Sunday, August 28, 2011

Jealousy and Blessing

Jealousy and Blessing
August 29, 2011
Zechariah 8:2 "This is what the Lord Almighty says: 'I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.'"

Jealousy. We've all been jealous of someone else. We want what they have or we want their affection. Jealousy is a very volatile emotion. It can be dangerous to have jealousy and it is a dangerous emotion to arouse in someone else. It is especially hazardous to arouse the jealousy of the Lord. He calls Himself a jealous god. What is He jealous for? Simple: our affection. He wants our hearts. He wants us to serve Him and do everything as unto Him. The Lord wants us to think of Him before everything else. He wants to be first in our lives. Because of His jealousy, He watches our hearts very closely. He knows when we are turned toward Him or interested in something else.

It is easy to see how the Lord can become jealous when we are serving money or fame or status instead of serving Him. Those idols are obvious enough to see in our lives without a great degree of investigation. But other things make the Lord jealous, too, and they happen within the four walls of our churches. The Lord is jealous when we do good things just for the sake of doing good. While this seems silly, the Lord wants us to do good things because our hearts are turned toward Him. It's a bigger deal than you and I think; the Lord felt strongly enough about the topic to even write about it. In Zechariah 7, the Lord was frustrated with His nation because they were fasting and celebrating the Lord's feasts, as was their religious custom and tradition. And while this fasting and feasting was done correctly in the physical sense, following the instructions laid out by the Lord, the people's hearts were not truly in it. It was done out of habit. They did good things, but not for the sake of the Lord. They did it out of habit or custom. Because they didn't have their hearts in the right place, they were also easily enticed into sin. The Lord was frustrated with this and was jealous. He wanted their hearts, even if occasionally they followed a few commands.

This happens in the church. We volunteer, give to the needy, donate our time, but we do it out of habit sometimes. We do our good deeds because it is good, not necessarily because we are deeply in love with the Lord. When the Lord was jealous for His nation in Zechariah 7, He burned so deeply that He allowed financial and physical destitution into the land because He said their hearts were as hard as stone. They thought the Lord was angry with them; they didn't understand He was jealous for their affection, like a lover. He was jealous for their hearts. He promised, though, to bless them if they just turned their hearts toward Him (Zechariah 8). Listen to His words of blessing He promised if their hearts were turned toward Him: "The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its crops, and the heavens will drop their due." This outpouring upon the people was promised as an overflow of what the Lord's love would do for them. Just as jealousy led Him to bring devastation to the land, His love would bring them refreshment.

There is another, more famous, instance in the Bible when the Lord promises such a blessing. It was written earlier in the Bible found in 2 Chronicles 7:14, "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." Notice, though, that His blessing required them to turn away from the other things they had set before their eyes. He wanted to be first in their lives back then and He wants to be first in our lives now. The act of turning your heart toward the Lord is not simply the act of turning away from sin (you can do good just for the sake of doing good). The Lord wants you to turn your heart toward Him and fall deeply in love with Him. He is jealous for you and your affection. He wants you to do good things, but because your heart is turned toward Him in love and adoration. Don't give your money out of habit, give it because you are in love with Him. Don't volunteer your time because it is the right thing to do, do it because you are passionate about the Lord. Don't participate in the church because that's what you've always done. Be an active participant because your heart is in step with the Lord's.

Fall in love with the Lord and do everything you do out of adoration for Him. You'll find that His love in return will be far greater than anything imaginable on this earth. Do everything you can to keep His jealousy subsided.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: 2 Chronicles 7, Zechariah 7 -9

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Losing Grace

Losing Grace
August 22, 2011
Romans 6:1 "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?"

We are all sinners saved by grace. Grace is something extended to us out of the Lord's own generosity. We are not owed grace, nor do we especially deserve it. In fact, that's part of the definition of grace: the Lord giving us a pass when we probably deserve otherwise. It is akin to mercy, when the Lord withholds just and due punishment for our sinful acts. Thank the Lord for grace, without it we would not have the opportunity to beg for His clemency. In the last twenty years or so, I have seen a grace movement within the church walls that has had a dramatic impact on how people view the Lord and who is able to feel comfortable walking into a church building. Fifty years ago the message coming out of our churches was still one of repent and be saved because the Lord would not accept us with sin in our lives. This message has changed to be far more full of grace. We tell people to come as they are, the Lord will accept them. While this is true, the pendulum of this message is having an unintended impact.

We are so full of grace in our society and our churches that the most wretched of sinners can now feel comfortable darkening the door of a church. This is a good thing, but somehow we also enable the casual church attendee to continue with his sinful lifestyle while regularly attending our church. The end result of this is a church full of un-saved, non-Christians who may never make it to Heaven. Paul warns of the potential in this message of Grace while writing his letter to the church in Rome. Obviously, the more sin in a person's life means more grace is required to cover it. Thank the Lord for this; there is grace enough. The most wretched of sinner may now come to the Lord through an abundance of grace. But then a transformation must happen; the sinner must die to that sin and live in righteousness. Grace must not become a crutch to justify sin. We are able to live free WITH grace, not freely live FOR grace. If we continue in our sin, knowing there is grace enough, we have nullified the reason for grace.

Paul, as a writer for the Lord, says that sin must die in us. We are to receive the abundant gift of grace and live to no longer require such an amount. If we still live needing an abundance of grace, then sin is still the lord of our life. Paul then sums this up by saying that the wages of this sin is death (eternal separation from the Lord, in Hell). Wow! We can receive the Lord's grace yet still be damned to Hell if we live with His grace as a means to justify our lifestyle of sin. This message of the Lord's grace, intended to bring life, can have the opposite effect if left unchecked in our churches.

The solution to this is not easy, because the Lord's grace must be preached. You cannot take the message of grace out of our churches. However, the church then has an increased obligation to preach a message of a lifestyle change. Paul used an analogy for his church in Rome to combat the abuse of the Lord's grace. He recommended they become slaves to righteousness. This is not a message I have EVER heard taught from our pulpits. But, being a slave to righteousness sounds far more appealing than living an eternity in Hell. Christian, it is time we have a new movement within our church walls. The Lord's full message must be preached and that includes being a slave to righteousness. If we don't preach this message, then all those people we worked so hard to bring into our church will still be going to Hell.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Romans 6

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Walk This Way

Walk This Way
August 15, 2011
Isaiah 30:21 "Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, 'This is the way; walk in it.'"

Sometimes, it seems finding direction in life is a never-ending quest. We long for the definitive answer as to what we should do with our lives, permanently. It would be so much easier if we all had a concrete answer to that age-old question, "What should I be when I grow up?" This question is asked by people of every age, even the seniors among us. A map with a final destination would be ideal, that way we could see the clear path to follow. We would know what we were supposed to be doing at EVERY stage in life. There would be no questions; the way would be crystal clear. We could then relax and know what was up ahead, even the speed bumps. But for some reason, the Lord does not work this way in our lives. I have spoken with many elderly people over the years and they advise there is no finality on knowing what the next step should be. Rather, life is like a treasure-less box of random items. Let me explain.

We've all been given a treasure box filled with items, but for some reason we don't see or understand the value of the items. In your box you'll find random things; they might include: a piece of wood, a triangle, two small coins, some fish food, an old key, a pack of batteries, four sets of shoes that don't fit, etc. We open the box and think we are supposed to make sense of it all, somehow put it all together to build one sculpture. This final sculpture, we think, is what we are supposed to be in life or what we are to become, the end result of our life's work. Not so. The Lord doesn't give us those items to build ourselves up, rather to be used for Him. The items in the box are the talents and situations in life we all have been given. They are not meant to be balled together for one final presentation, but rather a lifetime of experiences in serving the Lord.

When you begin your journey with the Lord, your life becomes a path of glorifying Him every step of the way. The items in your box are to be used for His purposes. You will not understand the items until the exact moment they are needed. You'll come up against a random locked door and realize you've been given an old key to open it. The lights will be out and there will be a flashlight needing batteries; you'll have them on hand at the right moment. A stranger will need two small coins; you'll have those, too. All for the glory of the Lord. Your job is not to figure out what the items will be needed for; your job is to simply follow the Lord, wherever He leads.

The Bible says there will be a voice inside of you that says, "This is the way, walk in it." This is the voice of the Lord; it will not show you a map or tell you what you should become in the end. The voice will lead you to the next step only. You might feel ill-equipped for the next step, but don't worry, you'll have a treasure box filled with the right talents to be pulled out when the Lord intends for you to need them. The Lord will give you the right things at the right time for your journey; your job is to simply follow that voice. Don't try to make sense of it, thinking it is a final destination. And those items in your box, they are not really yours. So, if you want some permanence in your life or a concrete answer, know that the only thing final and concrete is the Lord. Everything else is up for His leading. Walk this way. Listen closely; He's directing your steps even now.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Psalm 37:23, Psalm 119:104-106, Psalm 139:16, Proverbs 28:6, Jer 6:16, Hosea 14:9, Matt 6:34, John 16:13, 1 Cor 12, 1 Cor 14:1 & 12, Heb 2:4, James 4:13

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Lord Left

The Lord Left
August 8, 2011
Judges 16:20 "Then she called, 'Samson, the Philistines are upon you!' He awoke from his sleep and thought, 'I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.' But he did not know that the LORD had left him."

Samson was a Biblical version of a modern day superhero. He had supernatural strength and no one could best him in battle, not even a thousand men. Recall the story: he was born a Nazarite and he could not cut his hair, consume alcohol, or touch a dead body. Because of this dedication, the Lord was willing to give Samson special strength, as He had a specific purpose for Samson to fulfill. Most people believe the source to Samson's strength was in his hair, because it was when the devilish woman cut his hair that his strength was noticed to have vanished. But I would submit to you that the source of Samson's strength was not in his hair, but in his relationship with the Lord.

Samson violated the "dead body" rule when he scooped some honey from a dead lion carcass. It is believed Samson violated the "alcohol" rule the night Delilah cut off his hair (how else could she have a man come in to shave his head unless he was drunk?). And then of course, he violated the "hair cut" rule by giving away his secret, thus falling prey to the woman's trap. The only way he could so willingly violate his vows was if they no longer mattered to him. If his vows to the Lord did not matter anymore, then certainly his relationship with the Lord was not top priority, either. The night Delilah had Samson's hair cut off, she cried out that the Philistines were attacking. The Bible says Samson arose and said, "I’ll go out as before and shake myself free." Notice Samson didn't say, "The Lord will deliver me again." In Samson's arrogance, his words declared that he alone possessed the strength, never acknowledging it was from the Lord.

After Samson's hair was cut, the Bible doesn't say "his strength failed because of his hair." No, it says, "the Lord had left him." What a powerful statement, "the Lord had left him." The Lord doesn't honor people who have no regard for Him. Samson's actions had demonstrated that the Lord and his relationship with Him were not too important. The Lord finally got the hint and walked away from Samson, taking His strength with Him. The Lord didn't take away Samson's strength; the Lord took His own strength from Samson. It was never Samson's in the first place. Anything Samson did, or accomplished, was a direct result of the Lord's presence and strength in his life.

Christian, you can do nothing on your own apart from what the strength of the Lord allows. You may not feel like a modern day superhero, but every thing in your life is a direct result of the Lord's presence and strength. If you decide not to acknowledge Him, He is willing to keep His strength to Himself. When the Lord takes His presence from your life, it leaves you vulnerable to attack. Samson learned that lesson the hard way when they gouged out his eyes and imprisoned him for years. But there is always a second chance to get the Lord's presence and strength back, once you've re-established your right relationship Him. Samson, at the end of his life, after ALL his failures, had more success with the Lord's strength in one moment than during all his previous years combined. The Lord brought His strength back into Samson's life and gave him one more victory. Yes, his hair grew back, but so did his right relationship with the Lord.

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Judges 13-16, John 15:1-8, Phil 4:13