Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Greatest Faith

The Greatest Faith
July 7, 2008

Heb 11:1 "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen."

Most of us don't wrestle with the idea of faith being "the evidence of things unseen." If you truly believe God exists, that is faith. It is pretty easy and requires nothing from us; it costs us nothing. But there is the other half of the definition, "the substance of things hoped for." If you are hoping for eternity in heaven, you are said to have faith. If you have eternal hope when you die, you are putting assurance in salvation or eternity in Heaven with Him.

This "substance of things hoped for" part of our faith gets difficult as it requires us to put our belief into action. You may need to have faith that your child will be healed of cancer or that your loved one will eventually be saved. This part of faith begins to cost us. It requires that we buy stock in God and His Word. We may have to give of our precious time in obedience to Him, with no opportunity of getting it back. But if it is what God asks of us, then we are being true to demonstrate faith. Then faith begins to cost us even more. We are asked to give God a tithe, a tenth of every penny that we work for, whether that penny is ours or we owe it in taxes. This really gets hard.

The greatest demonstration of our faith is when we give God our money. This is costly because your hard work is easily measured. You can quickly tabulate 10% of your gross income and realize how many hours it took to make that money. It is an exact science but the greatest exercise of things unseen. There is no guarantee in the Bible of what you will get, if anything, as a return on your money. There is no promise of what you are exchanging it for, but it is still required of you. And there is no guarantee that you will ever see it back in the form of money again. Once you give it, it is gone.

Everyone, if considered a Christian, must give God a tithe, a portion of money that may never be returned in the physical sense. This is hard because our money means so much to us. It is costly and can get even more expensive. I know of a man who is wealthy but stopped giving more money once the amount reached $10,000. He rationed that giving his tenth, even if it came out to $17,000 was just too much money. His faith in God is small, even though $10,000 is a lot of money. I also know of a family who faithfully gives a tenth of their money based on their gross income. It comes out to only about $2,200 a year for their family of four, but their faith in God is huge. They certainly need that extra $2,200 a year, but they would suggest that their faith is far more important than what that money could buy. They have the greatest of faith.

Their faith is huge because they believe God is bigger than their financial worries and woes. It is huge because they believe God will take care of them no matter how hard times might get. It is huge because they have "the substance of things hoped for AND the evidence of things unseen." They trust that God will take care of them around every bend, financially or not. Tithing is the greatest exercise of our Christian faith and it is not for the weak.

1. Do you demonstrate your faith in God by giving a full tithe?
2. Is your faith in God great enough to give even more?

God's Intended Glory

God's Intended Glory
June 30, 2008

John 9:3 "Jesus answered, It was not that this man or his parents sinned, but he was born blind in order that the workings of God should be manifested in him."

The disciples brought a blind man to Jesus and wanted to know why the man was blind. The man had been blind since birth and the disciples were trying to figure out the reason for it. They wondered if the man's parents had sinned and the man was subsequently being punished for it. They also considered the man's own sins possibly resulting in the punishment of blindness. Jesus gave the disciples an astonishing answer. He said (in my own paraphrased version), "this was allowed to happen to him so that it might bring glory to God." Just as Jesus spoke those words, He healed the man of his blindness.

As a result of the healing, many things happened. The man spread word of Jesus' power to perform an amazing miracle. The Lord was given credit for healing him, resulting in more people believing in God. Most importantly, a story was created that we might read about thousands of years later in an effort to learn more about the character of God. All these things happened as a result of a few moments with Jesus. Imagine; the man spent a life of difficulty dealing with his blindness, all so Jesus could heal him at that exact moment. It is crazy to think that God would orchestrate that in the man's life before he was even born, but it is exactly what happened. The man's life and blindness were intended for glory. The Lord had something in mind and it required someone living almost an entire lifetime with blindness. All this was planned in order that God might be praised through a miracle moment.

This puts new light on the situation that you are going through right now. Maybe you didn't sin and maybe no one did anything wrong. Maybe all that is occurring in your life is an effort to create a crazy, beautiful story that will bring glory to God. In everything that happens for you, Christian, God is at work and He wants ALL of it to point to Him. Every situation in your life is an opportunity to bring Glory to God, no matter how big the miracle required to turn it around. In fact, the bigger the miracle, the bigger the story, and the more glory it brings to the Lord.

The next time you question all the happenings in your life, consider that God is at work, setting you up for a moment in time with Jesus. Get ready. When your miracle happens, you'd better be ready to give some amazing glory to God for your story. It's going to be big, I promise; get ready to praise Him. After all, it was intended for glory.

1. What situation in your life seems to have happened for no apparent reason?
2. How will you give Him glory when that situation is turned around?

Commandment #10

Commandment #10
June 23, 2008

Ex 20:17 "You shall not covet your neighbor's house, your neighbor's wife, or his manservant, or his maidservant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor's."

I'm not sure where you live, but my neighbor has nothing that I desire. His house leaks when it rains, his wife smokes like a chimney, he doesn't have any servants, and his rat-dog runs around in my yard. How easy it is for me to live out the tenth commandment, "Thou shall not covet." Unfortunately, according to the parable about the Good Samaritan, we are taught that anyone is our neighbor, not just the guy who lives next door to me. But even though the scripture talks about desiring the physical things that we don't have, it is really a heart issue of our current situation.

Each of us has been given a certain lot and situation in life. Maybe you have a lousy job or could use a boost in your relationship when compared to someone else. Maybe you have to struggle because you couldn't go to college and someone else had his way paid in life. It is easy to look at others and desire the things God has given them, especially if it is something you want and may never have. The only way you decided you wanted those things was from seeing someone else's situation or life in comparison to yours. If you lived on an isolated island with all the necessities of life, you wouldn't care if your clothes were designer or not. It wouldn't matter if your car had an expensive name or where you went to college. Nothing would matter as much because you couldn't compare yourself to others.

The root issue behind the tenth commandment is a source of comparison and then complaint. Stop comparing yourself to everyone else. What you have in life and what you are going through is exactly right for you and may actually be your lot in life. Unless you are living a life of rebellion against God, your life is exactly normal for you. It was custom designed for you by God. I know for a fact that you don't desire the bad things that are happening to others. In fact, you shy away from them because it is the opposite of what you want. If you compared yourself to someone who was worse off than you, you might actually feel thankful. But instead, you compare your situation to the perfect Hollywood life and complain because they don't deserve it anymore than you.

This is wrong. Desiring someone else's life, situation, or possessions is actually rebellion against God. It is rebelling against His will for your life and what He would have for you. It is rebelling against what He desires for you and your use for His glory. This is the whole reason we are to pray and ask for things in accordance to His will. If you want a million dollars, then pray for it. But when you don't get it, realize it is not His will for your life and what He would have for you. If that is the case, drop the discussion and go on living. If you live your whole life in a state of "want," you will never be able to enjoy what the Lord actually has for you, nor can He use you for His glory. Stop complaining about your situation or lack thereof and begin to be thankful for what He has given you. You'll realize it is His will for your life and you'll be better off for it. Besides, no one wants in be in rebellion against God.

1. What do you find yourself desiring that someone else has?
2. Are you able to give up that "want" in order to live according to His will for your life?

Godlike Integrity

Godlike Integrity
June 16, 2008

Ge 39:9 "...How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?"

The word integrity has become synonymous with the word moral. If we say that someone has integrity, we are saying that he maintains a high moral standard. But the word integrity means more than that; it means being complete or undivided. If something gets burned in a fire but maintains its integrity, it remains unchanged. It is still complete. If a diamond goes through a fire, it comes out a diamond and is said to have its integrity in tact. God has the highest degree of integrity. Not that He simply adheres to a high moral standard but that nothing can change God. Nothing can harm Him and He will not be swayed by any influence. God cannot be altered in His person or His resolve. No matter what, God will be the same. He will remain integral to His character.

There was a man in the Bible who had the most Godlike integrity out of any hero we could study. The man's name was Joseph. Joseph was sold into slavery, though he did nothing wrong, by his jealous brothers. He lived as a slave and was later imprisoned. Despite serving the Lord, God still allowed these things to happen to Joseph. Some theologians say his slavery lasted almost 17 years. But his imprisonment is particularly of interest since he arrived there after being falsely accused. He lived in a very powerful man's house and was in charge of everything, though still a slave. The man's wife tried to seduce Joseph but was unsuccessful. Joseph said that He did not wish to sin against God by doing such a horrible thing. She was embarrassed and accused him of following through with it. The powerful man threw Joseph into prison and God allowed it.

Think about this for a minute. It was God who allowed Joseph to become a slave in the first place; what did Joseph owe the Lord? Joseph could have become bitter or angry with God and walked away from having a relationship with Him. He certainly had no reason to stay true to God. But he did. Joseph remained faithful to God, though it appeared on the outside that God was not being faithful to Joseph. Joseph had integrity, Godlike integrity, for denying that man's wife. After all, after being a slave, it appeared Joseph had nothing to lose. But he lost even more; his integrity landed him in prison. Thankfully the story had a happy ending for Joseph, but no one was clued in to the ending while the slavery was in place. Joseph's integrity remained intact despite his circumstances, no matter what the possible outcome. Joseph proved that he could not be altered in his person or his resolve. No matter what, Joseph stayed the same. Joseph remained integral to his character, his Godlike integrity.

1. Has it ever appeared that God was not being faithful to you?
2. Were you able to retain your integrity to God despite your circumstances?

The God of Peace

The God of Peace
June 10, 2008

Romans 15:33 "The God of peace be with you all. Amen"

Many Americans, including Christians, seem to lack peace in their lives. This peace is not the opposite of being at war with someone, but rather an inner turmoil of stress or uneasiness. There is an inside battle that keeps us from having a restful heart, evidenced by the number of people with anxiety disorders, high blood pressure, or simply high levels of stress in their lives. For one reason or another, they are not able to come down from that stress and are always at odds with themselves. If you have no worries in your life then you are one of a select few, but if you are like most of us, you could use a larger degree of peace in your life.

There is good news. Our God is the God of Peace. Good for Him, but what does that mean for us? What is that peace and where does it come from? Instead of saying He is the God of peace we can say He is not the God of anxiety. That means His character, His inmost being, is at peace and rest. There is no worry or restlessness in Him. He does not wish to attack or kill and has no aggression in His presence. Again, this is great for Him but how do we get some of that in our lives? The answer is more simple than you think.

You cannot pray for more peace in your life and you cannot work at it. You cannot earn it and you cannot buy it. It is not even a gift. Peace is only found if we are in God's presence. You see, since God is the God of peace, that means He carries peace with Him everywhere He goes. It is part of His character and it cannot be removed. If He goes over "here" then that is where His peace may be found; it is with Him. What this means to you is simple. Spend more time with God, in His presence, and you'll naturally have His peace. But in order to spend time with Him you must get rid of your own thoughts and agendas, as there can be nothing between you and God. If you are truly spending time with Him in His presence, then you have cast all of your life aside and everything in it. You cannot take those things with you into a personal meeting with God.

If you have shed off that extra luggage to be in His presence, then you will be able to experience peace, amazing peace. And it is not simply the avoidance of those stressors in your life, but truly experiencing God's peace, that part of His character that is always there. It is like walking outside after being locked up all winter, letting the sunshine hit your face. The warmth simply casts itself onto your face and permeates every part of your being. When you are in His presence, you are experiencing His peace, the warmth of His presence. The trick is to be in His presence at all times in order to experience peace at all times.

Notice the text in the specific scripture, "The God of peace be with you..." Want to take peace with you everywhere you go? Just take God and His presence with you, the peace with follow.

1. Haven't had any peace in your life lately?
2. Isn't it time you spent some time in His presence in order to have that peace?

God the Farmer

God the Farmer
June 2, 2008
Isaiah 28:24 "When a farmer plows for planting, does he plow continually? Does he keep on breaking up and harrowing the soil?"

There is a vegetable garden in my backyard that we started last year. Unsatisfied with the previous results in produce, we decided to put a little extra effort into the ground this season. Starting at the end of last year, we added compost to the soil so it would break down over the winter months. As soon as spring hit we began further preparing the soil for this year's bumper crop. I got the biggest tiller I could find to break up the hard Missouri soil. The sun was hot that day, but I persevered and spent hours tilling up the soil, adding in organic matter and the recommended fertilizers. My zero years of agricultural experience coupled with no know-how, should produce interesting results from this city boy. Yes sir, my 20 feet of dirty work should make enough vegetation for a few tossed salads this year.

God, on the other hand, is truly likened to a farmer, likened to a farmer's character, that is. There is a cyclical nature to a farmer's work: tilling, planting, watering, harvesting. This is the same with the Lord's work in our lives. This is a pattern from start to finish, a process. The farmer does not till the ground forever but realizes that his efforts are adequate and needs to plant the seed. The farmer then makes sure that the seed is cared for and watered. The farmer also waits until the perfect time and executes the harvest.

This is how God works in our lives. If we feel that God is at work in us, tilling the ground, then we should be prepared to eventually allow Him to plant the seed. God will move us through the pattern of His process in our lives and our current situation will not last forever. Whatever step of the process you are in will not last. Be prepared to move on to the next step. In fact, the Bible says that God’s character is intent on moving us through the process. So, if you feel as if your current situation may never end, rejoice in knowing that God is at work and has a purpose for the activity that He is taking you through. The farmer’s actions are purposeful and so are God’s. It would be silly if God never planted a seed after preparing the ground or if I went to check on my own garden every week and decided to till the soil again. There would be no purpose. A farmer's character is intent on a harvest and so is God.

The harvest is coming, I promise. Be prepared for some amazing produce, far better than what our own agricultural skills could do.

1. Feel like God will be tilling the soil forever?
2. Are you prepared for Him to plant the seed or are you ready for the harvest?