world, the flesh, or the devil try and talk you out of your inheritance, you need to talk yourself right back into it. You need to help others identify also (Hebrews 12:12) – this is how we are filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18-21 / Colossians 3:16-17). Understand what Christ has done, identify and be filled with all the fullness of God.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Prayer Primer

…that they ought always to pray and not lose heart
(Luke 18:1 – ESV)

Prayer is many things and we are not going to cover everything here, but what we want to do is give some specific principles that you will find as you come to understand God more fully. These things could be backed up with hordes of proof texts, but the point is that God has revealed His character in the Bible so clearly as to render these principles obvious to anyone who wants to truly have a prayerful relationship with Him. These are good to remember.

Thank Him for what you have before you ask Him for what you need. He already knows what you need (Matthew 6:8,32); what He wants is to hear how much you appreciate what He has already done.

Tell God what you have done wrong before you ask Him to make it right. God already knows what you have done wrong, but He wants you to live in constant view of the fact that He does know all that is going on about you, more than we know about ourselves. Realizing we are open to God (Hebrews 4:13) helps us to live a more holy life.

Praise Him for who He is no matter what He does. Matthew 6:13 alludes to 1 Chronicles 29:11-12 – our prayers should have doxology in them. Until our hearts find their safety, satisfaction, and rest in God, they will have no rest. We cannot glorify God in the world until we have glorified Him first in our hearts.

Why do we pray?

P ersonal
R elationship
A s
Y our
E nd
R esult

Thursday, August 09, 2007

I Come In Peace

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
(Colossians 3:15 – ESV)

The peace of Christ, the fruit of the Spirit should characterize the community of God’s people, the new man in manifestation. Paul is talking about the group but this also has application to the individual. Of course if each member is following this “rule” then the group will be in peace as well. The church should be like a filling station where we can have the peace of God poured into our tanks, readying us for another week in the world.

Of course, a weekly fill up is wonderful, and a mid week top off of the tank is a good idea. However, even the pastor can’t spend every waking hour at the church in the presence of God with other believers. We’ll have to wait for heaven for that to happen. So we are stuck with ourselves sometimes, and we had better be sowing peace daily, otherwise it could hinder and hamper our church time.

Be thankful that you have been called into the body of Christ, wherever you may be in a local body; let the peace of Christ rule in you personally and it will help corporately. The Greek says to keep on being thankful; it is a continuous obligation. You were indeed called into a body, and a hand doesn’t hit its own stomach, the knee doesn’t smash the other on purpose, etc., etc. When you hit others in the body you hit yourself, you wouldn’t take one of your hands and slap the other and say, “ now get with it” would you? No you would realize that it is a team problem, so get together around Christ and work it out. The progressive nurture and thus preventative maintenance of this relationship is vital to our individual, spiritual lives.

We must strive for peace (Hebrews 12:14) and not try and strike back (Romans 12:17-21). Though with some there can be no peace, we can still have peace overall. For example, in spite of our being in a spiritual war, we have peace with God, and though we may have outer conflict, we have inner peace, both in a personal and a corporate sense.

We need true peace; some have peace on the outside but war on the inside (Psalm 28:3, 55:21). How do you know if you are or if someone else is acting in peace? James 3:13-18 gives us many clues to look for in situations and be aware of in our own lives.

13 – live peacefully and it will show its rightness to others.

14-15 – make sure of your motives, the truth is to be held up as first priority.

16 – selfish motives will engender strife and still worse it will lead to all sorts of evil. Look at this verse carefully; covetousness is the mother of all sin, as we see evidenced here once again.

17-18 – the right kind of peace and wisdom is unspotted with the world (James 1:27, 4:4), and is willing to listen as we draw close to God together (James 4:8). If we are true peacemaker’s not just conflict avoiders then there will be a harvest of peace, if not the trouble will surface again. It is not about avoiding conflict it is about truth and trust, in God, in the Holy Spirit within each other and the process of peace. Not “leave me alone”, but “help me to grow”.

Don’t come looking for a fight, come bearing peace. Remember, peace follows love (Ephesians 4:2-3). If you cannot have peaceful fellowship with God’s people, whom exactly do you expect to have peace with?

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

The Seeds of Peace

And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of goodness.
(James 3:18 – NLT)

In the context of life and its daily stresses, we tend to lose peace. We start off our week just fine but then our peace seems to be siphoned off. In most of those situations, we can find ourselves becoming overwhelmed by the temporal aspect and sin and death begin to have their way with us (Romans 8:6). We cry foul and believe someone or something has “stolen our peace”. Suddenly our tanks have become full of the acid of irritability.

Well, you can’t expect that nothing will ever come along and cause disruption or distress. Peace isn’t a magic wand that makes the world go away. Peace is something we need to be armed with before we enter into the conflicts within the context of life. We need to start each week, and each day, with a “fight for peace”. Before, during, and after each day we need to pray for peace (Matthew 14:23). Peace is not the lack of conflict it is in the face of conflict. You can’t be lax about it; it truly is a war for peace these days.

But I have no time, that is the problem!” you protest. Yes you do. Not to sound rude, but if you use the bathroom each day, then you have an opportunity to pray alone each day. God sees you when you are in there anyway, might as well pray while you are there; if you are as busy as you say you are then it may be the only chance you get alone that day. Of course you can pray while you are in the midst of the battle anyway, you don’t have to close you eyes or move your mouth to pray.

You don’t understand what I am going through!” you protest again. No I don’t, but God does. The key is, “What does God say about your situation?” He says that by keeping our minds renewed and sustained by Him we are fostering a continual peace (Isaiah 26:3). The way to see God move in your situation is to foster peace with others (Matthew 5:9 / James 3:18). We need to be sowing seeds of peace throughout our day.

That won’t help me now!” you protest once again. Okay, so today might not be so great, but use today to learn a secret of peace. The secret is this: be proactive with peace, spread it out today so that it can come back to you tomorrow. Do you see it? The way to get peace for yourself is to give it away to others beforehand. Why do you think the Apostles were always saying “grace and peace to you?” They had to deal with stresses you and I will never have to deal with. They knew that they had to keep planting peace in their war for the gospel.

You’re saying it’s my fault!” I am not saying if you have no peace it is your fault, what I am saying is that if you need more, plant more. The seeds of peace are your ammunition in the war for peace. Sow everywhere, to everyone, even and perhaps especially sow where you think it won’t grow, you will be surprised at what God will do for you. Don’t just sow to friends; sow peace among enemies, or right where the battle rages hottest. Find new fields for peace and you will reap a peaceful new harvest.

Grace and peace to you.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Not Number One

I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine;
(Song of Songs 6:3 – ESV)

One of the big problems with martial relationships is the idea of having to make sure our spouse stays number one in our lives. Why is that a problem, you say? Shouldn’t we be concerned about letting our affections slip? Well yes we should, but the problem is with that perspective in itself, the perspective that says we are to keep them number one. It is not the problem of keeping our spouse number one, but assigning a number at all. There shouldn’t be any other “numbers”. They are not number one; they are the only one. We shouldn’t be giving any of our affections to anyone else but our spouse. You know what type affections I mean. Romantic, emotional, relational, do I have to list them all?

It isn’t about putting them first; it is about them alone, setting them apart in that no one else can receive the precious things that are meant only for them. The problem is that we don’t see these things as precious, but they are an integral part of a marriage relationship. In truth, beyond the physical companionship and sexual intimacy we long for in a marriage, these are why we get together in the first place, because we want someone to share our life with, our dreams and our struggles. These things will help with intimacy. These things don’t belong to anyone but our spouse, and if you are giving them away, you are stealing them from the marriage. It is not within your rights to do so.

Not number one, but the only one.

The only one you share your dreams with.
The only one you share your struggles with.
The only one you share your life with.

Your relationship with your spouse reflects your relationship with God. Think about that. Your spouse shouldn’t be number one. They shouldn’t have first place. They should have the only place. You know what I mean, don’t you? Are you cheating in your heart? Be honest. Search carefully. Better yet, let the Lord do it (Psalm 19:12-14, 139:23-24).