Thursday, March 7, 2013
Have you ever had doubts about your standing with God? Have you ever wondered whether you could possibly do enough good deeds to earn His favor? Do you ever worry that you have failed too miserably for Him to accept you, much less love you? Is the idea of His unconditional love for you beyond your comprehension? How can we know for sure if we are OK with God?
The hot topic of late in ministerial circles has been about God’s grace, that is favor that has been granted without being earned. Recent school of thought has attempted to correct years of legalistic teaching by emphasizing the work of grace rather than the misguided doctrine that stresses achieving holiness by adhering to a list of rules or laws. I think it has been a positive move for the church to return to the truth about grace, as long as it remains in the proper perspective, and I am pleased to see many people being set free from the bondage of constant condemnation. Christ came to set us free, and we are free indeed! However, we must be careful to understand fully what that really means. I have seen some confusion and differing interpretations about this topic, but God’s Word has all the answers we seek.
Yes, the Bible clearly teaches that it is God’s grace that sets us free, not following the law. (Galatians 2:16) However, what concerns me is when this teaching is misinterpreted to the extreme by some, giving a false sense of security that we can live any way we please without any consequences. In this scenario, we can easily succumb to our desires and simply let our flesh have whatever it wants. After all, we are only human. God understands. We’ll just take advantage of His infinite mercy and hope He’ll overlook our lack of restraint. Unfortunately, this is what some believe grace is all about, but that mentality is really abuse of God’s grace. It is false and unbalanced, and it leaves out some very important Biblical truths concerning holy living. Grace is not a license to continue sinning. (Galatians 5:13)
On the other hand, for fear that the abuse of the grace doctrine could lead many astray, a number of well meaning ministers have swung the pendulum in the other direction again, cautioning about the need to live a holy life, yet placing a heavy burden upon following rules in order to be holy. Unfortunately the extreme fallacy on this side is to swing too far back into legalism. It implies that the price Jesus paid was not enough, and we must supplement with our own feeble efforts. With that perspective also comes fear, guilt, condemnation, judging, and bondage to the law. While we are admonished in Scripture to put away deeds of the flesh and to obey His commands, none of that will ever be enough to make us righteous before God. It is only through faith in Jesus that we will ever have hope of salvation. He alone was able to pay the price for our sin once and for all. It is finished! (Hebrews 10:10 ) (I included three translations here so you can read it again and again and really get it. His work covers us once and for all! Isn’t that exciting?)
I thank God so much for the return to the teaching about grace. Grace is God’s remedy for our pursuit of right standing with Him. However, it saddens me when I see people who live under constant guilt and condemnation, afraid that God Almighty is watching them and waiting to catch them doing something wrong. They almost paint a picture of a tyrant in the sky waiting to strike them with lightning should they mess up. Generations of believers have been brought up with the fear that if Jesus comes back at the moment they commit a sin, they will be sent to hell. To make it worse, the sins that plague them are often infractions of man-made rules, not Biblical commands. As these rules were given with good intentions to guide Christians into Godly living, somehow this misinterpretation of Scripture does not seem to line up with God’s love or truth. Perhaps this fear was taught as a motivation to help believers want to live properly and to show reverence for God, but Scripture teaches that it is the kindness of God that compels us to turn from our sin, not fear of punishment. (Romans 2:4) The danger of fear-motivated teaching is that it nullifies Jesus’ sacrifice and gives a false sense of security that we can possibly be good enough if we try hard enough.
Here is where we find more confusion, and much of the fear doctrine is based upon this. In Galatians, right after we are instructed that God’s grace justifies us once and for all and that it is not by any works we do, we then see verses that say that anyone who follows the desires of the sinful nature will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:19-21) It gives a list of sins, including “angry outbursts.” Doesn’t that seem like a contradiction? Does it really mean that I will be lost forever if I lose my temper, for example? There are other similar examples of this in Scripture as well.
What we need to be careful about when we read the Bible is to understand it in context. As we read the rest of chapter 5, for example, we understand that it is really cautioning about living according to our flesh rather than living by the Spirit. When we have a relationship with Jesus, the Holy Spirit lives inside of us to guide us. We are then new creatures that are no longer slaves to our sinful natures, but to Him. When we yield to Him, we are walking according to the Spirit, not the flesh, and we have nothing to fear. He is certainly able to keep us out of trouble, even if we trip once in awhile. Go ahead and read all of chapter 5 and understand the freedom we have in Christ, not condemnation. Also, see Romans 6:14 for even more clarification. His grace is so awesome! Here is even more hope for you if you are afraid of falling out of God’s grace. Proverbs 24:16 says that even when a righteous man falls seven times, he gets back up. That’s it! That is the difference between walking in the Spirit rather than after the flesh.
With all of that said, is it really possible to know for certain then that all is well with our souls? Here is how to know for sure:
First of all, understand that there is no way we could ever earn God's grace. It is a free gift to us who do not deserve it. It is through faith in Him that we can be sure of salvation. It is not by any works we could ever do. (Ephesians 2:8-9) Our righteousness alone will never amount to any more than filthy rags. Every one of us has a sin condition that needs dealt with, and we will never meet God’s perfect standard on our own. The consequence of our sin is death, but Jesus died in our place so we don’t have to. Because of Him, we can be as pure as if we have never sinned. He then gives us the gift of eternal life. In other words, Christ, who never sinned, became sin for us and paid the price for sin in our place. Thus, He took care of the sin problem once and for all. (2 Corinthians 5:21) He bridged the gap forever that had separated us from God. However, we MUST be born again before we can claim that promise. (John 3:3)
When we are born again, our old nature passes away, and we become new creatures in Him. We enter into a relationship with God, and the Holy Spirit dwells within us. (1 Corinthians 6:19) It is actually a simple process for us since He did all the work. All we have to do is first believe in Him; admit our sin nature and ask for forgiveness; turn away from our old life; invite Him into our lives; and allow Him to transform us. Invite Him to be your Lord and Savior, and He will. Then, instead of striving in our own efforts, we learn to walk by the Spirit, and by faith, we trust in Him to keep us. As this wonderful relationship develops, the Holy Spirit gives us the desire and the strength to do what pleases Him. (Philippians 2:12) He teaches us and guides us in all truth. He does not give us a check list of things to do or not to do to be holy, thankfully, but He takes us through a process of developing Godly character. His purpose is to form us into the likeness of Himself. (Romans 8;29) As we cooperate with Him, we will see Him make something magnificent out of our lives.
So, where do holy living and good works fit into all of this? Here is where it all comes together. Although works can never make us good enough, obedience to Him is the evidence whether or not we truly belong to Him. (1 John 2:3-6 and 1 John 3:4-9) As our relationship with Him grows, so does our desire to live a life that glorifies Him. We will naturally make the effort through the Holy Spirit’s prompting and strength, and the fruit will be evident in our lives.
Of course, living for Him does not mean that we will be perfect. After all, we still live in physical bodies. It is certain that we will make mistakes. The good news is that while we are only righteous because He is righteous, His righteousness is more than enough for us. When we fall or fumble with desires of our flesh, the Holy Spirit convicts us and sets us back on course. Keep in mind, conviction is not the same as judgment or condemnation, but it is loving correction from the One who cares about our living the best life possible. His discipline is not disapproval of us, but on the contrary, it is actually proof that we belong to Him. He only disciplines those whom He loves, and He corrects those whom He calls His children. (Hebrews 12:5-11) This proves that a mistake will not sever our relationship with Him.
Here is the caution, however. If we are continuing to live in darkness with no apparent regard for avoiding evil, or if the fruit we bear is rotten, then that is when we need to question our relationship with God. (Romans 6:15-18) When we have been transformed by Him, it will show in our lives. If we truly love Him, we will keep His commands. (John 14:21)
If you feel far from God right now but are afraid to approach Him, please understand His infinite love for you. He accepts you just as you are and wants a relationship with you more than anything. He loves you more than you could ever imagine! You cannot possibly sin yourself away from His love for you. Please, don’t waste another minute living in pit of despair or false hope. You can make it right with God right now. No more running. Return to Him with all your heart, and let Him take the driver’s seat of your life. Even at this very moment, you can be certain of your salvation now and for all eternity. You can know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)
Friday, September 21, 2012
"Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame." Psalms 34:5
Have you ever made such a fool of yourself that you vowed never to show your face in public ever again? Perhaps you were so embarrassed that you were sure that shade of red in your face would never fade? There goes the chance you could ever wear pink again. You don't want to clash!
I'll share my most embarrassing moment with you and see if you relate. At the end of church service a few years back, the praise team had been waiting in the wings to sing just before the closing. This was right after our major Easter production in which Jesus had passed that way six nights in a row covered in stage blood in order to get cleaned up for the resurrection scene. Little did I know that I had brushed against some of the spilled blood, and it was all over the back of my white pants! I actually sang the entire song right there on the platform, in front of God and everyone! I had some awesome friends escort me off the stage to try to hide my predicament somewhat. When I looked in the mirror afterward, I was mortified! I have yet to top that act!
Sometimes embarrassment cuts much deeper than just a silly faux pas. Coupled with hurt, abuse, or secret sins, it can morph into its ugly cousins Humiliation and Shame. More detrimental than trying to get over an awkward moment in one's life is being ashamed to the point of self loathing because of something you have done or something that has been done or said to you in your past. Don't discount the power of words. They can cause profound and lasting damage! Perhaps you have covered up some deep, hidden secrets in your life that would devastate you if anyone found out. What about the humiliation of a physical abnormality that sets one apart from what is perceived as normal or acceptable? Why do we worry so much about what others think? Whatever the cause, too many people find themselves in a state of emotional disgrace and are at a loss as to how to break free.
Unfortunately, some never do escape this state. They only find their shame growing and deepening until the only way they know how to cope is to become numb through some destructive vice, such as alcohol, food, or sexual addiction. It does nothing to solve the problem, but only exacerbates the situation. Often, some also display a fanciful façade to disguise their inner turmoil. It is easier to cope when you can keep that throbbing wound hidden and not reveal the truth to anyone. Or, worse, others might crawl deep inside themselves and close out the world around them entirely. While I am describing extreme cases here, I believe we all carry the potential for shame to some degree, ranging from merely a casual discomfort concerning something about ourselves to the extent of a major crisis of identity.
The good news is that there is hope for every one of us, no matter how deeply any of us have experienced shame in our lives. Jesus Christ came to reconcile us to the Father and to remove our disgrace. Because of the redemptive work He did for us on the cross, we can stand tall with wholeness and confidence, knowing that we are completely forgiven and free if we believe in Him. We can be assured that His grace is sufficient to heal and restore all that has been broken in our lives. He longs to heal all the wounds and sooth all the pain. He understands all the hurts as well as the mistakes, and He is able to completely comfort and restore us no matter how bad we think it is. We can shake loose those chains that have kept us bound to a less than satisfying life and be free to live a fulfilling and rich life.
If you do not know this Christ, or you have been distant from Him for awhile, then buckle up your seatbelts, Folks; you are about to embark on the adventure of your life! When you accept the love of Jesus Christ and His free gift of grace, you can be sure that you are a 100%, bona fide, accepted, and loved child of God, just as you are! He did all the work, so all it takes on your part is faith. He came to give you abundant life, and once you let go of the cloud of shame that has drained the life out of you all this time, be ready for freedom and fullness of life you have only dreamed about! When God sets you free, you are free indeed! "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV) You see, He bore ALL of your shame. He took it upon Himself so that you will never have to wrestle that ugly monster inside ever again! It is so gone! When He looks at you, He only sees the righteousness of His Son.
For those who have already embarked on this journey but continue to bear the weight of the burden of shame, you need only to dispel all lying thoughts that are keeping you bound by replacing them with the truth in God's Word. He has promised that when you "look to Him, your face will never be covered in shame." (Psalms 34:5)
Here are some reminders for you:
I am the apple of God's eye.
I am created in God's image.
I am loved and accepted by God just as I am.
I am a princess. I am a child of the Most High God.
I may not be perfect, but I am forgiven. I am not condemned, but God is pleased with me and approves of me.
I am the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus, and I have strong faith.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
He will continue to work on me, and I am growing and improving every day.
I am destined to live in victory and I am more than a conqueror.
God has given me His righteousness, and He has made me worthy.
I have peace with God.
My mind is at peace.
I am full of joy.
I have a sound mind.
God made me exactly the way He wanted me to be. I accept myself and feel good about who I am.
He has endowed me with wondrous gifts and talents.
God created me to enjoy life, and I will do just that.
I am free indeed!
I am simply radiant!
Friday, September 14, 2012
If there is one thing I believe people need to hear right now in light of all the pandemonium going on all over the world tonight, it is this: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27 NIV) Read that aloud and slowly several times. Let it sink deeply into your heart and mind.
I promise not to utter one political word here tonight, but I want to offer hope and comfort to everyone who needs it right now. Whether you are distressed with what is happening in the news, or if you have a personal battle going on in your life or with someone close to you, this is for you.
For the past few days, all we have to do is flip through FOX News, CNN, MSNBC, HLN, and all the network news shows, and we are continually bombarded with some horrifying images of some frenzied extremists bent on destroying the morale of our nation, even our nation itself. I won't speculate as to the real motive, but I don't think a cheesy movie trailer is the real root of all of this madness. It gets a bit scary when some of the events hit a little closer to home. If you sneak away for a moment and come back to the news, the situation seems to have escalated even further. We don't want to keep dwelling on such disturbing images, but we don't want to miss anything either! It is out of control!
If all of that is our focus, what a gloomy mindset that will consume us! As a matter of fact, if we begin to let our imaginations run amuck, we can create in our minds quite a nasty outcome for all of this lunacy! We can so easily succumb to fear and despair if we allow ourselves to sink into this mire of gloom in our minds. I think the following description speaks very clearly of how some are feeling either about the current world events, or maybe even about a personal struggle they are going through. "Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world…" (Luke 21:26a NIV) Or, this translation might be more familiar to you: "Men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth…" (NKJV)
Well, I sure am glad we don't have to give in to fear! Rather, peace is our heritage; love is our heritage; and a sound mind is our heritage! We must keep the proper perspective, no matter what is troubling our hearts. We may not be able to run and hide from it, but we can establish our thoughts in the middle of it. We can trust the hand of God that is holding us and will lovingly carry us through. It is faith in God that will keep us grounded no matter what happens. I agree that we should stay informed, and it is important to read or watch the news. As Christians, we will be a more effective light in the world if we stay informed and are able to respond intelligently. However, we do not have to dwell on it or let it trouble our hearts. If you have a personal struggle, the same message applies. Do not deny it or hide from it, but do not let it defeat you either. Stand up to it boldly with a strong and faith-filled heart! You are a victorious warrior, so think and act like one! "God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)
I want to leave you with some powerful yet comforting words. Pick one of these and memorize it. Let it encourage you every time you need strength and hope.
"This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go." (Joshua 1:9 NLT)
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7 NIV)
"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." (Philippians 4:8 NIV)
"God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind." (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV)
"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid."
(John 14:27 NIV)
Lastly, here is one of the most beautiful chapters in the Bible to dispel fear and give comfort:
Psalm 91 (NLT)
1 Those who live in the shelter of the Most High
will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
2 This I declare about the Lord:
He alone is my refuge, my place of safety;
he is my God, and I trust him.
3 For he will rescue you from every trap
and protect you from deadly disease.
4 He will cover you with his feathers.
He will shelter you with his wings.
His faithful promises are your armor and protection.
5 Do not be afraid of the terrors of the night,
nor the arrow that flies in the day.
6 Do not dread the disease that stalks in darkness,
nor the disaster that strikes at midday.
7 Though a thousand fall at your side,
though ten thousand are dying around you,
these evils will not touch you.
8 Just open your eyes,
and see how the wicked are punished.
9 If you make the Lord your refuge,
if you make the Most High your shelter,
10 no evil will conquer you;
no plague will come near your home.
11 For he will order his angels
to protect you wherever you go.
12 They will hold you up with their hands
so you won't even hurt your foot on a stone.
13 You will trample upon lions and cobras;
you will crush fierce lions and serpents under your feet!
14 The Lord says, "I will rescue those who love me.
I will protect those who trust in my name.
15 When they call on me, I will answer;
I will be with them in trouble.
I will rescue and honor them.
16 I will reward them with a long life
and give them my salvation."
Friday, August 24, 2012
(sermoncentral.com video – "Secrets"
http://www.sermoncentral.com/videos/video-illustration-secrets-media-fuel-repentance-addiction-weight-15323.asp?VideoFeed_ID=0 ) How many of you can see yourself in this video? I think we can all relate in some way or another and to varying degrees. Everyone has something inside that they would rather keep hidden from the rest of the world. These hidden secrets can make us feel weak, ashamed, weird, or like a failure.
Our mind is a powerful battleground. Satan knows it, and his favorite weapon of warfare against us is deception. He knows that if he can get us to believe anything about God or about ourselves that is untrue, he can deal us some awful blows. If we aren't vigilant, we begin to believe that we are defeated and give in to his sly tricks that keep us entangled or enslaved. His entire purpose is to thwart God's purpose for you. He wants you to be bound in chains so that he can stop the great work that God has begun in you. But, I'm here to tell you that you don't have to be imprisoned any longer to the things that have you bound. There is One who came to set you free. He paid the ultimate price for you so that you can walk in victory – even today. I am here to declare to you that you are NOT defeated. God made you a winner! "You are the head and not the tail. You are at the top and never at the bottom." (Deuteronomy 28:13) You are a victorious warrior and not a loser, a wimp, or a nothing. It is time to get out of that pit! It is time for you to walk in the freedom that is yours by the power of the Holy Spirit – starting today!
Galatians 5:1 – "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
While Paul was specifically referring to the adherence of the law here, he was stating a principle that applies to anything in our lives that enslaves us. We will talk about several of these things in our lives today and learn how to walk in the very freedom that Christ died to give us. Today is your Independence Day!
What has you bound? What chains are you holding on to? What is holding you back? What is keeping you from living in complete freedom and victory? What is distracting you from intimacy with the Lord? What is stopping you from accomplishing great things in his name?
Have you become so comfortable in your prison that you would rather stay in it than experience the joy of true freedom? In my observation, I have determined six broad areas in our lives that hinder our walk with God, and just about every imaginable dart from the enemy can be classified into one of these.
How often have you felt paralyzed spiritually or emotionally because you cannot seem to get get over something from your past? Do you have regrets, secrets, failures, hurts, disappointments, or shattered dreams that have left you feeling disillusioned or fed up with life? Is there something in your past that keeps replaying over and over again in your mind causing you to feel ashamed or foolish or angry? Are you afraid to take the risk of repeating past mistakes? Have you felt like giving up? Perhaps you might feel that what you have done in your past is too terrible for God to forgive or to be able to turn around in your life. Perhaps there is someone in your past that has taken from you, and you feel empty inside. You feel like you are an empty shell ready to crack under any pressure. Perhaps someone has made you feel insignificant or too dumb to do anything great for God.
The good news is that you do not have to remain buried under your past. You cannot hide anything from God. He knows all about it anyway; so go ahead and release it all to Him. Be free from your past! There is nothing He cannot do for you. He knows everything about what you have done, or what has been done to you, and He will never reject you because of it. He loves you more than you can imagine, warts and all, and He paid a huge price to set you free. You must be worth an awful lot! He is a compassionate and merciful God. You don't have to walk in the bondage of the past any longer, but He has made a way for you to enjoy the present and have a bright and blessed future.
Philippians 3:13b-14. Paul said, "…But one thing I do, Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead. I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus."
Jeremiah 29:11. "'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.'"
Don't let your past rob you of your blessed future!
There are times that we can feel so overwhelmed by the difficulties in our lives that we can't seem to move beyond them. Troubles in life can make us feel like we are suffocating under the pressure. Here are some examples:
- Financial difficulties
- Stress – impossible schedule, car troubles, daily demands
- Loss – death of a loved one, divorce, changes of life, thievery
- Sickness – in ourselves or a loved one
- Catastrophe – accidents, weather, trauma
- Struggles and challenges
- Legal trouble
And the list goes on and on! Of course, there are many things that we bring on ourselves, and we can feel trapped by the consequences of our choices. Thankfully, we have a merciful God who brings us through in spite of the mess we have made. There are also some troubles that are a direct assault by Satan himself, and we need to stand our ground and resist him in the name of Jesus. However, many of our struggles in life are merely a result of living in a fallen world. The difference is that as Christians, we don't have to be defeated by these things. We also may never know how much God has shielded from us. Thank you Lord!
Where the rubber meets the road is in our reaction to and our perspective in such events. As I discussed last week, God does not cause our misfortunes in life; however, He does allow us to experience some things that cause us to grow and gives Him the opportunity to work His glory in our lives. He is working something GOOD in you! So, rather than walking in defeat, here is some great wisdom from God's Word, no matter what you are going through:
James 1:2-4. "Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything."
Romans 8:28-29. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son…" (That is the purpose.)
2 Corinthians 4:17. "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all."
See? Your troubles are actually treasures. Give God the glory for what He is doing in your life rather than wallowing in a manure pile.
State of Mind
Although our state of mind intertwines with all categories I am listing here, it needs a category of its own because of how powerfully our minds can affect the outcome of all areas of our lives. The attitudes of our hearts as well as the quality of our thoughts will do more to create victory or defeat in our lives than any other thing. Let me repeat that. The attitudes of our hearts as well as the quality of our thoughts will do more to create victory or defeat in our lives than any other thing. What has you bound in your mind?
- Depression, sorrow, grief, loss
- Anger and bitterness, unforgiveness, grudges
- Feelings of insecurity or inferiority, lack of confidence
- Hurt feelings or a broken heart
- The feeling of walking in a dry and barren wasteland, no productivity or purpose in life
- False Beliefs – that you are a loser or a failure, for example
- Out of control emotions of any kind
- Mediocrity, complacency, lack of commitment
- Habit of complaining, arguing, seeing the negative, worry, fear, etc.
Perhaps you may not be able to prevent all of these things entirely, but you can put a limit on them and their effect in your life. You can give it to God to bear in your place. He encourages us to "Cast all your anxieties on Him because He cares for you." (1Peter 5:7)
When we allow the devil to get his foothold into our minds, he has a heyday! Remember, he is nothing but a big fat liar, and "the father of lies." Don't believe anything that is contrary to the Word of God. Whatever is plaguing your mind, find the truth about it in God's Word, and meditate on it until it saturates your inner consciousness. The truth is the only thing that will dispel lies, and the presence of the Holy Spirit is what will bring healing from all that ails your heart.
Emotions are a gift given to us by God, and they are all are necessary to live a full life. But, it was never His will for our emotions to control us or to enslave us. Don't be led by your feelings, but give them over to God to help you bear them and to transform them according to His Word. Trust in His Word. He is always true, and He will NEVER let you down. When you know the truth, "the truth will set you free." (John 8:32) Research, meditate on, memorize, and apply God's Word for your circumstance! It works!
2 Corinthians 10:5b. "…and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ."
Philippians 4:8. "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things."
In the beginning, God created man and saw that it was not good for him to be alone. He made a plan for us to have relationships with each other in our lives. It is not good for us to be lonely, but we draw strength from each other. We learn more about the qualities of God as we develop deeper relationships with His children. That is why we are exhorted to not neglect each other, but to love and serve each other in the Lord. As a matter of fact, "the entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" (Galatians 5:14) God's plan for relationships is described in so many Scriptures, but this next one is very clear concerning the church:
Hebrews 10:24. "And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing but let us encourage one another – all the more as you see the Day approaching."
You see, our relationships with people are supposed to be helpful in our walk with the Lord; yet, they can leave us feeling empty, disappointed, hurt, afraid, and alone. Too often others can be abusive or controlling. Some are big bullies and push others around to get their kicks. Some vent hurtful and damaging words rooted in out of control anger and rage. Some are uncaring and can rip our feelings apart like they are nothing. Have you ever felt the sting of betrayal? I have, and it is not an easy thing to forgive or forget. As The Carpenters sang, "We go on hurting each other, breaking each other's hearts, making each other cry, tearing each other apart." Why is that? Why do we treat each other so badly sometimes? For some, it hurts beyond description to bear the hurt that other people have caused.
Well, the remedy here is to love above all things, and to forgive as Christ forgave you. Let it go! How can I forgive what that person has done to me? Forgiving does not mean that you are saying that what they did was all right or that they have permission to do it again. It is simply saying that you are letting it go and moving on, that you are not going to let the poison of bitterness take root in your heart. That was so important to Jesus that He instructed us that if you have something wrong in a relationship, you are to go and make it right before you bring your gift to the altar. (Matthew 5:23-24) As a matter of fact, if we refuse to forgive others, our sins will not be forgiven. (Matthew 6:14-15) If God can forgive us for all we have done, we can also forgive others. Forgive and be free!
Yep, I'm going there! What can keep us bound more than our out of control flesh? Proverbs 25:28 says, "Like a city whose walls are broken down is a man who lacks self-control." When we allow the Holy Spirit to live through us, one of the fruits we bear is self-control. However, when we don't use it, we become defenseless like a city without walls. When we give in to the almighty flesh, we are vulnerable to the defeat of our out of control appetites. When we sow seeds of the flesh, we reap death. The Bible says that those who are controlled by the sinful nature cannot even please God. However, when we live by the Spirit, we "will not gratify the desires of the flesh." When we belong to Christ, our sinful nature has been crucified. Therefore, when we walk after the Spirit, we walk in freedom and newness of life. And the very same Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead lives inside of us! All of that is found in Galatians 5:16-25 and Romans 8:1-17.
That Scripture is so clear concerning how to have victory over the flesh. The answer is to "keep in step with the Spirit." (Galatians 5:25) However, if we have been set free from our sinful natures, and have been made a new creature, then why do we allow ourselves to continue to live in bondage to our old selves? With fear and reverence of God, let us walk in obedience, not in a legalistic adherence to the law, but according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit that leads us into life and Godliness. Let us take a very careful inventory and allow the Holy Spirit to purge these things from our lives so that we can walk in the freedom and victory that is already ours.
- Blatant sin – Repent and get it out of your life. Don't let it hold you in its chains any longer. When God looks at our hearts, He sees the robe of righteousness that Jesus covers us with. When we are in Christ, there is no condemnation, only grace. However, when we have disobedience in our lives, it keeps us from living in freedom. We cannot live the life God intended for us. It is so much better to live within God's boundaries!
- Idols – What are the things in our lives that we have allowed to give us the comfort and pleasure we seek rather than turning to God? Why do we continue to try to meet our needs in places that may offer temporary pleasure but can never really satisfy? What have you put before God? "My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." (Jeremiah 2:13) Why do we do this? Why do we turn to:
- TV, Facebook, cell phones, other electronics?
- When we put these things before God, they never satisfy, but they keep us in bondage.
- Habits – Remember, your habits determine the quality and destiny of your life. Negative habits can have such a stronghold in your life and keep you from being all God created you to be. It is ironic that discipline and self-control are the very tools to help you be free. Discipline yourself, by the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit, to develop positive habits that bring success to your life.
There are many who are rendered virtually paralyzed by deep hurts or disgrace. When Jesus lived on this earth in bodily form, He experienced every kind of hurt, rejection, and abuse you can imagine. Are you carrying hurt in your heart? Do you have secrets of abuse or hidden pain? Have you been wounded by words that have left you broken? Has someone caused you to feel like there is something wrong with you? Psalms 34:18 says, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit."
You can take these hurts to Jesus. He understands your pain, and you do not have to carry it alone. You can give that to Him and receive His healing. I also urge you to seek professional Christian Counseling if necessary to work through the major stuff. That is a tool that God uses mightily. You don't have to be weighted down to your pain any longer. Let his comfort be a healing balm for your heart. You really can be free!
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows." 2 Corinthians 1:3-5.
You can receive healing from all your hurts and deliverance from all that chains that have you bound this very day! Right now!
God CAN set you free!
God WANTS to set you free!
God has already done the work for you to BE set free! God is compassionate and loving. His mercy is everlasting. He loves you so much that He paid the ultimate price so you can be free!
Galatians 5:1 – "It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery."
Two types of healing or deliverance
Instantaneous and miraculous – We have read numerous examples in the life of Jesus of how he instantaneously "healed every disease and sickness among the people." (Matthew 4:23) We know of many miraculous healings first hand in this very place too. He has allowed us to witness some awesome miracles in this very house! God often chooses instantaneous miracles to reveal His supremacy and His glory.
Process - Sometimes He chooses instead to heal through a process of time. As a matter of fact, I have seen this much more often than the first. Do not be discouraged because He often takes us down this road to healing or deliverance so that we can grow and learn of his sufficiency in our lives. He molds our character and helps us to become more like Him. Be content with whichever type of healing He chooses because He is sovereign, and He will choose whichever will bring Himself the greatest glory. He is more interested in our character than our comfort, and what is produced in us far outweighs whatever pain we had to endure. He knows what is best for us, and He works everything for our good.
We have talked about many things in our lives that have kept us in bondage and entangled in slavery, rather than walking in the freedom that is our heritage. With each category, we learned Scripture and truth that can help us discover and walk in our freedom. We have learned about God's ability and will to deliver us and the types of healing we often receive. Now it is time to do our part. In a moment we will come together at the altar and bring these things to God that we have allowed to hinder our lives, and we will allow Him to set us free with His loving and healing touch. You can be set free right here and now! Before you come, here are some things to ponder:
Surrender – Give it all to Him today. Just let it go for good, whatever it is! Trust the Healer to do the work in you. Have faith that it will be accomplished. Be obedient to His prompting in your heart. Trust Him throughout the entire process He takes you through. Don't put it off, but be set free today. Don't be like the prisoner who had spent so many years in prison that he became comfortable in his misery. When the guard informed him that the price had been paid and that he could walk free, he decided to stay in his cell where it was familiar and comfortable. Oh the freedom we miss out on when we don't have to!
Exodus 8:8-10. "Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, 'Pray to the Lord to take the frogs away from me and my people, and I will let your people go to offer sacrifices to the Lord.' Moses said to Pharaoh, 'I leave to you the honor of setting the time for me to pray for you and your officials and your people that you and your houses may be rid of the frogs, except for those that remain in the Nile.' 'Tomorrow,' Pharaoh said."
Why tomorrow? Why not now? Be free today!
Praise and give Him thanks no matter what your situation looks like. He is worthy, and that has not changed, nor will it ever change. Thank Him for the opportunity He has given you to grow and draw closer to Him through your darkness. Thank Him for what he is accomplishing in your life. Sing and shout praise to Him. When King Jehoshaphat sent the worshippers in front of the army, the Lord delivered them and gave them the victory "as they began to sing and praise." (2 Chronicles 20:22)
Be ready for things to turn around for you! Celebrate your freedom!
After all that Job had endured, because he remained faithful, "The Lord blessed the latter part of Job's life more than the first." Job 42:12
When Israel returned to the Lord in Jeremiah's day, God promised, "I will turn their mourning into gladness; I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow." Jeremiah 31:13b
Isaiah 61:3,7 say that Jesus came to "provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of morning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair… Instead of their shame my people will receive a double portion and instead of disgrace they will rejoice in their inheritance, and so they will inherit a double portion in their land, and everlasting joy will be theirs."
Brothers and Sisters, this is YOUR inheritance! Now, receive it and walk in it! He has set you free, so BE free!
Song and Altar time
With my love and my sadness
I come before You Lord
My heart's in a thousand pieces
Maybe even more
Yet I trust in this moment
You're with me somehow
And You've always been faithful
So Lord even now
When all that I can sing
Is a broken hallelujah
When my only offering
Is shattered praise
Still a song of adoration
Will rise up from these ruins
And I will worship You
And give You thanks
Even when my only praise
Is a broken hallelujah
Oh Father, You have given
Much more than I deserve
And I have felt Your hand of blessing
On me at every turn
How could I doubt Your goodness
Your wisdom, Your grace
Oh Lord hear my heart
In this painful place
When all that I can sing
Is a broken hallelujah
When my only offering
Is shattered praise
Still a song of adoration
Will rise up from these ruins
And I will worship You
And give You thanks
Even when my only praise
Is a broken hallelujah
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah
I lift my voice
Your spirit moves
I raise my hands
I reach for you
'Cause all that I can sing
Is a broken hallelujah
When my only offering
Is shattered praise
Still a song of adoration
Will rise up from these ruins
And I will worship You
And give You thanks
Even when my only praise
Is a broken hallelujah
Friday, August 17, 2012
I know; it sounds terrible that we would sit there and just laugh at everyone and get our kicks at their expense. However, that habit has actually taught me some important concepts about people and has stimulated some intense thinking about life. I now watch people wherever I go, but with a developed sensitivity. I notice when people don’t seem happy, or when couples seem cold with each other, or when parents look majorly stressed trying to keep up with their kids. No matter what they look like on the outside, everyone has a unique story on the inside. I can sometimes see when someone has a deep, inner hurt. I hurt with them and often pray for complete strangers when I feel compelled.
As weird as that sounds, one thing I have learned is that we are all connected in some way. Each one of us was created in God’s image, whether or not we have chosen to act like it. Each one of us is so dearly loved by our Creator. Not everyone knows that, but everyone needs to know that. So, when I see people, I don’t see strangers; I see brothers and sisters who need and want to be loved and respected just as much as any of us. They may not look like me, smell like me, dress like me, talk like me, or appreciate the same music or taste in entertainment that I do. Does that make them unworthy of my care or respect? They may have a shameful past or deep secret that they wouldn’t want anyone in the world to know, but does that make them unworthy of my time or love? Does race, age, gender, lifestyle choices, or economic status determine one’s value or worthiness of my love? Is love reserved only for those who are like me? For those who have something to offer me in return? Is that even love at all?
One observation I have is that in society, people seem to constantly be in competition with each other or are fixated on doing whatever it takes to be accepted by others, regardless of cultural or class divisions. Even the non-conformists are really seeking something similar, trying to get attention with shock value. Often conversations turn into debates or arguments, with a constant need to defend oneself, or even “one-up” each other. If someone’s views are different than ours, it can get ugly! Our clothing, home decor, hair styles, vehicles, choices of entertainment, and even where we shop for groceries is largely influenced by mass popularity. I have watched people who seem to have it all together, but there is still pressure in their ranks to conform and consistently live up to the standards of their peers. What is all of this about? Why the deep-seated need to compare ourselves to others in order to affirm our worth?
It seems to me that no matter how different we all are, we each have something very much in common as well. We all crave acceptance. We all need to be valued and respected as people no matter how different our points of view. There is not one human being who doesn’t crave love. With that in mind, it makes me see people differently now. Every person I see, no matter how annoying, eccentric, or different they may seem, I see a person created by God who needs love. I don’t care what they can or can’t offer me, because it’s not about me. Let’s celebrate our differences rather than compare and rank ourselves by them. Celebrate one another’s accomplishments too, rather than being jealous. When someone does well, it does not lower your standing. Love yourself enough that you don’t have to look down on anyone else to feel good about yourself. See yourself as God sees you, and then you will be able to see others through His eyes.
When you truly love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, you will naturally fulfill the second command, and that is to love your neighbor as yourself. As a matter of fact, Galatians 5:14 says, “The entire law is summed up in a single command, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
There may be some who need to be written out of your story and distanced from your life. I understand that. However, use the advice in Romans 12 to help you deal with this. Don’t try to get even, but just leave it in God’s hands. He’ll take care of it for you. Instead, just forgive and move on. Read below for some of the best relationship advice you will ever find! Notice how beautiful and practical this Scripture is in The Message.
The Message (MSG)
9-10Love from the center of who you are; don't fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
11-13Don't burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant. Don't quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality.
14-16Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they're happy; share tears when they're down. Get along with each other; don't be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don't be the great somebody.
17-19Don't hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you've got it in you, get along with everybody. Don't insist on getting even; that's not for you to do. "I'll do the judging," says God. "I'll take care of it."
20-21Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he's thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
Saturday, August 11, 2012
For those who are hurting, who have suffered loss, have had their hearts broken, or have experienced devastation in their lives, where can one find real comfort? To the mother of three young children who is facing a double mastectomy and months of chemotherapy and radiation; or the young couple whose child was killed in a tragic car accident; or the family who lost everything they own in a house fire; or the young wife whose husband drowns in the ocean on their honeymoon... What words of comfort can we offer? What can we say to the homeless, the starving, imprisoned, impoverished, or abused to bring hope in such situations? Words can seem so empty, and God can seem so elusive at times. "How can you say that God is a merciful and loving God if He allowed this to happen to me?" you might ask. "How do I even know He is real?"
Well, this is quite a concept to tackle, but I can say without a doubt that yes, God is real, and He is a merciful and loving God. He is sovereign, and His ways are awesome beyond comprehension. He is our comforter, our peace, and our helper in times of trouble or sorrow. It is not He who has failed us when we suffer, but He is the one who comforts us and brings us through our pain. He turns the suffering into something magnificent in our lives, if we let Him. Where the rubber meets the road is in how we preceive our suffering. The way we choose to respond to life's unfairness is what determines how we make it through. Grieving is a natural process that takes time, but we must see the bigger picture in suffering and pain in our lives to have the proper perspective. Before I tackle this topic, the important thing to remember is that "This too shall pass." It is just a temporary setback, and you will make it through. God will never leave you; His comfort is readily available; and He has a perfect plan for you.
Some do not find it difficult to accept that when sin entered the world, death and destruction accompanied it. John 10:10 reminds us that Satan's purpose in this world is to "steal, kill, and destroy." That is what he is all about, and he will stop at nothing to bring misery into your life. He is the root of all evil, pain, sickness, tragedy, fear, and sadness. However, what gets difficult to understand is that nothing happens without God allowing it. Everything we experience is filtered through a loving God. But, how can that be? Does that even make sense? Certainly He never causes grief or sorrow, so why would He allow it if He is truly a loving God?
Here is where the big picture comes in. Once you understand what the root cause of suffering is and that God is never the source of it, then you can understand God's ultimate plan a little more clearly. Suffering is merely a result of living in a fallen world. When man was created, he was given a free will, and God loves us enough to not to interfere with our free will. He allows man to choose life or death, blessings or cursings. In the beginning, when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and eat of the forbidden fruit, they relinquished control to the devil. That gave him the power to wreak havoc in the world, causing all tragedy, sickness, and death. Unfortunately, innocent victims are also hurt in the process.
So, where is the hope in this? First of all, God warned us that we would have difficulties in this world, but not to lose heart because He has won the victory in this world. Again, He is not the cause of suffering, but He has made a way to overcome it. John 16:33 says, "I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” Because He has overcome, we will too. What hope that brings! However, not only does God give hope for future victory, but utmost comfort in the middle all of our trials as well.
He sees and understands all that we go through. He identifies with everything we experience in our lives because Jesus came to the earth to experience it all first hand. He knows loss and grief personally; therefore, He knows exactly how to comfort us. He has promised to walk with us and to never leave or forsake us. He holds us in His arms and carries us through it. He lovingly caresses us when we hurt. It is only He that can heal our hearts. "The LORD is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed." Psalms 34:18. Now that is a loving and merciful God!
The hope and comfort He brings is not only while we are in the midst of our trouble, but the big picture includes an eternal perspective of suffering. While we are in the depth of our pain, it is sometimes difficult to see beyond it, and we can feel that we have been abandoned. However, the love and mercy of the Lord is that He not only comforts us when we hurt, but He continues to do a far greater work in us through it. While He allows us to experience sorrow, He promises that it will ultimately bring good into our lives. He is more concerned with our character than our comfort, and He understands that sometimes it is necessary to endure and overcome a struggle so that He can show His love to us and bring about victory, character growth and development, and enduring glory into our lives. After all, if we had never had a problem, how would we know that God could solve it? If we never hurt, how would we know that God can comfort us? Romans 8:28 says, "And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." "For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all." 2 Corinthians 4:17. "I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us." Romans 8:18.
Those words bring so much comfort to me, knowing that ultimately, everything I go through will work out for my good. I am so encouraged to know that no matter how bad it gets here on earth, He is working something so much better in us through it. In the big picture, suffering ends and a much greater glory is revealed in us. James admonishes us in chapter 1, verses 2-4, "Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing." So, don't lose heart, and don't look at your problems through such a finite lens. See your life through a Godly perspective, and allow Him to complete the work in you. He is doing something good in your life. He really is! You may not see it now, but you will one day.
Remember that His purpose is eternal, and the temporary troubles we face today will one day end forever. He has promised to "wipe away all tears." Isaiah 25:8. He has promised that "Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning." Psalms 30:5. The ultimate purpose in all of this is that through everything we endure, we will be "conformed to the likeness of His Son." Romans 8:29. What could be better?
So, don't doubt God when life doesn't make sense. Whatever you have gone through, or whatever horror you have witnessed on this earth, don't lose perspective. God is a good God. His love and mercy endure forever. Rather than turning to Him in anger, turn to Him for comfort. He is everything you need and more. And one day, you will be able to comfort someone else with the very same comfort you received from the Holy Spirit. 2 Corinthians 1:4.
Friday, August 3, 2012
What is the true value of all of the accomplishments we have accumulated in our lives if our priorities are up-side-down and the final result does not involve people? So what? Why spend our entire lives seeking importance and prosperity but end up feeling empty and unfulfilled inside? This is too often what people find at the end of their "successful" journey. How does this sound? Finally acquiring our dream house that feels so lonely because we failed to invest in relationships while building it; reaching the top of the corporate ladder and having plenty of money to do all the things we always dreamed, yet too busy to spend time with our families and having none of it benefitting anyone else; investing the majority of our time becoming as fit and gorgeous as the phony, touched up versions of our favorite stars, but being too busy to help someone in need; or even accomplishing remarkable feats for the sake of Christ, yet keeping it all to ourselves and influencing no one along the way. How do our priorities get so out of whack?
It is not that these goals are without merit. I believe God wants to bless us and allow us to enjoy our lives to the fullest while on this earth as well as when we get to Heaven. However, these earthly blessings are incomplete without someone to share them with, or if our hearts aren't fully devoted to the Source of all blessings and life. If you want to live life to the fullest and enjoy all the God has in store for you, here are some things to consider:
First of all, put first things first. Jesus made it clear in John 10:10 (NLT) when He said, "My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life." Deuteronomy 8:18 (NIV) goes even farther to say, "But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth." You see, it is His plan for you to be blessed and to enjoy your life, and He gives you the ability to do so. However, to fully enjoy it, your priorities must be in line. Matthew 6:33 (NIV) says, "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." When your heart's desires are in line with His, and you put Him first in your life, you will be able to enjoy all that He has in store for you. However, if you focus on things, rather than the One who blesses you, you will never be satisfied.
In addition, prosperity is more of an attitude of the heart than it is a measure of material success. When we have learned to be content and satisfied with all that God has given us, then we have learned the secret to true prosperity. He knows how much we can handle and what will tip us over the edge of forsaking Him. He had warned the Israelites in Deuteronomy, chapter 8, not to forget the Lord in times of plenty. He knows that can be our tendency. Therefore,it is important to remember that our attitudes and our relationship with God will effect our level of prosperity.
But, what about other people? What does this have to do with anyone else? You see, God does not bless us just so we can hoard as much stuff as we can for ourselves. When that is our mindset, we never seem to have enough. We can develop a completely skewed idea of what prosperity really means. It really is not about stuff. 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NLT) spells it out perfectly, "And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others." Yes, he blesses us abundantly, but it is so that we can bless others. In the end, true prosperity is measured not in how much we accumulate or accomplish with our lives, but it is in relationships and the positive difference we have made in someone else's life.
Don't lose sight of what is really important. First of all, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength. Always seek Him first. Then, love and serve others passionately. "For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Galatians 5:14 (NLT). Once those are in their proper place, then our other pursuits will have meaning and enjoyment. We will know true success and fulfillment in life.