Thursday, October 31, 2013

Not Celebrating Ghosts, But God's Victory!

I Corinthians 15: 13-14: "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen, And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty." Continuing on in verses 17-19 it says "And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then these who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we of all men are most to be pitied."

Today is a day when demonic forces celebrate as humans celebrate ghouls, ghosts and witches. People are afraid when they see a ghost raise up from a grave, and rightly so. But Jesus was not to be feared when He rose up from the grave and appeared to His disciples. For believers are not to be pitied, Christ really did rise from the dead! He has shared with His children His resurrection victory!

“Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed it and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him and He vanished from their sight.” Luke 24: 31. I love how it says "He opened their eyes." For my eyes were opened again today, if only in a small way, to the greatness of these facts, and how they forever changed the course of human history. I read in all 4 gospels the account of Jesus showing Himself to the women and the disciples on the third day, when He rose from the dead. Jesus said the kindest words. He is still saying them today, to us, at this fearful time we live in.

In Matthew 28:9, He told the disciples to rejoice, and in verse 10 He said, "Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see Me." Did you notice there that He called them His brethren, not just the apostles or people? We have been made brothers and sisters with God because Christ completed His mission of paying for sins fully and presenting His perfect humanity as a sacrifice for us upon the cross. What could be more glorious than that?

In Mark 16: 9-10 it says this of Christ's resurrection: "Now when He rose early on the first day of the week, He appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom He had cast seven demons. She went and told those who had been with Him, as they mourned and wept. And when they heard that He was alive and had been seen by her, they did not believe." How sad they didn't take stock in what Mary told them. She was one grateful lady, to have seven demons removed from her by Christ's power. They still tremble today.

John gives more detail about His appearing to Mary. He reports in John 20: 14-17: "Now when she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” She, supposing Him to be the gardener, said to Him, “Sir, if You have carried Him away, tell me where You have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him, “Rabboni!” (which is to say, Teacher). Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, ‘I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.’ ”

Jesus is now including God as being Mary's God as will as His! How awesome is that! Before the cross and the resurrection that was not possible, but now Jesus is able to say, "...Here am I and the children God has given Me." (repeated in Hebrews 2: 13, originally quoted in Isaiah 8:18).

Finally, in Luke's gospel (Luke 24: 19-27)we read about Jesus walking on the road to Emmaus with some of the disciples, who did not know who He was. "Then the one whose name was Cleopas answered and said to Him, “Are You the only stranger in Jerusalem, and have You not known the things which happened there in these days? And He said to them, “What things?” So they said to Him, “The things concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a Prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how the chief priests and our rulers delivered Him to be condemned to death, and crucified Him. But we were hoping that it was He who was going to redeem Israel. Indeed, besides all this, today is the third day since these things happened. Yes, and certain women of our company, who arrived at the tomb early, astonished us. When they did not find His body, they came saying that they had also seen a vision of angels who said He was alive. And certain of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but Him they did not see.”

Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory? And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself." Again, I am amazed when the disciples said in verse 32, "Did not our heart burn within us when while He talked with us on the road, and when He opened the Scriptures to us?"

So, on this day when the world celebrates dead people, haunted houses and the underworld, I celebrate in only One who rose from the dead, thereby changing the course of human history. For the surest bet in the universe is Christ's resurrection, the one that assures the believer's resurrection as well.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

How Do You Know God?

"We have no need to fear of Someone Who loves us perfectly; His perfect love eliminates all dread of what He might do to us. If we are afraid, it is for fear of what He might do to us, and shows that we are not fully convinced that He really loves us." I John 4:18 (Living Letters: The Paraphrased Epistles by Kenneth N. Taylor

In my reading this morning, I came across a familiar passage from Matthew 25:24 when Jesus told the parable of the talents. Whenever I read those words in the past, I had a funny feeling that I could be the man who had one talent but buried it in the ground.

"Then he who had received the one talent came and said, 'Lord, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you have not sown, and gathering where you have not scattered seed."

That is how I used to know God. How do you know Him?

The lord in the parable answered that his servant was "wicked" and "lazy" in verse 26 of Matthew 25. In the Outline of Biblical Usage, wicked is the Greek word ponēros (G#4190) and has these meanings:

I. labours, annoyances, hardships
pressed and harassed by labours

bringing toils, annoyances, perils; of a time full of peril to Christian faith and steadfastness; causing pain and trouble

bad, of a bad nature or condition
in a physical sense: diseased or blind

in an ethical sense: evil wicked, bad

The word for lazy is oknēros (G#3635) and it means in the Outline of Biblical Usage:

I. sluggish, slothful, backward

For me personally, I see how in the past I was both wicked and lazy. (Let's call a spade a spade.) I did not know God as a loving Heavenly Father because I did not invest the time in finding out just what God's character was. The result was I ended up fearful, thinking God was always ready to "drop the hammer" on me.

How could I be fearful when it says this in Romans 8: 28-39?

"And we know all that happens to us is working for our good if we love God, and if we are fitting into His plans. For from the very beginning God decided that those who came to Him-and all along He knew who would-should become like His Son, so that His Son would be the first, with many brothers. And having chosen us, He called us to come to Him; and when we came, He declared us "not guilty," filled us with Christ's goodness, gave us right standing with Himself, and promised us His glory. What can we ever say to such wonderful things as these? If God be on our side, who can ever be against us? Since He did not even spare His own Son for us but gave Him up for us all, won't He also surely give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for His own? Will God? No! He is the One Who has forgiven us and given us right standing with Himself. Who then will condemn us? Will Christ? NO! For He is the One Who died for us and came back to life again for us and is sitting at the place of highest honor next to God, pleading for us there in heaven. Who then can ever keep away Christ's love for us? When we have trouble or calamity, when we are hunted down or destroyed, is it because He doesn't love us anymore? And if we are hungry, or penniless, or in danger, or threatened with death, has God deserted us? No, for the Scriptures tell us that for His sake we must be ready to face death at every moment of the day-we are like sheep awaiting slaughter; But despite all this, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ Who loves us. For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from His love. Death can't and life can't. The angels won't, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God's love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, Or where we are-high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean-nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord."

from Living Letters, Kenneth N. Taylor

Tell me of another god who loves like this God? A god would actually bear that cross up Golgotha's hill willingly and not open His mouth against His accusers? I have never heard of any. Christianity is the only faith that is God reaching down to man, not man trying to reach up to God through works.

Each day I am gaining confidence in the love He has for me, and that He is involved in every detail of my life. That is why Jesus beckoned us in Matthew 11: 28-30 to come to Him. In Kenneth Wuest's expanded translation it says this:

"Come here to Me, all who are growing weary to the point of exhaustion, and who have been loaded with burdens and are bending beneath their weight, and I alone will cause you to cease from your labor and take away your burdens and thus refresh you with rest. Take at once My yoke upon you and learn from Me, because I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find cessation from labor and refreshment for your souls, for My yoke is mild and pleasant, and My load is light in weight."*

*My emphasis

Though I never knew the Lord to be that way, I one day decided it was high time for me to learn, and take on that gentle yoke. He never promises my life to be free from trials, but He does promise that He will give me rest through them. Each day, my pastor says, is given a "24 hour grace packet" by our loving Father.

I don't want to hide my talent in the ground. So I come to Him and learn of Him, of His graciousness, kindness and faithfulness. He promises He will never leave or forsake me. (Hebrews 13:5) If this is the kind of God that you want to know, I encourage you to come to Him today. As long as you are breathing, He will never turn you away. (John 6:37)

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Dodged Another Bullet? Or Haven't We?

John 9:4 "I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work."

It appears we won't face default tomorrow here in the good old U.S.A. But I wonder how long it will be until the next shutdown? We are trillions of dollars in debt. How are my grandchildren ever going to be able to pay for it? I fear today's deal may be just "kicking the can down the road." Someday, those debts are going to come due. It won't be pretty.

In the past, I've been caught in the trap of looking for a political savior. Really, right or left politically, there is none who can help us. That is why I propose the only way we should look now is up. Looking beyond the hope of this nation fixing itself, because that would be only because of revival in the churches. But that is not a trend of the church in the last days. Sooner or later, a storm will hit and this country will no longer be what it was. But that doesn't mean we can't have hope, even now in this dark hour. Both Psalm 60: 11 and Psalm 108: 12 tell us the very same words:

"Give us help from trouble, For the help of man is useless."

The word useless in the New King James Version is the word "vain" in the King James Bible. In the Hebrew, the word for vain is שָׁוְא, shav'. It is Strong's # H7723 and in the Bible it is used these ways:

I. emptiness, vanity, falsehood
A. emptiness, nothingness, vanity
B. emptiness of speech, lying
C. worthlessness (of conduct)

Nothing in the meanings above say there is one bit of chance for the hope of being able to rely on people or governments. Even the most kindhearted person will let you down if you give them enough time. But God will never let us down. For a long time in my life, I relied on people to try to give me the help only God could give. And when it came to election time, I hoped fervently a certain leader would be elected.

I believe during that time, God kept saying to me, "Hey, why don't You look to Me?"
He proverbially "taps His toes" and waits to be gracious to us. Isaiah 30:18: "Therefore the LORD will wait, that He may be gracious to you;And therefore He will be exalted, that He may have mercy on you.
For the LORD is a God of justice; Blessed are all those who wait for Him."

We can have confidence that God remains sovereign in the whole affair, and He is also sovereign in our lives. If we have believed in His Son Jesus Christ as our Savior (John 3:16), God sees to it that our ultimate destination will be heaven. But the choices we make now will determine the quality of our heavenly future, and also how we will weather the inevitable storm that is coming.

Let's say we are close to the Lord's Second Coming. Jesus asked a pointed question that I keep thinking about: "... Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" I don't want sidelined by disaster so I am not prepared to meet Him on that day. It is my hope that He will find faith in my heart if I am to be here then. He also warned in Luke 21: 34-36:

"But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and the cares of this life and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man."

The word in the Greek for "watch" is agrypneō, in the Strong's G5258, and is used in the Bible this way:

I. to be sleepless, keep awake, watch

II. to be circumspect, attentive, ready

It is in present tense, active voice and an imperative mood. The Blue Letter Bible says this about the imperative mood:
The imperative mood corresponds to the English imperative, and expresses a command to the hearer to perform a certain action by the order and authority of the one commanding. Thus, Jesus' phrase, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mk.1:15) is not at all an "invitation," but an absolute command requiring full obedience on the part of all hearers.

Jesus doesn't give us an option. Since times are hard, it is essential not to be casual in our Christian lives. The Lord will give us wisdom if we only ask for it. (James 1:5)

"...look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh." Luke 21: 28

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

What God Wants to Do...More than We Ever Dreamed!"

Matthew 13: 58: "And He did not do mighty works there because of their unbelief."

The above verse grabbed my attention as I was reading the Word this morning. Think about what the implications of these words mean.Jesus wanted to do miracles as He taught in His own hometown. But He could not. Why? Because of unbelief. God wants to have a "green light" to go forward in His plans (beyond what we could ask or think,(Ephesians 3: 20) for our lives. But unbelief stops Him at a red light.

It got me to thinking about the things I may have hindered in my own life because of unbelief. An English Bible scholar named J.B. Phillips once penned a book entitled Your God is Too Small. It is one I definitely need to add to my "to be read" pile. I am struck by this verse: "Is anything too hard for the LORD?" in Genesis 18: 14. God spoke these words to Abraham after Sarah laughed about hearing the promise she would conceive a son in her old age.

Abraham is considered the eminent human role model when it comes to faith (Romans 4: 16-22) and Moses was called the friend of God in Exodus 33:11. What a privilege to be called that by God. Certainly, our Lord Jesus Christ is known as a "Friend of sinners" in Matthew 11: 19. But for Him to call us His friend is quite another matter.

Jesus says clearly in John 14:15:" If you love Me, keep My commandments." He didn't mean we had to do it in our own power, for we have no power at all to live the Christian life without His ability. John 15: 5 says "I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing."

So we may say we love Him, but if we aren't keeping His commandments, we do not really love Him. One day many years ago I found in reading the Word a verse that brought me a huge sigh of relief. I thought I had to do a million things to be pleasing to God, to fulfill His commandments. In this same book of the Bible, the Gospel of John, it told me, who was trying so hard to make myself acceptable before Him.

John 6:28: "Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” verse 29: Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

Faith is the golden key to pleasing God. Abraham proved his faith before God when he was commanded by God to offer up his son Isaac on Mount Moriah in Genesis 22. After waiting all his life for an heir, God finally gives him a son as a miracle, way after he and Sarah were able to produce one on their own. Then God asked Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering in Genesis 22:2.

"Then He said, “Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” Abraham did not cry out and say, "Hey, wait just a second here! Didn't you say this son would be my heir?" (Genesis 12: 1-3)

The very next verse (Gen. 22: 3) says: "So Abraham rose early in the morning and saddled his donkey, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son; and he split the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him."

He went forward with what God told him to do, and just as he was ready to slay his son Isaac as the offering, God said (Genesis 22:12) "And He said, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me.”

It was then that God provided a Lamb, who typified what God would do on that very spot thousands of years later. God provided a Lamb in our Lord Jesus Christ, being lifted up on the Hill of the Skull, where He tasted death for every single one of us. (Hebrews 2:9) "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone."

All He asks is that we believe Him. He did the impossible part in dying for our sins. He just asks that we believe that He is able to give us a life beyond what we could imagine or think, a life so much better than we possibly could make for ourselves.

Well, then, how do we get faith, some may ask. Paul tells us the answer in Romans 10: 17.

"So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God."

We can please God when we take time from our busy lives to hear God's Word and read it for ourselves. When we find a promise that helps us, we can write it down and expect it from Him. As we grow in grace, the promises of God become increasingly more precious to us. For God's Word is the only Truth in the universe, the only thing on which we can firmly rely. We know that we can "take God's Word to the bank," for Jesus says in Matthew 24:35:

"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words by no means will pass away."

You can please God today just like Abraham, the father of faith did. Simply believe that Jesus is the Christ, the One who took our sin burden upon His back and paid for every infraction of every single man, woman, boy or girl that has ever lived or will live. Believe He died, was buried, and rose up from the grave. (I Corinthians 15: 1-6) You will suddenly have peace, and your life can have a brand new purpose.

If we have already believed, we can always take stock of where we are in relation to believing God's Word. As long as we breathe, we have more opportunities to believe God's Word. This is true faith, the only thing that pleases Him.

Hebrews 11:6 "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him."