Sunday, January 25, 2015

Do You Have Enough?

Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content:                                  Philippians 4:11  NKJV

There has been a commercial playing on the television recently that I would rank as one of the funniest I have ever seen.  You may have seen it as well, but if not I will do my best to explain it although it is hilarious to watch.  A man is apparently cleaning his garage and discovers an old lamp of the type a genie would live in.  He smiles and rubs it and amazingly a genie appears and asks him what his wish is.  Laughingly the man says “a million bucks”.  The genie waves his hands and immediately, outside of the garage there suddenly appears one million deer complete with antlers.

How many of us could truly say that in the same circumstances, we would smile and say there was nothing we truly wanted?  It seems there is always a desire in our hearts to have something we do not have, and to pursue it until we get it.  The dictionary defines contentment as a state of satisfaction, literally wanting nothing.  In this verse from Philippians, Paul tells us that even though in prison and chained to a guard, he is content.  The word content used here is the Greek word “autarkēs” which translated means “possessing enough to need no aid or support”. Just what did Paul possess in prison that allowed him to say he needed nothing?

I believe the answer to that question is obvious to all of us who have chosen to follow Christ, yet the apostle also tells us something curious about his reliance on God to provide for his needs.  When I looked closely at this verse from Paul I noticed that he says something very interesting; “I have learned”. Did you realize contentment is learned? It's not natural. Try telling someone that they need to learn to say “no” to something they want and see how far you get with that. I'm sure you have heard the old saying, “whoever dies with the most toys wins!”  When I look at Satan tempting Eve in the garden, would it be fair to say that the “original sin” was a result of the desire to have something more, and not be content with what God had already provided? Satan's tactic was to convince Eve that it was unfair of God to say no to something she rightly deserved.

Have you ever experienced anger, or frustration, or impatience with God when you want something and never get it? Have you ever really considered the possibility that there is a reason the all knowing God of the universe told you “no”? Unfortunately, the normal response by most people who ask but don’t receive is to simply pursue obtaining whatever it is they want, and ignoring the possibility that God already decided it is not something they need.

Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.   1Timothy 6:6-10

I believe something all parents have in common is the experience of teaching their children the meaning of the word “no”. Truthfully, I have yet to hear anyone tell me their child just smiled and said “no problem” when told they could not do something or have something they wanted.  Although most come to the understanding and acceptance of the situation, the desire never really seems to go away.  I can recall being asked for the same thing over and over again until like most parents, I eventually gave in and said yes.  Unfortunately, even as adults, it appears many do the same thing with God.

But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.  Galatians 1:15-17  NKJV

Another point we often miss, which should also be apparent to us is the fact that God has His own timetable and provides for those who follow Him according to His own omniscient timing.  The possibility always exists that what we want is the same that God wants, however we as humans always want it now while an all-knowing God understands that there is a proper time to receive everything.  Paul references this in the passage from Galatians where he uses the phrase, when it pleased God .  Something I enjoyed doing as a parent was to surprise my daughters with something they wanted after making them wait for a time, usually because they believed I had forgotten all about it.  Seeing their surprise and their gratitude made giving enjoyable to me.

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

Many look at this verse from Philippians and understand it to mean God can give us anything because of the abundance of His riches.  That is, of course, a true statement concerning Gods’ ability to give to His children, yet I would like to suggest something else.  Paul also says that God will supply “by Christ Jesus.”  As I thought about that, I couldn’t help but wonder if Paul was also suggesting that by receiving the gift of eternal life through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross for our sins, we have already received all that we need?
If you think about it that way, remembering the passage from Timothy makes it clear that we will take nothing from this world with us to Heaven, it would appear that in truth the gift of eternal life has given us all that we truly need.  If you are reading this today and have never made the decision to accept Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, I urge you to do it right now. Simply admit to God that you need His forgiveness because you are a sinner,  be willing to turn away from your sins, believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins, and invite Him to come in and control your life through the Holy Spirit.  You can do that by praying a simple prayer like this;

Jesus I know I am a sinner in need of salvation. I believe you sent your Son Jesus to die on the cross for my sin, and I ask you now to forgive me of my sins. I want to receive your gift of salvation so please come into my heart and help me to live and follow you as my Lord and Savior. In Jesus' name, Amen.

Keep watching.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Flex Your Faith Muscle

Therefore it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed, not only to those who are of the law, but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all (as it is written, “I have made you a father of many nations”) in the presence of Him whom he believed—God, who gives life to the dead and calls those things which do not exist as though they did; who, contrary to hope, in hope believed, so that he became the father of many nations, according to what was spoken, “So shall your descendants be.” And not being weak in faith, he did not consider his own body, already dead (since he was about a hundred years old), and the deadness of Sarah’s womb.  He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.  And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.     Romans 4:16-25  NKJV

It has been proven over and over again by numerous studies that active people live longer, healthier lives than inactive people do.  I’m sure by now that most of us have heard at one time or another that the best way to enjoy the life we have is through proper diet and exercise.  Simply put, eat only those foods which have been proven to be beneficial to our overall health, and spend at least an hour a day doing moderate exercise, which can be accomplished by simply doing anything other than sitting.  Walking, working around the yard, or cleaning your house can all fulfill the requirement of being active.
As you consider that advice, can you see where the same could apply to us as believers concerning our spiritual lives?    In order to live a healthy and productive spiritual life, we need to be careful what we consume and daily exercise our spiritual muscles. This leads us to ask the question though, what exactly is our spiritual muscle?  I believe the Bible makes it clear that for those who choose to believe the promises God has made to us, faith in those promises becomes the spiritual muscle we exercise.  So our first step in our personal spiritual fitness plan is to determine the best way to exercise our faith.

Quite a few years ago while playing softball on my church league team, I had occasion to break my wrist rather severely on a collision at home plate. The result was having my entire arm put in a cast up to, and past my elbow for a period of six weeks or so. This was probably one of the more uncomfortable periods in my life because I was told to do absolutely nothing with that arm or hand until the cast came off.  You can imagine my relief when the time finally arrived where the doctor felt the bones had healed enough to finally remove the cast. 

Of course, having never broken anything before, it came as a severe shock to find out that although the bones had healed, the result of being totally immobilized for that length of time was that my arm was completely useless!  The muscles had weakened to the point that I could barely lift my arm much less do anything with it. What followed were a few weeks of serious physical therapy in order to build up the muscles to the point where they were before the accident, which also gave me more than enough time to understand the old saying, “use it or lose it”.

When we consider our faith as a muscle which needs exercising to become strong, I personally believe there are three steps we can follow in order to do that.  The first is rather obvious but also often overlooked and that is simply that we need to know the promises God has made to, and for us as believers.  If we say we believe, than it follows that we chose to believe the promise of forgiveness of sins and of eternal life.  These however, are not the only promises that God has made on our behalf and it is up to us to study His Word and discover all of the other ones He has given to us.

Secondly, as we study His Word and discover the promises of God, we must also choose to believe what He has promised and not entertain the thought that He is incapable of keeping those promises.  In this passage, Paul calls to our attention the example of Abraham and his wife Sarah on the occasion of His promise that they would have a son.  Of Abraham, Paul says that although fully aware he was over one hundred years old, He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief”, but instead gave glory to God “being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform”.  We too, must never doubt that God can do as He has promised.

Third we must make the choice to act upon our faith, which in essence is the “exercising” part of this equation.  When the cast was removed from my arm, I was promised that with a lot of effort on my part, the strength would return.  At that point I had a choice to make and I chose to act on that promise and worked like crazy to build up the muscles which had atrophied.  Abraham believed, and went to his wife with the good news.  You will recall, though, just what Sarahs' reaction was; laughter.  Because Abraham believed and exercised his faith, Paul says “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  

As we approach what many believe is the rapture of the church, it is sad to say there are quite a few who have taken Sarahs' road and look at that promise of deliverance and in essence laugh.  Peter puts it this way;

knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.”  2 Peter 3:3-4  NKJV

Do you know the promises God has made to us as believers?  Do you believe He is able to fulfill those promises on our behalf?  Have you acted on that belief and exercised your faith?  If not exercised, our faith will become weak.  Flex your spiritual muscles and act on your belief so that just as in the case of Abraham, God can say of us “it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  

But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.         Hebrews 11:6  NKJV

Keep watching.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Spiritual Exercise

For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.  Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.         Romans 12:4-8  NASB

One of the things I liked to do when I was teaching Sunday School was to start the class by asking a question which would help focus attention on the subject we were about to discuss.  Since we brought up the subject of fitness last week, I would like to take that a step further today and start by asking this question; “does studying the Bible make you a stronger believer, or just a smarter one?” 

Have you ever begun an exercise program on your own and failed miserably?  Have you ever wondered why?  Could it possibly be that it was because you had no idea how to go about it, and without a plan your efforts were wasted?  Something that I was taught early on about exercise and fitness was to identify my weaknesses, and then to program my exercise plan to target those with the idea in mind that the goal was to achieve an overall and balanced stronger body.  Our spiritual fitness goals should be much the same and to do that means a balance between knowledge and service.

If you study Paul’s letters in the New Testament, you will find as I did that quite often he describes the life of a believer in such a way as to emphasize the importance of both studying and then serving.  In his letter to Timothy Paul tells us to study in order to show our commitment to God, and here in Romans Paul tells us to exercise.  In chapter twelve from his letter to the Romans, Paul states that not only do we all have gifts given to us by God, but each of us is to exercise those gifts as our responsibility as part of the body of Christ.  In order to do that, our first step should be to study with the idea of identifying what our gift is so that we can then plan how to exercise it. 

Of course, when it comes to exercising our gift, we do that in a public way as part of the body serving others.  I suppose in a way, Paul is telling us that our gift is to be exercised in public and not at home where no one sees us.  Having been a member of several gyms, and having worked out in public for longer than I can remember, I have some interesting memories of some of the individuals I have had occasion to observe while doing so.  It might be just me, but it certainly seems that quite a few people seem to grow a larger head while trying to grow their other muscles too.  I think many of us have seen those people walking around the gym on more than one occasion, and laughing inside at how they appear to others.

Call me crazy, but this is the first thing that came to my mind when I read what Paul had to say in the rest of this chapter when he talks about the importance of our attitude when serving others using our gifts.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.                    Romans 12:9-21  NASB

I find it interesting that Paul first tells us to find our gift so that we can serve the body, then spends the rest of the chapter telling us to “check our attitude” while doing so.  To be sure, as much as we might hate to admit it, I’m sure many of us have observed others in the body who we think need to study this part of Paul’s letter, and without a doubt we should look at ourselves in the mirror as well.  Why is that?  Although the knowledge we obtain comes from our diligence in study of the Word, the power to perform service comes not from our own efforts, but from the Holy Spirit who lives inside.

 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”    Acts 1:8  NKJV

No one knows our limitations more than the one who created us, so in His infinite wisdom He sent the Holy Spirit to indwell those who believe as a source of the power we need to serve Him with our gifts.  This of course, removes any possibility of using the excuse of lacking the strength to do anything the Father might ask us to do.  The source of our power comes from the Holy Spirit and there is nothing God will ever ask of us that we are not capable to do with the Spirit’s help.  Although we might be weak as kittens, we have the strength of lions thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit.

Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.        Ephesians 3:20-21  NKJV

The more we exercise our muscles, the stronger we get.  The more we exercise our gifts using the power of the Holy Spirit, the stronger our confidence grows with the knowledge that God can do “exceedingly abundantly” more than we could ever imagine.  Start this New Year by committing to a spiritual exercise program and see just how much God can accomplish when we choose to serve Him with the gifts He has given us.

Keep watching. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Lose 10 Pounds in 10 Days!

Truthfully, how many times have you seen an ad like that and looked to see just what it was they were trying to sell?  I’m willing to wager that most, if not all of us would have to confess we have looked at one time or another.  Have you ever noticed that more and more of these promises seem to appear right after the holidays?  The overindulgence of the season, plus the arrival of the New Year always makes it appear to be a wonderfully appropriate time to make a resolution to get into shape.  I can’t help but wonder though, if it’s the season that makes us want to get into shape, should not the realization that we are in the season of God’s return make us desire to be in spiritual shape as well?

I have posted this study a couple of times in the past, and truthfully have taught it often during my ministry because it contains what I believe to be the basic principles of spiritual growth necessary for all of us.  Any exercise program that promises to transform your look will contain certain steps that they believe are necessary to insure you get the results you are looking for.  Believe it or not, the Word of God does the exact same thing by teaching us the steps we need to follow to transform our bodies into the shape God has intended them to be.

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

So we choose to give our bodies to God as a gift, and as Paul tells us, it needs to be holy and acceptable. But just how do we accomplish that? Well according to Paul, it is by transforming. The Greek word for "transformed" used here is "metamorphoō", from where we get the word "metamorphosis", which means “to change into another form, to transform, to transfigure” Now since the New Year is where many choose to make a resolution to change their physical appearance by going on a diet or committing to an exercise program, I thought we might look at how transforming our spiritual bodies could follow some of the same principles as the physical.

One of my favorite memories of raising daughters was the time one of them looked at some pictures of me taken when I was an athlete in college. Rather than saying how good I looked or what a fine example of physical fitness I was, her comment was; "why don't you look like that anymore?" So it was at that tender moment I decided maybe I should pay a little more attention to my personal exercise and fitness program. Of course, at the same time I was busy teaching about Paul's advice to new believers and as I began to lay out my own fitness program, I couldn't help but notice that the rules I came up with for physical fitness were very applicable for spiritual fitness. So let me share with you my three steps to getting in shape, spiritually first of course, but then the physical as well.

Desire. Now I know this might seem to be at first glance a simple, if not entirely logical first step, but I would like to make the point that it depends entirely on how you define desire. I rather like the biblical definition myself.

as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby,       1 Peter 2:2  NKJV

The word used here for "desire" is "epipotheo'" which is translated “to long for, or to pursue with love”. Most importantly, however, is the fact that it is a verb. Now I would be the first to admit I have forgotten most of what I learned in English class, but I do remember what a verb is. It means action, doing something. To desire something in the biblical sense is not to just sit on the couch and wish for it, but to act upon that desire and pursue it. You have to make the effort. This is our first step to spiritual fitness; to truly desire to transform ourselves. What is it that we should desire? Paul says it is the "milk of the word", which to us as believers is knowledge of the scriptures, the word of God. This brings us to the second step.

Acquire. In order to begin to grow spiritually, we need the raw material which will make us strong. Just as our physical bodies need protein as part of our diet, our spiritual muscles need the protein we get from the word of God.

Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding.                         Proverbs 4:7  NKJV

Solomon tells us that as believers we need to "acquire" wisdom and "understanding". The Hebrew word used here for "get" is the verb "qanah", which means “to get, acquire, obtain”. Anyone who has ever tried to get in better physical shape understands the need to carefully monitor what we take in for nutrition. Certain things will help us grow the way we want, just as certain foods will help us grow as we don't want. The Bible makes it clear that in order to get in spiritual shape we need to acquire the knowledge and wisdom to be found in the word of God in order to become stronger believers.

Taking in the right spiritual food, though, won't help us accomplish our goal without the third and most important part of our program.

Perspire. Unfortunately this is the part of the program most people fail at when trying to transform their appearance. It starts out with exercise every day, then three days a week, then one, then "I just don't have the time". Exercise is an absolute when trying to get into shape, and it is no different when it comes to spiritual fitness.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling;     Philippians 2:12  NKJV

You will never guess just how hard I had to look to find the words "work" and "out" used together in the Bible, not to mention the fact that they are two words and not one? Believe it or not, in the Bible it is one word translated as two and it is the Greek word "katergazomai", which means “to work out”, or “to do that from which something results.” When Paul tells the Philippians they need to "workout" their salvation, he is simply telling them that as believers, it is time for them to stop relying on his (Paul's) help since he has left them, and to begin to rely on God's help through the power of the Holy Spirit to live their lives in such a way as to glorify God. And, as you should have expected by now, the word “workout” in the Greek is also a verb.

In order to transform our lives into a gift to God which He will find pleasing, we must embrace the concept of action. The Christian life is a life of doing, not wishing. Desire, acquire, and perspire. Three verbs, three steps to becoming the believer God expects us to be. If you feel the need to make a New Years resolution, may it be to become the child of God He wants you to be. But don't wait too long, who knows how long we have left to get into shape?

Keep watching.