Real Faith

November 4, 2018

John 1:25-26… They asked Him, “Then, why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor The Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water but among you stands one you do not know.”

            This was part of the response of John the Baptizer to a group of men who came from the Pharisees to inquire of him who he was. The last part of his response is what hit me this morning. “Among you stands one you do not know.” I know he spoke of Jesus and that He had not yet been revealed, but I immediately thought of us and our relationship with Him. Do we know Jesus, who stands among us? Or are we content to refer back to our conversion experience as proof of our citizenship? An elder from our church came to see me at the hospital last week and he told me that he and a friend sought a more meaningful name than “Christian”. After much prayer and discussion, they chose “Faithful Follower”. To be a faithful follower, one must hear His voice.

John 10:14… I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me.

    “      “ :16… I have other sheep that are not of this fold. i must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.

            I am one of the “other sheep, not of this fold.” I am a non-Jew who was adopted into God’s family. Notice what Jesus says about me/us, “They will listen to my voice.” Of all the things He could have said about future Christians, He chose to say, “They will listen to my voice.”

            Nowadays we identify ‘Faithful Followers’ by a name and are content with that. The name “Christian” was originally given as an identifier but without any real significance. In fact, some historians tells us that it was a derogatory term, meaning “Little Christ.” Saying that we want to be “like Jesus” is a good thing, but what exactly do we mean? If I know Jesus by watching a bunch of Christians, then I must say, He was truly not special.

            There is, and always will be, only one Messiah. Be a faithful follower of Him. He is God’s word in the flesh. He always, only, spoke Truth. Listen for His voice. And do what He tells you. There are uncommitted followers. Be the other… a “Faithful Follower”.       

Grace and Truth

November 3, 2018

John 1:1-2… In the beginning was God and the word was with God and the word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

            Without further clarification, John’s use of the word “He” in the second verse seems wrong. Who, in their right mind, calls “the word” by the personal pronoun, “He”?

Verse 14… And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen His glory, glory as of the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.

            This verse sheds light on the first 2 verses. “became Flesh…” “and we have seen…” “the only Son of the Father”

            The word, in flesh, was Jesus. Most Christians have heard this and many believe it, but what does it mean? There are many things about God that I don’t fully understand. Am I ok with that? Are you? Jesus was the embodiment of the Word of God. That helps put Him in perspective. When He spoke, He did not try to remember what God thought. He was full of the word. When we read His words, we can know that they are from God. Plus there is a difference between word and words. The words of God are part of the word of God, but the complete Word of God is not known by groups of words. When you hear the command to know God, be aware that it will take your entire existence; you won’t know him after a couple prayers, or a good Bible study. And you will only know what He will allow. He, only, knows the thoughts of men and women. You don’t. Even if someone tells you what they think, you don’t know if that is the complete picture or even if it is honest. In our relationship with God, we will always be subservient. That is part of what it means to know God. “He is my all in all.”

“full of grace and truth…” Grace bridges the gap between us, fallen humans and Truth. Grace is one of the messages of Truth. Truth is not a proclamation on a piece of paper; it is Jesus, himself. God willed it and set it up so that we can only know truth if we know Jesus. And even more important than that… we can only know truth as we know Jesus. Your knowledge of Truth will never lead you away from Jesus. It will lead you to know him more and more. Know Jesus/God.

Trying to undersand

November 2, 2018

Psalms 93:2-3… Your throne is established from of old; you are from everlasting. The floods have  lifted up, oh Lord, the floods have lifted up their voice; the floods lift up their roaring.

            Sometimes, as we read the Bible, we might be confused and feel like we can’t understand God. Verse, above, 3 is like that for me. But today, when I read it I realized it has not yet happened. My first clue was verse 2…”from old… from everlasting.”  The writer of this Psalm possibly didn’t realize exactly what he was writing. He had thoughts in his head and he wrote them down. God put them in order and blessed them with timing. I have  heard floods roaring, but I have not heard of them having  a voice. But I was reminded of a verse in Revelation.

Revelation 19:8… Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters, and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying

out…

            John describes a similar scenario, but he is kind enough to say it sounded like… and ‘voice” was associated with a great multitude. Notice the timing, “Then…” this part of the Revelation is close to the end, leading up to the final battle. Psalm 93 might be more vividly understood at that time. I also read from James today and I will quote a verse from there…

James 5:14-…  Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church and let them pray for him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord, and the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins the Lord will forgive him.

            Yesterday, an elder from the church we attend, came to see me in the hospital. I didn’t know him very well, but better now. We talked about prayer. I suspect anyone, who has prayed, has mixed emotions about it. Does God answer? And regarding today’s verse… what constitutes a “prayer of faith.” Since faith is tied to belief, we must pray, believing. Then the difficult question. Do we believe God will? or only that He can? I want to stay clear of that argument, but I don’t

want to put my head in the sand. Only God knows the future, so, also… what is best for us. Prayer requests require trust. Trust God.

Resist the Devil

October 31, 2018

James 4:7…Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the Devil and he will flee from you.

            I wonder how many people, as I have, have tried this and only encountered frustration. I speak of the second part of this verse. When I have been tempted, I have verbally resisted the Devil and he did not go away. That causes great consternation. But the verse is a complete thought. The first part of it fits with the second part.”Submit yourself to God.” James is not limiting his thoughts to temptations; he is speaking to lifestyle. Are you, in your life, submitted to God or to the Devil? Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? (Verse 3b) If we don’t resist the Devil, we will likely submit to him.

            The Devil will not stop tempting you; that is how he gets our attention. He is leading us to listen to him, and do his bidding. We don’t even recognize temptation except that we have an abiding knowledge of God.

Romans 5:13… For sin, indeed, was in the world before the Law was given, but it is not counted where there is no law.

            The Law defines righteousness and, therefore, sin. The first people born on earth, Adam and Eve’s sons, were born into evil but without the Law. One day, in anger, Cain killed Abel. He had likely not yet been taught that killing was not good. God confronted him, and his response to God is revealing… “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Those were not the words of a ruthless killer; they were the words of someone who didn’t know the rules. About many scenarios, we might ask the same question. Jesus, thousands of years later, gave us the answer… “Love one another.” Love is the grease that allows the wheels of God’s world to spin freely. The world mimics God’s laws. Murder is not allowed and one can be incarcerated for doing it. That is the world jumping on board with God and defining wrong. But the world allows for certain motivations and reduces the sentence accordingly. God simply says, “Love your neighbor.” Submitting to God is a life decision, not an event manipulator. Submitting to the Devil puts us under a totally different ruler. Resist that.   

Wisdom

October 30, 2018

James 3:13-15… Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual and demonic.

            Worldly wisdom puffs up; Godly wisdom causes humility. Some years ago, I tried to get into investing in the stock market. I had a little extra money and I thought it would be a good way to improve my financial status. I was fairly thorough; I invested pretend money in certain stocks and watched them daily.  

            I read articles and books to decide whose advice to trust. I think I was possibly seeking worldly wisdom. At any given time, a different guru was the one to follow. It was highly speculative and very competitive. I was driven by selfish ambition. The wisdom of God produces good conduct. “Good conduct” is not necessarily a successful venture. A successful venture is not always the result of wisdom. Sometimes it is the result of hard work, sometime timing, sometimes luck. “Success” is a controlling goal. And it is a worldly one. We tend to want to hear the words of someone who was successful. A successful man might tell you how he worked the system and became wealthy. What he won’t tell you is what he gave up to do what he did. Sometimes the trade offs are substantial and the results are not desired.

            When I was building houses, my employees heard me say often… “I am not looking for perfection, I am looking for progress.” Perfection is a ruthless task-master. God’s wisdom leads us to good conduct and meekness. Would you rather be known as successful or a good person? Most people I know would say, “Both.” That can happen coincidentally. But, good people are not necessarily successful. One would hope that… but it is not always obvious. Choosing good conduct over success is not the American way. And that exposes a problem. The American way is not always God’s way. That will stumble some people, because we tend to think of America s a “Christian nation”. Biblically, the only nation that is God’s is Israel. The U.S. might be inferred but it is not named.

Your Tongue

October 29, 2018

James 3:5-6… So also, the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.

            This warning is so direct we sometimes ignore it, figuring that it must not apply to us. If someone is near or around you that is a busy-body or a gossip, you are inclined to avoid them and not tell them things. The course of their life has been set by their tongue. That simple example shows the effect of the tongue on life. The forest ablaze is not only a picture of evil… although that is in view. It is also a picture of cause and effect. Someone who expresses joy and hope on a continual basis is a delight to be around and people are often around.   James’s earlier analogy about a ship’s rudder is also factored into this statement.

James 1:4… Look at the ships also; though they are so large and driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder, wherever the will of the pilot directs.

            The last phrase of that statement is included in the message today. Not only do we stop our tongue from causing damage, we will it to restore and rejuvenate others. Do you consider your tongue as an instrument of righteousness or is it only a cause of trouble?

James 3:6a… The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness.

            Possibly missing from this statement is the word, “unbridled” before the word, “tongue.” The tongue is a specific member of the body. We are not better off without it; we just need to control it. When it is free to express the negativity that comes from our evil heart of unbelief, it is an instrument of unrighteousness. It must be guided to express the glory of God.

            Fire is not always a picture of rampant evil. On the day of Pentecost, it was representative of the Holy Spirit coming into the hearts of people. Imagine your tongue being involved in that fire… Being “silent” is not the only way to stop your tongue from starting evil fires. Reprogramming it is another way.  

Obedience

October 28, 2018

James 2:22… You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works.

            This statement was made about Abraham, who took his son up a mountain to sacrifice him when he was quite young.

            In several places in scripture, we learn that salvation is a free gift. It is not earned or given because of good works. And yet, somehow, (imagine it) an argument developed about the role of works in a Christian’s life. This section of scripture reminds us that good works are relevant and have a place in our lives. At the same time, James stresses the importance of faith and its place.  

            The other thing that is emphasized in this section is obedience. God asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac. Abraham’s willingness to do what he was asked was not to prove his worthiness to God; it demonstrated his understanding of the dynamics of their relationship. He was going to be used by God but God was still God. And he was simply a willing servant. He would not let even the life of his own son interfere with his relationship with God. And that brings us to pause…

            What would be a deal breaker between you and God? Money? Health? Family? Abraham did not know that God would interrupt him when he sacrificed Isaac and would supply a ram instead. He just knew that somehow God would work it out. We know it didn’t look right because he didn’t even tell Sarah, his wife and the mother of Isaac, what he was doing that day. Abraham stood his ground and became the father of the faithful by his good work; it was counted to him as righteousness. We ought to be thankful that he did it. It was not just that he believed he should do it; he did it. And that gives us a relationship to faith that we were born, again, into. Nothing will be allowed between God and me.

            What do you do when God asks you to love the unlovely? What about when he asks you to help someone who can’t help you in return? What excuse will you use to explain your lack of obedience? As we have noted, obedience assumes/requires trust. Obedience is not to prove faith, nor is it to improve salvation; it is our response to our loving God and His role as king in our lives.  

Rejection

October 27, 2018

James 2:1… My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.

            Have you ever been treated poorly by somebody? Was it ever because you weren’t rich enough? Or perhaps you didn’t look like you belonged with the group? I have, and the damage is long term. Following the immediate feeling of rejection, there is the ongoing feeling of anxiety about possible future rejection.

That is a debilitating anxiety. Anticipation of rejection is nasty. Rejection is deadly. Don’t threaten people with it.

            God does not reject us.

Hebrews 4:16… Let us then draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in the time of need.  

            This gives a backhanded slap to a modern malady… cliques. It is rewarding to belong to a clique; it is devastating to be standing outside looking in. If you find yourself in a clique, open the door to the outside. Always look around for struggling individuals. Find out if you are part of the struggle. Make adjustments as necessary.

            James speaks specifically to Christianity. “…As you hold the faith in our Lord…”  One would hope that Christians would never reject anybody. But, we do. Karla and I planted a church, in Oregon, before we moved down here to Arizona. I remember an unhealthy feeling that I had to eliminate. “We can’t build a church with that kind of person.” If someone was unmotivated, I could not see how they could help us build. Starting a church is  a lot of work and requires a great deal of sacrifice and diligence. I looked for people who could give us that. I suspect I did not greet everyone with the same open armed embrace. I was in error.

            Jesus chose disciples from all across the spectrum of humanity. Peter, James, and John were active fishermen. Matthew was active, collecting taxes. But, Nathaniel was possibly sitting under a tree.(John 1:45-48) Jesus did not define His choice of disciples by certain activities or expressions of motivation.

            Do, we, inadvertently, judge people? Jesus would say, “Don’t.”     

Requests

October 26, 2018      

James 1:5-6… If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. But let him ask in faith with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.

            This section of scripture was used by faith-preachers who sometimes made millions telling everyday folk that they could have what they wanted in life if they asked without doubting. “Eliminating doubt” became a passion of many. I tried it. As a practice, it landed under the heading… “The power of positive thinking.” That was made popular by a man who wrote a book by that name… Norman Vincent Peale. The book did not honor God, necessarily; it took at piece of truth and made it the gospel. The full teaching was… The power of thinking.

Proverbs 23:7 (KJV)… For as a man thinks in his heart, so is he…

            It has been claimed by achievers, “If you doubt you can do something, you can’t.” That is a transliteration of the Bible truth. But, it is an example of the Truth at work. With regard to the verse in question today, James tells us that he was writing about a specific request… wisdom. He was not writing about money or things. Wisdom that is from God is perfect. Never doubt God’s wisdom.

And don’t ask for it in order to better yourself. Often we desire knowledge that others don’t have.

James 4:3… You ask, and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.  

            If you ask for wisdom so that you can ‘win the lottery’, you are wanting to spend it on your passions. Instead, you say, “Lord, help me to think like you think regarding such things.” Jesus did not teach us that we would be better off with more money. That is an expression of the world. We ask without doubting, yes, but we ask in faith. Is your request formed by faith or by passion? This is where the teaching gets convoluted. Is not physical healing a faith-request? It seems to me that it is, but God is greater than our comfort. And for all eternity, we have it! For now, count it all joy when you fall into various trials. (vs.2)      

Obedience Defined

October 25, 2018

Romans 16:19… Your obedience is known to all so that I rejoice over you, but I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil.

            Many popular tv shows magnify evil and the works of darkness. Some of our neighbors decorate their houses for Halloween. In the American culture, it is easier to watch and learn evil than it is good. I just implicated Halloween. I don’t mean to go there. For most people, it is just a day for treats. And kids go from house to house, all dressed up and carrying bags of candy. I used to enjoy staying with a friend in town and opening the door, seeing the costumes. Mostly, the kids were cute and respectful. Karla and I lived in one house, back in Oregon, where the kids came in a steady stream. I drove to the tore once before the night started and twice during the entourage of kids, because we ran out of candy. It was a good night for dentists. The kids acted less than thrilled if we tried to give them a healthy treat.

            Halloween is a good time to teach kids about giving and receiving. And it is a good time to teach moderation, and contentment. However, it is also a time of exalting darkness… witches, and goblins, and death. I don’t even know what a goblin is. I just looked it up and apparently it is a monstrous creature from European folklore… definitely evil looking. Paul instructs us to be innocent as to what is evil. As you probably said to your kids and heard from others, “make good choices.” The eye is the window to the soul. What does your eye feast on in a given day? Whatever you look at is what your soul ‘sees’. Be innocent as to what is evil. The other part of this statement is also important… “Be wise as to what is good.” Fill your eye with good. Karla and I watch mostly faith-based movies. Often they are not very entertaining. The plot is thin and the acting is weak. But, we find that they mostly support good and oppose evil. We open our windows to that.

            Some people study false religions, hoping to better understand them. I don’t know if that pursuit is valid or not but one thing I know… in all of our studies, we need to study God. Don’t neglect that. He is worthy of all our praise and all of our attention. Seek to know Him.   

Reminders

October 24, 2018

Romans 15:14-15… I myself am satisfied about you my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God.

            According to Paul, it is not sufficient to know only part of the Truth. He felt it necessary  to remind them regarding some points that they apparently had not held on to. I am reminded of Jesus talking to the churches in Revelation.

Revelation 2:3-4… I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.

            When Jesus addressed the church at Ephesus, He praised them for their accomplishments and then rebuked them for forgetting something. I read the Bible every year. Am I really that forgetful? “Yes, I am.” Does it matter? “Yes, it does.” Some churches are strong about baptism, or praise, or missions, or whatever… Listen to Jesus’ words to the church at Ephesus. “You are doing well in this area, but I have this against you.” What have you let go of and drifted away from? Is your salvation experience a distant memory or a current reality?

Paul addressed that very point in his letter to the Galatian church.

Galatians 3:3-4… Are you so foolish, having begun in the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain… if indeed it was in vain?     

            Paul writes here about how the people began and then laments about where they are now. Have you drifted from your first love? Have you faded from earlier commitment? Do you make excuses for lukewarmness? The gospel is the ‘full meal deal’.  I use that phrase to illustrate a point. If you order a full meal deal but don’t eat the fries, you did not eat the full meal deal. You picked and choosed. Some people read the Bible like that. They choose what they like and disregard what they don’t. Don’t do that. You dare not leave out an ingredient for a cake. God is more important, right?    

Joy, Peace, and Hope

October 23, 2018

Romans 15:13…  May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope.

            I have attempted to generate joy and peace from within. I think to prove to myself that I am living in the kingdom of God. Paul tells us here that it is God who fills us with those attributes. It is His doing. I don’t even generate my own hope. That, also, comes from God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Humans try to prove their faith and their sincerity by doing stuff. In the verse above, the one thing we bring to the covenant is “believing.” God does the rest.  

            This is an interesting phenomenon. I feel like my belief in God has brought me the opposite of peace. Think about people you are at odds with. How much of the dissention is about God? And yet, according to today’s verse, He fills us with all peace. Peace is not according to circumstances. It could even be called ‘inner” peace. I read a biography of Oswald Chambers. He wrote, “My Utmost for His Highest.” That is one of the most popular daily journals of all time. In his later years, he was on the battlefield as a chaplain to the soldiers during WW1.  Peace is far from experiential during a war. But, this verse was still in the Bible and still applied. The peace that Paul wrote about and that Jesus gave is not circumstantial.

John 15:33… I have said these things to you that in me you might have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.   

            Our peace is in Him. And, in this verse, He lets us know that it is because of His words… I have said these things to you so that… If, in the last days, you find yourself surrounded by gun-toting, angry, people, remember Jesus’ words and find peace in them. That is what He gives. And, more than peace, He gives us hope. I have hoped for many things. God’s hope reaches beyond things. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 that faith, hope, and love abide.  “Abide” means they continue on past every circumstance. Hope is eternal. It continues after we end this thing called life. Many people have ended this life, died, with a smile on their face.  The hope that God give us is the assurance that no matter what happens, we are with Him. He’s got this and He only does good stuff. Trust Him.

Judging

October 22, 2018

Romans 14:13-14… Therefore, let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but decide to never put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. I know, and am persuaded in the lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean of itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it is unclean.

            This is a most unusual statement by the apostle Paul. It seems to encourage individuals to have opinions. Decades ago, when I was in my 20s, we had a question that we asked ourselves, “Is this an opinion or a conviction?” We chose to not hold tightly to opinions but to cling to convictions. In contest, today’s verses aren’t speaking to that dilemma. This whole chapter speaks to one dilemma… judging. Much judgment takes place in the arena defined by opinions. We have opinions about acceptable behavior and we hold those opinions as truths, judging others actions. Today, we learn that Paul allows, and even encourages, opinions, but does not allow judgment according to those same opinions.

            I will now walk out on thin ice to being this into our arenas. Karla and I enjoy good wine. To enjoy wine, one must drink it. We have had some friends, one pastor in particular, who would not drink wine. We had a wine frig in our house and it had wine in it. When we had a gathering in our house that included the pastor, we made no attempt to hide the wine, but we did not offer it to the guests at that gathering. We honored the opinion of the pastor and he honored our opinion by not making a big deal about it and by allowing many gatherings at our house.  

            There are certain elements of truth that are never negotiable and not affected by opinion. For example, Jesus said, “I am the way the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except by me.” No matter what you think about that statement, it remains Truth. But, conversely, “Have some wine with dinner” is not that rigid. By faith, be convinced about your opinion. For every opinion, have a higher desire… that another person is not adversely affected by your freedom. Wine, in and of itself, is not a stumbling block. For some, watching you drink it is a stumbling block. Guard against that issue.

Put on the Lord

October 21, 2018

Romans 13:14… But put on the Lord Jesus Christ and make no provision for the flesh.

            Notice the order of events, as described here. Often people get it backwards. We say, in essence, “Lord, let me first take a shower and then I will come to you, all clean and presentable. Then, you can wash me in your blood and cleanse me.” If you try to get clean in the shower of obedience, or any shower of your choice, you will fail. Only Jesus can wash away sin and the stains of sin. Go to Him… as you are.

            “Put on the Lord, Jesus Christ.” What does that mean to you? To some, it means, “Act a certain way.” If you put on the Lord, you will act differently. But you can’t just act differently; that is phony.

            Some people have heard it said, by Jesus, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Armed with that thought only, they set out to do what it says. That is only the second part of a command. The first part is, “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Without doing the first part, we can get caught up in humanitarian activities. Humanitarian activities can make for a more pleasant lifestyle for all. But we can miss the important part of today’s verse… “Put on the lord.” When/if we do that, we put on love, and love makes no provision for selfish flesh.

Verse 8… Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the Law.

            I have said this before, but I find it important so I will say it again, “God is not defined by our interpretation of “love.”  Love is defined, known, by God. A boy might buy a girl flowers to prove his love. God doesn’t do that; He sent His Son to die. True love does not go to the store with whatever left over change is in his pocket. True love offers the person, himself. It requires sacrifice. That type of love is ours when we put on the Lord. So, the message of this verse is, “Don’t try battling the flesh without first putting on the Lord.” The flesh is a formidable foe when we try to walk with God. It will be your friend if you walk away.  (Romans 8:8-9)

Be Fervent and Zealous

October 20, 2018

Romans 12:11… Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in Spirit, serve the lord.

            “Do not be slothful in zeal…” This is one of those phrases that we are pretty sure we understand. Slothful is kind of like “lazy’, right? It is that but it is also about being inattentive. Are you inattentive to zeal? In my life, I have found that zeal is encouraged by others. I have always been moved by zealous people. Sometimes I have been inspired to remember my own zeal. Some of us wear zeal as an undershirt; it is always present but not seen often. But, others wear it as a jacket, It is one of the first things you notice.

            When you are pushed against a wall, what shows about you. Sometimes the most obvious thing is self-preservation. Perhaps it should be your zeal for God. “Be fervent in Spirit”   Fervency is kind of like the opposite of slothfulness. We are to zealously and fervently serve the Lord. I was recently in a conversation about Amway sales. Early in my adult life, I made a decision to not be persuaded by an Amway sales presentation. The best way for me to stay clear of it was to avoid a presentation. I did well for a long time but then I was tricked into attending an event. The salesperson was zealous about the sales model that the company used. I resisted and survived without signing anything. But, was I that zealous about the plan of salvation, as given by God? Salvation is our touch-point with God. We begin life with Him by believing His offer. Once we enter, the whole world opens up to us. Without entering His kingdom, we merely imitate what we hear and think. I know people who try to do good because they think that is what is expected of them. They have not heard God say, “Do this.” They have heard people say it and their life is lived, trying to do what certain people expect of them. Missing from that life is intimacy with God.

Does it not make sense that if we are going to serve God, we need to hear Him?

Paul goes on: verse 12… Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer.

            These are not 3 separate times in one’s life; they are 3 mindsets that are always available. Rejoice in hope, be constant in prayer, during/in tribulation.  Be fervent toward God, patiently enduring difficulties. Don’t hide at hard times.   

With Love

October 19, 2018

Romans 11:19-22… Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So, do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you.

            Paul is writing here to Gentile Christians. Gentiles, of whom I am one, were not born as the children of God, but He lovingly adopted us when we believed Him, by faith. In the metaphor of the olive tree, he explains that the same root that provides for the natural branches, also provides for the grafted-in branches. You and I, non-Jews by birth, are grafted into the same tree as the Jews and are sustained by the same root, Jesus. Jews must believe also that Jesus provides their substance. If they fail to do that, they will be broken off and cast away. Paul reminds us that we, too, will be cast away if we attempt to live in the olive tree without believing in Jesus.

            For me, this answers the age old question, “How can a loving God allow calamity and even establish hell for rebellious people?”  He has given the same opportunity for all people; it is in our court to respond. Hell is ‘life without the presence of God’… life without love. Hell came into being when love came to us.  

So, if life without love is hell, life with love must be heaven. Is love, perhaps, the light of the world? Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is God and God is love.

In the beginning, God said, “Let there be light.” He was not talking about the light of the sun which was not established until the 4th day, so, maybe what He said was, “Let there be love.”

            This is almost too radical for me; I have never heard it. But it adds clarity to some verses.

1 Corinthians 13:13… Now, faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love.        

            Without faith, it is impossible to please God. How can love be greater than that? Right here I find it necessary to point out that God is not defined by our explanation of love. Love is defined by God… who He is. Love is the oil that makes the mechanisms of life run smoothly.  “Let there be love.”  

Legacy

October 18, 2018

Romans 11:33… Oh the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God. how unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable are his ways.

36… For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.

            I have found that one of my diving pursuits in life is to matter. I wrote in a writing recently that I want to leave a worthwhile legacy. That prompted a question… “Which is more important? …legacy or reputation?”

            Reputation seems to be a praiseworthy attribute; legacy is for after one is gone. But, in a way, they work together. My reputation might become my legacy. Reputation seems to be recognition on earth, while legacy does not reach the ears of the person being talked about. It happens after death.

            Frank Lloyd Wright is a famous architect. He died many years ago, but his architecture lives on. Whenever someone designs in his style the praise often refers back to Frank. It is his legacy. But, he was a human; one of his houses that he designed still leaks after many attempts to stop it. It is famous for leaking. That is also part of his legacy and a serious student of architecture has to include it in a recap of his legacy. It seems to feeble old me that legacy improves over time. Reputation, on the other hand, is measured daily against the scrutiny of society. So… reputation is what it is, according to the leanings of a society; legacy is what it will be. Except in the case of God. His legacy is already established, and will not change. He was, and is, and will always be as recorded in verse 36 above. That anchors me but it also reminds me of His supreme importance. We are anchored with the greatest legacy ever recorded. Paul said to the audience in Acts 17… “In Him we live and move and have our being.”   

            So. Why do I struggle so? Do I want my own legacy, one that resembles that of Jesus? I think, too often, we, Christians, are in competition with God for importance. I know how ludicrous that sounds, but consider it for a moment. We live as if we ought to be important. That is one of our preoccupations. I sought that in High School, and I suspect I still do. Jim, hear this… “It’s not about you!”

Faith or Fear

October 17, 2018

Romans 10:17… So faith comes from hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.

            Some teachers have changed the meaning of this verse to make it seem like one event. “Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ.” If you compare that to what was written, you will notice an obvious difference. Hearing the word of Christ opens our hearing which allow for faith. Id a man stands on a street corner reading the word of Christ, some hearing it will respond with faith. Some will respond with ridicule. Some have active ‘spiritual’ ears while others only have physical ones. Jesus said on a number of occasions, “He who ha ears to hear” In an average crowd, everyone had ears. Unless a person was deaf, he could hear. Jesus was speaking to another hearing dimension.

            Because I have worked a lot with music, when I listen to music, I hear things that are easily missed by the untrained ear. If I compare that to the verse at the top of the page, I can imagine that faith comes by immersion in the word of Christ, and  because of that constant exposure, I have faith. As I read the word of Christ, my hearing improves… is activated. With active hearing, my faith comes alive. Some people don’t feed their faith. But, that is a rule in life… “Feed your faith.” In addition… “Starve your fears.”

            Many Bibles set on shelves.   They are not being read. In some of those homes the news is on T.V. all day long. The news feeds our fears. It contradicts faith. I have been studying at the clubhouse lately. I choose to sit in a corner where I can’t hear the T.V. that some people come to watch. I am attempting to feed my faith and the T.V. feeds my fears. If your faith is wavering and weak, try turning the T.V. off and ignore the news. I thumbed through a People Magazine at the doctor’s office recently and I did not know the people on the pages. I am out of touch with the actors and actresses and musicians who are popular today. It makes for some stilted conversations, but I don’t live with continual fear. Your faith counters your fears. Faith is necessary for pleasing God, Faith is necessary for living according to God’s words. God’s word leads us to the winning side. That does not inspire fear. We are told to endure, as needed.       

Pray in the Spirit

October 16, 2018

Romans 8:26… Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit, Himself, intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.

            Have you ever wondered about the meaning and value of prayer? Just last night, I discussed it with some friends. If God is sovereign and knows His plan, what difference can our prayers make?  We don’t change God’s mind. We do, however, want to know Him, and that takes communication. Paul reminds us of something we know but rarely articulate…sometimes we do not know what to pray for as we ought. In times like those, the Spirit intercedes for us. I have heard this explained as praying in tongues. I can appreciate the value of that interpretation but I wonder if that is what Paul wants us to hear.

1 Corinthians 14:15… What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit but I will pray with my mind also…

            In context, this is about praying in tongues. In my time as a Christian, and most specifically, my time as a teacher, I have found that not everyone speaks in tongues. I do not wish to alienate those who don’t, so I look at verses such as these with my heart open to the leading of the Lord. With regard to praying in tongues, I resisted the Pentecostal pressure to ‘get my tongue’. Their methods might have been a bit radical and, not necessarily Spiritual, so I asked God, Himself. I remember the night… I was praying at about 11:00 by myself and I said to God, “If speaking in tongues is from you, then I surely want it; but if it is not, then I surely don’t want it, and I will not imitate it. Not too many minutes later, I began speaking gibberish, or at least that is what it sounded like to me. I experienced a release in my prayers as I, on purpose, let the Spirit speak through me. Through the ensuing years, I have found that in my private prayer time seems to be when it matters most. I have seen confusion during corporate times. For that reason, I have confined it to my private prayer times. So that is my experience. What is yours?

            Paul talks about groanings that cannot be uttered. Speaking in tongues is utterance. The Spirit carries the thoughts of our hearts to the Father, no words.        

Adopted as Children of God

October 15, 2018

Romans 8:14-15… For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the Spirit of slavery to all back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba Father!”

            My parents adopted kids… 3 of them. Added to 5 of their own, there were 8 of us all together. We were one, big, happy family… most of the time anyway. We were, of certainty, one, big, family. The ‘happy’ component came and went. But, that is the way of the world. Happiness is a fleeting emotion, dependant on circumstances. My adopted brothers and sister were part of the family. That was a given and my parent made sure we knew it. We are adopted sons and daughters into God’s family because of the Holy Spirit. God hand-picked this family thing out of His bag of relationships.

Proverbs 18:24… A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.

            This positive statement about a friend also gives us some info about a brother.  A brother is supposed to stick close. I have found that sometimes family members are not close. But, I have also seen the opposite. And I have seen both extremes in friends as well. One thing is constant however… my brothers and sisters are always my siblings, come what may. No matter the weather, the political climate, the location or the health factor, they are still my siblings. Friends come and go, sometimes sticking close through all things, but, mostly only when it is convenient. When God adopts us, we are in His family. We are not in only on good days. Because we are in, we call Him abba, Father. I heard somewhere that “abba” is an endearing term… like “daddy”. I have not studied it so I will leave that in your court. We are His children. That is settled. Now… are you a good kid or not? Are you in trouble or not?

            One thing is certain… We are no longer to live in fear. In my parents’ family, I did not want to get caught doing something that was forbidden. I, sorry to say, still did things I shouldn’t, but I tried to make sure I wouldn’t get caught. That is a fearful way to live. God always knows what we do. Live in freedom.