Monday, August 29, 2016

Straight Paths and Level Mountains

Straight Paths and Level Mountains
August 29, 2016
Isaiah 45:2  "I will go before you and make the crooked paths straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze, and cut through the iron bars."

I love the imagery of the Lord going on a head of me, like a guide in the jungle, blazing a path with a machete.  He is out front and leading, making sure the path is cleared for me, making sure it is straight.  And if there are any mountains in the way, Scripture says He'll level those too, so I won't have to climb that difficult mountain.  This even comes with the side benefit of protecting me from harm, if there are any wild animals or savages out there.  The Lord lays out all the benefits of when He goes on ahead.  He declares this through His prophet Isaiah and then again through John the Baptist.  Examine both sets of Scripture, though, to understand what it is the Lord is promising to do.

In Isaiah, the imagery of the Lord going ahead of us and leveling the mountains is in direct reference to the path that Jesus was going to take.  When the Lord said "You" in this set of Scripture, He was referring to Jesus, not necessarily you and me.  Then again when this imagery is set up by John the Baptist, He was declaring that Jesus was coming and a crooked path was made straight and any mountains were about to be leveled.  Both a straight path and a leveled mountain are needed to make a clear and direct path, for easy and efficiency of travel.  I don't think Jesus needed a straight path or level mountain necessary in the physical sense.  These had to represent spiritual obstacles, maybe even human obstacles needing to be overcome, making way for the Salvation that can only come through Jesus.  Both references in Scripture were made in preparing the way for Jesus.  You and I aren't Jesus so we must be careful if we think the Lord will just straighten our path or level our mountains for us.

Before you get frustrated and think the Lord will never straighten your path or level your mountain for efficiency's sake, please fully understand what the Lord was intending.  While the interpretations of these Scriptures were meant for Jesus, it is fully applicable to the Lord's plan for Salvation for mankind.  This wasn't just true two thousand years ago.  This is still true today.  There were obstacles that must have been overcome in order that you could be saved.  Looking back on your own life, there was a clear and direct path that physically led to your knowledge and acceptance of salvation.  You've seen others who had a clear and level path to their acceptance of Jesus as their Savior; mountains had to be leveled in order for this to happen.  Miracles that bring forth a sinner to the knowledge and acceptance of Jesus happen each and every day and this isn't limited to the work of the Lord for their salvation; this includes you.

You are part of the Lord's plan for salvation for mankind.  The message must be carried forward and a straight path and level ground are necessary for efficiency's sake.  The Lord is working in and through you for the salvation of others.  The Lord has work for you to do; you must be salt and light to this earth, bearing the good news of the gospel, and being His witness to the end of the earth.  To this end, the Lord is in the business of straightening paths and leveling mountains if that enables you to take the message of the gospel forward.  Absolutely, the Lord will straighten your path and level the mountains in front of you, but not for your personal gain, only for the gain of the gospel.  You have a ministry, even though you might not be in full time ministry like a pastor or missionary.  And that ministry is to bring the message of salvation to the lost in your own personal world of influence, to those around you.  If there is an obstacle, the Lord wants to overcome it today.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Is 45, Matt 19:26, Lk 1:3, Lk 3

Sunday, August 21, 2016

God Won't

God Won't
August 22 2016
Matthew 18:3  "And he said, 'Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.'"

The Lord can do anything, but He won't do everything.  There is a line He will not cross, actions He will not take, and steps He won't allow.  Specifically, He won't defy the rules, procedures, methods, and precedents He has set in place.  He does not change; He won't change.  He also won't answer your prayers, fight for you, or change you under certain conditions.  You are aware He is not a Santa Claus, giving you what you want just because He is good.  God won't work that way, He doesn't work that way.  The Lord is more than willing to follow through with His end of the equation, saving you and answering your prayers, but you and I must first hold up our end of the deal in order to allow it to happen.

You have unanswered prayer requests and I don't know the reason the Lord won't answer them.  But maybe, just maybe, there is a very valid reason as obvious as the nose on your face.  The Lord said He won't allow you to enter His kingdom unless you change and become like a little child.  Examining this for a moment, you see that entering Heaven is not a guarantee but an action predicated upon your action first.  You, I, must first change and become like a child.  Explaining this one step further we realize a child is full of trust, situational weakness, simplistic faith, and a degree of helplessness, acknowledging and requiring the assistance of someone else.  The Lord is asking you to change and become like this.  He won't do His part unless you do your part, change and become like a child.

Consider a valid, honest, and heartfelt prayer request, a prayer request to change your situation, your life, your problem.  No matter how valid or pure the prayer request, the Lord won't answer it until you become like that little child.  Remember He won't answer your call to enter Heaven unless you've become like that trusting, faithful child.  He won't answer your prayer request unless you've done the same.  It requires you to submit to Him, like a child must submit to an adult to survive.  I love the platitudes and cute sayings in social media declaring that the Lord will fight for, fight all your battles.  The bottom line is He won't.  God won't fight for you unless you become like a child and submit to Him.  God won't change you unless you become like a child and submit to Him.  God won't change your situation unless you become like a child and submit that situation to Him.  It is not enough to pray or ask the Lord to fight your battles, answer your tough prayer requests, solve your complicated problems.  You must take the first action in each and every situation, becoming like a child, full of trusting faith.  It is a full submission and declaration of helplessness, not just a feeling of helplessness but an action of surrender to His authority. 

Many of you feel helpless in your situation but that is not enough.  Sure, you acknowledge you are not big enough to solve your problem.  Great, that is the first step.  Then you do the next logical thing which is to present your problem and request to the Lord.  Perfect, you're almost there.  You have to take that final position and become like a child to the Lord in that prayer request, full of faith, trust, weakness, submission, and surrender, all the while hoping In Him.  God won't change your situation, answer that prayer request, until you change and become like that little child. 

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Num 23:19, Mal 3:6, Matt 18:2, Heb 11:6, Heb 13:8, Jam 13:8

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Shrewd Christian

Shrewd Christian
August 15, 2016
Luke 16:9  "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."

Shrewd is not a word I typically think of when I think of rock solid Christians.  When I think of the Christians who live outstanding lives, the words that come to mind are usually kind, compassionate, gentle, selfless, but never would I think shrewd.  Shrewd simply means that someone is clever with astute judgment for practicality's sake.  The word has grown to take on negative connotations of someone working to get his or her own way.  It is not a bad thing to be shrewd if you are not committing a sin, but usually someone who is shrewd is only thinking of himself.  Jesus said He actually recommends taking some examples from someone who was shrewd.

Jesus told a parable about a shrewd manager.  The manager found out he was going to lose his job because he had not been a good steward.  For fear of his future after the impending employment loss, he used his remaining time and position to gain friends.  He significantly reduced his boss's debtor accounts.  Those that owed his boss money got their debt drastically reduced.  The shrewd manager was now a favorite among the locals and everyone now felt obligated to be kind and generous toward him should he ever be in need, because he was kind and generous by reducing their debt.  Everyone now owed him a favor.  The shrewd manager was actually commended for being so clever.  Jesus pointed out even non-Christians, acting for selfish reasons, end up doing kind and generous things for others, even if it is for personal gain.  The point Jesus was trying to make was that even a person acting with the wrong motives can do something good for others.  Jesus suggested Christians could and should learn from this example.  

While we are not to be shrewd, acting only out of selfishness to get what we want, the results of shrewdness will be that we actually end up getting what we want.  The shrewd manager was going to reap generosity from his friends because he sowed generosity.  The shrewd manager was going to enjoy all the benefits from his act of kindness toward others.  There are verses in the Bible teaching us about the spirit of reciprocity, that we will get back in life what we put into it.  Jesus was saying that even non-Christians have figured this out, even though  for selfish gain.  Jesus said non-Christians are better at doing good for others than Christians.  This hurts a little, but is probably true.  Sometimes it is hard to do an act of kindness or generosity with truly pure motives.  It is easier to be kind and gentle and compassionate if you are thinking of your reward during the act of kindness.  Non-Christians have this down.  Christians, since we aren't supposed to be thinking of ourselves, we end up doing less acts of kindness and generosity.  This is straight from the mouth of Jesus.  While Jesus was NOT suggesting we should start being selfish, He was suggesting that the good things we sow will come back to us, so why not sow them anyway.

No bad thing can come from being a good Christian and doing everything recommended in the Bible.  When you make it to Heaven the Lord will never say you shouldn't have given to someone else, or taken care of that impoverished person, or sacrificed for the good of others.  But He certainly might question why you didn't do the good things you actually could have done.  You can't life a sinless life, hence His provision of forgiveness, but you can live a selfless life.  As Christians, we think if we do not sin, then we are allowed to do anything we want for ourselves.  After all, a sinless life is a perfect life, right?  Nope.  A sinless life can still be a selfish life if you aren't living for others.  Jesus can forgive your sins, but He can't do the good work that you alone are supposed to do.  Jesus doesn't care how much you do for yourself, He cares about how much you do for others.  He even gives you permission to use your worldly wealth to gain friends, as demonstrated by the shrewd manager.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  Matthew 6:1-3 & 35 & 38, Luke 16:1-12, Gal 6:7-10, James 2:14-21, Heb 13:16, 1 Tim 6:17-19

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Opened Doors

Opened Doors 
August 8, 2016
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.'"

Opened doors, they are easier to walk through than ones that are closed and locked.  Sometimes you'd like to walk through a door, a path in your life, but the door is closed, nailed shut even.  Common sense gives you discernment about doors that are closed.  Closed doors never get walked though, you just can't.  Conversely, common sense says when a door is opened wide you should walk through it.  Open, closed, it all seems so easy, as if the answer has been made for us.  We don't always like it, but closed doors give us little opportunity for discussion.  We even post platitudes about when God closes a door He opens another or maybe there is an open window.  This, by the way, is not found anywhere in scripture.  But how about those open doors.  Obviously they should get utilized?  The Lord has much to say about the path you travel in life and it has nothing to do with a door being opened or closed.

Scripture says you will hear a voice, the Lord's voice, whispering in your ear, about the direction you should head.  It is a still, small voice and you must listen carefully for it, drowning out your own voice, you mother's voice, the voice of fear, and the voice of common sense.  The only voice that matters in an entryway of life is the Lord's.  Sometimes Satan opens a door for you, tempting you away; that door should never get utilized.  You can probably think of some things in your past, paths you took that seemed easy and exciting because the opportunity was there, the door was opened, but it was NOT from the Lord.  What you want and common sense will not always be sage advice.  You've got to listen for that voice, the right one telling you which way to go.

In the verses surrounding the discussion of the Lord's voice tell you which direction you should head, there is some expressed caution with reasoning behind it.  The Israelites wanted what they wanted and when enticed they walked toward it no matter how unhealthy.  Conversely, they also ran the opposite direction when it was difficult.  The Bible says they got nervous about the path they were to take and looked for a way to flee, so they jumped on horses and  fled.  There is huge significance to that.  The Israelites didn't have horses.  They didn't keep horses, nor were they experienced riders.  But apparently in their fear to flee a difficult situation, they found horses.  The horses represent a common sense method to escape difficulty since the horses were provided for them.  The horses represented an opened door.  They reasoned the horses were there for the appropriate action.  This was false and the Lord said the enemy would simply overtake them.  Their common sense of walking through an opened door was flawed.  It wasn't the voice of the Lord telling them to go.  They made what seemed like the right decision to them.  The Lord's voice told them to turn around and fight, not walk through the open door to escape His plan.  I encourage you to read the entire chapter of Isaiah 30.

You have options in life, opportunities to head this way or that.  Doors get opened and closed all the time.  Your job is to figure out how and when and why you should walk through those doors, only you don't even have to figure that out.  All you have to do is listen to the voice.  It's not the voice of reason, it is the voice of the Lord.  Sometimes the voice of the Lord will ask you to walk through a scary looking door, only to realize your blessing is awaiting not too far away.  But you have to trust that voice.  Likewise, the door may be very attractive, but the voice is tell you not to walk through it.  I would, again, advise listening to the correct voice, the voice of the Lord telling you which way to go.  If you listened only to the voice of human reason, you'll either end up paralyzed from moving forward or you'll walk through the completely wrong door altogether.  In the rest of Isaiah 30 the Lord offers a recommendation.  He says to wait on Him.  Waiting on Him is not the physical act of waiting but the spiritual act of pausing until the voice is clear, crystal clear.  Then you can move forward with boldness and confidence.  Go ahead and walk through that opened door, but only if the voice of the Lord told you to walk through it.

Don't take my word for it; look it up:  1 Kings 19, Pr 14:12, Pr 16:25, Is 30, John 16:13