Sunday, April 25, 2010

It All Starts With Love

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
Galations 5:22-23 NKJV

One of the things I like about God's lists is that He usually always starts with the most important part listed first. It is no different here where God tells us what the fruits of the Spirit are, and lists them for us. In a way, this list is related to the list we discussed a few weeks ago, and that is the list of the spiritual gifts. Why is that? Well, if you look closely at the passage we looked at, Paul says an interesting thing when he finishes with the list of gifts.

And yet I show you a more excellent way. Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
1 Corinthians 12:31b 13:1-3 NKJV

What Paul tells us here is something very important that many believers miss, and that is this; the Fruit of the Spirit is more important than the Gifts of the Spirit. You see, we can produce work on our own, but only the Holy Spirit can produce fruit. So our responsibility is to live in the Spirit, thus allowing Him to work through us to produce fruit. How do we do that? Well, let's begin where we finished last week, and that is by looking at our "makeup"!

Ask any woman what the first thing is that she puts on when doing her makeup and I bet you most would say her "foundation". In the list of the fruits God gives us in Galatians, the first thing He tells us is "love". Obviously love is not only the most important, but if you look at the rest of the list it seems everything else is a result of that love. So in a way. you could say that love is the foundation upon which all the other fruits are built. The word here for love is "agape" which in the Bible describes the love that God has for us. Some of the best definitions of this kind of love that I have found, and use when teaching on agape, come from Ray Stedman, late pastor of Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto California. I have chosen to list just two of them for you.

(1) Agapē; commitment of the will to love and uphold another person
(2)"Agape, or God's kind of love, is a deliberate choice to act for the best interests of another person."

It is unfortunate that so many people confuse "agape" love with "eros" or sensual love, which is a love based on feelings and is never used in the Bible. I have often heard people say that they just can't love another person for one reason or another, but the Bible tells us here that as believers, by virtue of the gift of the Holy Spirit, we do have the capacity to love anyone with agape love. Agape is the foundation of the gifts of the Spirit, and if we look closely at the nine gifts listed, I believe we can see what God is trying to show us.

Have you ever heard the expression "Joy stands for Jesus, others, and you"? I remember learning that one in Sunday school when I was just a kid, and by looking a little closer at this list I think I know where that came from. Try dividing these nine gifts into groups of three and then categorize them. What I see is that the first three are directed towards God,(Jesus), the second three towards (others), and the last three towards us,(you). If it helps we can say the gifts of the Spirit are "directional"; Godward, manward, selfward.

When we begin by choosing to love God just as He has loved us, we experience the joy that comes from having a relationship with our Father just as Jesus did.

"These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and [that] your joy may be full.
John 15:11 NKJV

Accepting Jesus into our hearts and choosing to live in a relationship with God not only produces joy, but also as a result allows us to experience the peace of knowing God is with us no matter what the outward circumstances of our lives might be.

Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Philippians 4:6-7 NKJV

Who doesn't want to experience a life filled with joy and peace? Has there ever been a time in your life when you encountered someone who seemed ridiculously happy and you wondered what in the world their "problem" was? Guess what? That should be us. The "foundation" we need to put on as often as necessary is to simply remind ourselves that we have entered into a loving relationship with God the Father who has promised to give us joy and peace so that others see in us the effects of making that choice.

It all starts with Love.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Wearing Your Makeup?

No, this week I am not talking just to women, but I would understand if you thought so. One of the things I constantly find fascinating in my study of scripture is that you always seem to find something new when you revisit a passage you thought you had already studied and understood completely. This week I am going to give you an example of that by sharing something new the Spirit taught me about a passage with which I am sure most if not all of you are familiar. Today I want to look closer at the Parable of the Ten Virgins.

"Then the kingdom of heaven shall be likened to ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Now five of them were wise, and five were foolish. Those who were foolish took their lamps and took no oil with them, but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. But while the bridegroom was delayed, they all slumbered and slept. "And at midnight a cry was [heard]: 'Behold, the bridegroom is coming; go out to meet him!' Then all those virgins arose and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said to the wise, 'Give us [some] of your oil, for our lamps are going out.' But the wise answered, saying, '[No], lest there should not be enough for us and you; but go rather to those who sell, and buy for yourselves.' And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went in with him to the wedding; and the door was shut.
Matthew 25:1-10 NKJV

As I said before, most if not all of you are familiar with this parable for it has been the subject of many a sermon. I have taught on it as well, and it was the subject of a blog last year (May 3, 2009..."The Cry of the Virgins") as we approached the Feast of Pentecost which many associate with the Rapture of the Church. Yet what I want to share with you today is simply one word out of this whole passage and it comes in verse seven where we see that when the cry was heard, the virgins "trimmed" their lamps.

Why is this word special, and why did the Spirit point it out to me? Well, if we look at it in the Greek, we see this;
kosmeō...1) to put in order, arrange, make ready, prepare... 2) to ornament, adore...3) metaph. to embellish with honour, gain honour

Kosmeo is where we get the word cosmetic, or cosmetology in the English. Now as I have shared before, I have three daughters, so I would not be too far out of line to say I know a thing or two about putting on makeup after watching all of my daughters learn how, and then practicing daily the act of "preparation" before they venture out into the world. My youngest daughter has even chosen the field of Cosmetology as her profession, so as I watched her study and prepare for that endeavor I learned even more about how complicated the process can be.

So knowing this, when I look at what I at first saw as the act of "lighting" a lamp, it does seem to take on an entirely different meaning. If I had to attempt to write a definition of "kosmeo" without offending my daughters, (or any other women who may read this) I would have to say it is a lengthy process with many steps resulting in an attractive presentation in the best possible light. To me, this gives this passage of scripture, and this particular verse, a whole new meaning. The first thought that crossed my mind was how "attractive" is my lamp, and is it prepared to shine as bright as it can?

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.
Matthew 5:14 NKJV

We as believers are the "light" that this world sees. Without question, the Bible commands us to take care of that light so that the world through us might see Jesus. So our responsibility is clear and that is to be sure our "makeup" is the best we can make it. Lamps are filled with oil, which in the Bible almost always refers to the Holy Spirit. We are to be "filled" with the Spirit in order to shine before the world in the most attractive way possible. Paul tells the Colossians this;

For this reason we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing [Him], being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;
Colossians 1:9,10 NKJV

My second thought was do I carry with me the tools I need to "freshen up" or "touch up" my makeup? It is common for a woman to carry a small (sometimes) make-up kit in her purse. Why? To be prepared for the possibility she might need to touch up during the day. The question here is are you carrying around inside of you what you need for a little "spiritual" touch up? Paul says we need to be filled with the knowledge of God's will so we might walk pleasing to Him, and be fruitful (shine) in an unbelieving world.

In this parable we are told five of the virgins were prepared, and were allowed entrance to the wedding feast while five were not, and were left out. My question to you today is this; are you wearing your makeup? Are you prepared to shine as bright as you can? If so, I have one more thing for you to consider.

While most Bible scholars consider this parable to be a reference to the rapture of the Church, many seem to miss what I feel is an interesting point. After the cry is heard announcing the coming of the bridegroom, there is a short period of time for the virgins to trim their lamps. It is not long enough for the foolish to go get more oil, but it is enough for the wise to "trim" and the foolish to leave in search of more.

As I have thought about this, the question that came to my mind is what exactly will be the "cry" that tells us the bridegroom is coming, yet gives us a very short time to shine? I could spend a lot of time on that question, but I want to leave you with just this; is there going to be an event that tells the world the end is near in such a way as everyone will know? Most of you know I believe that the prophecy of Isaiah 17 is the next major prophetic event on God's calendar, and many of you have read my book, or some other information concerning it. I want to leave you with a few links to follow as it would appear many are beginning to believe that this event prophesied by God is not only on the horizon, but imminent.

Keep watching.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Lamb of God

Thinking this past week about Easter and the ultimate sacrifice made for us, one of the passages I recalled was from the book of Isaiah concerning the coming Messiah.

All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, Yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth.
Isaiah 53:6-7 NKJV

This of course led me to begin to think about all the times the Bible uses the illustrations of sheep, and the lessons I have learned from them. Probably my earliest memory would be receiving the picture above, The Lost Sheep by Alfred Soord, as a reward for learning my memory verse correctly in Sunday School. I'm sure I am not the only one who has memories of the stories about sheep in the Bible, or the things learned along the way. So I spent most of this week thinking about sheep, (yes, many would think that strange) and wondered why God would use them to teach us so many lessons.

Now my conclusions on the nature of sheep might not be entirely accurate, as I have never owned or been around too many sheep. We do, however, have quite a large population raised in the valley where I live, so I have had occasion to observe. One of the first things I have noticed is that sheep seem to have a pretty passive personality. You can walk right up to them and pet them or feed them and they really don't seem to be easily alarmed by anything. I guess "trusting" would be a good way to describe them. Of course, once you make friends with them by scratching their ears, they will begin to follow you everywhere like you have become their best friend. They also appear to be rather quiet while going about their business. Having worked on a ranch with many different kinds of stock, I can tell you each makes considerable noise when they want to. Yet a herd of sheep in a pasture tend to be the quietest group of animals around. We used to have a "processing" plant here in town, and although when brought there for the inevitable end and placed in the yards, they just meekly walked through the doors without making a sound.

Thinking of these things, and looking at Isaiah's passage about Jesus being tried and put to death, really made me consider how like a sheep Jesus was when facing His accusers. He refused to argue, make a fuss, or resist, and went along with them all the way to the cross. And why? Because, according to Isaiah, all of us have "gone astray". Jesus had to die because we, as sheep do, followed another in a direction we were not supposed to go.

In the book of John, we are told that Jesus was teaching in the temple and debating with the Pharisees. One of the stories He tells uses an illustration about sheep, and has become known as the discourse on The Good Shepherd. There are at least four promises I see in this story that I want to share with you today.

To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
John 10:3 NKJV

Promise number one is that when we become believers, we know His voice. We can distinguish between the voice of God, and voices of darkness that would try to take us in another direction. God's voice is different, and this removes any thought we might have about confusion or ambiguity in what we are expected to do. If we truly listen for God's voice, we will recognize it.

And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.
John 10:4 NKJV

The second promise is that God will lead us. We don't make a decision to follow Christ, then get turned out to "pasture" and be left to our own devices. He will lead us in the direction He wants us to go. Our responsibility is to "look" for Him, and then follow where He leads. How often do we go astray by going where "we" think we are to go, rather than looking to God to see where He wants to lead? He will always be there if we but look for Him and follow.

Then Jesus said to them again, "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who [ever] came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.
John 10:7-9 NKJV

The third promise is to protect us from all harm. Have you ever felt like God has abandoned you, or is busy on the other side of the pasture while you are struggling? Not a chance. No matter what may come, God promises to protect us and deliver us from all harm. Certainly we will have troubles, this too is promised, but we also have the assurance that God has promised to protect us.

I am the good shepherd; and I know My [sheep], and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.
John 10:14-15 NKJV

The last promise is also the greatest for we are saved because He has died for us. Ever been jealous of sheep in the field because it appears they have no worries? Anything they need is given to them by the shepherd, so they want for nothing. Here Jesus tells us that He will (and has) given His very own life for His sheep. We were bought with a price, and now we have no reason for worry because all we need has been provided by His sacrifice.

Maybe this sounds too much like a Sunday School lesson for kids, but I think all too often we try and make the simple lessons more complex than God intended. After all, this is the story Jesus taught to the Pharisees, his followers, and His disciples. So take what we have discussed here and do one more thing; read the following passage that I'm sure all of us are familiar with and see if you can find these four promises from God.

A Psalm of David.
The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You [are] with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.
Psalm 23 NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

He Lives

As I considered what to write about today, the thought occurred to me that this is one time where I should let God do the talking, and just experience the power of His Word. Enjoy the message of God's love to us as we celebrate the ressurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Now after the Sabbath, as the first day of the week began to dawn, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to see the tomb. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat on it. His countenance was like lightning, and his clothing as white as snow. And the guards shook for fear of him, and became like dead men. But the angel answered and said to the women, "Do not be afraid, for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for He is risen, as He said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell His disciples that He is risen from the dead, and indeed He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him. Behold, I have told you." So they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring His disciples word. And as they went to tell His disciples, behold, Jesus met them, saying, "Rejoice!" So they came and held Him by the feet and worshiped Him. Matthew 28:1-9 NKJV

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. John 3:16 NKJV

And it shall come to pass [That] whoever calls on the name of the LORD Shall be saved.' Acts 2:21 NKJV

And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." Acts 16:30-31 NKJV

I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. John 10:9 NKJV

My prayer is that if you have never made the decision to believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again for you, you would decide to do it today. Invite Jesus to come into your life and forgive your sins, and begin to experience the joy that comes from having a relationship with a living God, and the knowledge that He has promised us eternal life with Him in Heaven if we only believe.

He has risen. He lives.