Friday, May 29, 2009

What's Your Plan?

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

If Christianity is so easy, why doesn't everyone do it? Well, I don't really think it is that easy, but most preachers and modern day "prophets" would have you to believe that all you do is recite the sinner's prayer and you have automatic "fire insurance." But God goes a good bit further in what he requires of us beyond just believing in Him or in Jesus. The demons know and believe in Jesus. (Matthew 8:29) He wants us to relinquish our own will for that of His. We must give up ourselves and make Jesus the LORD of our lives. Psalm 49 says "no man can redeem the life of another or give to God a ransom for him-the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough-that he should live on forever and not see decay." (7-9) Only the sinless Son of God could afford to pay the price for our sins. We owe Him our lives, but most people do not want to give up the sinful nature. We write it off as an "illness" or a "mental disorder" or "poor self-esteem"-we just have emotional problems, not sin. Sin is bad and makes us feel bad about ourselves, and we certainly don't want to feel bad about ourselves since we are basically "good people"... "The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one." (Psalm 14:2-3) John MacArthur writes "we are by nature enemies of God, sinners, lovers of ourselves, and in bondage to our own sin." (The Vanishing Conscience) We must understand that our hearts are impure and our minds are cluttered with worldly information. We must fill ourselves with the love of Christ and our minds with His Word.

Malcolm X wrote "if you don't stand for something, you will fall for anything." The entire world has fallen for the Devil's lie that we don't need God or Jesus, we can fulfill our own needs and make it on our own through hard work and determination. Or worse, the "prosperity gospel" proclaims that all we have to do is "name it and claim it!" There is nothing wrong with being rich, or beautiful, or having more stuff than the next guy-we deserve that...and don't Christians deserve it more than most because the are "good people?" All you have to do is tell God what you want and sit back and wait for it to be delivered like your slushy at the Sonic. But Paul writes "for although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened." And Jesus said "Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!'" (Matthew 7:22-23)

Paul charges us in Philippians "Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ." (1:27) And Jeremiah 29 says "For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your hearts." (11-13) I don't know about you but it sounds like God's plans are much more promising that anything I could come up with. Due to His inability to lie, I believe that His promises are obvious. He has plans to prosper and not to harm, and to give me hope and a future all if I will come and pray and seek Him with all my heart. Christianity may not be easy enough for the masses to embrace it like the latest low carb fad diet. But it is a lot like the old time diet- push back from the table sooner, move your body, and after a while you will see yourself transform into the person that you always knew you could be on the outside. If you earnestly seek God, read His Word daily, and follow the principles of Christ, you will become the person God always intended for you to be on the inside.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sin and Degradation

"All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away." Isaiah 64:6 (NIV)

I have been very interested lately in the degradation of our bodies, minds and hearts caused by the fall of man after the original sin. Seems we went from immortal beings to experience mortality, from clear understanding to cloudy thoughts, and from praising and communing with God to being filled by evil, all in a single misstep in the Garden of Eden. Will humanity reach a point where we can degrade no more? Is this to be the time of the Lord's return, when our bodies can no longer be defiled any further by the sins of this world? Satan could not be more pleased that God has turned the world over to his rule for a while. (John 12:21) It makes it much easier for him to infiltrate our hearts and minds. We become much more susceptible to false prophecy through the ideas of "wisdom, knowledge, and science."

Just as buildings and cars begin to decay and fall apart through neglect, so do our bodies. Sin has degraded us to early death. The mutation of genes that spread and cause our demise also affect our offspring and beyond. Our souls long to be repaired and maintained through worship and spiritual cleansing. If we do not cleanse our hearts and minds through prayer, repentance, and the study of God's Word, they will grow dark and mired with sin. Like arteries clogged by years of poor diet, soon the precious blood of Jesus no longer flows in our hearts. Instead of igniting the Holy Spirit to burn off the impurities of our life, we quench it. Jesus said "I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin." (Mark 3:28-29) We fill our hearts and minds with creations of man and sinfulness of this world.

Humanity is degrading. Everywhere is sickness, cancer, high cholesterol, mental illness, obesity, heart disease, and more maladies that I care to list. Never before has so much infirmity spread through the human race and touched so many lives. We are creating new and powerful strains of mutated illness that strike the world as a plague in a matter of days instilling fear in the hearts of young and old. We feed our bodies with highly processed foods that have no nutritional value. And we feed our minds with worthless information that has no spiritual value. We must feed ourselves with the Bread of Life. (John 6:35) These earthly vessels are sure to pass away, somehow and some day. But our spirits shall remain forever in Christ our Lord and we will receive new bodies that are no longer plagued with sickness or infirmity. (2 Corinthians 5) But while we are here on this fallen earth, we must make Jesus the Lord of our life and remember that our body is a tabernacle of the Holy God. (1 Corinthians 6:19)

We would never invite company into a dirty house filled with filth and rotten infrastructure. So we should keep in mind that our bodies are home to the Holy Spirit. He fills our minds and our hearts. He cannot exist in darkness and filth, so we must be ever mindful of what we bring into our holy home for God. I have neglected my holy vessel before, but now I understand the old saying "cleanliness is next to Godliness." Having a clean mind and heart for God is like cleaning your home when company is coming. Don't just hide the clutter by stuffing it in a closet, move it out to the curb so that you can breathe easier knowing you have room for the gifts that your Holy Visitor will bring: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22-23)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

In the Morning

"In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation." Psalm 5:3 (NIV)

The Lord waits to hear our voices cry out to Him when we wake in the morning. I can think of no better way to start the day than speaking directly to God, and neither can He. There are so many references to the saints of God rising early to seek His will for their day. Abraham, Moses, Job, Isaiah and David all speak of rising early to go into the presence of God. Psalm 119 says "I rise before dawn and cry for help; I have put my hope in your words." (147) And Isaiah proclaims "my soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you." (26:9) Psalm 46 says "God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day." (5) Isn't it a comforting thought to know that God wants to be the first one to greet us in the morning? It is like rising to someone standing beside your bed smiling with a cup of coffee made just the way you like it and the first words out of their mouth are "I am glad you are awake and I love you so much!" Even Jesus began his days talking to His Father. Mark writes "very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed." (1:35)

So is it a surprise to us that Jesus calls himself the "Bright Morning Star?" (Rev 22:16) He was faithful to rise early and speak to the people in the temple (Luke 21:38). And John says "at dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and sat down to teach them." (8:2) The Lord has so much to share with us all day long, but He longs for us to start the day off right with Him early in the morning. He is the "Bright Morning Star" that greets us first thing from our slumber with the dawn of the day. Even the birds and animals rise from their rest to sing his praises early in the morning. In fact, this morning at 5:30 with the cool breeze wafting in through the open window, several birds began loudly praising the dawn of day. I wasn't quite ready to join them at that point, but I remembered that the Bible says "let everything that has breath praise the Lord!" (Psalm 150:6) The birds were simply being obedient to God's commands, so why is it so hard for the rest of us? Lamentations says "they (compassions) are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (3:23) So remember "do not love sleep or you will grow poor..." (Proverbs 20:13) God is faithful to share his riches every morning, we only need to meet him and ask. May we grow richer every day through His bountiful gift of our Bright Morning Star.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Misplaced Priorities

"Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)

Have you ever stepped away from the will of God for just a moment to make a decision? Not taking time to kneel at His feet and ask what the right and true answer is to your question or dilemma? I have many times. We sometimes get lost in our own humanity and make decisions based on our own knee jerk reactions or what we believe to be right based on how we "feel about it." God wants us to look to Him for our every need. When we choose to live without Him, He will become silent until we return to Him with humility for redemption. Job says "for I have been allotted months of futility, and nights of misery have been assigned to me." (7:3) The Lord will sometimes test us by not revealing himself to us in a situation. David cried out "O God, do not keep silent; be not quiet, O God, be not still." (Psalm 83:1) Even the man "after God's own heart" made mistakes and asked God to continue to reveal himself. Nothing could have been more painful for David than for God to remove His presence from his every move. We should feel the same way today, but over time sin has degraded our relationship to the Lord, and Satan has weaved himself into the very fabric of society and our beings.

When we trust in our own intuition and knowledge, we will often make mistakes that affect not only us but the people around us. What we know to be true is worthless because of our humanity and sometimes misguided priorities. "Let him not deceive himself by trusting what is worthless, for he will get nothing in return." (Job 15:31) Satan is counting on us trusting in our own knowledge and priorities. That is the way that he can get into our heads to cause strife in our lives and we will become our own worst enemy. When the first negative thought or deed comes into your heart or mind and you feel the conviction of the Lord, humble yourself quickly so that you will not fall prey to the Devil and your decisions and reactions begin to spiral out of control. James says "humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up." (4:10) We cannot lift ourselves up, only God can do that. Trusting in ourselves is like eating, never to be full-our desire to be ruler of our own lives will result in travesty and separation from God. "You will eat and not be satisfied; your stomach will still be empty." (Micah 6:14)

When Abram and Lot decided to divide the land and each go to his own part, Lot chose the fertile land that appeared to be the best choice. Abram relented and allowed him to have it while he took the rocky slopes of Canaan. But what we see as a perfectly clear and right choice made outside of the will of God will often result in travesty just the same. "Early the next morning Abraham got up and returned to the place where he had stood before the Lord. He looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah, toward all the land of the plain, and he saw dense smoke rising from the land, like the smoke from a furnace." (Genesis 19:27-28) Ultimately Lot's decision to go for the obvious choice ended in travesty and destruction. Abraham's choice to follow God and allow Lot to take the fertile land was rewarded even though it seemed unfortunate at the time. So may we never take our lives for granted and become ruler of our own little universe. Only God can give us what is good and right and we must constantly remember that our wayward decisions that appear to be without fault will often result in destruction and heartache for us and our brothers and sisters around us.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Back to Basics

"And I saw that all labor and all achievement spring from man's envy of his neighbor. This too is meaningless, a chasing after the wind." Ecclesiastes 4:4 (NIV)

There have been a lot of commercials lately about "getting back to basic." We even pray for it in our church services. In our tough economy, seems people are having to give up some of the creature comforts that they once considered "necessities" and the businesses are taking a hit. They are all now trying to convince us that they are a "basic" need and there is no reason to give up whatever service they are providing whether it is expensive blended coffee or an extended warranty on your car.

So what is really our basic need? Jesus said "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?" (Matthew 6:25) Seems that our "right" to a certain lifestyle is ultimately limited to our life in Jesus Christ. Each of us is entitled to trust Him and become heirs with Him in the Kingdom of God. Isaiah predicts "in that day the Lord will snatch away their finery..." (3:18) All the valuable things of this world are worthless compared to finery that we will don when we are clothed in the glory and majesty of God. The gold and priceless stones we covet on this earth are used to pave the streets in Heaven. Would you collect asphalt from the roadway to wear around your neck?

So I began to look around at what the Bible says about getting back to basics. Not much, really. The word "basic" lead me to the word "foundation" which lead to the word "building." I Corinthians 3 says "by the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ." (10-11) That lead me to the conclusion that getting "back to basics" meant getting "back to Jesus." For He is our rock and our cornerstone. If we build our lives upon Christ, all of the important things are achieved and the worldly possessions and necessities don't really seem that important any more. Suddenly what the Jones have is nothing compared to the treasures that are waiting for us in our Heavenly mansion.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Be Thankful for His Many Gifts

"Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; His love endures forever." Psalm 107:1 (NIV)

Would you receive a wonderful gift from someone and not say "thank you"? In these days of constant obligation and expectation, I have sometimes given gifts that were not received with gratitude. In my human nature, I decided that if one was not thankful for my thoughtfulness, then they would not receive any other gifts in the future. For nothing is more discouraging that to thoughtfully select, prepare, and give a gift that is not appreciated or acknowledged. The same is true for actions. Imagine a spouse who works diligently for years to care for and honor their mate, only to never be appreciated. How discouraging the thanklessness of others can be.

Aren't we glad that God is faithful to continue to love us in our thanklessness? He feeds us with the Bread of Life, satisfies us with Living Water, and clothes us in righteousness. Yet we forget to thank Him and praise Him and we fall away from His ways. Psalm 107 speaks of God's amazing righteousness and forgiveness, "Some sat in darkness and the deepest gloom, prisoners suffering in iron chains, for they had rebelled against the words of God and despised the counsel of the Most High. So He subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress." (10-13) Aren't we glad that God doesn't think like us! " 'For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,' declares the Lord." (Isaiah 55:8) For if God did not continue to give us gifts even during periods when we do not appreciate them, we would be eternally filled with gloom and despair, never again to receive a blessing.

So let us not forget to be grateful to God today and every day for His amazing gifts! He sent Jesus to save us from eternal damnation if we believe, He fills us with the Holy Spirit to guide our ways, and he makes our path straight because of our oppressors. (Psalm 27:11)

I humbly thank you Father for all the gifts that you have bestowed upon me. I praise your name for all that you are and all you have done for me! Thank you for Jesus and for my salvation. I pray that You guide me in paths of righteousness for Your Name's sake so that I may have a crown to cast at Jesus's feet when I get to heaven. Amen.