Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

In ancient Israel, people stood stones on their end to commemorate a powerful move of God in their lives. It was a memorial to something God spoke or revealed or did. Often these standing stones became reference points in their lives. Today, we can find reference points in the written Word of God. Any scripture or sermon can speak something powerful into our lives, or reveal something of the nature of God. In this blog I offer, what can become a reference point for Christians, taken from God's ancient word and applied to today's world.

Monday, February 27, 2017

Deep Cover Christians

In 2010, the FBI burst into a home in Boston.  They arrested Donald Heathfield and Tracy Foley.  He was an international business consultant, and she was a real estate agent…except they weren’t.  They were actually deep cover Russian spies, who had been living and operating in America for ten years.  None of their neighbors even knew they were Russian.  Even their children had no idea that their parents were Russian spies.  The government would never have found out at all, if one of the members of the Russian spy team hadn’t defected and told the story.

In the church there are people who operate “under the radar.”  That means that they’re Christians but friends, co-workers and sometimes even family members don’t know.  Today, I want to post on “Deep Cover Christians,” starting with this scripture:

John 3:1-7 (NKJV)
3:1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." 3 Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." 4 Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" 5 Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.'

Secret Agents for Jesus

In the illustration that I used, we saw a family that seemed to be like other Americans, but were really Russian spies.  They were not what they appeared to be.  They told no one their secret.  They kept it to themselves. 

In our text we see Nicodemus; he’s coming to Jesus at night.  Why did he come at night?  Did he come after work?  Was he afraid Jesus would be too busy during the day?  He came at night because he didn’t want to be seen.  He was coming in secret.  He was afraid to be seen with Jesus.  He’s a deep cover Christian. 

Do you know that there are deep cover Christians in every church, today?  There are people who are afraid to let others know that they believe in Jesus.  Nicodemus believed that Jesus was sent by God.  He believed that Jesus was the Messiah that Israel waited for, but he had to keep it a secret.  He was part of the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of Israel.  The Sanhedrin wanted Jesus dead and his followers to go away.  If they knew that Nicodemus was meeting with Jesus he would be in danger.  He would suffer persecution for his belief.

In certain places and certain historic times there has been persecution.  In Roman times, Christians met in secret tunnels, called catacombs to avoid being arrested and killed.  They had secret symbols to notify people of meetings.  There was real danger in being a Christian on those days.

There are places in the world right now where it’s dangerous to be a Christian.  In the Middle East, Christians are sometimes beheaded.  In China, Christians are often arrested.  In Indonesia, Christian churches are burned:  Pastors and workers are beaten or killed.  Right now, Christians are the most persecuted people in the world. 
In Taiwan, though, there is very little danger of persecution.

A number of years ago a man tried to have me deported:  He was a backslider, angry about something.  So, he called the Foreign Affairs Police, the tax board, the labor board, the local narcotics cops, and others to investigate me.  I received a call from the Foreign Affairs Police to set up an interview.  My first question was, “Have I done something wrong?”  The answer was, “Sir, religion in Taiwan is free.”

So, keeping our Christianity secret is not life or death.  That being said, some people have reasons for not being open about being a Christian.  They’re afraid that their families won’t accept it.  They don’t want to look different to their co-workers.  They carry fear that their classmates will think they’re weird.  So, they hide it, family can never know.  They don’t mention Jesus at work.  They certainly never witness to co-workers.  They act like everyone else at school.  They’re not different from the world.  There’s a shame about Jesus.  Are you ashamed of the Gospel?

Romans 1:16 (NKJV)
1:16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.

I think that part of the problem is a fear of rejection.  People are afraid that their friends and family won’t accept them.  The Message Bibles says, “It’s news I’m most proud to proclaim…”  Are you proud to proclaim, “I’m saved – I’m a Christian!”?  Some people in the church are proud to proclaim that.   Why are they not afraid to say it?  Why are they not ashamed to admit it? 

You Must Be Born Again

Nicodemus comes to Jesus and confesses that he believes:

"Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."

“I know God sent you.  I know you’re the Christ.  I believe.”  What does Jesus say to that?  “You must be born again!”  There is something that takes place as we are born again.  You become a new person!

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Old things have passed away!  You’re not the same person.  Old fears pass away.  Old prejudices pass away.  Old ways of thinking pass away.  Old behaviors pass away.  All things become new:  A new boldness, a new way of thinking, new behaviors. 

Nicodemus comes to Jesus, but there’s an underlying fear.  He tells Jesus that he believes in Him, but he doesn’t want anyone to know.  Jesus identifies that Nicodemus is not born again.  He’s professed that he believes, but Jesus can see his need to be born again, because of his fear of being discovered as a believer.  If you’re born again you cannot keep it hidden, because that becomes the primary thing that defines you.  Your life is built around Jesus and salvation.  Everybody that knows me knows I’m a Christian.  There’s no confusion about where I stand.

The change that took place in me was apparent.  I was struggling with aspects of my life.  I was depressed and miserable.  I hated myself and I hated living.  Then I got saved.  I was born again and it was immediately apparent that I was different to everyone that knew me.

The old things have passed away and all things were made new.  I couldn’t help myself but to tell people what had happened to me.  It’s like a bottle of soda pop.  When you shake it up, it creates a pressure to escape the container.  It can become so great that if the pressure isn’t released, it will burst the container.  I was shaken up by what had happened in my life.  I had to tell people about Jesus.  It was just bubbling out.  The pressure to tell people about Jesus was greater than the fear of what might happen, and there was a price to pay.  My boss reacted.  My parents reacted.  What could they do?  There was no denying that something powerful was happening for the better in my life.  There was no fear.  I simply refused to go back to that kind of suffering, and I was unashamed to credit Jesus for that change.

So, why is there fear?  Why does this fear represent a person who isn’t born again?  The fear that keeps people from proclaiming the Gospel is based on unbelief.  Fear and faith cannot coexist.  They’re directly opposed.  Let me give an example – People are afraid that if they tithe there won’t be enough to provide for their needs or their family’s needs.  God has promised to provide. 

Matthew 6:26 (NKJV)
6:26 Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?

If we allow fear to overrule faith, that’s not new thinking.  That’s the old way of thinking, old things haven’t passed away.

Overcoming Fear

I want to look at one last thing with regard to being a secret agent for Jesus.

John 19:38-39 (NKJV)
19:38 After this, Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took the body of Jesus. 39 And Nicodemus, who at first came to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds.

These two men, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus were both secret agents for Christ.  Joseph was a disciple in secret “for fear of the Jews.”  Nicodemus came by night because of fear, but now they’ve done a very public thing for Jesus.  Joseph defied the Sanhedrin and went to Pilate asking for the body, in order to bury it.  He even gave his own unused tomb.  Nicodemus purchased and delivered the things need to bury Him.  People saw what they had done.  These things were done in the open.  The fear is gone.  They’re no longer allowing it to rule their lives.  They’re thinking in an entirely different way.  New thinking!  The old things have passed away.  They’re born again.

What about you?  Is your life rule by fear or faith?  Do you have faith in some things in the Bible and not others?  Partial faith is no faith.  You must be born again.  Are you ashamed to speak the truth of the Gospel, because you’re afraid of what family will say?  Do you worry that you won’t be accepted because you’re a Christian?    That’s the old way of thinking – You must be born again.  Are you a secret agent for Jesus?  I have to tell you Jesus has an army.  Jesus has disciples, but he doesn’t have secret agents.

Mark 16:15 (NKJV)
16:15 And He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature.

If you want to overcome fear and be full of faith you need to swallow the fear and tell someone.  We overcome fear by confronting fear, isn’t that right?  Get rid of fearful thinking and embrace faithful thinking.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Call of the Non-Conformist

Today, I want to post something that’s usually not real popular – Sacrifice.  Sacrifice isn’t what we want serving God to be about, is it?  Fellowship, camaraderie, fun and ministry that’s what we want serving God to be about. 

I want to say something about the word serve, as in "I serve God".  It’s not just about stopping things the bad things you’re doing.  It’s not about praying.  If you’re going to serve God you’re going to have to do something.  A servant does something.  Today, I want to post on that from this portion of scripture:

Romans 12:1-2 (NKJV)
12:1 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

A Living Sacrifice

Let’s first define the word sacrifice.  Sacrifice is defined by Mirriam-Webster Dictionaries as the destruction or surrender of something for the sake of something else.  Giving up our sin is a form of sacrifice.  Giving of our resources is a form of sacrifice.  Giving up our "down time" is a form of sacrifice.

But this says “present your bodies as a living sacrifice.”  In the Old Testament sacrifices always consisted of giving an animal to be killed and burnt on the altar.  The word altar comes from a word that means immolate or burn up.  If you were a sacrifice you had to die.  There was no living sacrifice.  Of course, animals, not people were sacrificed.

In the New Testament God has done away with animal sacrifice. 

Hebrews 10:10-12 (NKJV)
10:10 By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. 11 And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God,

Because of what Jesus did, the slaughter can stop.  Jesus was the last sacrifice ever at the temple, but our text tells us there’s a new type of sacrifice; a living sacrifice.  You might call it a change of lifestyle.  A living sacrifice is sacrificing the sin that you’ve been living.

This is one of the things that keep people out of the church, though.  There are pastors and leaders who don’t dare preach on sin because it will cause certain people to leave.  People want to be comfortable that they can enter Heaven with the sin that’s in their lives.  Unfortunately, that’s not true.  A pastor that never preaches on sin, your specific sin, isn’t doing you any favors, because there’s no opportunity available for conviction or repentance. 

The reason for their reluctance is that people don’t want to give up their sin.  They like it!  We always think we can control the affects of sin.  No one thinks that they’re going to become an alcoholic when they have their first drink.  They just think that they’re having fun.  No one plans on Lung Cancer when they first start smoking.  No one ever sees the consequences of their sin happening in their lives.

We sin because there’s some reward in it for us.  Maybe it’s fun, or maybe it looks appealing.  That’s why beer commercials make it look like everyone’s having a good time.  The guys are getting the chicks because they’re drinking the right beer.  Everyone is laughing, and happy.  You’re not going to sell a lot of beer by showing some guy dying, or becoming a paraplegic because he was driving drunk.  It’s designed to make it look appealing, so people will buy that beer.

If you’ve ever smoked, do you remember your first cigarette?  Did you feel cool, or just nauseous?  You have to work at sin until you begin to enjoy it.

The problem is that we become attached or addicted to sin.  Sometimes, we just don’t want to stop.  Fornication is like that; it feels good.  Drunkenness feels good.  It’s a sacrifice to quit that – A living sacrifice.  Our text tells us that’s our reasonable service.  That word reasonable means not excessive.  It’s reasonable; within reason. 

Let me tell you what an unreasonable or excessive sacrifice is.  Having your beard ripped out, and your back laid open, then carrying a heavy wooden cross to the place of your execution.  Then being thrown onto that cross, having nails driven through the mass of nerves in your wrist and ankles, and being lifted up to slowly suffocate.  All of that happens and you’re innocent…that’s an unreasonable sacrifice.

All we are called to do is repent; change our minds, give up the carnal, sensual things – reasonable service – and be holy; set aside for God’s use:  Reverent; in awe of God.  This is where the service comes in.

When we talk about service, we often say things like, “I gave up drugs and drinking, I’m serving God.”  The problem is that when you use the word service it implies that you’re doing something.  A servant serves – they’re doing something.  You’re really only a servant of God if you’re doing something that serves God’s purpose or needs.  What are God’s purposes in the world?  To save sinners.  What are you doing to serve God in that area? 

A servant doesn’t look at church like it’s a social club.  A servant doesn’t see church as a place you visit when you want or need something.  A servant prepares him/herself to meet the needs of God.  That Bible calls that our reasonable service. 

It’s not enough just to stop sinning.  The Bible tells us we need to look for what we can do to serve God.  It’s reasonable for God to expect that because look at what He sacrificed to buy us back from sin.  He gave His only Son so that we could walk away from sin, once and for all.  It’s reasonable for God to expect that we would be holy in that new life.

Here’s a spiritual truth in the form of a question:  Why would you want to take the issues and problems of the old life that drove you to salvation, into the new life that you’ve been given?

It’s like the guy who’s been given a new lease on life through a liver transplant risking the destruction of the new liver by continuing to drink excessively and use drugs.

Being a Non-Conformist
 Romans 12:2 (NKJV)
12:2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

There’s an old joke about non-conformists:  You can’t tell them apart – They all look the same.  That's what non-conformity may look like in the world, but it isn't true of Christianity.  We are called to be different from the world.  Look at this – It’s the vow of nazarite:

Numbers 6:2-6 (NKJV)
6:2 "Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When either a man or woman consecrates an offering to take the vow of a Nazirite, to separate himself to the Lord, 3 he shall separate himself from wine and similar drink; he shall drink neither vinegar made from wine nor vinegar made from similar drink; neither shall he drink any grape juice, nor eat fresh grapes or raisins. 4 All the days of his separation he shall eat nothing that is produced by the grapevine, from seed to skin. 5 All the days of the vow of his separation no razor shall come upon his head; until the days are fulfilled for which he separated himself to the Lord, he shall be holy. Then he shall let the locks of the hair of his head grow. 6 All the days that he separates himself to the Lord he shall not go near a dead body.

The vow is about separation to God’s use, right?  Verse two says, “to separate himself to the Lord.”   That’s what holy means, right?  The vow sets out the steps to do that.  No wine or similar drink – No vinegar.  Vinegar is the Bible’s way of saying alcoholic wine.  They shouldn’t cut their hair, and should stay away from dead bodies.  This is different from the way non-nazarites lived.  Another way to say that is that the non-nazarites lived like the world lives.  Nazarites don’t conform to the worldly behaviors.

Our text calls us to be modern-day nazarites. “Do not be conformed to this world;” be different.  Our behavior should be different from the people of the world.  People should be able to see holiness or separation in our lives.  “Hey those Christians, they're not like us.”  Think about this – If we’re not involved in all the things the world is involved in, drunkenness, fornication, drugs, and immodesty to name a few. I’m talking about sin or self-destructive behavior.  Sin is self-destructive, “The wages of sin is death.”  If we’re involved in all those things how can we say that Jesus has the power to change lives?

Do you know what one of the most depressing aspects of my old life was?  It was thinking that I had ruined my life:  That I’d never be anything but a drunk:  That there was no hope for change.  I couldn’t see a way out of the mess that my life was in until I met people whose lives had changed, because of what Jesus had done in their lives I knew it was real, because they didn’t live like me.  They were transformed; changed by the renewing of their minds.  They had a different way of thinking.  While  we're involved in sin, we're not in our right minds.  We're involved in self-destructive thinking.  Self-destructive thoughts are not right thinking.  In many cases it’s a form of mental illness, but by choosing not to conform to the world.  By being holy, by separating ourselves to God’s use, which is our “reasonable service” we're transformed.  Their minds are made new, that’s what renew means; to make new again.  We came to ourselves.  We're now in our right minds again.  I’m a non-conformist now.  I’m not like the world.

Continue in Sin

Romans 6:1-4 (NKJV)
6:1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? 3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? 4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.

So, as we become Christians – followers of Christ – we discontinue the sin we in which we were involved.  It’s a reasonable sacrifice; let it go.  Jesus died to free us from that.  He paid the penalty.  We have chosen to follow Him and in doing that we’ve received the call of that nazarite vow.  We’ve died to sin.

As we pass from the death of sin into a new life in Christ.  We leave the old behaviors, the old way of thinking behind.  We begin to walk in the newness of life.  

Be new.  You have a new life, you can let go of the old one.  I’ve been saved twenty-five years and I still wake up marveling that I feel good.  Before, I started every morning with a curse word. Oh, _____, it’s morning.  I hate morning!”  I was still sick from the alcohol of the night before.  I hated life.  I’m delighted that I didn’t have to bring that into my new life.  Now, I usually wake up cheerfully…usually. 

I sacrificed the drunken behavior.  I’ve taken up my reasonable service.  I’m living for Jesus, and my mind is renewed. 

We think our text is a command, but really, Paul is begging us to do that.  He’s saying, “Try it.  You’ll be transformed. Your mind will be renewed.  I think it’s sad when people go into their new lives in a half-hearted way.

“I’m only going to give this much.”
“I’m not offering my body as a living sacrifice.”
“I’m only giving a part of me to God’s will.”

It’s sad, because if you’re thinking that way, you’ll never experience real transformation.  You’ll always be stuck with a certain part of your sin.  You’ll never know complete escape, and you’ll always wonder why Christianity doesn’t work for you.  The best advice I can give you is from an old television commercial.  The tag line of the commercial was, “Try it, you’ll like it.”

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Blessing of Unity

We live in Taiwan, so recently my wife and I stayed up late to watch the inauguration of the forty-fifth president of the United States of America.  The United States is the most divided it has been since the Civil War.  It has been growing more polarized for the last eight years. 

President Trump has vowed to “Make America Great Again,” but in order to do that he will have to unify America again.  President Lincoln, who stepped into the White House during that first time of great division, quoted the Bible, “A house divided against itself cannot stand…”  He went on to say:

“I do not expect the house to fall – but I do expect it will cease to be divided.  It will become all one thing or all the other” – Abraham Lincoln

I believe that that the greatness of a nation is rooted in the unity of its people.  I believe that this is also true of the local church.  We make the greatest impact, when we are of one accord.  That’s what I want to post about today:

Acts 2:1-4 (NKJV)
2:1 When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. 2 And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. 4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.

Do You Want Something to Happen?

I usually use this scripture to preach about the Holy Spirit, but I want to look at it in a different light this week.  In fact, I want to focus on one phrase, “with one accord in one place…”  It isn’t just that they were filled with the Holy Spirit, but my purpose is to show you that movement in the church comes from unity of thought and unity of action.  Things happen when we’re together:  Not just in one place but in a spiritual and mental sense, as well.

The disciples about one hundred twenty of them are together in one place.  They’ve gathered; they’re there together.  Everyone is in their place.  Well, at least no one who is completely in agreement with what they’re doing is missing.  It may not be every disciple that was made at that time, but it was those that were of one accord.

These are the ones who’ve caught “the vision” of the early church; the vision of the apostles; the vision of Christ.  They believe in the same thing, but in addition to that, there is camaraderie between them.  They’re not fragmented – They don’t have personal agendas, separate from each other.  They aren’t in cliques – They are of one accord spiritually, mentally, and physically.  They’re united.

It’s when they’re like this that there’s movement in the church.  This is when things begin to take off in the early church.  They’re not all doing different things; they’re together, working toward the same goal, and caring about each other.  It’s when they are in this condition that the Holy Spirit drops into that congregation and revival breaks out.  They’re empowered as a body, not as individuals.

Do you want to see something happen in your church?  Be of one accord.  When we are in one accord that’s when things happen.

Acts 2:46-47 (NKJV)
2:46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Look at what “one accord” means:

“Breaking bread from house to house” – They spend time together outside of the temple – As a group.  It’s not fragmented: “I’m going with this one person, only!”  “I don’t want to do what the others are doing, so I’m going off by myself.”  Some of them were willing to put aside what they wanted in order to stay with the group. 

“Ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” – They were happy just to be together – They had fun together.  It wasn’t complicated.

“What’s your relationship with that person?”
“It’s complicated…” 

They weren’t looking at each other with mixed emotions. 

“I like this person today, yesterday, not so much.”
“I don’t like what they said, so I’m mad at them.”

It was simple; they accepted each other’s offenses. 

You know, there’s going to be offenses.  People can be irritating.  People will say things you don’t want to hear, but which may be good for you to hear.  People may say something to the pastor so that he can help you but you see it as getting you into trouble.  That’s inwardly-focused thinking:  It’s all about me.  Instead of outwardly focused thinking: It’s all about others.  Some of you are guilty of that – That isn’t holiness. 

The problem with not being of one accord is that the Holy Spirit cannot drop into an unholy place.  When they were of one accord, the Holy Spirit fell.  When they were together, enjoying each other, caring for each other, that’s when the early church exploded into revival.

We need the Holy Spirit.  Look at what Pastor Harold Warner has said when writing on Twitter of the Holy Spirit:

God’s enabling gift to us today: the “indwelling, convicting, sight-giving, desire-producing, strength-affording presence of the Spirit” – Pastor Harold Warner

That’s the gift of the Holy Spirit, look at what we receive:  That Spirit is the Spirit that produces fruit:  Presence of God, conviction, vision, desire and strength.  That’s the power that makes something happen.  It doesn’t come from us alone, it comes from being of one accord, so the Spirit can fall.  Our power is in our unity.

Getting Back to Relationship

I want to look at relationships for a moment, because relationships within the church indicate unity.  Relationships demonstrate a kind of holiness.  Look at this scripture:

Matthew 5:23-24 (NKJV)
5:23 Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

This scripture shows us how important relationships are to God.  That word brother is talking about, “your brother from another mother,”  not necessarily your blood brother, but your brother and sister in Christ.

You’ve come before God with an offering, a gift for God and you think of some issue between you and someone in the church.  There’s anger, there’s some division; you are not of one accord.  There’s distance growing between you, then:

Leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way.  First, be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift.

Don’t give that offering until you have come back together with that person that you have an issue with, then come and give the offering.  Do you know what that says?  It says that if you’re not right with your brothers and sisters in Christ, then you’re not right with God.

In Romans 12, Paul shows us what the relationship should be like:

Romans 12:10 (NKJV)
12:10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another;

“Be affectionate with one another”; care for each other.  Let each other know how much you care about each other.

Jesus said, “They will know you are my disciples by your love one for another.”  Can people see that in your relationships, or do they see squabbling, backbiting and distance?  Do they see God’s love in your relationships, or do they see the same thing they see outside of the church?

“Giving preference to one another” – Have each other’s back.  Stand together.  Hang out with each other.  Wouldn’t you rather be around the people of God?  Is it better to be around people who are opposed to what God is trying to do in your life?  Your sinner friends don’t care whether you remained saved or not.  It’s the brothers and sisters that care about that.

Our relationships are important because they show the world what Jesus can do to change people.  People are naturally self-centered; naturally concerned for their own welfare. 

“I’ve got to get what’s mine, first.”

You don’t have to drive in Taiwan too long to see that.  Nobody can wait for anyone else – I’m first.  If you don’t believe me try crossing the street in front of a taxi.  It’s human nature to think that whatever “important” thing you’re doing, it’s more important than everyone else’s.

Sinners are blown away by people who put others first.  Jesus put all of mankind’s needs before His own.  The Bible says, “While we were yet sinners Christ died for us.”  He put our need for salvation before His own life, can’t we just put other people’s needs first, sometimes.  Here’s a truth of life for you, “It’s not always all about you.”

The Blessing of a United Front

Being together, being of one accord, being united is a blessing.  God can use a church that’s united in their vision.  I want to go back to my illustration for a moment.

During the civil war, when the nation was divided there was only turmoil and destruction.  America was being destroyed, millions died, families were torn apart.  Men fought against their own brothers in that war.

Land and livelihoods were stolen and destroyed.  America had lost its greatness.  After the war, after a time of unification, huge things were accomplished:  Huge engineering feats like the Transcontinental Railroad.  There was increased westward expansion – The taming of the west.  There was growth, and economic prosperity.  America came to be viewed as the land of opportunity.  Millions of people emigrated from their homelands because of the promise America held.  That’s the blessing of unity.

If our church is unified, if we’re of one accord, the Bible promises that we will see that same blessing:

Acts 2:47 (NKJV)
2:47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

Do you want to see things happen in your church:  Miracles, financial breakthrough, revival?  That’s the blessing of unity.  The Holy Spirit can fall in a place where the people are of one accord.  When we’re together that’s when things can happen:

John 20:19 (NKJV)
20:19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."

They’re together, in the same place, for the same reason and Jesus, the risen Jesus, the glorified Jesus walks in and says, “Peace be with you.”

That word peace is interesting in this case.  The Greek word translated as peace comes from a root that means “to join,” as in put together.  Peace comes from being together.  It can also be translated as prosperity – not financial but by being joined together we prosper in the things of God.  I believe that means revival, miracles, financial breakthrough, and growth:  The blessing of unity.  Do you want to see things happen in your church?  Be of one accord.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Eight Ways to Hear From God

I was ordained into the ministry in 2001:  Sixteen years ago.  What’s interesting is that throughout all those years, in two separate nations, two distinctly different cultures, I’ve heard people saying all the exact same things. It’s because there are certain things that are just human nature.  They’re cultural universals; all people regardless of culture have certain traits and attitudes that are built into their psyche.  You just can’t get away from it.  Because of that certain things have been repeated, over and over, in my ministry.  I haven’t been surprised by anything in a long time. 

Today, I want to post about one of those issues that surface from time to time.  People won’t come to me with this because they don’t think it’s a problem.  In fact, I believe that most people think that this attitude is an indication that they’re more spiritual.  So, I want to use this scripture as a jumping-off point:

Hebrews 1:1-2 (NKJV)
1:1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds;

I Want to Hear Only from God

The inspiration for this is something that I overheard, recently.  We all know that God speaks to us through sermons, but sermons are generally inspired by what’s going on in the church and congregation.  God doesn’t wake me up with a thundering voice.  He doesn’t show me a vision while I’m eating my lunch.  When God speaks to me I usually feel uneasy about something someone has said or done.  Other times, I’m inspired about the direction that the church is taking.  I begin to turn over in my mind, what I’ve seen or heard.  I will often make the joke, “I think I feel a sermon coming on.”  That’s how it is, I get that sermon feeling.

There are a number of ways that I can gauge how well people in the church are doing in their Christian walk:  Through their lifestyles, through their attendance, involvement, giving, and relationships within the church.

Certain statements can be a red flag, because on the surface it might sound totally spiritual, but there’s something behind it that isn’t God.  It’s actually a cop-out to fully committing to your church, and the people of God.  The person making that statement may not even realize it – The statement is, “I only come here, to hear from God!” 

There is something that’s implied here and that is that if they’re not hearing from God then they’re going to leave.  I believe that, if I’m not hearing from God, then I’m in the wrong church.  The problem is that sometimes you confuse hearing from God with hearing you want to hear.  That’s the question, today, how do you determine whether of not you’re hearing from God? 

In my own experience, people have left our church saying, “I’m not hearing from God, so it’s time to move on.”  People have said, “I had a different experience in another church.”  People have said, “God has led me to leave this church and go to another.”  I’m not saying that it’s never legitimate to leave a church.  Things happen, people fail, even pastors can fail.  If your pastor is immoral, or stealing from the offering, by all means get out of there.  Nothing good is happening there. 

But I think we need t remember and be aware that God placed you in your church.  You didn’t find it by accident; you were placed there and God placed you there for His purposes, not yours.  His purpose is not to start you on a tour of your city’s churches.  He has placed you there as a part of a body; a complement to other talents and abilities, both material and spiritual, that can be used by Him to build His church.

What happens to people sometimes is that they’re looking for preaching on specific topics.  Someone who left our church, called me up before her family left and said, “You never preach on the love of Jesus. You always preach on sin and tithing.”  I preach eight to ten times a month, but that person came to three sermons a month and her husband, even less than that.  They really didn’t know what I preached, because they only heard a small percentage of sermons.  Okay, well I preach a lot on sin, but sin is the biggest obstacle to people getting into heaven.  My job as a pastor is to get them into Heaven.  This couple’s reason for leaving is that they weren’t hearing from God.  But you know how I see it?  Maybe that was what God wanted them to hear.

I think our text says something that we all need to hear, “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke…”  At various times in various ways – That word “to vary” means different.  So, at different times in different ways God spoke. 

God doesn’t speak to us, only through sermons that are preached.  God has a number of methods that He uses to speak to us; a sermon is only one way.  In fact, in thinking about that, I came up with seven other ways that God speaks to us.  God reaches out to us “in various ways at various times”.  I really think we limit ourselves when we say, “I only come to her the preaching, because I only come to hear from God.”  I want to look at the various ways that God speaks to us.

Eight Ways to hear From God

I made a list of eight ways God speaks to us.  It’s like God is talk, talk, talking, all the time, but we’re not always listening.  Most of the time we listen to sermons, although I know some of you need to read texts, look at your social media, take phone calls, and say wonderfully witty things to your neighbors, but at any given moment at least a couple of people are listening.

God Speaks through Preaching

1 Corinthians 1:21 (NKJV)
1:21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.

God has always spoken to His people through preaching.  This is how God reaches the lost: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel…” (Mark 16:15) God is able to touch people through the words of a preacher.  It’s not about talent, great oratory skills, or persuasive words.  It’s about God moving and touching people through the MESSAGE – His words through the preacher’s lips.  I’m not preaching what I think; I’m preaching God’s word.  Preaching is the first way that God speaks to us.

God Speaks through the Bible. 

The Bible is called the Word of God, after all.  “All scripture is given by inspiration of God.” (2 Timothy 3:16)  I know, I know men wrote the Bible but they were inspired men.  That word translated as inspiration literally means – Divinely Breathed In.  God put that word there.  They received it from God.  It isn’t something that they made up, it was God-breathed.  How do you speak?  You speak through exhalation.  God speaks through the Bible.

God Speaks to us through Prayer

“Come boldly before the Throne of Grace for help in time of need..” (Hebrews 4:16)  We come to the Throne of Grace; the place where God is and cry out for God to move in our lives – and He responds.  It may not be words that He uses, although it often is, it may be actions that speak.  You know the saying, “Actions speak louder than words.”?  Have you ever been moved by seeing something happen:  A child rescued, an unmerited kindness, someone saved?  I get tears in my eyes from these kinds of things – It’s almost embarrassing – They speak to me.

God Speaks to us through Visions and Dreams

“Your sons and daughters shall prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams…”  (Acts 2:17)  God does speak through dreams and visions.  God will show you the future.  God will reveal things to you about yourself.  He’ll speak to you about what to say to encourage, or give you things to preach. 

These four things are obviously the work of God, of course He works through those things, but He works in less obvious ways as well.  God can speak to us through other people.

God Speaks to us through Godly Counsel

I don’t know everything; my wife will tell you that.  She’s seen my lack of knowledge firsthand. I don’t have limitless knowledge, but I do have a bit of wisdom.  I have asked and received wisdom when I needed it.  “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God…” (James 1:5)  Wisdom comes from age and experience, but wisdom also comes from God.  I pray and listen for God’s answer.  I know God’s voice.  I can tell you if what you’re struggling with is from God or not.  “God wants me to be rich,” nope that’s not God.  “God wants my obedience to His call,” yep, that’s God. 

God Speaks to us through Relationships

This is a hard one for people.  “I want to hear from God not what these other people think.” Sometimes, God uses a brother or sister in the church to open your eyes to an attitude or an issue of pride.  “As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens the countenance of his friend.”  (Proverbs 27:17)  If I could say something to some of you, “Get over yourself.  It’s not all about you.”  You’re not the only one hearing from God.  Maybe you didn’t like what was said, “Oh boo hoo hoo.”  Maybe God’s trying to speak to you – “You’ve got a pride problem.  I didn’t save you for you; I saved you for other people.”  God can speak to us through our relationships, and sometimes, He rebukes instead of encouraging.

God speaks to us through Fellowship

“…They were all with one accord in one place.”  (Acts 2:1)  One accord means together in mind and spirit.  They were on the same page together.  Look at this:

John 20:19 (NKJV)
20:19 Then, the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be with you."

Jesus didn’t meet with each of them alone, after He rose from the dead.  He always spoke to them when they were together..  Christianity was never intended to be a solo pursuit.  Jesus’ plan included a church; people together.  The church isn’t a group of rugged individuals it is a collection of like-minded people:  It’s called Fellowship.

God Speaks to us through Life Itself

Usually, when things go wrong I life we say, “I need to hear from God.”  Sometimes, life going wrong is hearing from God.  God uses adversity and hardship to change us and mold us.  In Jeremiah 18, when the pot was marred/flawed the potter smashed the clay and made a new pot. “Arise and go down to the Potter’s house and there I will cause you to hear my words.”  (Jeremiah 18:2)  He is the potter and you are the clay.  Can you hear Him speak?

Getting All That God Has For You

Do you really want to hear from God?  Some are reading this and may be angry, sometimes God rebukes.  Others are saying, “Oh, this is just what I needed to hear.”  Either way I want you to know that this is a godly message.  The question is, “What are you going to do with what God has said?” 

Do you want all that God has for you?  Then it’s time to fully commit yourself to your church.  Here’s a way to start:

Acts 2:44-47 (NKJV)
2:44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 46 So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.

This is a description of the first century church.  Isn’t it interesting that it doesn’t say anywhere, “hearing from God!”  It was just assumed that you’d hear from God if you really wanted to.  “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened to you.”  ( Luke 11:9)  Hearing from God, isn’t pastor’s responsibility; it’s your own responsibility.  If that’s true and you’re “coming only to hear from God” and you’re not hearing from Him then you’re missing it.  “I have to leave the church because I’m not being fed.”  It’s not that you’re not being fed; it’s that you’re not eating.

Look at Acts 2 again.  This is the design of the church, “Continuing daily of one accord.”  Our church is Pentecostal.  We’re not Baptists or Lutherans.  We’re not Calvinists or Hyper-gracers.  It’s not about “me and God.”  It’s about us and God. 

God never showed up to referee doctrine.  Figure out what you believe and who you follow.  I’m not saying those others aren’t godly, I’m just saying I would choose what God has chosen for me. 

“Breaking Bread from house to house.”  They had relationships:  They thought that it was important to spend time in each other’s company. I’ve heard people say, “I just want to come to church; I’m not interested in that other stuff.”  According to this, that other stuff is part of God’s plan.

You can’t be a lone ranger for Christ.  Even the Lone Ranger had Tonto.  You can’t break bread from house to house and stay home alone.

I thank God for my brothers and sisters in Christ.  They encouraged, they exhorted and they rebuked.  In short, they helped me stay saved.  I could get pretty squirrelly on my own – believe me!

“Sold all their possessions, divided them among all, as any had need.”  They were involved in each other’s lives and problems.  We’re not going communist, this was written in a different time and different situation, but they cared for each other.  They helped one another.  They were there for one another.  It wasn’t about me getting my needs met.  It was about others getting their needs met.  Outreaches, musical groups, drama events, those things are about being there for other people:  Helping other people to come and find Jesus.  This is what was commanded to all of us.  Get involved in what your church is doing.

Finally, a relationship between you and God is about more than you and God.  If it wasn’t God would never have established the church structure.  “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together…” (Hebrews 10:25)  This is the Bible saying be a part of your church.  Does it sound like a suggestion?  It isn’t.    The reason that Jesus used the church structure is simple.  It’s because it’s the best way for people to stay saved and make it to Heaven.  We need each other.  Jesus spoke to them when they were together.  Do you want to hear from God?

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Heart Conditions

I’m a wonderful person…really!  I like me.  I love my family.  I’m a wonderful son and father.  I’m nice to people; compassionate.  I don’t drink or use drugs.  I’m not a liar.  I’m generous and I don’t kick my dog.  I’m just about perfect, except that I was born with a heart condition.

There was a problem with my heart that caused damage to my body.  It looked fine.  It wasn’t misshapen or broken; it just didn’t do what it was supposed to do.  In fact, as a human being I have two heart conditions, a physical one and a spiritual one.  Today I want to post on the spiritual heart condition, from this one verse:

Jeremiah 17:9 (NKJV)
17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?

Heart Conditions

A heart condition is what we call it when our heart doesn’t work like it should.  Basically, our hearts are just pumps.  Blood enters the heart; the heart constricts and pushes the blood forward.  Then, it expands and blood enters the heart again.  That’s what happens when our hearts beat.

Sometimes, though, it doesn’t work like it should.  It doesn’t move blood efficiently.  It beats erratically; or the valves don’t work:  Something doesn’t work right; that’s a heart condition.  I’ve just described a physical heart condition. 

The word heart in a spiritual sense isn’t referring to that physical pump that moves blood.  The spiritual heart is the Bible's way of referring to the center of our emotions, personality and character.  The “Spiritual Heart” is who each of us is as a person.  The longings and desires you have for your future, the way you respond to your fellow man, your courage, your outlook on life, your patience, those things make up your spiritual heart.

When our spiritual hearts are functioning well we exhibit the attributes of God.  Long-suffering, mercy forgiveness and love; those are the attributes of God’s heart, but the question is, “Are those things found in your heart?”  The fact is that we’re all suffering from spiritual heart conditions. 

Our text describes a spiritual heart condition:  The Heart is desperately wicked.  We weren’t created that way.  We were created in the image of God; in the likeness of God.  Our hearts were created to be like His heart.  God’s heart isn’t desperately wicked.  Wickedness isn’t a part of whom God is.  It isn’t a condition of God’s heart.  It’s only a condition of ours. 

There was a change that took place in the Garden of Eden.  That change caused a corruption that changed our hearts, forever.  There was a mutation; a breakdown that caused a corrupt heart to be passed down from Adam and Eve to all of us.

Romans 5:12 (NKJV)
5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned--

God doesn’t struggle with being righteous.  It’s who He is – But we struggle, don’t we?  We often don’t do what’s right.

Romans 7:15 (NKJV)
7:15 For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.

Even the apostle Paul struggled to do the right thing.  So, if he struggled, how about you and I?  Do we struggle, too?  Oh, I think we do.  Are you ever envious?  Yes!  Do you get jealous?  Yes!  Are you rebellious?  Do you have bad attitudes?  Are you a liar and a thief?  Yes!  Yes!  Yes!  Are you ever just plain mean?  You know you are!  Your heart is desperately wicked.  Wickedness, sinful attitudes, and sinful behavior, unfortunately that’s who you are.  That’s who we all are – That’s the condition of our hearts.

I just told you how wonderful I really am.  I’m Mr. Wonderful, but the Bible says my heart is desperately wicked.  I have a spiritual heart condition.  Just like Paul, I do things I hate, and the things I want to do…I struggle to do.  It’s my stinking, corrupt, deceitful heart.  It’s so deceitful that when I am doing the wrong thing, it sometimes lies to me and ,makes me think it’s okay.  I can justify it to myself. 

“I can hate those people – I’ve been oppressed.”
“Well, he was a jerk first – He deserves what I did to get even.”
“They don’t pay me enough – That’s why it’s okay for me to steal this thing.”

Our hearts are deceitful above all things.  People can easily lie to themselves; I’ve seen it at least a million times. 

So, what can we do with a heart like that?  How can we be saved with a heart like that?  We will always default to the dark side – just like Darth Vader.  We have to really fight to be right.  We need a spiritual “Heart Transplant”.

A Heart Transplant

David recognized his need for a new heart:
 Psalms 51:10 (NKJV)
51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, And renew a steadfast spirit within me.

David’s asking God for a heart transplant.  Take this filthy, wicked, stinking heart and replace it with a clean one – a pure one:  A heart like yours, God.  That should be our prayer as well.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have a heart that led you to do the right things instead of the wicked ones:  A heart that prevented wickedness?  Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you will always be godly – like God?  How wonderful to not have to battle temptation.  How wonderful to not destroy yourself through sin.  How wonderful to always do the right things – without fail.  Did you know that that’s a promise of God?

Ezekiel 36:26 (NKJV)
36:26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

That corrupt, wicked heart, that’s hardened by sin, God says He’ll take it out; remove it and He’ll replace it with a new one – a tender one. Is that the kind of heart you want?  That’s what David wanted.  That’s what David longed for.  David was a man after God’s own heart.  He wanted a heart like God. 

God said that about him, “He’s a man after my own heart.”  That’s the kind of man God was looking for to lead His people:  Someone with a heart like His.  That’s the kind of man that God can use.  Do you ever pray for a heart like God’s?  Are you contending to be more godly?  Godly means to be like God – to have the attributes of God:  long-suffering, mercy, forgiveness, love.

There is a way to get that.  There’s a way to get a heart transplant.  To start you have to repent.  Repentance is a change of heart.  You have to have a change of heart about sin.  You have to have a change of heart about your lifestyle.  You have to have a change of heart about priorities.  That’s repentance.  That word repent literally means to turn around, as if you’re traveling in one direction – away from God.  Your becoming less like Him and more like your father the devil, (John 8:44), and you change your mind about the direction you’re traveling.  Then, you turn around and travel toward God.  That moment when you have a change of heart that’s when the heart transplant has taken place.  That’s a heart transplant, right?  Take out the defective one and replace it with a new one:  One that works properly; a heart that’s tender toward the things of God.  The stony heart is gone and is replaced with flesh.

That’s why when you get saved you look at the world differently.  You look at people differently – with compassion.  You look at sin differently.  It becomes ugly and disgusting.  You look at God differently.  Pleasing Him becomes important, instead of just pleasing your own carnal, animal nature. 

Were you different after getting saved?  If so, that’s that new heart pumping strongly in your chest, moving pure blood throughout your carnal self; purifying, changing, removing the filth of sin.

2 Corinthians 5:17 (NKJV)
5:17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.

Have you ever heard the expression, “I feel like a new man.”?  That’s the power of repentance.  As the heart functions properly, you become stronger.  You feel good again.  You’re a new man.  When it’s a spiritual heart transplant the Bible says you’re a new man – literally.  You’re a godly man, a man or woman that’s like God. 

Remaining a Man After God’s Own Heart

Romans 2:5-7 (NKJV)
2:5 But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, 6 who "will render to each one according to his deeds": 7 eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality;

After a transplant we have to keep our new heart healthy.  We have to commit to caring for, and guarding our new heart.  We need to protect it.  The scripture calls it “patient continuance in doing good.”  Why patient?  We'll continue to endure temptation.  When you get saved sin doesn’t go away.  The Devil doesn’t just back off: “Oh rats, they got saved; well I guess I have to leave them alone, now.”  It doesn’t work like that – The world continues to be the world.  The temptations continue to tempt.  The attitudes continue to work on you.  People are still people, right?  You still want to kill some of them. 

The difference is that now you have the tools to stay away from that.  You can avoid trouble.  God will meet your needs and help you to avoid sin.

Hebrews 4:16 (NKJV)
4:16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Come boldly to Him.  Cry out for help to Him.  “God I don’t want to sin – I need your help.”  Paul said “Who will deliver me from this body of death.”  He’s talking about sin.  I think we can all agree that Paul was saved.  How often has that been your prayer?  “Oh God, keep me from sin.” 

A prayer like that will inspire courage and endurance in you.  Jesus won’t leave you there to struggle alone.  He will always be there for you, but you have to reach out to Him.  That’ll keep you saved. 

Hebrews 13:5-6 (NKJV)
13:5 Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." 6 So we may boldly say: "The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?"

Monday, December 19, 2016

The Superlatives of God

As a writer I’ve been taught to be careful of the use of superlatives.  Superlatives are words like “fantastic”, “magnificent”, and “splendid”.  Generally, when a writer uses words like that, they’re probably exaggerating.  Let me show you an example:

Fuddrucker’s Restaurant advertises that they serve “The World’s Greatest Hamburgers.”  You’ve tried every hamburger in the world and you know that?

We use words like that all the time to describe what are really ordinary things.  Fuddrucker’s hamburgers are pretty good, but the best in the world?  I seriously doubt it.  When the writers of the Bible described the blessings of God on His children, they wanted to speak in the strongest of terms, so the Bible is full of superlatives.

Today I want to post on Thanksgiving.  I think that as Christians we have a lot to be thankful for, like the blessings of God. 

2 Corinthians 9:10-11 (NKJV)
9:10 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, 11 while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God.

The Superlatives of God

A superlative is a comparison word.  For example, This is the Best tea of these two.  Best is the superlative.  It’s interesting to read your Bible and see the way the writers thought about God.  It’s difficult for them to speak of God’s attributes without using words like “greatest”, “best”, or “most”.  Face it God’s abilities are far beyond ours.  He’s much more capable than any of us.

Psalms 147:5-8 (NKJV)
147:5 Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite. 6 The Lord lifts up the humble; He casts the wicked down to the ground. 7 Sing to the Lord with thanksgiving; Sing praises on the harp to our God, 8 Who covers the heavens with clouds, Who prepares rain for the earth, Who makes grass to grow on the mountains.

What I really want to post on today is Thanksgiving.  As Christian we have a lot to be thankful for.  For one thing we’re not on the way to Hell, anymore.  I don’t know about you but I’m glad about that. 

One other thing we might have to be thankful for is the mercy and character of God.  The writers of the Bible articulated their thoughts on the awesomeness of God by talking about His attributes in the most expressive terms available:

Isaiah 55:7 (NKJV)
55:7 Let the wicked forsake his way, And the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, And He will have mercy on him; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon.

Here Isaiah is speaking of God’s mercy, “He will abundantly pardon.”  God’s not stingy with his mercy.  He pardons abundantly; over and over.  He doesn’t withhold mercy.  How wonderful for you and I.  I can’t tell you hoe many times people have told me that God couldn’t forgive them, “You don’t know what I’ve done.”  You’re right, I don’t, but the Bible says, “God is faithful to forgive.” (1 John 5:9)  That means He always forgives, if you repent.  That’s what the mercy of God is like; it’s abundant, and do you know why?

Ephesians 3:19 (NKJV)
3:19 to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

It’s because the love of God “passes knowledge”.  That means it’s beyond what you could know.  Think about how much Jesus loves you.  He loves you so much that He died a brutal death for you.  He loves you so much that He left heaven just so He could come to earth and suffer for you.  Those are things that you know about his love.  Guess what, He loves you more than that; more than you could possibly know.

He did all of that so that you could be filled with the fullness of God:  So that God could dwell in you.  That’s what we have that no other religion has – God dwelling in us:  God becoming a part of us.  What a gift God has given us in the gift of His Son.

2 Corinthians 9:15 (NKJV)
9:15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

There are no words that can describe that gift.  Words are inadequate.  This verse is talking about the blessings of God that come to you, through other people praying for you; contending for you, because of your generosity:  What you have given them.  This isn’t necessarily about material things (although it could be) it’s about giving of yourself:  Giving of your time, your resources, your encouragement and your prayers.  People will want to pray for you as you live your life in imitation of God’s abundance of love, mercy and faithfulness.  The value of prayers and blessing is indescribable.

Finally, there’s this:

Psalms 147:5 (NKJV)
147:5 Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite.

His understanding is infinite; without end.  God know everything; He understands all.  He understands what you need, what you go through.  He understands every temptation and weakness.
 Hebrews 4:15-16 (NKJV)
4:15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

He understands and He’s willing to help.  He encourages us to come to Him for help.  What a gracious God we serve

What are you thankful for?

People sometimes struggle with gratitude.  There are people who focus their lives on what’s missing.  How unhappy they are!  They never take time to be thankful for the things of God.  It’s always, “I don’t have the nicest car.”  Or, “I don’t have the nicest house.”:  “The most sensitive husband, the most beautiful wife.”  Those people only go to church for what God can do to make their lives seem better.  They’re consumed with the carnal things and forget about the blessings of God.  Look at what the psalmist says:

Psalms 105:1-3 (NKJV)
105:1 Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples! 2 Sing to Him, sing Psalms to Him; Talk of all His wondrous works! 3 Glory in His holy name; Let the hearts of those rejoice who seek the Lord!

Are you thankful for a God that does wondrous works?  Are you thankful for a God who gives mercy abundantly?  Are you thankful for a God that lifts up the humble and casts the wicked down to the ground:  The God who makes rain so that grasses can grow.  (Rice is a grass – His rain produces food.)  Are you thankful for a God like that or are you more concerned with worldly things?

I’ve seen Christians who are depressed because they don’t have it all.  They forget about a God who forgives sin and who prepares a place for them.

Revelation 21:4-5 (NKJV)
21:4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away." 5 Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me, "Write, for these words are true and faithful."

You may not have it all on this earth, but there is a place where there will be no more sorrow or pain.  A place where there’s a crown of righteousness laid up for you.

2 Timothy 4:8 (NKJV)
4:8 Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.

Have you forgotten about God’s goodness and love?  Are you so focused on the world’s definition of greatness that you can’t be thankful for the spiritual things you have; for the future you have in Jesus:  The eternal things of Christ?

Be Thankful

Psalms 100:4-5 (NKJV)
100:4 Enter into His gates with thanksgiving, And into His courts with praise. Be thankful to Him, and bless His name. 5 For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, And His truth endures to all generations.

This is the attitude we should have.  This is talking about the temple, Enter into the place of God’s inhabitance with thanksgiving and praise.  How many come to church grateful for the God that we serve?  How many come to church looking for more from God?  Are you entering into the house of God gratefully?

Every November Americans celebrate Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving was instituted in the beginning by George Washington:

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and to humbly implore his protection and favor…The people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God…

This is what thanksgiving is about.  We shouldn't be grateful one day a year, after all, God works wondrous works in us every day of our lives.  This is not American culture – It’s Christian culture.  Abraham Lincoln made it a national holiday to thank God for fruitful fields, healthful skies, abundance of precious metals, and a harmonious and increasing population.  He called them the gracious gifts of God.  We should thank God for all of His gracious blessings but also just for being whom He is. 

All of these writers used superlatives to describe God.  They had to, because God is beyond comparison with people.  You can’t describe God in normal ways because God is above all of that.  I don’t know about you but I’m grateful to serve a God who’s not like people but infinitely greater.