Sunday, March 31, 2013

Because He Lives, We Can Live!

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

I'm sure most of you are familiar with this passage, especially as we celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ on this day. 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.

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
If you are reading this and have never made the decision to accept Jesus Christ into your heart and accept the free gift of eternal life He has offered you, I urge you to do so right now. You can do that by praying this prayer and accepting the gift of eternal life God has offered you by the death and resurrection of His Son Jesus Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner and I believe You died for my sins. Right now, I turn from my sins and open the door of my heart and life to you. I confess You as my personal Lord and Savior. Thank you for saving me. Amen.

Have a blessed Easter.  He Lives!

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Sunday, March 24, 2013

The Lamb of God

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

I don't know about you, but I can never approach Easter without remembering all the times Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, or as the Lamb of God, and other references as well all having to do with sheep and shepherding. This is probably because some of my earliest memories of going to Sunday School include being taught that we are like sheep and are to follow our shepherd, Jesus, who loved us enough to die for us.  As I look back at those times, I realize that there is a reason I still remeber those stories, and it isn't that I have a good memory but rather that God intended for me to remeber them because of the importance of the illustration and what it all means.  I want to share with you today an old post I made a few years ago on this subject in the hope that you will find something useful or enlightening in it as we consider the approach of Easter, and reflect upon the sacrifice made for us by our Savior Jesus Christ.

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

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Sunday, March 17, 2013

Who Is Driving?


Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.                                                       Proverbs 3:5-6  NKJV
One of the memories I have from my childhood was memorizing scripture in Sunday School in order to win a prize.  Of course, looking back now I wonder if this was some sort of bribery to get me to do something I might not have wanted to do at the time, but whatever it was it worked.  The reason I mention this is that one of the prizes I received was a plaque which I got to paint by myself which had this passage from Proverbs on it.  It hung in my bedroom for as long as I could remember, and this is a passage that I have never forgotten.

The reason for writing the book of Proverbs is given to us in the first five verses of the book where Solomon tells us this;
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel: To know wisdom and instruction, To perceive the words of understanding, To receive the instruction of wisdom, Justice, judgment, and equity; To give prudence to the simple, To the young man knowledge and discretion-- A wise [man] will hear and increase learning, And a man of understanding will attain wise counsel,                                                                              Proverbs 1:1-5  NKJV

Even as a young boy, I understood the stories about how Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived and as a result came to the conclusion at an early age that this was one book I should pay a lot of attention to if I wanted to be smart. Since this passage meant so much to me, I thought today, as always, I would take a little time to just share with you what it says to me, and hope that you will in turn take some time to study it and reflect upon it with the hope that it will be as much help to you as it has been to me.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart…The first thing I see here is that rather than just instructing us to trust in the Lord, Solomon tells us to trust Him with all of our “heart”.  The Hebrew word for heart used here is leb which means a whole lot more than you might think.  It can be used to refer to the inner man, mind, will, heart, understanding, inner part, midst, midst (of things), heart (of man), soul, heart (of man), mind, knowledge, thinking, reflection, memory, inclination, resolution, determination (of will), conscience, heart (of moral character), as seat of appetites, as seat of emotions and passions, as seat of courage. When you look at it this way, trusting the Lord with all your heart is a commitment to place your entire life, thoughts as well as actions, into the hands of God.

And lean not on your own understanding…What seems obvious to me now, but   took me a very long time to figure out, is that Solomon is saying that a wise man trusts God with his heart, and not his head.  What I see here is simply that we have a choice to either totally commit to trusting every facet of our lives to God, or holding back at times and using our own “wisdom” to figure something out.  Now given a choice to trust the God of the universe who knows the past, present, and future, or trusting in my own often demonstrated ignorance, it really does seem like the proverbial “no brainer”.  Yet how often do we all decide that we know enough to try and solve our own problems without so much as a prayer for guidance directed to the God who knows all?

In all your ways acknowledge Him…The Hebrew word for “all your ways” is derek, which means way, road, distance, journey, manner.  Obviously Solomon is talking about our journey through life and absolutely everything we might encounter along the way.  It took me a very long time to figure out that there was nothing in my life so small that I had no need to talk to God about it.  Why is it that we always are looking to make our own decisions and “direct” our own path through life without even considering whether or not it might not be what God had in mind for us.  Do you remember a popular country song a few years ago called “Jesus Take the Wheel” sung by Carrie Underwood?  I can’t help but think we often do that very thing.  The cry for help only comes when we realize we can’t do anything to help ourselves and life is spinning out of control because we insisted on “driving” and ended up in trouble.

And He shall direct your paths…Have you ever considered letting Jesus take the wheel all the time and never worrying about where He is taking you? This is exactly what Solomon is trying to tell us in this passage, and in reality, in the whole book of Proverbs.  If I were to try to explain what Proverbs is all about I would have to say that the most repeated idea in the entire book is that God has all the answers!   What Solomon takes the time to tell us is that there are really only two types of people in this world; wise men or fools.  The wise listen to God, seek His face, and allow Him to direct the path we are to walk.  The fool?  Obviously he is the one who chooses not to listen to the wisdom of God and seeks to direct his own path through life. 

If you feel as if your life is not going quite the way you wanted, and there seem to be more problems than not, ask yourself “who’s driving”?  Starting today try to follow Solomon’s advice and “lean not on your own understanding”.  

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Sunday, March 10, 2013

Do You Believe?

Jesus said to him, "If you can believe, all things [are] possible to him who believes." Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, "Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!"                                 Mark 9:23-24  NKJV
Something I have always appreciated about this passage and the story it tells is the honesty of this man looking Jesus in the eye and admitting he had a problem with unbelief.  Now obviously, he had faith enough to seek Jesus out believing He had the power to heal his son, yet he almost seems to be admitting that he also had doubts.  How often do we too, as believers, understand and believe that God has the power to do something, yet also have doubts as to if He will.

Speaking about this story, Ray Stedman had this to say about this man’s admission;
He said these words which have been the encouragement of many since: "I do believe; help my unbelief!" Out of the honesty of his weakness, he cast himself on the Lord. "Yes, Lord, I do believe; but I feel my unbelief and I don't know how to handle it. You make me believe." That kind of faith is small, but it is like a grain of mustard seed -- it is able to move mountains. The moment he said those words, the moment he cast himself in his weakness back on the Lord, that was all God wanted.

Now many might say that having doubts at times is perfectly normal, but I want to suggest that rather than normal, it is a result of forgetting the past, and focusing only on the present.  It seems to me that many of us suffer from what we could call the “Doubting Thomas Disease”, a condition where we feel our belief must be based solely on what we can see.
The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord." So he said to them, "Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe."                                                              John 20:25  NKJV

What I find really unfortunate here is that Thomas seems to have forgotten all that he had already seen Jesus do in the past few years.  Never mind that he had seen miracle after miracle performed by Jesus which should have proven without a doubt that He had the power to resurrect Himself.  After all, Thomas had seen Jesus bring Lazarus back to life only a few weeks before, yet he still had doubts, and wanted to see for himself.  Yet after Jesus appears to him and settles the matter of doubt, He says something to Thomas we should all make a point to remember.
Jesus said to him, "Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed [are] those who have not seen and [yet] have believed."                                                                                         John 20:29  NKJV

Those who choose to believe without having seen are not only blessed, they are also said to have “faith”.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.                                                                                 Hebrews 11:1  NKJV

What do we as believers “hope for”?  I think most of us would answer that question with the word “salvation”!  Because we have heard the testimony of scripture, admitted our need for salvation, and have chosen to believe that Jesus is the Son of God sent to pay the price for our sins we then look forward to the day we will join Him in heaven.  Paul put it this way in his letter to the Corinthians.
For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven,                                                                                              2 Corinthians 5:2  NKJV

Why do we groan?  Personally, I groan because I understand that this life has nothing for me in comparison with what my eternal future life with Christ in heaven has to offer.  I don’t know about you, but I am increasingly impatient waiting for the day He will return for His church.  It is the knowledge of His promises to us, and the testimony of His Word, that helps us to walk in faith until He comes again.
For we walk by faith, not by sight.                                                                                                   2 Corinthians 5:7  NKJV

I would have loved to see Jesus face to face as the disciples did, and to watch Him perform miracles and minister to those who followed Him.  But I do, however, have the testimony of His Word which tells me of all that He did and that is more than enough for me.  Yet that is not to say that He is not at work among us today, for there are many examples of His presence among us in answers to prayer and provision for His people all around us.  Has He answered any of your prayers lately?  To me, that is just the icing on the cake.  To not only believe in what He has done, but to also see Him at work in our lives today.
In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, [being] much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see [Him], yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith--the salvation of [your] souls.                                                                                               1 Peter 1: 6=9  NKJV

Faith is acting on what you believe.  Do you really believe?  Find a way to act on it this week.  The father with the sick child had doubts, but he still had enough faith to come to Jesus and confess his doubts.  Jesus came through for him, and He will come through for us.

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Sunday, March 3, 2013

The Beginning of Knowledge

The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of knowledge,
Proverbs 1:7 NKJV

“A little fear is a good thing.” Have you ever heard those words? I actually heard it quite a lot as I grew up because most every job I ever had involved the use of some sort of tool or machinery that could inflict some major pain if used improperly. I can remember those words coming from my father on more than one occasion and as you might expect, there were times that I forgot or chose to ignore them and paid the price with a little pain and suffering.

Of course, many of us have had the experience of comforting our children when they were afraid of the dark, or had a bad dream that scared them in the middle of the night. These are the sort of thoughts that came to mind when I first read these words as a young believer, and I naturally wondered about them and what they might mean. As children of God, are we really being told that we need to “fear” our heavenly Father in this passage from Proverbs?

The Hebrew word translated for fear is "yir’ah", which can mean the kind of fear you and I are thinking, but also means “respect or reverence”. Now back when I was younger, I was not being told to actually “be afraid” of the tools I was using, but rather to respect the power that they had. In the context of this passage in Proverbs, where Solomon is speaking as a father to his son, I think the message to us is the same as the one I received from my father. We are not to be “afraid” of our heavenly Father, but rather to respect and reverence Him for who He is and for what He has done for us.

As I began to read through the book of Proverbs, not only did I find this advice repeated, but I found myself actually looking for passages containing this admonition because it became apparent that along with the instruction to fear came a very good reason to do so. I can recall being told that if I respected the tools in my hand I could count on keeping my hand. As I began my apprenticeship as a carpenter, I saw a lot of scars and missing fingers on those who failed to respect the power of “Mr. Saw”.

So today I thought I would share just a few reasons why Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived, said we should “fear the Lord”.

The fear of the LORD [is] the beginning of knowledge, [But] fools despise wisdom and instruction.
Proverbs 1:7 NKJV

To me personally, the key word here is “beginning”. Wisdom starts with acknowledging where it all comes from in the first place. God is the creator of everything, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that respecting Him as the author of everything that exists is the starting point for acquiring knowledge. Also, what does that say about those who hold a different belief on the origin of life? Paul tell us in Romans 1:22 that “Professing to be wise, they became fools”.

The fear of the LORD prolongs days, But the years of the wicked will be shortened.
Proverbs 10:27 NKJV

I have to admit that I have arrived at the point in my life where I start to wonder just how long God is going to allow me to hang around. I had lunch a couple of weeks ago with one of my oldest friends and we both laughed as we admitted that on occasion we looked at the obituaries in the paper and noticed people younger than us were passing on. What Solomon tells us here is that not only does the fear of the Lord result in wisdom, but it will also result in our being here longer than if we chose not to respect Him.

The fear of the LORD [leads] to life, And [he who has it] will abide in satisfaction; He will not be visited with evil.
Proverbs 19:23 NKJV

The Hebrew word for satisfaction is “sabea”, which means “full or satisfied” as if you just finished your Thanksgiving meal. I hate to admit just how much I enjoy a good meal, and I’m sure I am not alone. We can all probably admit to having this feeling once or twice and Solomon tells us in this verse that we can have that exact same feeling every day of our lives if we but acknowledge God as the creator and the provider of all we need.

By humility [and] the fear of the LORD [Are] riches and honor and life.
Proverbs 22:4 NKJV

How many really smart people have you known in your life? You know the sort I’m talking about; those who people always go to for answers because they know if anyone can solve the problem, they can. I have always wondered what it was like for Solomon to be the wisest man who ever lived. Did he actually know he was? If he did, did it go to his head? I think we have the answer to that in this verse where he tells us that humility and the fear of the Lord should go hand in hand. How easy is it for us to want to “share” our wisdom with others for all the wrong reasons? We only need to look at the life of Jesus to see what Solomon is trying to tell us here. Jesus Christ was God in flesh, yet was by example, the most humble man who ever walked this earth. Riches, honor, and life come from humility, not pride and arrogance.

Do not let your heart envy sinners, But [be zealous] for the fear of the LORD all the day; For surely there is a hereafter, And your hope will not be cut off.
Proverbs 23:17-18 NKJV

Isn’t it a shame that we as humans so often want what we want right now? Our focus so often is this life and the things we think we need in order to consider ourselves “successful”? The truth is that the things we think we need are simply the window dressing we want in order to affect how others see us. Because of that we are often jealous of what others have, be it possessions, status, or money. However Solomon tells us that our priority should be focusing on our respect and reverence of God every minute of every day. As you go through this next week try to practice this by constantly reminding yourself that God is behind absolutely everything you see, everything that happens, and everything you receive. This is the beginning of knowledge!

Keep watching.