Sunday, March 30, 2014

Bless the Jerks

Bless the Jerks
March 31, 2014
Luke 6:28  ". . . bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you."

As Christians, we are to love one another.  This is obvious and completely understandable.  It is good to love.  Loving others and blessing others makes you feel warm and fuzzy inside.  Everyone likes to be surrounded in love and blessings.  The Lord demonstrated it, Jesus taught it, and we are to put it into practice.  Most people can accomplish this when someone is deserving of love.  But how do you accomplish this when the person is a jerk?  How do you bless those who curse you?  How do you love someone who is treating your harshly, not just people with character flaws, but people who might even be harming you emotionally or physically?

Some Christian counselors would tell you to leave the abusive relationship if you are not safe.  This is excellent advice, but when the person is no longer harming you, you have an obligation to love and bless them, even if you feel they are not deserving of it, even if they haven't changed.  Even if the person is a jerk, you still have to bless them, as this is the mandate from the Lord.  It is not easy.  I can tell you there are people who have harmed me in the past and it takes a strong force in me to pray a blessing on their head.  Most days I want to let them be eaten alive by sharks, but I still have to pray for them, even bless them.  Frequently, my mouth has to utter the words before my heart can follow.  Sometimes my heart simply can't follow my words, it is too difficult.

There is no formula in Scripture that teaches you how to love someone or pray a blessing on their head while they are actively mistreating you.  It is a requirement, like it or not.  You have to do it.  Hopefully it will get easier as you mature in your Christianity, realizing Christ loved you first while you were still a jerk.  I know I've been a jerk many times in the past, yet I still needed love and blessing.  In fact, that is a good way to turn someone around from being a jerk.  Sometimes it takes an act of love, an act of blessing, to change someone from being a jerk.  Maybe your prayer, your blessing over their lives, will warm their hearts and convince them of their degenerate ways.  It happens more than you realize.

It happened that way for you.  The love of Christ in your life has changed you.  He loved you  softened your heart, making you much less of a jerk.  The only way some people can stand you today is because the Lord's love and blessing worked on your heart.  We can all attest to this truth in our lives.  But it still doesn't make it easier to bless someone who is or never will be worthy of a blessing.  Worthiness does not matter, however, in the Lord's demand for you and me to bless the jerks.  He never said bless the jerk if you want to or if you feel like it.  He never said it would come naturally, just the opposite.  Christ recognized it was and will always be a difficult task.

There is one small silver lining in doing the impossible, in blessing the jerk.  Consider it a boomerang lesson.  The Apostle Peter clarified Jesus' command to love our enemies.  He said we should do it because we will inherit a blessing ourselves.  If you cannot convince yourself to love the jerk out of the goodness of your heart, then try it first with the hope of getting a reward.  While our motives should never be selfish in nature by simply getting something in return, it might make it easier to put it into practice.  Scripture clearly teaches reaping from sowing.  We know it is true a person reaps what he sows.  So maybe you should sow a blessing in someone else's life, even when he is still being a jerk.  Maybe someday you'll get a blessing when you don't deserve it either, in this life or the next.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Matt 5:43-48, 1 Peter 3:9

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Not Always Saved

Not Always Saved
March 24, 2014
Hebrews 3:12  "See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God."

There is a controversial theory among Christians suggesting salvation, once attained, can never be lost.  It theorizes that a person who has accepted the free gift of salvation will never in his lifetime lose that salvation, no matter how far he lives from the Lord.  The phrase is "once saved, always saved."  People like to hang on to this idea, especially after a loved one has died.  Often times people live for the Lord and accept salvation from Him, yet fall away and live sinful lives so far from the Lord's desires that you would never know the person ever had a relationship with the Heavenly Father.  If that person dies, the surviving family likes to believe he made it to Heaven, even if the most recent 20 years of his life were spent living like he never met God.  The theory is meant to console someone after recently losing a loved one because the guilt of living with the idea of the person burning in Hell is too much to bear.

There are both sides to this argument but the Bible never says salvation is permanent in a person's life.  In fact, it paints a really good argument against salvation being permanent.  In the book of Hebrews, the writer likens Christianity and salvation to the Children of Israel in the desert after Moses led them away from Egypt.  The Children of Israel were the Lord's people and He was leading them to their inheritance, The Promised Land.  When they all left Egypt, each and everyone of them believed whole heartedly the Lord would lead them to The Promised Land.  Along the route, many rebelled against the Lord and fell away from their full belief in Him.  The Bible says the Lord put most of them to death in the desert and they were not able to ever enter The Promised Land.  In Hebrews, the parallel is drawn to The Promised Land being a metaphor for Heaven, which is for ALL the Lord's people.

Like the Children of Israel who fell away from the Lord and didn't reach their intended inheritance, the writer of Hebrews suggests Christians who fall away from the Lord will not reach their intended inheritance either.  It is a scary thought to think of losing your salvation, forfeiting the right to enter into Heaven.  Many Christians put their head in the sand when it comes to tackling this issue, but it must be raised.  There comes a point when a person's life does not parallel what he had at one point confessed with his mouth.  You can say that Jesus is Lord but if your life proves otherwise, then the words are moot.  I do not know at what point a person can lose their salvation but Scripture paints are really convincing argument that it can be lost.

This isn't meant to scare you or judge you, but to motivate you.  Rather than someday living with guilt thinking your loved one is in Hell, the book of Hebrews urges you and me to encourage each other in the faith.  We are to talk about it constantly with others, with our family, keeping watch on the sin that could so easily tear us away from the Father's hands.  Likewise, it should put a respectful fear in your own life from walking down the wrong roads.  I do not want to see you go to Hell and I would be remiss if I didn't tell you it is still a possibility.  Hell is real and your loved ones could be going there unless their lifestyle proves they have their own faith in the Heavenly Father who saves.  Your faith is not enough to cover someone else's life or keep them from going to Hell.  Talk to your loved ones today and make sure they are still living with full faith in their hearts.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Hebrews 3 & 4, Hebrews 6:4-8

Sunday, March 16, 2014

When You're Dead

When You're Dead
March 17, 2014

Hebrews 11:22  "By faith Joseph, when his end was near, spoke about the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt and gave instructions concerning the burial of his bones."

Joseph was an important man in Biblical history and was certainly gifted by the Lord with many abilities.  The Lord spoke to Joseph in dreams and gave him wisdom beyond his years.  When Pharaoh saw the Lord had gifted Joseph, he was put in charge of the entire nation of Egypt.  Joseph moved his extended family there and lived out the remainder of his days in Egypt.  When Joseph was on his death bed, still in Egypt, he recognized his burial would take place there in Egypt.  He also realized, sadly, that his people were not able or ready to leave Egypt yet.  Joseph understood his burial place would be in Egypt but his heart longed for what was still yet to come for himself and for his people.  He knew they were all destined for the Promised Land and so he gave strict instructions.

Joseph instructed the Israelites to dig up his bones from the grave, and take him with them when they left Egypt for the Promised Land.  Many people would not consider Joseph a prophet, however I would suggest he spoke very prophetically about leaving Egypt.  He was so confident his people were supposed to leave and would be leaving, that he told them to put his bones in a box and take him along for the ride.  It was faith that enabled Joseph to speak this.  He believed in his people's future and the role he played in it.  He had a vision of the future for himself far exceeding his living days.  He had a vision for his life after his death, more importantly a vision for the people he was leaving behind.

So often we get caught up in our own lives we forget it is not always about us.  The Lord didn't put you on this earth to serve yourself but to serve Himself and others.  But that service doesn't stop with just your lifetime, it never stops.  You will, hopefully, affect enough people's lives that the impact you have on them echoes for generations to come.  Joseph wanted to be a part of their future and they honored his wishes.  They dug up his bones, put them in some kind of urn or sack, and shlepped his carcass across the desert.  They willingly and gladly did this in his death because of what he did for them during his life.  What a testament to his life.  How awesome it was to speak into their future and request to be a part of that future.

When you're dead, will people honor your life for years to come?  Will people be glad you're gone, or will at least five people cry and miss you?  Maybe a few people will remember you while they are still alive but will the memory of your life end when those who know you also leave this earth?  Or, will people remember you and honor you for generations to come?  We have a few famous leaders whom we remember politically, but seldom do we have any spiritual leaders honored for generations.  I firmly believe this is because seldom do we have spiritual leaders who have a vision for their lives that extends beyond their years, beyond when they will die.  Not only should we have a vision for our lives while we are here, but we should incorporate a vision for our lives after we are gone.  Our impact on others should continue when we are dead; it is bigger than a legacy and requires a degree of faith and prophecy.  I doubt Joseph would have considered himself a prophet, but we should all learn to speak of our future and the future of others with a degree of faith.

Think of the others you will eventually be leaving behind when you die.  How have you spoken into their lives for the future?  Will you be a part of their future when you're gone?

Don't take my word for it; look it up: Gen 50:22-26, Acts 7, Hebrews 11:21-23

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Encouraging Words

Encouraging Words
March 10, 2014

Joshua 1:9  "'Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.'"

Joshua was a great leader who followed in the footsteps of Moses.  Recall that Joshua was an aid to Moses in leading the Israelites and he eventually became second in command.  When Moses passed away, Joshua took over as overseer and military leader of the Israelite community.  He wasn't quite a king, but for all intents and purposes, he fulfilled the role of a king over the first nation of Jews.  Both Moses and the Lord appointed him to this position.  He didn't apply for the job but was chosen by the Lord.  The Lord even appeared to Joshua and spoke to him about leading the large band of wandering Hebrews.  He encouraged Joshua that all would go well in his leadership role.  He encouraged Joshua that he could do it, re-affirming His selection of Joshua as chosen leader.

In fact, if you read the account of Moses transitioning power and authority over to Joshua, both Moses and the Lord said the exact same thing to him, encouraging him in his new role.  If the Lord appeared to me and said that I was the Lord's appointed leader for a task, I would need little encouraging because, after all, the LORD told me that I was the chosen one.  Joshua was the chosen one for that time-frame, but still needed encouragement.  He received encouragement from Moses and the Lord, both privately and publicly.  In fact, Joshua received encouragement three times over in the same paragraph.  In the Bible, when something is said three times over, it is like being chiseled in stone, becoming a cold hard fact.  It was a cold hard fact that Joshua should be encouraged in his leadership role.  But what is really fascinating is what was said to Joshua in the last part of the encouraging words.  In the last part of the encouragement the Lord said, "I will never leave you or forsake you."

You and I understand and receive this concept extremely well: the Lord will never leave us or forsake us.  That part of Scripture is set in stone for us, as it is repeated MANY times over in the Bible.  But seldom do we receive the first few encouraging words that Joshua heard, almost chiseled in stone.  The words are, "be strong and courageous, the Lord is with you."  Why would the Lord only say this to Joshua?  Was Joshua the only one who was to be strong and courageous in His lifetime?  Was the Lord with Joshua and no one else in history since that time?  The answer is a resounding NO.  If the Lord selected Joshua, then the Lord would be with Joshua.  If the Lord selected YOU, then the Lord will be with you!

If the Lord has chosen you for a task, then you need to be encouraged to stay strong and take courage while in the appointed position.  The Lord will be with you if He has asked you to be there.  The Lord will not leave you alone in this task; He will not walk away or turn His back on you while you are actively serving Him.  If you are walking in what the Lord has asked of you, then in this role you are the Chosen One.  Be encouraged just as Joshua was encouraged.  Keep reading the account of Joshua and you'll find he, in turn, encouraged the Israelites several times over with the Lord's SAME encouraging words.  Many years later, King David said the same thing to encourage his own son, Solomon.  More than a thousand years later, Jesus said the exact thing to encourage His disciples.

Let me say this to you three times over; chisel it in stone.  Be strong and courageous, the Lord is with you; He will never leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, the Lord is with you; He will never leave you or forsake you.  Be strong and courageous, the Lord is with you; He will never leave you or forsake you.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Deut 31, Josh 1:1-9, Josh 10:25, 1 Chron 22:13, 1 Chron 28:20, Mark 6:50

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Stopping the Lord

Stopping the Lord
March 3, 2014
Acts 7:51  "'You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!'"

The Lord is at work in and among us, even this very moment.  He does so by the power of His Holy Spirit that lives inside of us.  His Spirit is busy carrying out the Lord's will here on this earth, working in and through you and me.  The Holy Spirit does not necessarily accomplish all the work himself; He abides in us, empowering us to carry out the Heavenly plan.  The Holy Spirit loves a willing vessel whom He can work through, accomplishing important tasks.  But in order to do that, you and I must be available and willing to listen.  And once we are available and willing to listen, we must follow though, acting upon the impression in our hearts the Holy Spirit has made.

There was a follower of Christ who is an amazing example of being empowered by the Holy Spirit to accomplish the Lord's will.  He spoke boldly about the Christ, risking and even receiving death by stoning.  During his last public discourse, Stephen chastised the religious elite of the day, saying they believed in God and His plan but had hearts and minds that were closed to fulfilling that plan.  Stephen said they were resisting the work of the Holy Spirit.  The religious elite were set in their ways, set in their history, and comfortable with not moving forward.  They were not willing to accept an actively involved and constantly working God who challenged their daily lives to move forward with His plan.  The Lord's plan is always moving forward, regardless of man's willingness to accept it.  The religious elite liked to talk about it, but were afraid to do anything.

The Holy Spirit has a new work to do each and every day.  He has things to accomplish and would love nothing more than to empower you and me for the task at hand.  The problem lies in resisting that work, in being comfortable with not moving forward.  We might talk about the Lord's will or talk about His plan for mankind and what role we might play in it, but seldom do we walk in that plan on a daily basis.  Seldom do we actually listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and speak boldly the words He has for us to say.  Seldom do we actually listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit and act boldly in the tasks He has for us today.

You've felt the voice of the Holy Spirit inside of you, but it is easy to disregard it as preposterous.  The voice asks you to move forward with things you and I feel are slightly out of the ordinary.  You feel foolish and convince yourself it is a silly idea, not prudent in fulfilling.  Stephen would say you are resisting the Holy Spirit and stopping the work of the Lord in your life.  Unfortunately, we probably do this more than we'd like to admit.  Someday we will all feel a little embarrassed and ashamed at what we could have actually accomplished for the Lord.  We will be made aware in Heaven of all the missed opportunities on this earth of the empowered life we COULD have lived if we had simply acknowledged the voice of the Holy Spirit on a daily basis.

Try this for one day: try only speaking the words or fulfilling the role the Holy Spirit has for you.  Before you do anything, stop and ask the Holy Spirit what He has for you to accomplish.  You might say or do some pretty bold things, but it would be the empowered life you were meant to live.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Zech 7:12, Acts 5:3, Acts 7, Acts 15:8