Sunday, June 29, 2014

Religion Without Value

Religion Without Value
June 30, 2014
James 1:26  "Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless."

This particular verse in James is given little thought in regard to the full complications of its meaning.  It reads, "Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless."  There is no one who would debate the value of keeping a short leash on a verbose mouth.  And, in essence, this is what we have all understood the passage in James to represent, the teaching on keeping your tongue under wraps.  But James does not stop there.  The rest of his thought process tells us more than we may care to admit.

James says a person who cannot keep a tight rope on this lips is living a life of deception and furthermore says his religion has no value.  When James said this, it was to those who were practicing their Christianity, a valiant effort, however falling short of the mark.  James wanted to take them to the next level.  He told them that a man or woman who chooses to practice particular elements of Christian faith (prayer, worship, study of scripture, receiving of salvation, giving of tithes and offerings, sharing of faith) must include the management of the mouth among those important disciplines.  If a person engages in the study of scripture and the sharing of faith, yet backbites with his words, slanders leadership, and engages in gossip, is in danger of not really celebrating the full Christian faith.  James says this type of person is living a lie, a life of personal deception.  Furthermore, James says this type of person is wasting his efforts, even causing harm.

An important part of the Christian faith is sharing that faith with others.  By not living a full and whole life of Christian practice, James is saying a person can actually inflict scandal to the cause of Christ, thereby reducing its effectiveness and intrinsic value of others wanting to adopt such a faith.  There is no such thing as a perfect Christian, and thankfully the Lord does not stop His work in our lives, but if a person is going to live out his Christian life in front of others, it is paramount to include ALL aspects of the Christian faith.  This is not limited to gossip.  James says this means being wise with ones words, which includes the manner of delivery of said words.  Sadly, there are many Christian leaders even today who are a disappointment in the media at times because of loose lips.  Or there tends to be rogue cannons as some Christians think they are standing up for their faith but in doing so embarrass Christ by being foolish in their tone, rhetoric, and choice of words.

Sometimes the cause of Christ is not an easy pill to swallow, with difficult and controversial teachings, but nevertheless we need to be deliberate with our approach to words, especially publicly.  Unapologetically calculated is what James might recommend today in choosing words wisely.  If a person is not calculated with his mouth, then James said his religion is pointless or without value.  This can be interpreted one of two ways.  Either James is suggesting they are boxing against the wind, a fruitless task and a waste of effort OR James is suggesting they aren't even Christians at all, possibly in jeopardy of Hell.  I'm open to both interpretations and invite your thoughts and feedback on it.  Reply to this devotional and share your thoughts of religion without value.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Ps 39:11, 1 Cor 13:1, James 1:19-27

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Leaving Egypt

Leaving Egypt
June 23, 2014
Exodus 3:10  "'So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.'"

The Isrealites were enslaved in Egypt and it's no secret it was a miserable life.  They were forced into labor and had no way of escape.  For 400 years they lived in the land of Egypt and it became the only life they knew.  They absolutely hated it and they absolutely wanted to leave.  While the situation was completely far from ideal, it was all they'd ever known for generations.  They desperately wanted something new, to get away from the pain and suffering, to be free to live the life God had intended for them to live.  So the Lord said to Moses it was time for him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.  It was finally time.

While reading the account, the Lord used the word "now" in reference to the timing of the situation.  The Lord said their misery had reached the Heavens and "NOW" was the time to move them up out of Egypt.  When the Lord says it's time, it's time.  It was time for the Israelites to leave.  And while the Israelites thought it was a good idea, it still wasn't easy.  The exodus from Egypt should have been an exciting time, filled with anticipation and the feeling of freedom.  Instead, it was filled with pain and trepidation.  First there was the requirement from Pharaoh to make bricks without straw.  Then there were the plagues.  Then there was destruction and death.  Then there was the army of Pharaoh chasing them as they left.  Then they had to cross the Red Sea.  Then they had to face the unknown of the desert.  Then there was regret for even leaving.  Then there were the trials of the desert wilderness.

Leaving Egypt was not a perfect situation even though it was the right thing to do.  Leaving Egypt was not an easy task even though the Lord declared "now" was the time.  Leaving Egypt required hard work, trust, and a huge amount of the faith in the Lord (not necessarily in that order).  Leaving Egypt was for the purpose of fulfilling the Lord's calling on their lives even though it wasn't a walk in the park.

You may be facing a similar situation.  It might be time to leave Egypt, but it's harder than it looks.  Leaving Egypt will require hard work, trust, and a huge amount of faith in the Lord.  Leaving Egypt will require boldness and courage, especially in taking that first step.  Leaving Egypt is difficult, especially if you've been there for a long time, even though you know it to be the right decision.  It's time to leave Egypt.

When the Israelites left Egypt it was for the better and looking back on it, they were glad they made the move.  It was completely worth all the heartache in the end.  This next step will require a little extra fortitude, but it will be worth it in the end, especially if the Lord said "now" is the time to leave Egypt.  It's time to leave Egypt.  I know you've been there a while and the road will not be perfectly smooth, but it's time to leave Egypt.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Exodus 3 - Exodus 18, Exodus 12:31 - 42

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Stolen Money

Stolen Money
June 16, 2014
Acts 5:3  "Then Peter said, 'Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?'"

We've all had tight times, financially.  Some of us have been unemployed and the bills have mounted up.  Some have more expenses at the end of the pay check on a regular basis.  We've all had times of plenty, as well.  We've had a little extra cash here and there, but it seems those moments are few and far in between and we somehow find a way to spend the extra.  When times are tight, though, we often get confused as to the right course of action.  In one such time in our household I told my wife we had just enough money for a specific bill OR we could pay our tithe, but not both.  She quickly told me to pay the tithe as she did not want stolen money in our house.  She answered correctly.  We don't always respond wisely, though.  One such example was Ananias and Sapphira.

In the New Testament, the apostles were doing a great job of community service.  The wealthy were selling their extra possessions and allowing the disciples to distribute the money to those in need.  Ananias and Sapphira were among the more fortunate, who agreed to sell a piece of land and give the money to the needy.  They agreed to sell the land; it as their idea.  Nobody asked them to do it, the Lord did not even require it of them.  They thought it was a good idea and wanted to honor the Lord with the full proceeds.  When the deal was finalized, however, they kept some of the money back for themselves.  Peter, who was full of the Holy Spirit, saw right though their rouse and called them out on it.  Both had originally agreed to give away the money if the property sold, and both of them agreed to keep a portion of the money after they had already promised it to the Lord.  That money became stolen money when they kept it for themselves.

The Lord didn't punish them for having the land, the Lord punished them for stealing from Him once they had promised to hand it over if the land sold.  Both of them dropped dead from keeping the money and lying about it.  This concept of stealing from the Lord was first described in the book of Malachi.  The Lord said when people keep money from Him, it becomes stolen money.  The Lord said people rob from Him if they do not bring it ALL to Him.

Stolen money is a big deal.  In every country around the world, having stolen money is punishable.  In some places, it is punishable by death even.  Sadly, though, we all make it about the money and not about the heart issue.  When we have someone else's money it is because our hearts think we deserve it more than they deserve it.  If you've ever not paid a tithe, it is because you thought you deserved it or needed it more than the Lord, even if the money was used to pay an important bill.

This is carried further when you realize the heart issue of keeping money from the Lord is akin to telling God that He is not Lord of your life.  Keeping your tithe or keeping something you promised the Lord is the same as telling Him you are lord of your own life.  That's pretty bold, but it is what our actions speak when we directly defy the Lord's wishes.  Go ahead and keep your tithe, but it is stolen money, a punishable offense.  If you've ever kept it and rationalized it away to ease your mind, you have become like Ananias and Sapphira.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Deut 28, Malachi 3:7-9, Acts 4:32-37, Acts 5:1-11

Sunday, June 8, 2014

God is Not Giving It

God is Not Giving It
June 9, 2014
James 1:7  "That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord."

The Lord is much more of a giver than a taker.  If you doubt this, simply remember He sent His only Son to die for our sins while we were still sinning.  He doles out His love and mercy in abundance.  He gives free salvation to anyone and everyone who asks for it (again, FREE of charge).  There is something else He gives out freely, too.  Wisdom, specifically HIS wisdom.  This wisdom could be defined as Heavenly advice from the Creator of the Universe for our measly circumstances on this earth with absolutely no regard to how much sin or foolishness is present in our lives.  That's pretty generous, almost too generous.  I would at least tie it to a person's tithing record.  Actually, the Lord does have a caveat He considers before giving it out, before giving anything out.

In order to receive the Lord's advice for your circumstance right now, you must actually believe He is going to give it to you.  If you do not expect it with a degree of certainty, then the Lord is not giving it.  If your faith in His forthcoming wisdom is not solid enough to deposit into a bank, then you will not partake of it.  If you want to doubt this, I challenge you to study James chapter 1.  In fact, James gives us a huge glimpse into the Lord's giving nature that we seldom discuss.  James wasn't just talking about receiving the Lord's wisdom for today's circumstance.  James was talking about receiving ANYTHING from the Lord.  James said the person who doubts the Lord's willingness to give what He promises, will probably not receiving ANYTHING from the Lord.

If you read the first eight verses of James in any translation of the Bible, verse seven is always translated with the word, "anything."  James did NOT say if a person doubts the Lord, then that person will not receive wisdom.  True, James was initially just talking about receiving Heavenly wisdom but then said if a person is a doubter that person shouldn't be surprised when the Lord doesn't give out ANYTHING, not just wisdom.  The Bible says very clearly if a person does not have faith (faith in the Lord and faith that He will follow through with His promises) then it is impossible to please the Lord.

The Lord's caveat for giving you His gifts depends largely in part with having faith that He will do it.  You cannot ask the Lord for help and then not believe He will actually help you---what would be the point in asking Him anyway?  If you have faith to believe His Son died on the cross to save you from your sins, then it will be so.  If you have faith to believe the Lord will give you wisdom for your earthly circumstance right now, then it will be so.  If you have faith to believe the mountain in front of you will be thrown into the ocean, then it will be so.  Believe the Lord to be good on His promises and it will be so.  The Bible says that the Lord will not be mocked, that He will allow all men and women to reap what they sow.  If a person sows faith in the Lord, then the harvest is receiving what the Lord promised in faith.  Be sure of His promises and be sure of receiving those promises----it's the only way you will see those promises fulfilled in your life.

If you need something that only the Lord can give, and the Lord has already promised He would give it to you freely, then believe with all your heart that it will be so, and it WILL be so!

Don't take my word for it; look it up:
  Matt 17:19-21, Gal 6:6-8, 2 Cor 1:20, Heb 11:6, James 1:5-8

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Appointed Season

Appointed Season
June 2, 2014
Titus 1:3  ". . . and which now at his appointed season he has brought to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Savior . . ."

There is a time and a season for everything, so writes the author of Ecclesiastes.  There is a time to be born and a time to die.  There is a time for war and a time for peace. This list of "times" and "seasons" is never ending.  The Bible is clear about specific times in history, moments of utmost significance.  The Bible is also clear about seasons for time-periods of change.  The Lord works in seasons and cycles, in ups and downs.  The tricky part about "times" and "seasons," however, is figuring out WHEN!  Is it time?  What season is it?

Fortunately for you and me, we do not have to figure out what season it is.  All we have to know is the Lord is in control and He will work out His appointed "times."  We must follow Him and we simply get to discover it as it is being revealed.  Most of us like to be warned; we want to know ahead of time what "time" it is.  But the Lord would suggest to you this is akin to distrust, this wanting to know.  The Apostle Paul was glad to uncover the mystery while it was being revealed to him.  Read the letter he wrote to Titus and you'll see what I mean.  When Paul was originally called by the Lord, Paul did not know where he would be going or what he would be doing  before it happened.  But all of the sudden, he found himself in the midst of the Lord's design for his life, just by simply doing what he knew he was supposed to be doing and trusting in the Lord.

If this sounds vague and impractical, is is supposed to.  Paul never had specifics, just leadings from the Lord.  And then when he least suspected it, he found himself in the middle of the Lord's "appointed season."  This wasn't by Paul's design, but by the simple revelation from the Lord AFTER it had already happened.  Paul had an epiphany moment and realized the Lord was at work.  Apparently, it needed to hit him in the head like a brick.  You and I need that, too.  We want the Lord to reveal what He is going to do and when, but it doesn't work that way.  You have to simply get up in the morning and put on your shoes.  Then you go about your day, listening to the leading of the Lord, trusting in Him.  Ultimately, even possibly unaware, you will find yourself in the midst of the Lord's "appointed season" for your life.

For some of you it is about time for an "appointed season."  For others, it is not time yet.  This can be discouraging, wanting and waiting for something to happen.  Here's a news flash; it IS happening.  This very day is critical to the Lord's design for your life and you're "appointed season" depends on it.  Today, seemingly boring today, is paramount to your designed appointments.  If you fail to follow through with today, then the "appointed seasons" will be delayed.  You can rebel and walk away from today, or walk through it with the expectation that it will lead you into your "appointed season."  The choice is yours but you have to do it blindly.  This is called trust.  "Appointed seasons" do not come without a significant amount of trust.  If you are not trusting in the Lord, then He cannot and will not take you through today's struggles successfully.  Today's struggles will come, but if you do not submit to the Lord's design in them, then it will not take you closer to your "appointed season."

For some of you, it's time.  For some of you, it will be a long time coming.  What you do right before hand depends upon you.  There is no "appointed season" revealed to those who fail to trust in the Lord.  "Appointed seasons" are ONLY apparent when we are walking in complete trust.  Paul faithfully trusted in the Lord and his "appointed season" was revealed.  "Appointed seasons" are always preceded by a lifestyle of trust.  Your "appointed season" depends upon your level of trust.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Gen 18:14, Esther 4:13-15, Ps 37:4-6, Ps 75:1-3, Prov 3:4-6, Ecc 3:1-8, Jer 8:7, Dan 11:26-36, Hab 2:3, Matt 26:18, Acts 9:1-12, Acts 17:26, Titus 1