Sunday, June 28, 2009

Got Nike(s)?

I remember back when running track in college that there were always some spirited joking about which brand of shoes were the best to run in; Adidas or Nike. Of course, those two brands were just about the only thing we had to choose from back then, so it made for some fun times between us. But I bet many have no idea what the name "Nike" means, because as I recall, not too many then knew it either except for the few who may have had a passing knowledge of Greek. You see, Nike is the Greek word for victory, and it it also the root word for "Nikao" which means "overcomer". It makes sense that these two words are related, because I'm sure most would agree that in order to achieve victory, one must overcome, but when looking at this idea in a biblical light exactly what does it mean to overcome?

In the New Testament, the word overcome is used almost exclusively by only two people; Jesus and Paul. In fact, both use this word solely in the context of letters to the churches. Paul, when writing to the churches, is concerned with addressing the problems they are experiencing and giving practical advice for "overcoming". Jesus, when writing His letters to the churches in Revelation, is giving a warning concerning their performance and revealing the rewards that will be received only by those who "overcome". Obviously this concept is a very important one, so I want to explore it a little in our study to see what insights we might find concerning God's expectations from us.

First of all, the idea of overcoming something gives us a clue that it might be a struggle, or something not easily achieved. Paul tells us that as Christians, we do have a struggle to endure. In his letter to the Ephesians he tells us this;

For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual {forces} of wickedness in the heavenly {places.} Ephesians 6:12 (NASB)

If you look at the context of this letter, we find Paul is comparing the difference between an immature and mature believer. Here he tells us that a mature Christian understands that the true nature of our struggles in this life are not from people, but the powers of darkness authored by Satan himself. How often in this life do we look at the troubles we face and personalize them? It's all because so and so did this to me, or said this about me. etc? The problem is the people I have to deal with! Paul says that is an immature view of life. We need to understand that these people and situations are authored by the forces of darkness that surround us. The mature Christian who has learned to overcome knows where the struggle is; in our minds! Our attitude towards our struggles determines our success or failure.

Understanding our fight is against this world, and the temptations we find in it is the key to achieving victory in our walk with God. So how do we overcome these temptations? Well, Paul also says this;

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. Ephesians 6:10 (NASB)

What does it mean to be "strong in the Lord"? It simply means that the mature Christian knows he cannot rely on his own power but must walk in the spirit of God through fellowship with Him. You see, many Christians today may appear to be mature because they go through the motions of going to church and getting involved in some aspect of service, but this is "spirituality", not maturity. You see, you can do these things without ever walking in fellowship with God and growing in your relationship with Him. In several of the letters to the churches in Revelation Jesus says He knows what they are doing, but what they are doing is not enough. He specifically says in every letter that the rewards only go to those who "overcome".

So how do we become mature and overcome? Look at what we are told by John;

I am writing to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one. I have written to you, children, because you know the Father.I have written to you, fathers, because you know Him who has been from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one. Do not love the world nor the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life, is not from the Father, but is from the world. The world is passing away, and {also} its lusts; but the one who does the will of God lives forever. 1 John 2:13-17 (NASB)

Simply put, the mature Christian who overcomes knows to turn his back to the things of this world. He knows that victory comes from making his focus growing in his relationship with God, rather than spending his time pursuing the "lusts" of this world. In a sermon about this struggle, Ray Stedman, late pastor of Peninsula Bible Church had this to say;

The key to growth is fellowship with the Son of God, spiritual health. You want to be a mature Christian, able to take whatever comes, able to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you? Then, give yourself to the conditions that make for health: Eat Christ, eat his Word, grow in the knowledge of him, think, talk, communicate with him. And sleep, i.e., rest in Christ. Learn how to rely on his strength, not yours, and live in constant expectation that he is working in you to do his good pleasure. And exercise! Serve him, obey him, move out, take on things to do, open your eyes and step out to meet the needs that call out all around you, the cries of suffering and anguished hearts, the lonely and discouraged. When you do, you will discover that you have overcome the evil one, he cannot get at you. And bit by bit you become like Christ, the most attractive, the most fascinating, the most compelling personality that ever lived.

Do you really want the victory you can have in Christ? Do you want to be an overcomer? Make your relationship with God the thing you work at most, and you will achieve the victory.

Got Nike(s)?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Have You Sacrificed Your Body?

As I was studying the book of Romans this week it occurred to me that most of us have probably used the word "sacrifice" at one time or another to describe something we have done. I am curious though if we are aware of exactly how God has chosen to use the word, and if it means the same to us as it does to Him? Let's look at a verse from Paul written to the Romans that should be familiar to most if not all of us.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, [which is] your reasonable service.
Romans 12:1 KJV

Three things came to mind as I read this verse and I want to share them with you today. The first thing I thought of was the word "present". Now obviously in this context it is used to mean "to give", as in give away, but I also thought of the idea of our bodies being a present as in a "gift" which we give to someone else. It seems to me that Paul is saying that we should give our bodies to God as a living gift for Him to use as He sees fit. I'm sure all of us have received a gift for one reason or another, and so are familiar with the feeling of joy that is produced when given something of value. So why do we "give" a gift of value to someone else? First we do it because we care about that person, and second because we want to see the joy it produces when received. Why do we care enough to give a gift to God? Well, one of the first things I was taught about studying the Bible was when you see the word "therefore", you look at the verses that come before to see what it's "there for".

O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable [are] his judgments, and his ways past finding out!For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, [are] all things: to whom [be] glory for ever. Amen.
Romans 11:33-36 KJV

You see, it's because of His riches and all that He has done for us that we want to give something back of value to Him. Paul tells us that our bodies, as a "living sacrifice", is the thing that God will find most "pleasing" so we give it as a gift knowing that God will never "take" it but rather patiently waits for us to give it.

The second thought that came to mind was that when you give a gift to someone, you release ownership of it. It no longer belongs to you, but to the person you gave it too. Now of course, some have tried that and we know there is a term for people who give things away and then try to take them back, but the whole idea here is to give away without wanting back. That's what makes it a sacrifice. Yet if our bodies are to be a "living sacrifice", the question must be asked just how often do we take it back in order to do what we want rather than what God wants? If we truly give our bodies to God, we should never want them back, but completely surrender our desires to Him and allow Him to use us as He will. As much as I wish I could say I have never taken my body back I can't, and I expect there are a lot of you who have to join me in saying that.

The third thought that came to me is that our "present" to God must be "acceptable". Now that scares me on the surface because I know there is no way I could make my body in any way "acceptable" to God so that He would be pleased with it. But if you read on you find that Paul isn't telling us that "we" do the cleaning to make our lives "acceptable".

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what [is] that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.
Romans 12:2 KJV

The point Paul is trying to make here is that God does the work for us when we allow Him to transform our minds, which then results in us becoming acceptable. But we have to make the choice to allow our minds to be transformed. How do we do that? Well, this verse seems to make it clear that it is really a question of black and white. Either we are concerned with the things of this world, or doing the will of God. There doesn't really seem to be any middle ground here. Paul says it's one or the other. Most of us would agree that the spirit of this age is obviously the advancement of self. It's all about what we have, what we can get, what makes me happy, what's in it for me?, etc. What Paul is telling us is that we need to be transformed so that our thoughts are about what God wants, what will glorify Him, what does He want me to do? Just the opposite of what the world says we are to be concerned with.

Have you truly sacrificed yourself? Are you so thankful for the mercy God has shown to you that you want to give Him the gift of your body? Do you love Him enough that you won't try to take it back, and instead allow Him to use you as He will? Have you allowed Him to transform your mind so you think only of what He wants, rather than what you want? God says our bodies can be a pleasing gift to Him, and one that He will be happy to receive if we truly are willing to be transformed.

Have you sacrificed your body to Him?

Sunday, June 14, 2009

True Love or Prostitution?

One of the reasons I enjoy studying the Old Testament so much, are the many different kinds of stories you find there. One of my favorite, and one that used to really get the attention of the young people I taught was the story of Hosea the Prophet. Why? Simply because of what God instructed him to do about his love life. Now most young people sooner or later arrive at the point in their lives where meeting the right person and falling in love becomes very important. God understands that as well, because after all, He is the one who invented the whole process. God also gives us plenty of advice and promises us help in the process if we only listen to Him. But take a moment to look at what God tells Hosea to do about his love life.

When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, "Go, take to yourself a wife of harlotry and {have} children of harlotry; for the land commits flagrant harlotry, forsaking the LORD." Hosea 1:2

Just what Hosea wanted to hear, right? He has waited his whole life to meet and marry the girl of his dreams, and this is what God tells him? Most scholars consider this verse to be "proleptic", meaning God is telling Hosea that this is what will happen after he marries, and not that his wife will be a prostitute when he first marries her. That would certainly make sense if you think about what God is trying to illustrate here, and that is the unfaithfulness of Israel towards Him.

So as the story unfolds we see that Hosea marries and at first, all must seem perfect to him. They have three children and look on the outside to be a normal, loving couple with a new family. But inside Hosea must be living in fear, for he has already been told by God that his wife was going to be unfaithful to him. And so it happens that his wife starts to chase after other men, looking to get what it appears to her to be needed. The Bible describes those in Hosea 2:5 as bread and water, wool and flax, and oil and drink. In other words, she was looking for things she didn't have, hoping they would give her the satisfaction and happiness she felt she wasn't getting out of life. Instead of being content with what Hosea could provide for her, she went out and prostituted herself to get what she felt she deserved.

Well it comes as no surprise that her life quickly degenerated from living the high life to eventually being sold in a slave market for 15 shekels of silver and 15 shekels worth of grain. But the best part of this story? Guess who bought her? That's right, Hosea. Hosea had followed her progression into the depths of despair, and when she finally hit bottom, he bought her back. What an illustration of true love, the kind of love God has for his people. In fact, the Hebrew word used here for love is "ahab", which is the exact same word for God's love for Israel, and us. The meaning of the word is to long for, or desire (as in pursue). It means that no matter what, God will always love us, and is always willing to take us back in spite of our unfaithfulness. This story is about how Israel at first loved God and was faithful to Him, but then became unfaithful and began to look to other gods.The really sad thing about this story is that it was not just proleptic to Hosea, it is prophetic about many of us and our relationship with God.

In the New Testament there are many verses describing God's love for us, and our reciprocal love for Him. Unfortunately though, we are also told that just as Hosea's wife, many believers will chase after the things of this world and willingly choose to be unfaithful to God. In essence, believers choose to pursue a lifestyle that they believe will bring them happiness, rather than pursuing their relationship with God. Unfortunately they will eventually find themselves in the same position Hosea's wife did, broken and empty and miserable.

In the Olivet Discourse, where Jesus is telling His disciples about what will occur as the world approaches the end of the age He makes a very sad prediction when he says that the "love" of many will grow cold. The same word used for our love towards God.

What are you pursuing today? Are you committed to your relationship with God and actively seeking to serve Him and find His will for your life, or are you pursuing the "happiness" you think this world has to offer? Like Hosea's wife, if you are making the wrong choice, your "happiness" will eventually lead to sorrow.

Do you love as God describes true love, or are you a prostitute? If the latter, know that God will take you back. He is always faithful.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

What Fills Your Tank?

When I was twenty something (all too long ago), I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to rebuild and restore a 1955 Chevrolet. As you might expect, the motor I chose to put in it was slightly more powerful than necessary. Did I say "slightly"? Oh yeah, it could really move down the road. Unfortunately for me, however, in the late 70's and early 80's the government began to mandate change in the formulation of gasoline which led to the removal of lead as an additive. The result of this was immediate and profound in my car as the motor needed lead and the resulting octane in the worst way. Basically, with the wrong kind of gas in the tank, my car ran about as lousy as my lawn mower.

As believers, we have a fuel tank as well, and the gas we choose to put in it will dramatically affect our performance for Christ. I have spent a lot of time studying and analyzing what the Bible has to say about the Church just before the end of the age, and the best thing I can say about it is that it looks like it runs just about as well as my car did with the wrong gas. If you find that hard to believe, just look at what Jesus says about it in His letter to the Church.

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.
So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Revelation 3:15,16 KJV

Since the issue here certainly seems to be a lack of performance, my question was what were they doing wrong to put themselves in this position? The answer to that may be far more simple than you think. If we look at Jesus' own words to His disciples just before He ascended to Heaven, we get our first clue.

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Acts 1:8

The power to which Jesus refers is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, which He sent to us on the day of Pentecost just 10 days later. So if Jesus Himself told us that when we become believers we are given the gift of the Holy Spirit, and along with that gift the "power" we need to serve Him as we should, why isn't the Church "performing" as it should? The answer to that is given to us by Paul the Apostle in his letters to the Church in Rome and Ephesus. Notice if you will that the problem he addresses is the same, as well as his description of the reasons.

Besides this you know what hour it is, how it is full time now for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; let us conduct ourselves becomingly as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires. Romans 13:11-14 RSV

Therefore it is said, "Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light." Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, always and for everything giving thanks in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father. Ephesians 5:14-20 RSV

Do you see the problem here? Rather than being filled with the Holy Spirit and using that power to serve God, the believers Paul describes here are only interested in filling their tanks with what Satan calls "fun". The three things Paul describes here are drunkenness (drinking to excess), debauchery (partying to excess), and sexual immorality (sexual contact outside the bonds of marriage). In essence what Paul describes here are believers more interested in filling their tanks with the lusts of the flesh just as non believers do rather than being filled with the Holy Spirit and serving Him. They spend their time partying, drinking, and pursuing sexual immorality as a means to feel good. As believers these people are just puttering along like my hot rod on weak gas because they choose to put the wrong gas in their tanks.

To be filled with the Spirit is to receive the power to say no to self, and to say yes to obedience to Christ. We serve Him by being different and letting our light shine, not by acting the same as the world, concerned only with self indulgence and having a good time. Do you remember the post from a few weeks ago about the parable of the ten virgins? The result of not having enough oil (the Holy Spirit) was being left behind. In Revelation Jesus says He will spit the lukewarm believers out of His mouth. In 2 Kings 2:9 the prophet Elisha asks for a "double portion" of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is a gift to all believers, but it is also something that can and needs to be refilled at times. Have you asked God lately to fill your tank with more of the power for living that you need? Is your desire to be filled with the Spirit, or to satisfy the lusts of the flesh? All we need to do is ask, and God will give us all of the Holy Spirit our tank can hold.

Jesus gave believers a warning concerning how they choose to live in the time immediately preceding the rapture of the Church, which I believe is extremely relevant to this discussion.

"But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; Luke 21:34

My question to you is just what are you putting in your tank?