Archive for November, 2013

When You Pray….

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I have felt like I don’t know who I am praying to.  We have God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  If I’m praying to God the Father, does Jesus feel left out?  If I pray to Jesus, am I wrong because I should be praying to the Father?  I have been known to just mix things up a bit.  You know, pray to one and then pray to the other the next time.  I want to be fair, and I also want to cover my bases.

There really is no need for such confusion, though.  Jesus told us to pray, “Our Father who art in Heaven….”  As far as I have ever read, Jesus never told us to pray to Him, only to the Father.  But we are to pray in the name of Jesus.  Jesus tells us this himself in the book of John several times.  Chapter 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23-24; and 16:26.  He tells us that when we do that, God will hear our prayers and will “give you anything you ask for.”  [I caution you here, though…remember that when you ask in Jesus’ name, you attach His name to your request.  Be sure to ask for what will bring honor and glory to Him.]

We are also told that the Holy Spirit will pray for us in utterances we cannot understand when we don’t know how, or what to pray.  Romans 8:26-27 (NCV) – “Also, the Spirit helps us with our weakness.  We do not know how to pray as we should.  But the Spirit himself speaks to God for us, even begs God for us with deep feelings that words cannot explain.  God can see what is in people’s hearts.  And he knows what is in the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit speaks to God for his people in the way God wants.”

But Jesus is the one who speaks to us…through the Holy Spirit.  In John 16:13-15 Jesus says, “But when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into all truth.  He will not speak his own words, but he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is to come.  The Spirit of truth will bring glory to me, because he will take what I have to say and tell it to you.  All that the Father has is mine.  That is why I said that the Spirit will take what I have to say and tell it to you.”

We pray to God the Father.  The Spirit prays for us as we pray.  And Jesus speaks to us through the Spirit.  It is a perfect circle that includes all three members of the Trinity.  Not a single prayer or message ever gets lost in the delivery process.  And honestly, I find it so comforting that Jesus is the One who’s words I hear when the Spirit speaks to me.  Perhaps it is because of His great sacrifice for me at the cross, and the love that caused Him to lay down His life for me.  Perhaps it is because He calls me friend (John 15:15).  Maybe it is because He is the One of the Trinity who bore the weight of humanness as He walked this earth.  I’m not sure.  I am sure of this, when the Spirit speaks, I am hearing the words of my Lord and Savior directed just to me.  I am overwhelmed by His goodness and His love!!!

The Center of God’s Word

The very center of the Bible is a short Psalm. Did you know that? Psalm 117, only 2 verses. And I bet you can’t guess what it talks about. What did God chose to put at the very center, perhaps it could be said the heart, of His Word? Praise.

“All you nations, praise The Lord. All you people, praise Him because The Lord loves us very much, and His truth is everlasting. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 117:1-2, NCV)

Is this a coincidence? A mere happinstance? NOT A CHANCE!!! The Bible is God’s Word. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit of God (2 Timothy 3:16). If God gave the words to write to the writers of the Bible, why would He not also guide those who put all the writings together into one Book? I cannot believe that any of the Bible happened by accident. It all happened by the hand of God.

Did God know the center of the Bible would tell us to praise Him? You bet He did! Did He know that someday, someone would figure out what the very middle of the Bible was? Of course! The core of our faith is in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and as our Savior. The core of our response must be PRAISE!!! On this Thanksgiving day, remember from whom all things come. Direct your thanksgiving to Him in praise and worship. All glory and honor and praise be to the God of the Bible!!!!

Guilty As Charged!..NOT: The Truth About God’s Judgement

When I was a young child growing up in a Baptist church during the 1970’s, there was a lot of hell-fire and brimstone talk.  Record-burnings, standing on the street corner passing out tracts to strangers, going door to door trying to scare people into Heaven…I mean, convert the sinners…I mean, tell them about how much Jesus loves them.  Ahem.  I could go on with all the crazy antics I saw.  Anything to bring people to Heaven’s gates.  All manner of outlandish schemes, like the evangelist who stood on a ladder so tall he neared the ceiling of the church to break a stack of enormous ice blocks with one karate chop.  It was the words of an evangelist, telling me that if I didn’t believe in Jesus, I was going to hell, that brought me to the alter.  For that I am grateful.  And there was the truth of God in the messages, to be sure.  But even as a Christian, I grew up being afraid of the God who saved me.  I wonder how many others like me are out there.

My question today is, why was I so afraid?  Because I was taught that every sin I committed would be made known at the Judgement Seat of Christ, and all the world would know every secret thing I had done, said, thought, and was mortified by.  I imagined crowds so large I could not see the end of, standing before Jesus.  While I was before Him, each horrible sin I had done was flashed on a huge screen for all to see.  And Jesus stood before me, asking me to account for each one.  “Why did you do that?”  Gives me a sick feeling just thinking about it.  How was I taught this?  The twisting of the Scriptures.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to read Scripture in context.  You can memorize one verse after another, but if you do not read the verses that surround it, you will not understand the complete meaning of the verse you memorized in the first place.  This happens far too often, and is how I spent most of my life in fear.  I want to clear this up for anyone else who is living in the same place I was.

Let’s start by examining the Scriptures taken out of context, the ones commonly used to teach that everything we do will be revealed for all to see.

Luke 8:17 (NCV) – “Everything that is hidden will become clear, and every secret thing will be made known.”

Oh yah, left alone, that is scary!  Let’s try it in the context of the rest of the passage.  Jesus said (in verses 16-18):  “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a bowl or hides it under a bed.  Instead, the person puts it on a lampstand so those who come in will see the light.  Everything that is hidden will be made known.  So be careful how you listen.  Those who have understanding will be given more.  But those who do not have understanding, even what they think they have will be taken away from them.”

If you recall, Jesus taught quite a bit using parables.  Many people did not understand the meaning of the parables.  He had just finished telling another of His parables, and was explaining that the light, the truth of the parable, would not remain hidden.  That the truths that He was teaching would not remain hidden, but would be revealed, so his followers needed to listen carefully, and they would be given more understanding.  Nothing there about judgement.

The second verse used to teach a brutal judgement is Luke 12:2 – “Everything that is hidden will be shown, and everything that is secret will be made known.”  This verse is a completely different topic than that in chapter 8 listed above.  But the words are nearly the same, and honestly, I can see why people may understand it to mean that their secret sins will be openly revealed.  But it is not what Jesus was saying.  Look at the context of this verse.

Luke 12:1-3 – So many thousands of people had gathered that they were stepping on each other.  Jesus spoke first to his followers, saying, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees, because they are hypocrites.  Everything that is hidden will be shown, and everything that is secret will be made known.  What you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in an inner room will be shouted from the housetops.”

What is the hot topic in these verses?  Hypocrisy.  The hypocrisy of the Pharisees, to be exact.  Jesus is warning his followers not to become hypocrites like the Pharisees, because their hypocrisy will be revealed.  Isn’t that true of most hypocrites?  There is only so long that the secret life, lived behind closed doors, stays behind closed doors.  Eventually the truth comes out, and the hypocrisy is revealed.  What happens then?  The person has lost all credibility.  Jesus is warning his followers that, if they are going to teach His message, they need to live His message, so that they, and Jesus, do not lose their credibility.

We have put those “secret” passages into their proper contexts.  Now lets look at what Jesus says about judgement.

John 3:14-19 – “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, the Son of Man must also be lifted up.  So that everyone who believes can have eternal life in him.  God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son so that whoever believes in him may not be lost, but have eternal life.  God did not send his Son into the world to judge the world guilty, but to save the world through him.  People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty.  Those who do not believe have already been judged guilty, because they have not believed in God’s one and only Son.  They are judged by this fact:  The Light has come into the world, but they did not want light.  They wanted darkness, because they were doing evil things.”

Point number 1:  “People who believe in God’s Son are not judged guilty.”  If we, as Christians, stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ, and are subjected to the revelation of each of our sins before all the world, would not Jesus be expounding our guilt?  Of course.  But if we are not guilty, then there would be nothing to reveal.  Psalm 103:12 says, “He has taken our sins away from us as far as the east is from west.”  Micah 7:19 says, “You will have mercy on us again; you will conquer our sins.  You will throw away all our sins into the deepest part of the sea.”  And Isaiah 43:25 says, “I, I am the One who forgives all your sins, for my sake; I will not remember your sins.”  The judgement is whether or not you have believed in Jesus as your savior, or not.  It is not a litany of your crimes against God.

Point number 2:  Matthew 6:16 (NCV) – “When you give up eating, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites.  They make their faces look sad to show people they are giving up eating.  I tell you the truth, those hypocrites already have their full reward.  So when you give up eating, comb your hair and wash your face.  Then people will not know that you are giving up eating, but your Father, whom you cannot see, will see you.  Your Father sees what is done in secret, and he will reward you.”  Matthew 16:27 – “The Son of Man will come again with his Father’s glory and with his angels.  At that time, he will reward them for what they have done.”  Christ’s judgement of His people will be based on the deeds they have done, how they have served Him.  And His reward will be based on that.

None of this is to say that we have a free reign to sin all we want.  Never is that true.  But we need not live in fear that our sins will be splattered on some enormous heavenly billboard, either.  So while we will not be judged on the the basis of our sins, we will be judged…by our good works.  Not to determine our salvation.  That was determined the minute we accepted Christ as our Savior.  Our good works determine our reward.  This leads, of course to a question.  Are you serving God in a way that will bring you reward from Jesus?  Will He say to you, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.”  Or will you stand ashamed before Him because you have squandered the gifts He has given you, you’ve taken advantage of God’s forgiveness, and Christ’s sacrifice, and you have put self before God?

What will your reward be?

 

Jesus on the Kingdom & Power of God, the Spirit, & Our Service

The Gospel of Luke is a wonderful resource.  Written by a non-Jewish doctor who had a love for facts, it is clear, precise, no frills.  A historian’s dream.  And yes, I am a mild to moderate historian:-)  I have a degree to teach history, even though I have not taught it outside of my student teaching days in college.  Luke does a wonderful job of capturing Jesus’ teachings.  It is something like reading the compilations of a great philosopher.  A book of teachings by Socrates, or Plato.  Except, of course, Luke is a compilation of the teachings of the greatest teacher ever to walk on this planet, Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  The teachings are connected.  One verse here, then later the topic comes up again, but with a twist…another piece of a puzzle that equals a whole picture…the complete message that Jesus was teaching.  Like any puzzle that is put together over time, it is great fun to gather enough pieces to see a clear picture of one part of the whole.  That is what I have for you today.  Pieces that will present part of a whole.

I will start with the very familiar verses of Luke 11:8-10, but then add to that verse 13.  Watch where this goes.  Jesus begins with a story about a man who receives surprise visitors during the night and goes to his friend to borrow a few loaves of bread, but the friend refuses to get out of bed to get them.   “I tell you, if friendship is not enough to make him get up to give you the bread, your BOLDNESS will make him get up and give you whatever you need.  So I tell you, ASK, and God will give to you.  SEARCH, and you will find. KNOCK, and the door will be opened for you.  Yes, everyone who asks will receive.  The one who searches will find.  And everyone who knocks will have the door opened….How much more your heavenly Father will give the HOLY SPIRIT to those who ask him!”

Puzzle piece number one:  anyone who asks, searches, knocks…with boldness (don’t be afraid because God wants to give this to you)…will receive the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit.  (I didn’t write the Holy Spirit twice by accident.)

Skip ahead a few verses to where Jesus is defending the power by which he casts out demons.  Verse 20 says:  “But if I use the POWER OF GOD to force out demons, then the KINGDOM OF GOD has come to you.”

Hold on to that.  Look at Luke 12:32 – “Don’t fear, little flock, because your Father wants to give you the KINGDOM.

Puzzle piece number two:  The KINGDOM OF GOD is the POWER OF GOD given to us.

Puzzle piece number 3:  How does the Father give us the Power of God?  The Kingdom of God?  Through the Holy Spirit, whom He tells us to boldly ask, search, and knock to find and receive.

Let’s bring these pieces together for the why.  God doesn’t give us His power through the Holy Spirit, making the presence of His kingdom here on earth just for the fun of it.

Luke 12:35, followed by Luke 12:48b:  “Be dressed, ready for service, and have your lamps shining.”  “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.  And from the one trusted with much, much more will be expected.”

Puzzle piece number 4:  We have each been called to service to the King.  God has a calling for you.  (If you have not figured out what that is, the quickest, easiest way to find out is to tell God you surrender all of you to Him, and ask Him to do with your life what He wills.  Believe me, He will take that and run with it.)  God expects you to be faithful and obedient in the calling He has given you.  If you are called to serve coffee between Sunday School and the service at your church, do it with all the muster you have.  Ask, seek, knock and receive the Holy Spirit who will open doors while you serve Him in this area.  But be faithful!  And obedient!  When you have the Holy Spirit within you, you have the power of God.  You carry His kingdom in this world.  If you minister to a flock, minister with faithfulness and obedience!  No matter what God has called you to do, do it knowing that you are accountable for that calling.

Puzzle piece number 5:  This is the piece that connects the little picture-within-a-picture to the rest of the puzzle.  The piece that has the last color of the picture are working on, and also has more that makes you know there is more to be done.  Luke 12:43 – “When the master comes and finds the servant doing his work, the servant will be blessed.”  Do your work now, because you don’t know when Jesus will return.  It will be soon.  When Jesus appears in the sky to call His own to Him, will you be caught with your pants down, or will you be dressed and serving Him?

The picture put together today?  Ask for the Holy Spirit with boldness…and God will gladly give Him to you…because the Spirit brings with Him the Kingdom of God, which is the power of God…so that we can serve God in what He has called us to do in faithfulness and obedience…while we wait, expectantly, ready, for the return of Jesus…and will receive His blessing.

 

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