Stand firm, act like men. Do all in … what?

Yesterday when reading the Bible I came across one of my favorite Bible verses. In 1 Corinthians Paul is trying to encourage the church and he says something that many men’s Bible studies have memorized.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. (‭1 Corinthians ‭16‬:‭13‬ ESV)

This is an awesome verse. I can just see someone like William Wallace, a great warrior, standing in front of an army while waiting to be ambushed.

Face painted, looking fierce, walk back and forth in front of his army. Trying to encourage his men and give them the courage to stand through the night he starts to shout. “Be watchful,” he says, staring the men in the eyes as he passes by them in the chill night air. “Stand firm in faith,” he says, “act like men!” Then pulling out his claymore and pointing it towards the direction of the enemy army he yells “Be strong!”

You can hear the strength in his voice and all of the men shout, feeling fearless as they follow this warrior.

This is just such a great passage that really encourages men to stand apart, not to fall, and be warriors. Don’t fall into pornography, it’s a trap! Be watchful of your actions, of what your eyes wonder too. Watch what your family does and stand strong for them. Lead them. Because this is what a man is supposed to do!

And then I read the next verse and it kind of shattered this whole image of William Wallace.

Let all that you do be done in love. (‭1 Corinthians ‭16‬:‭14‬ ESV)

For some reason I just can’t see any strong warrior shouting this at the end of their battle cry. As men, we love to be strong, watchful, courageous. These are qualities we look up to in others and hope to have in ourselves.

But love? That doesn’t describe a warrior. You don’t see Navy SEALS talking about love. So why is Paul putting these statements together?

God obviously thinks that loving others is of supreme importance. Jesus tells us to love our enemie (Matthew 5:44) and tells us that loving God, and loving others, are the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

Then God gives us the ultimate example of love in the cross, where God did not conquer evil, but gave His only Son to die in the place of those who are rebelling against Him. Why? As John 3:16 says, Because God so loved.

Paul makes it clear that it doesn’t matter how faithful of a follower of God you are, or how awesome of a warrior you are, if you don’t have love and act out of love then you are nothing.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (‭1 Corinthians ‭13‬:‭1-3‬ ESV)

Trying to live our daily lives interacting with so many people is tough. We get short with our spouses because, often times because of pride. We start to get frustrated or angry at our kids, neighbors, or coworkers. And yet these very people are our mission field. We are called to be Christ to them. To love them.

In every interaction, no matter how difficult it is, we are told to love them.

Be strong, Christian brother. Stay strong in faith. Be watchful and ever vigilant. Act like men, and let all that you do be done in love.

Daily Commitment is Important

dusty_bibleIt’s November! For most people it means getting out the Christmas decorations, planning road trips, and stuffing turkeys. For me it means I have to write. A LOT!

November is the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. It’s a crazy challenge to write a 50,000 word (or longer) novel in 30 days. Crazy, I know.

Last year when I reflected back on the challenge and how I beat it I realized that one of the most important things was to just commit to write daily. Each and every day I did something to work on my novel. Some days I only wrote 100 words, some days I wrote 10,000 words. Most days were in between.

Focusing on the project daily is extremely important to completing this challenge because taking a break, even for a single day, makes it really easy to turn that into a two day break. Then three days.

And before you know it months have gone by without writing. Getting into this daily habit also made the writing itself easier.

This year is no different than last. It’s the daily commitment that gets me through the challenge. Writer’s block, being tired, all of those excuses get put aside because I have to get my word count in! I don’t have time for excuses.

In the past couple of weeks since I started preparing for this crazy writing challenge I started to let things slip. I haven’t had time to get any articles out on ETM, for one. But also, I quit reading my Bible consistently.

When taking on a huge challenge, whether it’s writing a novel, organizing an event, practicing for an upcoming competition, or just daily life with a full schedule, setting aside the Bible gets way too easy. We fall into the trap of thinking the Bible is just another motivational book, so it seems easy to let it fade into the background of life.

But reading the Bible is a big deal. It’s the weapon we use in this battle taking place between our spirit and our flesh.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. – Psalm 119:105 ESV

For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. – Romans 15:4 ESV

One of my favorite quotes is from Ravi Zacharias says:

The biggest battle you will face in life is your daily appointment with God. Keep it or every other battle will get bigger.

Keeping ourselves focused on God and drawing close to him is a daily battle against our sinful nature. The more we read the Bible the closer we draw to God and the easier it is to walk by the spirit and not the flesh.

I once read a book on fasting suggesting that weekly, or at least regular, fasting was important because it helped prepare the heart to hear from God. It wasn’t the act itself, because it isn’t the food we eat that gets in the way of listening to God. But the sacrifice of giving up food, something your body craves, to make God a priority, to focus that time on Him; that is what makes the difference.

In the same way, sacrificing some time out of your busy day to focus on God does something to us. It isn’t simply the act of reading something, but it’s making a concerted effort to make God an important part of our day, and it helps prepare our heart to follow the Spirit instead of the flesh.

Thankfully I have a godly wife that was there to help remind me of the importance of not sacrificing that time I should be spending with God. Walking in the flesh because we haven’t fed ourselves spiritually opens us up to a lot of temptation, hurt, and sin. It isn’t worth it. Especially for a husband who is trying to lead a house spiritually. It doesn’t take long for the enemy to come in and strike when we set down our weapon. A single decision made when we are following the flesh can have devastating consequences for a family.

We are in a spiritual battle, and a single day of not being prepared can be lethal.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.  – Galatians 5:16-17 ESV

I urge you, take a few minutes each day to read the Bible. It’s important. Very important. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Just reading one chapter, or even finding a single verse to meditate on throughout the day. Anything to feed your spirit and help you to win those battles against the flesh.

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. – Hebrews 4:12 ESV

Why Should a Christian Read the Bible?

Reading the Bible has been called a ‘means of grace.’ For the Christian, it is both a privilege and duty. When people focus on the duty but misapprehend the privilege, discouragement is swift to follow.

 Why do you read the Bible?

The idea Christians must read the Bible is common knowledge within the Christian community. However, it is the experience of this author that many Christians have trouble articulating why they should.

Can you answer that question?

To the satisfaction of others?

To your own satisfaction?

If you can, how well does your answer sustain your efforts? Do you struggle to take time regularly to read your Bible? If you struggle, you are in good company as many faithful Christians do. This author does.

So, right up front we have two fundamental “why” questions we need to answer before we get into the hows and wherefores: one theoretical to explain the habit, the other existential, as relates to motivation.

For many Christians, I fear the answer to both questions is the same common, but incorrect answer: “The Bible says to do it, so I am supposed to do it.”

Why is this incorrect? Does the Bible say to do it?

In fact, yes, the Bible’s own testimony places knowing the scriptures as fundamental and right, even commanded. It does so in both Testaments, Old and New. See for yourself:

Old Testament:

Deuteronomy 6:4-9 (ESV)

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

New Testament:

2 Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV)

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

1 Peter 3:14-16 (ESV)

But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

Even a quick reading of these three passages reveals God’s concern for our comprehension and exposure to his Word.

The Deuteronomy passage uses references to putting scripture up all over the place, particularly the body. The purpose is to show how much God wants the scripture to penetrate our hearts and minds.

The 2 Timothy passage tells us all Scripture is valuable because it is God breathed. That means all of scripture issues forth from God, it is his, and is therefore true and holy.

Paul lists a slew of great uses for scripture, but it is all God breathed. More on that in a moment.

1 Peter is less direct, but the context is the believer under duress, being asked to give a reason for his/her faith, and the hope that is in them.

Can you explain the gospel to the soldier holding a loaded gun to your head? What about at your execution for conversion to Christianity?

Peter is commending his Christian audience to be ready within such a context. Their daily reality was life or death persecution. While that was roughly 2000 years ago, Peter’s call to be ready has lost none of its weight, even for those of us free from such severe persecution.

So it is valuable. Still, what is my motivation?

Why read it?

If you answer that question with the imperative of “because I am supposed to,” you have missed the point.

An imperative is a command. The command to read, study and know scripture is either directly or indirectly present in all three passages given above. However, the command is not the justification for obedience, it is what obedience looks like. It is meant as guidance only. Relying on the command to motivate you will only wear you out because motivation comes from somewhere else.

Where is the motivation to read the Bible?

In the military, a soldier trains to be ready, and a good soldier takes training seriously. The question is not whether you are going to use the training soon but that you are a soldier, and by definition, you are to be ever ready. That is your identity: soldier. This is doing because of identity and action that flows out of identity is at the heart of these three verses.

In Identity…

All three passages are written to God’s people. The original audiences were varied, being separated by time and space. Their IDENTITY as God’s people was the common thread uniting them all. They were his children, and by implication, He was and is their Father.

So the command to know scripture, to let it penetrate your heart through constant exposure and deliberate study is a constant theme throughout the whole of scripture. You are supposed to know your faith so well, the cold press of a gun barrel fails to silence its message—that imperative command is built upon the foundation of Identity in and with God.

Reading the Bible for duty’s sake misses the point of all three passages. It is a reason, but lacks sustaining power. When times are hard, duty will be a burden you long to put down. It may even break your back. You need more than an “I told you to” when the going is rough.

Our call to be students of the Word is built on the Christian’s identity as an adopted son or daughter of God. Family tradition demand we know scripture like Jesus did. If you are a Christian, an authentic life requires regular reading and study of the scriptures as much as being human requires sleep, oxygen and vitamins.

Why Read the Bible?           Authenticity

Authenticity demands you be true to your identity and reading the bible is authentic to the Christian identity.

Christians should read the Bible because knowing His Word is required to know ourselves and our heritage. This is where it all connects with the scriptures being God breathed (2 Timothy 3:14-17). God is our Father and we should be about the family business. To do this we must know who he says he is and what he says about us. The Bible is your best repository of such things.

If this is true, how should we go about reading the Bible? Is there a proper way or will any way do as well as another? How do you maximize your Bible reading?

These questions and more will occupy the next installment of this series.

 

NOTE: This is the first post of a series on reading the Bible.

The Incarnation: The Best Present Ever

Written by Josh

The Incarnation: The Best Present Ever

The greatest gift ever given came as a baby, and we would do well to reflect and remember who He is and why coming as a baby was necessary.

“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”

(Luke 2:11-12 ESV)

This week, the Carolers at my local grocer filled the air with holiday cheer by singing “Away in a Manger.” We sing songs about him, but who is the baby with ‘no crib for a bed?’ They don’t include scenes of Jesus crying or pooing in the church plays, but we have manger scenes, not ‘inn scenes.’ Jesus situation was very human, gritty and Real.

Most Christians will say Jesus is God (note the activetense of the verb) while most non-Christians say Jesus was just a man. In my experience, we in the church have responded to the doubt around us by stressing the divinity of Christ to the exclusion of his humanity. While we should stress the divinity of Christ, we must not ‘throw the baby out with the bath water’ as it were and conceptually sacrifice His humanity to protect His divinity.

When we sing about Jesus’ birth, it’s very easy to think of Jesus as either a man or as God only. But Scripture holds these two ideas in tension without apology so we must as well.

Simply put, the Incarnation is a key tenet of Christianity. If you don’t believe it, you give up the entire enchilada of the faith. Why? First, without the Incarnation you do not get the Jesus of the Bible. Secondly, you lose the Savior of infinite worth but human identity.

Without being God, Jesus’ death would be of limited value, but being God, his death is of infinite value, so there’s no internal limit to its saving power (he can cover our bill). But, without being human, Jesus’ life could not fulfill the Law Adam broke for us nor could his death on a cross take our place. Only a human could be a propitiation or substitute for us. So it is precisely the Incarnation that empowers Jesus’ victory over sin and death in the cross and resurrection. For as Hebrews says he took on flesh and blood like us so he could intercede on our behalf as our propitiation (Hebrews 2:9, 17).

Who does scripture say Baby Jesus is?

He is Immanuel, God with us. He is the Eternal Logos and maker of all things, yet he is also a man who grew in wisdom and stature before both men and God, who got tired, was tempted, suffered true anguish in Gethsemane, and was crucified and died.

Only by permanently shouldering true humanity could God the Son stand in our place as the Second Adam. (That’s right, the Incarnation is permanent.)

What is the Incarnation?

The Eternal Word (Logos), i.e. the 2nd Person of the Trinity, took on flesh (permanently became human) and is forever now the God-Man, fully God and fully Man, joined together in a union comprised of two distinct natures (human and divine) neither of which being confused or blended, but distinct and yet somehow together in a way we can better describe than understand.

The boys back in the day called this the “hypostatic union.” It is a mystery, kinda like gravity. We can describe gravity, and tell you about its results, but truly master it? Nope. But what would you expect from the Trinity?

So, as you prepare to celebrate Christmas, mull over how the greatest gift given came without a gift receipt: the giving of the Son by the Father in the Incarnation.

If you really want to get into the Spirit of the Season, find the nearest baby and cuddle it. Be gentle, they’re fragile, but hold that baby close and contemplate how Jesus was like that: small, weak, frail, in a real sense dependent. He ate, slept and pooped just like you and I did when we first showed up. Yet, in the mystery that is the Incarnation, he was at the same time still fully God, somehow through his divine nature, still upholding the universe (Heb 1:2-3 and Col 1:16-17). Wild—Strange—Real.

This should humble and encourage us: God the Father, gave us his Son who willfully became human forever altering himself to honor the Father’s will, so as to make all things New. We can move through our day with a kind of courage that comes from knowing God the Son loved us so much he was willing to endure what we do and more, just to rescue us while we were still his enemies.

That kind of love does not abandon or quit on a person, it can and should propel us as we go through whatever providence brings our way, because if He would do that for us, we can trust Him in it with assurance and hopefulness no matter what comes. That doesn’t mean we like it or even enjoy all that life brings for life brings thorns and thistles. Still, we can deal with such knowing knowing we are not being abandoned to be cut by them. God the Father took the Evil of His Son’s crucifixion and used it to redeem the world and the resurrection is our proof.

Merry Christmas. This week I invite you to the following passages about Baby Jesus, why he came and how his unique status as the God-man made possible what he accomplished in his life, death and resurrection.

Virginal Conception Predicted:

  • Isaiah 7:14
  • Isaiah 9:6-7

Jesus Humanity:

  • Matt 1:22-23
  • Luke 1:68-69
  • Luke 2:29-32
  • Luke 2:40
  • Luke 2:52
  • John 1:1-18
  • John 4:6
  • John 10:30

Purpose and Result of His Coming:

  • John 1:1-18
  • Galatians 4:4-5
  • 1 Peter 1:10-12
  • Philippians 2:5-8, 9-11
  • Hebrews 2:9, 14-15, 16-17

 

Faith, Works, and Salvation

Have you ever been so scared by a passage in the Bible that you could not sleep at night?  This has happened to me more than once, most recently by this passage in Matthew.

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ – Matthew 7:21-23

Sometimes reading that passage makes me stop and think “Is that talking about me?”  When I die, will Jesus say to me ‘Well done good and faithful servant,’ or will He say ‘Depart from me, I never knew you?'”  This question can be scary, very scary.

For one, you do not want to be doing everything you can to serve God, only to find out you missed out on the most important thing, the treasure that God actually wanted from you.  But also you do not want to go through life thinking that everything is fine, only to reach the final moments and find out your one way ticket to heaven was nothing more than a sham, sold to you by Satan and your betraying flesh.

What it means to be “Saved”

When a Christian says he or she is “saved”, what does that mean?  What is it exactly that we are saved from?

The most obvious answer that comes to mind is that we are saved from hell, to heaven (John 3:16).  But more than that, we are saved from sin, to righteousness – to good and righteous works God has called us to do (Romans 6:18, 22, 2 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:10).  But one of the most important things we are saved for, is for the glory of God. That’s right, we are saved so that God can get glory (Romans 15:7, 1 Corinthians 10:31, Philippians 2:9-11).

How many people will be saved?  Not many.

Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it. – Matthew 7:13-14

Examine Your faith

Salvation is important. It brings God glory, empowers us to do the good work God has for us, and it saves us from the damnation we deserve.  But it is clear that only a few will find it, and many will think they have found it but will be deceived (Matthew 7:21-23).

For this reason Paul tells us to examine ourselves to make sure that we are saved.

Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified. But I trust that you will know that we are not disqualified. – 2 Corinthians 13:5-6

What Faith is Not

This brings us to a crucial point. The few passages we have looked at so far makes it seem like faith and works are the same thing.  But they are not.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should  boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9

This passage shows us there is a difference between faith and works. Faith saves us, not works.  Remember the first passage we looked at, Jesus rebuked people who were doing good works, but lacked faith, lacked a relationship with Jesus.  Jesus said “I never knew you” which shows us that it is the relationship God wants from us, not our works of healing, casting out demons, building churches, or giving to the poor.

Works themselves mean nothing.  Isaiah 64:6 says that our good works are worthless, that “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.”

Are Works Meaningless?

Those passages make it clear that it is only by faith that we are saved, our works mean nothing.  So are works not important?

Actually, works are crucial to a Christian’s faith.  “Wait a second” you are thinking, “You just said works mean nothing, we are not saved by works and all our good works of righteousness are as filthy rags, how can they, at the same time, be crucial to a Christian?”  It does seem a bit contradictory at first, but dig deeper in to scriptures.

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? – James 2:14-20

So we are saved by faith, not by works, yet faith without works is dead and such a faith does not save you… confused yet? Just hang on a little bit longer.

Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments.  He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.  But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. – 1 John 2:3-6

This is a cause and effect situation here. What came first, the chicken or the egg?  Which comes first, the faith or the works?

You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thorn bushes 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. – Matthew 7:16-18

And there Matthew sums this all up so nicely for us.  When we accept Christ, when we put faith in Him, something real happens, we are literally changed, transformed, the old person has passed away and a new being is created (2 Corinthians 5:17).  This does not mean that we never sin (that topic will be covered in another article).  The only way we can be sin free is to be in a new body, as long as we are trapped in these earthly bodies we will sin (Romans 7).

But our spirit is made new and the Holy Spirit indwells within us.  It is this which gives us the desires to do good works and gives us the ability to do good works.  Good works do not save us but they are the evidence that we are saved.

Just as a good tree only produces good fruit, a Christian, someone who is saved by faith, produces good works. Not because the works are required for salvation or give us merit at all, but because our nature changes completely.  It is something we can not help.

When I was in college – several years ago – I was a math major. In High school I could do math without a calculator.  I could solve the most complex calculations in my math class with nothing more than an occasional scratch piece of paper, but I could not write to save my life.

Just recently I took an algebra class and struggled through it.  I could not comprehend the math. I barely got a B in Algebra and Trig, and ended up getting a C in my pre-calculus class.  But I aced every one of my English and writing  classes and (so I am told) I write fairly well.

This is an example of my nature changing.  I went from being a math wiz to being a writer.  No amount of work on my part can change what I am.  I can practice and get by at math, but it will not come as naturally as writing does to me now.

In the same way a Christian cannot defy his or her nature.  When we are still stuck in sin we cannot do good works except by our effort, it was a struggle, but now, after salvation, the good works are a natural response, just like breathing.

This shows how it is possible that works are important to our faith and salvation but do not save us, because they have nothing to do with the salvation part, they are just an example of that salvation.

How do I examine myself?

So how then, do we go about examining ourselves?  The only thing I can say is to pray and read the Bible.  Examine your life, your actions, your check book (where you spend your money), your thoughts, everything, against scripture.  Are you living in sin that needs to be repented of?  Are you doing works in the church on a daily basis but missing that relationship with God?  Are you doing good works but feel that it is a burden to you?

Examine yourself, see what is keeping you from having a relationship with God, what is keeping you from the Bible.  Use natural works, the ones you enjoy and are not a pain to perform to see if it is a natural response or something you are (subconsciously) trying to fake.

Romans 10:17 says that “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” I cannot stress enough how important the word of God is in our seeking God.  Read it every day, even more often in times of examining yourself spiritually.

*Photo by Jon Zenor, Copyright 2010 Jon Zenor Photography.*

Pikes Peak


Pikes Peak Photo by JonZenor

Psalm 65:6
Who established the mountains by His strength,Being clothed with power;

Psalm 90:2
Before the mountains were brought forth,Or ever You had formed the earth and the world, Even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.

Whatever you are facing today, remember that God is in control of everything. You wouldn’t even be here without Him, neither would any other good thing in your life. Take a look around at the nature and marvel at the power and the work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Unforgiveness

This is a subject we should all be familiar with. As Christians we are commanded to forgive each other directly from Jesus’ words to His disciples in Matthew 18. Jesus’ conversation with Peter and the analogy he tells about the Kingdom of God shows the seriousness of unforgiveness in a believer’s life.

Matthew 18:21-35(NASB)(emphasis mine)

21Then Peter came and said to Him, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?”
22Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.
23″For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves.
24″When he had begun to settle them, one who owed him ten thousand talents was brought to him.
25″But since he did not have the means to repay, his lord commanded him to be sold, along with his wife and children and all that he had, and repayment to be made.
26″So the slave fell to the ground and prostrated himself before him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you everything.’
27″And the lord of that slave felt compassion and released him and forgave him the debt.
28″But that slave went out and found one of his fellow slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and he seized him and began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay back what you owe.’
29″So his fellow slave fell to the ground and began to plead with him, saying, ‘Have patience with me and I will repay you.’
30″But he was unwilling and went and threw him in prison until he should pay back what was owed.
31″So when his fellow slaves saw what had happened, they were deeply grieved and came and reported to their lord all that had happened.
32″Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33″Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?”
34″And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
35″My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

For most believers it seems like a given that we need to forgive each other, but I am surprised to find that many in the church still hold a grudge against someone that wronged them. Some blatantly say they can’t forgive the person and some are in the category of denial of holding bitterness towards someone, but it becomes apparent in the way they treat the person.

I can’t tell you how many times people come for healing or deliverance ministry, and they are afflicted by some ailment or even spiritual affliction. They come for prayer countless times and it seems like it only gets worse. After some experience in doing this kind of ministry, I know to ask the person about unforgiveness. “Is there anyone you need to forgive?” Initially many people are resistant to this question because they don’t want forgive. There are many horrible stories of things that people do to each other, that I won’t get into. And for many it can be difficult to forgive. But I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a sickness or spiritual affliction leave a person as soon as they choose to forgive.

Let’s look at what Jesus says about those who do not forgive in verse 32-35:

32″Then summoning him, his lord said to him, ‘You wicked slave, I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me.
33″Should you not also have had mercy on your fellow slave, in the same way that I had mercy on you?”
34″And his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him.
35“My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.”

Jesus does not exclude any situation from this very broad statement. If you do not forgive, you will not be forgiven of the debt you owe because of sin. Your eternal salvation is at stake! Even the littleless thing counts.

I remember driving some years ago and someone cuts me off and almost hits me. I remember I was fuming with anger towards the person and was ready to chase the person down in my car. Then the Holy Spirit spoke to me “it has been one second too many that you have chosen not to forgive this person.” I slowed down and repented of my sin and realized how easy it can be sometimes to hold onto unforgiveness. I then remembered all of the previous instances where I got mad at other drivers and how my attitude towards others on the road escalated to being rude and expecting people to be “stupid.” I was holding on to unforgiveness. I repented for holding on to this, and chose to forgive every person on the road that I felt wronged by. I remember in that moment this overwhelming joy and peace hitting me, and this uncanny patience and kindness that I immediately had towards other drivers.

I realized that I had allowed pride to keep me from forgiving people and repented for my pride. It seems so innocent sometimes when we hold on to a little grudge against someone, but Jesus takes it very seriously. Have you forgiven everyone who has wronged you? Ask God to show you if you are still hold a grudge or bitterness towards someone. For some of you it may be someone far in your past that you never chose to forgive. Whatever your situation knowing for sure if you have forgiven everyone may be one of the most important questions you can ask yourself right now.

Blessings,

Machew

I say this weeping: Church it’s time to humble ourselves!

2 Chronicles 7:14

14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

This verse says that if God’s people humble themselves He will heal our land, not the lost or deceived who don’t know any better.  When will God’s people stop arguing and dividing about their pet doctrines?  Don’t you realize that if you need people to agree with you, for you to Love and accept them as a child of God, you are in pride?  What will you say to God when you approach His throne, and people who God sent to you were reprimanded for not agreeing with your doctrine?  Jesus said Love your enemies.  He used the greek word agape in this verse.  Agape is unconditional perfect Love.  This kind of love is described in 1 Corinthians 13.  Do you think you will have any excuse that could possibly justify you not obeying the Lord’s command?

We are talking about real people here, whom God dearly Loves.  Do you not remember how you were saved, how you were a disgusting, filthy sinner, and how God lifted you up and saved you in the midst of being a sinner?  What makes you think God, treats other sinners more harshly?  What gives you the right to push away the beloved of God, for the sake of you being right?  When you get to heaven, is it really going to matter that you defended your doctrine?  Or is Jesus going to want to see that every person who came across your path was empowered to get closer to Jesus, and experienced His Love through you?  When you get to heaven, is it really going to matter that you knew the Bible better than everyone else, or that you knew the King’s heart for the people He Loved and you were moved by His heart?  When you teach about Jesus, do people have to go through you to learn about Jesus, or can they have the relationship that Jesus died on the cross for them to have? Are you leading people to Jesus or to your doctrine?

It’s time for the church to start acting like a real family that actually Loves one another.  We are brothers and sisters despite our differences.  (For those of you who actually need me to say it, I don’t mean mormons or jehovah’s witness)  When you have family over to your house, for example: your actual brother or sister or mom or dad, do you not allow them to come to your house because of theological differences?  Do you constantly berate them for not believing as you do?  Do you find forums online to post on to tell the whole world how wrong your brother or sister or mom or dad is and how they are deceived?  When people talk about your mom or dad or brother or sister, is the first thing that comes out of your mouth a warning about how deceived they are?  No! Of Course Not!  Why do people think church family is any different?  It is something to pray and think about.

This is something I have consistently heard God saying to the church “Stop building your own kingdoms around your doctrine, instead humble yourselves so you can build and expand My Kingdom!  If you seek first and focus on my Kingdom and my righteousness, all of the rest of the things you are anxious about, that I told you to not be anxious about, will be taken care of! ”

Jason Upton – Dying Star

By His Grace Alone,

Machew

We are not peddlers of the Word!

One thing I see often is Christians trying to persuade people to be Christians anyway they can.  Whether it would be to tell them they could continue in their sin, or that they could continue to believe in un-biblical things, etc.  While this is a bit of the extreme form, we could be doing it in our own ways and not realizing it.  Filled church pews and another tally mark means nothing to God if they aren’t true.  Lets look at the Word.

2 Corinthians 2:17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ. -ESV

We see here that we are specifically not suppose to try to “sell” people the Bible or our beliefs, but that we are to speak to truth, and “if they have ears, they will hear”.

So the next time you sharing your faith, don’t be thinking about what crafty way you can pull people in.  You do not need fireworks or bright colors.  You don’t need an ice cream social, a live band, or a popular event.  Just speak the truth, and the Lord will open the hearts of those who he calls.

Avoiding a Lukewarm Life part 1 – Sacrificing it all

Laodicea, a city in Asia which is known for having a lukewarm church because of a letter written to them in Revelation 3.  I wonder if America will go down in history known for being the modern day luekwarm church?

Revelation 3:15-16 says “I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”

God wants you to be hot, to be on fire for him, if not you are so distasteful to him that he wants to vomit you out of his mouth!  Why would God have such a severe reaction lukewarmness?  Because God is so holy, and so worthy of every bit of worship and praise we can give him, and when we take our eyes off of Jesus just to focus on the things of the world, it is disgusting to God.

Jesus, a treasure worth sacrificing for

Jesus told a parable of a man who found a treasure in a field, and was so excited to get the treasure that he went and sold everything he had so he could buy the field and get the treasure.  (Matthew 13:44)  This, Jesus says, is how we need to seek the kingdom of God.  We need to seek Him so fervantly that we are willing to sacrifice anything to get Him because we know He is worth it.

Imagine you being this person, following a map that is promised to lead to riches.  You get to a clearing in the trees and you see an obscure X on the ground. So you dig, and you find a stock pile of bars of gold worth billions of dollars.  And then you burry the bars of gold, and you go off to live your life. You could buy that plot of land and take ownership over the treasure, but to do that you would have to sell your car, your tv, or even your house.

If any one of us saw a person give up this treasure we would try to knock some common sense into them, say “come on, that treasure is worth so much more than all of your measly possessions combined!”  But this is us!  We are satisfied with knowing Jesus exists and maybe even going to look at the treasure every Sunday, but we refuse to take any action that could give us possesion of this treasure.

A rich man once came go Jesus and asked “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” and Jesus responded “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” (Luke 18:18-23) What did the guy do? “But when he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich.”  This guy let his earthly possessions stop him from having eternal life, from having a relationship with Jesus.  And this is disgusting to God! 

But we do the same thing…

Your head fights that idea instantly by saying “but I’m not rich, I live pay check to pay check and sometimes can’t pay my utility bill.”  Don’t be blind to what you do have.  Most of the world lives off of $2 per day.  Your brain is smart and fires back “but the cost of living is so much more here, it is impossible to live off of $2 per day.”  Well yes, it is true that two dollars will get you more in other countries than in the U. S. but think about this.  If you have a roof over your head, a form of transportation (even a public bus), and food on your table every day, you are richer than 80% of the world.  If you make just $50,000 a year you are in the top 99% of the richest people in the world.  We have so many posessions we cannot even name them all, and we think we are poor?  It was after this that Jesus said it is impossible for a rich man to get into heaven.  Billions of people live in slums and have to live off a diet of rice to survive and we consider ourselves “poor” because we can’t afford to go out for a steak dinner this weekend.

Are your riches getting in the way of you coming to God?  Would you be willing to sell everything you have to follow Jesus?  Instantly your mind races for a reason to hold on to what you have.  You think “God has not asked me to give away my posessions” or “God wants me to enjoy this life and has given me my money to enjoy, not to live in poverty so I can give it all away.”  My question to you is, have you ever asked Him what He wants from you?

But that is legalistic!

The common defense for the church in America when they are told to do something hard.  Throw down the Legalism card as a “get out of conviction free” card.  But is what I am saying  legalistic, or is it Biblical?  Reading the passages above it seems pretty clear that we are to sell everything we have and give to the poor, to get rid of everything that could be standing in the way of you being on fire for God.

There are many places in the Bible where Jesus gives very hard commands that show us that being a Christian involves more than going to church, singing a few songs and hanging around Christians when you play games or spend time on the computer.  “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:26

And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:27

In Luke 14 Jesus commands people to consider the cost to following Him before you begin, becasue it is costly.  Does not a builder consider if he can afford to build a tower before he starts? Does a king not consider if he is able to defeat an army before he goes to war?  “In the same way, those of you who do not give up everything you have cannot be my disciples.” (Luke 14:33)

As Christians we are the salt of the earth, but if we are lukewarm then we lose our flavor and Jesus says that salt that has lost its flavor is not even fit to be thrown in the manuer pile. (Luke 14:34)

Revelation 3:17 God says “Because you say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing’—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” Wretched, miserable, are these words you want God to use when describing you?

Do you get it yet?

Do you understand?  God does not want people sitting around being holy couch potatoes.  God wants people that are so devoted to serving him they are willing to sacrifice everything, money, power, family, even their own life.  These are the people God wants to follow Him!

Notice who had joy and who did not in Jesus’ parables.  The man that sacrificed everything to buy the field with the treasure “in his joy went and sold all he had” while the rich man “became very sorrowful.”  Who has more joy, the one holding on to the things of earth or the one reaching for the treasure?

So I must give away everything?

I’m not saying you have to give away everything, but why not?  What is keeping you from doing it?  Is it because it is an idol?  I know my money has been an idol to me many, many times and I still struggle with this, but I know in the end it is worth whatever sacrifice I give, and more.

What I am trying to say, is that you need to seek God, but not in a casual way, in a way where you are willing to sacrifice everything for Him!  I guarantee the instant you enter into eternity you will wish you had sacrificed more!

So what makes God so great to deserve this kind of all-in sacrifice?  I will answer that in part 2.

Leave a comment below telling us how God has asked you to sacrifice to serve Him!