Sunday, February 23, 2014

The First Step of Faith is Following

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?  James 2:14  NKJV

I remember taking a class when I was in college called “World Religions”, which at the time I thought would be helpful to me in trying to better understand the differences between Christianity and other beliefs.  I recall that somewhere during that time one of the things that became obvious to me was how many in that class claimed to believe one thing or another, yet by observing their actions one would never know that they believed what they said they did.  I suppose you could say that it was at that time I learned the difference between something I call “head knowledge” and “foot knowledge”.

If you study the Word of God for any length of time, it quickly becomes apparent that something God expects from His people is that if they claim to believe, that belief should be followed closely with action.  The Christian faith is one of “doing” and not simply “believing”, and this is the “works” part of our faith.  Whenever the Bible talks of a person of faith, it always references their actions as an example of exercising their faith.  As I studied what Jesus taught concerning faith during His ministry, I quickly noticed how often He used the word “follow” to describe the choice to believe in Him.

Following is choice…who will you choose to follow?

Then He said to them all, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow Me.  Luke 9:23  NKJV

My first thought after reading this passage was that Jesus seemed to make it clear that if we make the choice to follow Him, it is more than just believing; it is following.  So often mankind wants a belief that they can take along with themselves on their journey through life, whereas a relationship with Christ is a choice to abandon our life and instead follow wherever Jesus leads.  Believers in Christ have heard His voice and chosen to follow it.

While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them; and suddenly a voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!”  Matthew 17:5  NKJV

Following is a journey…you choose to walk the same road.

Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, “I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.”  John 8:12  NKJV

The second thought I had was that when we choose to follow, we go where He leads.  So often believers want to make their own choices about the path their life follows, yet the picture of sheep following a shepherd is pretty clear.  Just as sheep follow their shepherd wherever he goes, so we as believers choose to follow Christ wherever He leads us.  We choose to become sheep, and give our lives to Him to do with as He pleases.

 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  Romans 12:1-2  NKJV

Following requires listening…only one shepherd.

“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.  “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand. “I and My Father are one.”                      John 10:27-30  NKJV

Just as sheep learn to recognize the voice of their shepherd, so we too must learn to recognize the voice of God, and not to confuse it with our own or someone else’s.  This can only be done by spending time with Him, and by spending time in the Word, so that the sound of His voice becomes so obvious to us that we can never confuse it with another.

But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”  Luke 8:21  NKJV

Following results in comfort…God cares for His own.

“Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? “Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; “and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ “For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.  Matthew 6:25-34  NKJV

Faith is our spiritual muscle.  We exercise our faith by believing the promises and choosing to follow God as He guides us through life.  The more we rely on Him, the stronger our faith will grow.  By choosing to follow, we allow God the opportunity to show us how much He cares by protecting us and providing for our every need.

And my God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19  NKJV

Have you made the choice to follow?

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Evaluate the Message by Examining the Messenger

“For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. “Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves.     Acts 20:29-30  NKJV

I think something many believers struggle with at times is how to decide if something someone within the body says or tries to teach as coming from God is in fact, the truth?  Oftentimes we hear or read of individuals teaching a position either on doctrine or possibly prophecy which might seem to us to be in error, or at the very least contrary to what we may have already been taught.  The question then becomes do we believe whatever we hear or do we examine and study the point in question in order to determine if it is truth or falsehood?

Most of us would, I am sure, agree that it is God’s intention that we study and apply ourselves to learning His Word in order to understand what it is He might be trying to teach us.  Yet we also understand that there is definitely a warning being given in this passage, and elsewhere in the Word which cautions us that we will experience deceit coming from within the body from those who would do us harm.  I think it very revealing that God chooses to use the illustration of wolves coming into a flock of sheep in order to make the point of what will happen at these times.

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.  Matthew 7:15  NKJV

The first thing I notice from both the passage from Acts, and this one from Matthew, is just how these wolves are described.  Did you notice that it is not enough to just say that they are wolves, but rather we are told they possess a “savage” and “ravenous” attitude?  Many of us may have had the opportunity to watch programs on television which document the personality of wolves living in the wild, and it goes without saying that they are nothing like domesticated dogs.  I did, in fact, have a sheep dog at one time and I can assure you he was the most gentle, kind dog I have ever had.  Wolves, however, are as different from he was as night and day.

What strikes me from these passages is that it seems we are not only being warned about the fact that they will come, but also what they will look like if we watch them closely.  A wolf who is savage and ravenous could probably also be characterized as overly aggressive.  I believe what we are being told here is that one of the ways we can decide if someone within the body who is trying to teach something we might not agree with should be listened to or not is by looking closely at their character, and how they present their message.  Look at what Jesus goes on to say about them in the passage from Matthew.

“You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? “Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. “A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. “Therefore by their fruits you will know them.    Matthew 7:15-20  NKJV

Now I’m not sure what these passages may tell you, but what they tell me is that if I have questions concerning the message, maybe I should look closely at the messenger. Having said that, let me ask you a question.  Have you ever had the opportunity to hear, or in this day and age follow on the internet, a disagreement over something the Bible says?  Personally, I have not just been surprised, but often appalled at the tone some of these disagreements have taken on.  As I have observed the responses of those whose messages have been rejected, I can’t help but wonder; “where are the fruits of the Spirit?”

If wolves are described as savage and ravenous, I believe everyone would agree that sheep are best described as “meek”.  As Jesus so often called His believers sheep, is it any wonder that we are told in His Word to be meek as well?  Meekness in the Greek is defined as mildness of disposition and gentleness of spirit, and it is repeated quite often in the New Testament as a necessary attribute of the true believer.  If we are truly His sheep, and we hear and listen to His voice, shouldn’t others be able to look at us and see that our words and actions reflect the same meekness that Jesus exhibited during His ministry?

Therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, put on tender mercies, kindness, humility, meekness, longsuffering;  bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.    Colossians 3:12-13  NKJV

Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.                        James 1:21  NKJV

Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom.    James 3:13  NKJV

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;  having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.                                                            1 Peter 3:15-16  NKJV

If anyone among you thinks he is religious, and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this one’s religion is useless.    James 1:26  NKJV

Have you ever considered that one of the reasons so many people chose to follow Jesus was that along with the message He shared, He also chose to share it with meekness and love?  We should always evaluate the message by comparing it to what has already been revealed to us in the Word of God, but I believe in these passages we are also told that looking closely at the messenger can give us a clue as well.  Meekness and love, or savage and ravenous?  It can often help us evaluate the message by closely examining the messenger.

Keep watching.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Have You Overcome?

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world. You are of God, little children, and have overcome them, because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world.  1 John 4:1-4  NKJV

All too often we as believers struggle with the feeling that we are failing in our attempts to live the life that God expects from us.  When life presents us with problems or struggles or persecution and we fail to react or perform in the manner we feel would be acceptable to God we often despair that we will ever get it right.  Those feelings come because we make the mistake of focusing on the problem facing us rather than the victory we already have by the grace given to us when we first believed.  You see, we have already won because our faith is in Jesus, and He has already overcome the world.

 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?                                 1 John 5:4-5   NKJV

I know I have mentioned before that I participated in track and field for most of my early years.  My main event was hurdling and I was fortunate enough to run at a college where a coach from the US Olympic team coached.  One of the corrections he made to my technique which helped more than any other was to teach me to focus on the finish line instead of focusing my attention on the hurdle in front of me.  As soon as I began to do that, my times dropped dramatically.  I believe that this is exactly what God is telling us when He tells us we are overcomers.
Our final victory is already assured by the saving grace of Jesus Christ, and all who have accepted that gift are overcomers.  The word overcome, used to describe those who have made this choice, is found throughout the New Testament but primarily in the letters to the seven churches found in the Book of Revelation.  In these seven letters we find seven spiritual sins the churches are guilty of, and the overcomers are those who stay true to the gospel.  It is here where Jesus reveals the rewards overcomers will receive when the race is finally over and we join our Father in Heaven.  

….“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.” ’  Revelation 2:7  NKJV

He who overcomes will meet Him at the Tree of life in Heaven.  We will be free to eat of the fruit just as Adam and Eve did in the Garden before their sin.

….“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.” ’  Revelation 2:11  NKJV

He who overcomes dies in faith and receives life.  The second death refers to spending eternity in Hell, something all who believe in Jesus will be spared from.

….“He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it.” ’                 Revelation 2:17  NKJV

Overcomers are promised the gift of eating the Bread of Life, and the present of a new name given specifically by God.

….“And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as I also have received from My Father; “and I will give him the morning star. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’  Revelation 2:26-29  NKJV

This refers to the Millenium, where Jesus will again rule on the earth for one thousand years.  Overcomers will be given the right to rule with Him during that time.

….“He who overcomes shall be clothed in white garments, and I will not blot out his name from the Book of Life; but I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’  Revelation 3:5-6  NKJV

Here we find our promise of eternal salvation.  White garments are a symbol of our redemption by being washed in the Blood of the Lamb. 

….“He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’  Revelation 3:12-13  NKJV

A pillar is the strongest part of any structure.  It supports everything else and is meant to be a permanent part of the structure.  Overcomers are promised the permanence of being the foundation of what is to come.

….“To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” ’ ”                   Revelation 3:21-22  NKJV

What better picture could we imagine than sitting with Jesus on His throne? This is the finish line, the victory we already have in Jesus.  As overcomers we are promised all these things as a reward for making the choice to accept the gift of eternal life given to us by the death and resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.  If you have never accepted that gift, I encourage you to do that today.  Simply confess to Jesus you are a sinner in need of salvation, and ask Him to forgive you of your sins.  Tell Him you believe that He died for your sins and that He has the power to give you eternal life because you believe.

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.         1 John 1:9  NKJV

Keep watching.