Sunday, September 25, 2011

Do You Really Trust?

So Jesus answered and said, "Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel's, "who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time--houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions--and in the age to come, eternal life.
Mark 10:29-30 NKJV

This verse is one I remember learning in Sunday school when I was just a little guy memorizing verses in order to get a prize. Anyone else out there experience that? Funny to remember what my motivation was back then, only to find that I have never forgotten those verses I memorized. In a way though, while my motivation for learning was in expectation of a reward, I did in fact learn a lesson that has stayed with me for all of my life and that is that God promises us that our sacrifices will be rewarded.

Now while I may not have sacrificed much back then other than the time it took to memorize those verses, as I grew older I began to realize that my decision to follow Christ could cost me in other ways. I have no doubt all of us who choose to believe have experienced not only the loss of something we may have held dear, but have also at one time or another probably had the thought cross our mind that maybe it really isn't worth it? Have you ever hesitated to do something you know God wanted you to do because you were unwilling to give something up?

The passage above is from the story of the rich man who was unwilling to give up all his riches and follow Christ. You probably remember the story of how he came to Jesus and asked how to gain eternal life, and was told that the final thing he needed to do was give up all that he had and follow Christ. When Jesus told him that, we are told he couldn't find it in himself to make that choice.

But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
Mark 10:22 NKJV

Now when I first read this passage my thought was simply that he wasn't willing to pay the price by giving up all he had, but if you look closer at the passage Jesus tells us exactly what his shortcoming was.

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, "How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!" And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, "Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
Mark 10:23-25 NKJV

You see, the key word here is “trust”. When Jesus first says that it's hard for the rich to enter the kingdom, I think the disciples reaction was much like mine in thinking it was just an unwillingness to give up. So Jesus clarifies His statement by saying it is the rich person's “trust” in his riches that prevents him from entering the kingdom. Of course, you have to love the reaction of the disciples to Jesus' words here.

And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, "Who then can be saved?"
Mark 10:26 NKJV

I think their reaction and question gives us insight into just what Jesus was saying because the question they ask does not differentiate between rich and poor. Their question seems to imply it's impossible for “anyone” to be saved. I think it's safe to say that the message here is about the difference between trusting in our own efforts to provide for our needs, and trusting God to provide for our needs. It all really comes down to an attitude of trust. We often think what we have is a result of our own efforts, rather than considering that God has engineered the circumstances that provided what we have.

The disciples were in a perfect position to experience that, yet I'm curious if they even recognized what was going on while they were with Jesus? Have you ever wondered how thirteen men traveling around the country without jobs managed to live? Think about it. Where did the food come from? Where did the money come from? If thirteen homeless men came to your door today could you feed them? Would you even have enough food to make them a meal? Yet Jesus and His disciples did just that for three years! Did the disciples never marvel at the fact that they managed to eat every day, and somehow no matter where they went they were provided for?

I personally believe up to this point they might not have, but now Jesus makes His point by using this situation as an example in order to teach the disciples the lesson.

But Jesus looked at them and said, "With men [it is] impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible." Then Peter began to say to Him, "See, we have left all and followed You."
Mark 10:27-28 NKJV

I like the phrase here where it says “Peter began to say”. In other words, he didn't get a chance to finish his thought because Jesus interrupted him. It's in the back of my mind that what Jesus was saying is something like “thank you for making my point for me, Peter”. You see, the disciples had left all for Jesus' sake, and they were always provided for by Him. Was it at this point that they finally realized that it was because of their decision to give all away that their needs were being taken care of on a daily basis?

Right now we are living in what many consider desperate economic conditions where much of what we have invested over the years is disappearing at an alarming rate. Every day seems to bring more bad news about the economy and words like recession and depression are everywhere. Yet I find many believers are smiling and happy in spite of these things, and it seems clear they are not concerned with the doom and gloom so prevalent in the news. How is that possible? I believe it is because those believers have truly placed their trust in God and His promise to provide. After all, what we already have was provided by God in the first place wasn't it?

The key to this entire story is trust. Trust is an attitude of believing so much in the promise of God to provide all that we need that we have no hesitation at all to give up what we may already have! The rich young man in this story trusted only in what his riches could provide. The disciples gave all they had away in order to follow Jesus and trust in Him, and He provided everything they needed. Is your trust in Him? Do you truly believe God will not only provide for your needs, but do so “ a hundredfold”? I suggest you try Him and see!

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Know What You Believe

Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,
1 Timothy 4:1 NKJV

The dictionary defines the word doctrine as; " a particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated".So let's bear this in mind when we read what Paul has to say to Timothy about believers that live in the "latter times". In this passage he says that just before the return of Christ some believers will "fall away from the faith" and "pay attention" to the "doctrines of demons". As hard as this is to believe, since God said it would happen, maybe we should examine what the "doctrine" of demons is.

Since it is always best to start at the beginning, let's go back to Genesis where man first encounters Satan and is introduced to what he teaches.

Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said to the woman, "Has God indeed said, 'You shall not eat of every tree of the garden'?" And the woman said to the serpent, "We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; "but of the fruit of the tree which [is] in the midst of the garden, God has said, 'You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.' " Then the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. "For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Genesis 3:1-5 NKJV

Here we find Satan appearing to Eve with the intent to lead her astray. Satan is described as a serpent, but in truth, this is a poor translation of the Hebrew word. The word is "nachash" in the Hebrew, and it literally means "to shine" or the "shining one". So although the serpent may represent Satan, whatever form that appeared to Eve was a shining one, or with great attractiveness.

Next we see he is described as "subtle", which is translated crafty or cunning, and we are also told he is more cunning than any other creature. This alone should give us plenty of warning about how formidable an opponent he really is. Finally we are introduced to his "doctrine" when his first words to Eve are in the form of a question concerning what God has specifically said. In other words, the first thing Satan did was to question God's word, and the authority that went along with it!

So if we compare what we know about what Satan believes and teaches with the statement in Timothy about believers in the last days, what God is telling us is that believers are going to begin to question God's laws and the authority of His word. Taking into account that Satan is also described as cunning, his arguments are going to sound very logical and appear attractive to us in some sort of way. Does this not sound familiar to you right now?

Have you noticed the fact that many people in general are looking everywhere else but to God for the answers to the worlds' problems, and are in God's own words becoming "fools". Now that might be something we expect from non-believers but here we see that God tells us that even believers are going to start to fall away from Him, accepting Satan's argument that it is okay to question God's laws and His authority to make them.

It is no secret that today there are huge churches in America that are wildly popular because they in fact teach that very thing. These churches espouse doctrines such as parts of the Bible are irrelevant in this day and age, or we can change the world through social programs instead of evangelism. Spreading the gospel to an unbelieving world has taken a back seat to being politically correct, and practicing tolerance and acceptance of any religion or lifestyle.

It doesn't matter that God's word tells us different, because as Satan has led us to believe, God isn't always right now is He? This is the same line he used on Eve in the garden. On the one hand we could say Satan isn't very original but on the other hand, the same argument he used then still works now, and believers are buying into it.

If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, [even] the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions,
1 Timothy 6:3-4 NKJV

Paul says it best in this passage when, if you look closely at the meaning of the words in the Greek, he tells us that those who advocate a different doctrine are "conceited and understands nothing". What's more, he says that these people have a "morbid interest in controversial questions". So do you know anyone like that?

Unfortunately there are too many people in the church today that are more interested in trying to stir up trouble by questioning what the Bible has to say, rather than accepting God's authority and doing what we are here to do; evangelize. This of course is exactly what Satan wants. His plan is for believers to be distracted from doing the work God has for the church because they are too busy questioning what God has told us in His word.

How do we as believers avoid falling into the trap that Satan has for us? Well, first we need to know what to look out for, and that seems to be evident in what we have talked about today. God's word is truth, and anyone who says different is falling for Satan's big lie. The Bible is our authority for any and all questions, and we can know what it says only by investing time and effort in studying it to know what Gods' positions are for whatever concerns come our way. I hope you have already set aside time every day to read and study God's word.

Of course, the most important question that we must ask ourselves is “am I truly a believer”? “Have I committed my life to serving Christ” or am I listening to what the world is saying about there being many different roads to salvation? If we use the Bible as our authority as we are instructed to do, that question is answered in Paul's response to his jailer while in prison in Philippi.

And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
Acts 16:30-31 NKJV

If you have never made the decision to ask Jesus to come into your life and accept the gift of salvation He has offered you I urge you to do it right now. Simply pray to Him and confess that you are a sinner in need of salvation, and then ask Him to forgive you of your sins. Tell Him you believe that He died on the cross to take your place and because of that you want to turn your life over to Him. If you do that you have His promise that you are saved.

But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name:
John 1:12 NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Growing Our Fruit

My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have [its] perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
James 1:2-4 NKJV

I may have mentioned before that for the first time in many years I decided to plant a garden this past spring. It has been a very enjoyable experience to cultivate, fertilize, water, and then observe all the seeds germinate and grow to become healthy plants. I have, however, learned something about gardens that I think has a very good application to our lives as believers, and a situation we all face at some point in our walk with God.

I was excited to see that everything I planted this spring grew, and like anyone who plants a garden I waited patiently for the fruit to appear so I could get to the business of harvesting and eating. Two things I planted were broccoli and cauliflower, and I was amazed at how big those plants can get. Imagine my surprise though when it began to become apparent that in spite of how large and healthy these plants appeared, not one of them ever produced any fruit! They gave the appearance of being healthy and mature, but they never did what they were intended to do, which was to produce their fruit for me to eat.

The book of James has rightly been called a book about becoming mature as a Christian. In it James describes not only what we as believers can expect from this life, but also what is expected from us. It may sound a little strange, but as I studied this passage this week my thoughts also went to my garden and the experience I had in watching most of the plants produce their fruit, but two not. In the passage above, James tells us that as Christians, the expectation is for us to become “complete”. How we do that is a result of a process which begins, unfortunately, with testing.

Now nobody I know likes to be tested. I used to dread tests in school because it always seemed that they were intended to show not how much I knew, but how little. Yet here James tells us that the “test” is necessary because it “produces”. In other words, without testing we would be like my plants that didn't produce any fruit. We might look pretty, but without the opportunity to produce, no one would ever see our fruit. So the way I see it, trials are the fertilizer that helps our faith grow, and as a result produce the fruit which others can see.

Now as our faith grows, it produces “patience”. In the Greek, the word for patience is hypomonē: 1) steadfastness, constancy, endurance. Patience is the fruit that everyone around us can see, and in essence, it is what everyone around us is looking for. We often tend to think that trials are sort of an “internal” self check of our faith when in reality we are being told that trials are a way for others to observe our fruit, or lack of it. Endurance relates to a process which is ongoing and takes some time, so the picture here is that the fruit of patience is something that is ongoing, and not just a one-time event.

Now it would be nice if this were a process that just happened naturally without any choice on our part, yet we now come to the part of this passage that explains why many believers, like some of my plants, produce no fruit. Notice the words “but let”. You see, here we find that although we are told that trials are a part of every believers life, we must make the choice to “let” the patience produced by those tests do it's work and help us mature into what is described as being “perfect and complete”.

It took several months for my garden to produce, and I think the idea here is that the trials we will face will last for a time as well. It takes time for growth to occur, and there aren't any shortcuts. We often try to find ways to “end” our tests as quickly as possible, or avoid them altogether when we are told here to simply let the process produce the fruit. We are told ahead of time what the result of the process will be, but we still need to make the choice to let it take it's time and bear fruit at the end.

Is it really worth it? In the Greek, the word for complete is holoklēros: 1) complete in all its parts, in no part wanting or unsound, complete, entire, whole. I don't know about you, but I figured out pretty early in life that things don't work very well when a piece is missing. What James is telling us here is that we make the choice to endure trials and let them produce patience so we may be complete. Do you really want to try and walk as a believer in this life with some parts missing?

As Christians, James tells us here that the mark of a mature believer is one who exhibits their fruit by embracing the trials that come with patience and endurance knowing that God has provided what we need to do just that. Fruit is something that others can see, and I think the point James is making here is that when we make the choice to mature as believers the fruit that will be produced is for others to see. Believers are to look different than the rest of the world and how we deal with trials is one of the best ways for us to do just that. Is it worth it? It is according to James.

Blessed [is] the man who endures temptation; for when he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him.
James 1:12 NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, September 4, 2011


"Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. "[It is] like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. "Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming--in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning-- "lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. "And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!"
Mark 13:33-37 NKJV

In this passage, Jesus tells His believers to “watch” for His return, yet He also makes it clear that the reason they are to do so is that they do not know when He is coming back. Now many have debated the subject of which return Jesus is referring to here, the rapture of His church or the Second Coming, but rather than joining that debate I would rather address something else that I believe is important here. Notice the last sentence? “What I say to you I say to all”? I think it's safe to say that we are part of the “all” that Jesus is addressing this command to.

So what does it mean to watch? The Greek word for “watch” is agrypneō: 1) to be sleepless, keep awake, watch, 2) to be circumspect, attentive, ready. Now when I read this definition and then look closer at the passage where it is used, the part that really stands out to me is the part that says to be “attentive”. Now I am not much of a hunter, but there are two seasons I choose to partake in every year and that is pheasant hunting and duck hunting. Now although hunting with me is often described as “entertaining” by my hunting partner, there is something I have learned from it, and that is the importance of being “attentive”.

Why? Because most often I can hear them long before I see them. My partner is one of the best duck callers I have ever seen, and probably the only reason he takes me with him is that I can usually hear them long before we ever see them and then he does his thing and calls them in. It probably looks funny to others but as we sit in our blind and he and everyone else is looking, I have my eyes closed and am listening.

What has this to do with Jesus' command to watch? To me, I believe many are too focused on watching for certain specific events to occur rather than being “attentive” to anything which might be a clue to the nearness of His return. It seems to me that Jesus is telling us He wants us to be aware of everything that is going on around us rather than just focusing on particular events as a sign of His return. It is my belief that if we adopt the attitude of being aware of everything that is happening around us we might just see clues we would otherwise miss.

If you study the event we call the rapture, one of the first things you learn is that when it occurs, it is accompanied by the sound of a trumpet. This particular trumpet is called a "shofar". Are you familiar with what they look like? If not, I have (hopefully) included one for you to see. I also included a picture I took on Thursday afternoon of a cloud in the sky which to me, at least, seemed to look a lot like a shofar. A sign from God? Well, I will let you decide but to me personally, why not? After all, who am I to tell God what signs to give His children? God can speak to each of us any way He so chooses, and if I am to be "attentive" as Jesus commanded, I at least should consider the possibility.

I want to repost a study we did last year about this time concerning the rapture of the church. Hopefully it will encourage you to read a little about what we all are waiting and watching for.

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
1 Thessalonians 4:16 NKJV

One of the things I enjoyed most when teaching young people were the questions I often got from them concerning the things we were studying in the scriptures. One of my favorites, and one I got repeatedly when teaching the rapture of the Church is if we will know or be aware that we are being raptured, or do we simply find ourselves suddenly in heaven without a clue that it was about to happen? That really is a great question and one I think many of us have thought about at one time or another, so I thought we might take a little time this morning to look closer at the event we call the rapture.

This verse in Thessalonians is probably the best one we can use in describing exactly what God says will happen on that day. If we look closely at what it says, we find that we are told there are actually three distinct things which will occur in sequence when Jesus returns for His Church. These are a shout by the Lord Himself, the voice of an archangel, and the sound of the trumpet of God. So let's look closer at each of these three and see if there is a clue to the answer to our question “will we know”?

The Shout. In this verse we are told this shout is from the Lord Jesus Himself. Now at first, it would seem understandable that Jesus might want to shout since He has been waiting over two thousand years to come get His bride, yet there may be more to it than that. We are also told here that “the dead in Christ will rise first”. So there is a sequence of events, and the first is the resurrection of the bodies of those believers who have already died to be reunited with their souls which went to be with Lord at the time of their death.

We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.
2 Corinthians 5:8 NKJV

When a believer dies, his soul goes to be with the Lord in Heaven while his body is left behind. At the time of the rapture, the Lord apparently commands their bodies to rise from the grave just as He did with Lazarus.

Now when He had said these things, He cried with a loud voice, "Lazarus, come forth!"
John 11:43 NKJV

So the first thing to happen at the time of the rapture is the resurrection of the dead in Christ. Like one of my kids said during Sunday School, “dude, would it be cool to be in a cemetery when that happens?” We laugh, but I just wonder if he is right?

The Voice. The only angel in the Bible to receive the title of archangel is the angel Michael, so I think it is safe to assume that is who is being talked about here. As opposed to the Lord's “shout”, we are told that we only hear the “voice” of Michael, so we are left to wonder exactly what his role here is. If you have studied this passage, or study it further, you will find there are a few opinions as to what might be going on. Although any of them might be right, I am going to go as far as to suggest a new one which may or may not be accurate, but feels the most comfortable to me. As I sat and thought about why Michael might be involved, I decided to look at the other occasions where he is mentioned in the Bible. A very interesting place I found is in the book of Jude where we are told this;

Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, "The Lord rebuke you!"
Jude 1:9 NKJV

Now I certainly found it curious that here we find a situation involving Michael that, along with the account of the rapture, is concerned with a body belonging to a believer. In this account in Jude, the only explanation that makes any sense is that Satan was disputing “possession” of the dead body of Moses. We can find an account of this in the non-canonical Book of Enoch, which Jude is obviously referring to. In that account Satan laid claim to the body for two reasons. The first was that Moses was a murderer because he took the life of an Egyptian, and the second was that Moses body was buried on earth, and he, Satan, is the lord over the things of this world. So my thoughts are these; if Satan has in the past disputed over the ownership of the body of one believer, just what will his reaction to the resurrection of all dead believers bodies be? If in fact this is what happens, doesn't it make sense that the same scenario will repeat itself and the voice of the archangel is Michael again saying “The Lord rebuke you” to Satan? As I said, there are other ideas concerning this portion of the verse, but since both of these accounts of Michael concern the ownership of believers bodies, to me this seems to be a logical conclusion.

The Trumpet. Actually, we are told here that what we hear is the "trumpet of God". Just what exactly is this trumpet sound and what if anything makes it special? In another account of the rapture, Paul tells us this;

In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
1 Corinthians 15:52 NKJV

Here Paul refers to this trumpet as the "last trump". This helps us identify it for from studying rabbinical sources we see that this use of the term "last trump" means it is the shofar, or ram's horn which is being used. The shofar is related to the account of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, and rabbinical tradition regards the left horn as the "first trump" and the right horn as the "last trump". There are two ways to blow the shofar, with the first being a series of short blasts which signify an alarm or bad news, and the second being one long blast which is meant to signal victory or good news. It is this last long blast which is identified as the "last trump". According to rabbinical sources the "last trump" or "tekiah gedolah" lasts as long as the blower has the lung capacity to blow. In this case, where the "trumpet of God"is being blown, one has to wonder just how long the blast will be? My personal opinion is very, very long.

The shout of Jesus calling for the resurrection of all dead believers bodies to rise, Michael rebuking Satan in the Lord's name for possession of the bodies, and the tekiah gedolah which lasts as long as the blower has breath, certainly gives rise to the thought that the answer to our original question might well be; yes! Yes we will know that the rapture is occurring because there is a sequence of three events which must take place before we go. I suspect the last trump will last long enough for all believers to know and understand that the time has come for the bride to go with the bridegroom and to rise and meet Him in the air. Come quickly Lord Jesus!

Keep watching. (and listening)