Sunday Morning Word

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

This week I’ve been reading the book of Job. This is my second time reading the book in its entirety, and I’ll be honest; the first time I read it, I didn’t like it. I thought all Job did was whine and complain about his problems. He questioned why all this calamity had befallen him when he was guilty of no wrong doing, he demanded to have an audience with God so that he could prove his innocence, he even wished for death so that all his suffering would end, and I just wanted him to shut up. I even wrote in my prayer journal that I didn’t want to be a complaining saint like Job. In the end, I didn’t really understand what the point of all of it was, what the book was really trying to tell me about God, about myself, about how to live this life when things go bad.

So in my quest to read the Bible cover to cover in a year, I read Job for a second time. In this second reading, I focused more on the speeches of Job’s friends and his responses to them, and to my amazement, I received a totally different understanding from the Holy Spirit, and He brought this title to my attention:

Why Do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

“In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job. This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.” (Job 1:1-2; NIV)

With all the craziness that is happening in our world today, I hear this question a lot, spoken by unbelievers, Christians whose faith is being tested, and just folks who want to get a better understanding: Why do bad things happen to good people?

Whenever there’s a mass shooting, or natural disaster, or some other great tragedy that results in extensive loss of life, there’s always at least one person who asks the question, “How could God let this happen?” It’s an interesting question, and in some cases a frightening one, for those who don’t know how to respond to it, but I want to attempt to answer it, and I want to answer it by first looking at Job.

Job’s friends have a very fundamental understanding of morality, or right and wrong. If you do good, then you are rewarded, but if you do evil, then you are punished. Simple, easy, basic. But that’s not what happens with Job, and we get our explanation why in the first chapter. Job was a very wealthy man; he owned 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, 500 donkeys, and countless servants. What’s amazing about this verse of scripture is that when the angels and Satan come to present themselves to God, God say to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job?” (Job 1:8). God knew that Job was a true and devoted servant of the Lord. He did what was right, and he loved and revered God. Could God say the same about us? Could He be so confident in our love and devotion toward Him, that he would invite the enemy to test us, knowing that whatever hurt, harm, or danger comes our way, we would never cease in praising and worshiping Him?

Well, Satan, who is the accuser of the brethren (Revelation 12:10), had a different idea.

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan replied. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. But now stretch out your hand and strike everything his has, and he will surely curse you to your face.” (Job 1:9-11)

Satan proposes a question: Is man’s love for God truly sincere, our does he only “love” God and do good for personal gain. What would happen if he were to lose everything?

So God allows Satan to take everything Job has. And that’s what happens to us sometimes. We get to a point in our walk when our faith in God is tested. Maybe it’s in an overbearing supervisor who is making life at work miserable. Maybe we’ve had a lot of deaths in our families this year. Maybe we were victims of a horrible attack, or we’ve been stricken with disease and need healing. Maybe we lost our homes, our means of transportation. Or maybe we’re struggling to deal with a mean and nasty person in a proper, “Christian” way.

All of these are ways your faith can be tested. James 1:2 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Sometimes, in order for us to grow, our faith must be tested. If God is going to use us for His will, He has to know that we are committed, and if the slightest sign of trouble turns us away from Him, what good are we?

Remember that God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac, and when He saw that Abraham was willing to do it, he stopped him and said, “I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore. Your descendants will take possession of the cities of their enemies, and through your offspring all nations on earth will be blessed, because you have obeyed me” (Genesis 22:17-18). Because Abraham obeyed God, he was given a ram to sacrifice in place of his son, and through Isaac and his descendants, we are given Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Savior of the world. If Abraham did not truly fear (a better word for this is revere, which means to show great respect for) God, trust in His word, and do what He said, who knows where we would be today.

So Job was tested. One by one a messenger came to tell him of these freak disasters that result in him losing everything. His sheep were consumed in a fire, his camels, oxen and donkeys were raided, his servants were murdered, his oldest son’s house collapsed under a mighty wind during a feast and all his children were killed. To all of this, Job responded, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21; NKJV). Can we with confidence say we would do the same? That when things got tough we would fall prostrate to the ground and pray harder, worship louder?

Then there is the question: Why do good things happen to bad people? All throughout Job, his friends accuse him of obvious wrongdoing because of his circumstances, and they proclaim that if he’d only repent, things would get better. But Job adamantly defends himself and professes his innocence, and he even goes so far as to question the common assumptions about morality by suggesting that the wrong doer has it good while he who is blameless goes on suffering. “The tents of marauders are undisturbed, and those who provoke God are secure—those God has in his hand” (Job 12:6). In a later chapter he says, “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7). Maybe you feel this way sometimes—that the bad guy always wins; that no matter what you do, the enemy always has the upper hand; that God lets the wicked get away with everything.

We have this crazy idea that God sits up in heaven watching our every move with a lightning bolt in His hand, ready to zap us the moment we do wrong. Even Job thought this when he said, “What is mankind that you make so much of them, that you give them so much attention, that you examine them every morning and test them every moment? Will you never look away from me, or let me along even for an instant? . . . Why have you made me your target?” (Job 7:17-20). If God was that kind of God, zapping everyone at the first sign of sin, what hope would we have of ever being saved? But we know that God is a merciful, loving, forgiving God, and He is slow to anger. Jesus said that God “makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), so instead of whining and complaining and hating on what your enemies have, love them and be blameless and perfect, as God in heaven, so that you won’t be at fault when the time of judgment comes.

“Let both [wheat and weeds] grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.” (Matthew 13:30)

Don’t think that God has forgotten about those who consistently do wrong—“For the wicked are reserved for the day of doom; they shall be brought out on the day of wrath” (Job 21:30, NKJV). Ephesians 5:5 tells us that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will ever inherit the kingdom of God. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Christ shows us where the “prosperous” wrongdoers will end up; “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:22-23). Even scarier, all who do wrong will have to face the white throne judgement, the one place no one wants to be, where they will be judged according to what they have done, and anyone whose name is not written in the book of life will be tossed into the lake of fire, which is the second death (Revelation 20:11-15). So I think it’s safe to say that God’s got it covered, we just need to worry about ourselves and make sure that we continue to do what is right in His sight.

There is so much to know about God that we can’t even fathom. Our human minds are too small to begin to understand even a smidgen of who God is and why He does or allows certain things to happen in our lives. In the later chapters of Job, when God finally speaks, He says, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundations?” (Job 38:4). Who are we to question God’s motives, this God who sees all, knows all, is in control of all, and is all-powerful? Instead, we should humble ourselves before Him, as Job did, and for that he was rewarded double what he had.

In closing I want to reiterate that sometimes God allows certain things to happen, and it doesn’t always make sense to us. If you ever find yourself in a trial or storm that you don’t understand because you’ve always tried to be good and perfect in God’s sight, I charge you to always keep in your remembrance Romans 8:28.

“And we know that all things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

 

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for ever doubting the plans you have for our lives. You said in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” So we put our lives in your hands, Lord, knowing that promotion comes not from the east nor the west nor the south, but promotions come from God. We praise you, and we thank you for always providing us with a way to withstand the pressures of the enemy. And we know that every trial and storm we go through is working to perfect and strengthen us in your sight, so that you can continue to do your will through us. So we welcome every testing of our faith, Lord, with joy and gladness. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Originally published June 4, 2017

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Sunday Morning Word

Have You Thanked God Lately?

When was the last you told God thank you? Was it when you woke up this morning? Before you went to bed last night? Do you say it throughout the week or only in church on Sundays?

This Thursday in the U.S., we celebrate Thanksgiving. A time when family and friends gather together, usually around a huge feast, and give thanks for their many blessings throughout the year—love, prosperity, peace, joy. But don’t you know you can be thankful for these things any time of the year? Thanksgiving shouldn’t be the only day you tell someone, “Thank you.”

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 (NKJV)

The Bible says that we should give thanks always, in all things, in every circumstance. In fact you won’t find many scriptures in the Bible that don’t involve some form of thanksgiving. I’m sure I could write a 1,000 word post quoting nothing but thankful Bible verses, and that still wouldn’t be all of them. And there’s plenty to be thankful for—the air in our lungs, health and strength in our bodies, food on our tables, warmth during these colder months, and for the more spiritual matters, eternal life through Jesus Christ, an inner peace when everything around us is falling apart, strength to overcome temptation, and forgiveness in those times we fall.

This brings me to the things I am most thankful to God for. I know I don’t thank Him enough, but when I look back on where I was headed and I see where I am today, I am so grateful that God brought me through, and it’s only by His love, His grace, and His mercy.

So let’s first thank Him for His love.

 Thank You, God, for Your Love

“Praise the Lord. Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” Psalm 106:1 (NIV)

We should thank God every day for His love. Do you remember the hymn we used to sing as children in Sunday school? “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” Yes, the Bible does say so. In fact the Bible goes as far to say that God is love, according to 1 John 4:8. Some of us may have never learned what true love is if it had not been for God. But to know love means you know God, and to show love means you exemplify the God who lives in you. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

What I love most about the verse from Psalm 106, and many other verses and psalms like it, is that it says that God’s love endures forever. This means He will never stop loving us. Not like a fickle boyfriend or girlfriend who is in love with someone else the next week. Not like a husband and wife who fall out of love with each other because they base their love on happiness. Not like a parent who is cruel to a child and eventually abandons them because they never wanted children to begin with. But God’s love is eternal.

God says in Exodus 20:6 that He shows “love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” If a generation is on average about 30 years, imagine how long a thousand of those would be! That’s me, my children, my children’s children, their children, and their children, and so on, and so on for a millennium! And that’s just how we as humans understand time, but God and His love is everlasting to everlasting (Psalm 90:2, 103:17); He exists outside of time itself, so to Him it is even longer!

Hebrews 13:8 says that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. That means that He loved us yesterday before we were even born, He loves us today despite our many faults and flaws and that we don’t always return His love, and He loves us into tomorrow, after we have died and gone on to be in His presence forever.

To know God’s love, all we have to do is look at what He has done for us, which takes us into the second thing I am most thankful to God for.

Thank You, God, for Your Grace

“This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” 1 John 4:10

When I think of God’s grace, I think of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, which goes hand in hand with His love. For He says in John 3:16 that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” The following verse, John 3:17, says that He did not come to condemn the world but to save it.

We should thank God every day that He doesn’t want to see us perish for our sins (2 Peter 3:9), but that He has given us the gift of salvation and eternal life through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). And this is not something we could have earned on our own, because according to Romans 3:23, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and yet verse 24 says that we are all “justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” That word “justified” means made right in God’s standing, and this was a free gift. There was nothing we could do on our own accord to be saved except by God’s grace through Jesus Christ. Do you remember when the disciples asked Jesus who can be saved? Jesus responded, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:24-26). Because of this gift from God, we are saved.

So often I hear the phrases, “When I quit drinking, I’ll come to church,” or “When I stop gambling, I’ll come to church.” But God is after you now. Jesus says in Luke 19:10, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.” Remember when I said He loved us yesterday? Yesterday, before we ever existed, when Jesus was dying on the cross and He saw all the horrible sins we were going to commit before we accepted Him and even after, He still willingly gave His life. Paul writes in Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Don’t think that you have to change first, because there is nothing we can do on our own. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” The only thing we should boast about is our faith in God’s grace.

God did all the hard work. He sent His Son to die on the cross for the sins of the world, and then He conquered death by raising Him up. The only thing required of us now is to believe (Romans 10:9). I believe, and because I believe, I thank Him for His grace.

There is one last thing that comes with His grace that I am also thankful for.

Thank You, God, for Your Mercy

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1 (NIV)

When I think about God’s mercy, the first thing that comes to mind is peace. Peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Peace of reconciliation with God (Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18). Peace in the midst of storms (John 14:27, 16:33). And simple peace of mind, knowing that I can live this life right, now that I have God in it (John 14:16-18).

When I look up the definition of mercy in my Bible, I find the following: “kindness and forgiveness, especially when given to a person who doesn’t deserve it.” Yes, God’s mercy is His kindness, His compassion and forgiveness, and I am so thankful that He has forgiven me. I am thankful for His forgiveness through Jesus’ atoning sacrifice (Matthew 26:28). I am thankful that He has forgiven me after I confessed my sins and invited Him in to cleanse my heart (1 John 1:9). I am thankful that He’s forgiven me because I learned to forgive others (Luke 6:36-37).

God’s mercy brings everything we’ve talked about today to a full circle, because it’s hard to see His mercy without also seeing His love and His grace. It is in His very nature! In Exodus 34:6-7, God proclaims that He is “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.” Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” He loved us enough to give us His grace, and by His grace we obtain mercy.

Like His love, His mercy (kindness, goodness, compassion, forgiveness) endures forever. Some versions of the Bible even use “mercy” in scriptures such Psalm 106:1, and like Psalm 106:1 says, let us give God thanks, for His love, His grace, His mercy, for His everything, which endures forever, because He deserves it.

God Bless.

“always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 5:20

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you. Thank you for your love, your grace, your mercy. If not for these things, we would have died in our sins, yet we have life by grace through our faith in your Son, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for many, who shed His blood for the forgiveness of our sins, who showed His great love for us by laying down His life. For this we are eternally grateful. So we enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise. We are thankful to Him, and we bless His name. For the Lord is good; His mercy is everlasting, and His truth endures to all generations. Thank you, Lord. Again and again, we thank you. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Are You Talking Too Much?

Have you ever been told you talk too much? That some things are better left unsaid? We’ve seen the consequences of people who just don’t know how to shut their mouths— the habitual liar caught in a lie, the procrastinator making excuse after excuse for why he hasn’t finished or even started on an assignment that was given to him weeks ago, the gossip who always has something negative to say about someone else, the quarreler who further escalates an argument because she has to have the last word.

Has God ever told you to be quiet? Better yet, has He ever sternly told you to shut up? He has to me. I didn’t listen. And because I didn’t listen, I made the situation I was in much worse. Walls were punched, pots smashed, bodies pushed down, dinner lay ruined on the floor. If only I had learned to shut my mouth.

“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20 (NIV)

Proverbs 18:21a says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue,” warning us to be careful of what we say. Likewise, James 3:8 calls the tongue an untamable, “restless evil, full of deadly poison.” Earlier in that scripture he compares the tongue to a small spark that can set the whole course of one’s life on fire and is itself set on fire in hell (James 3:6). So be mindful when you speak, that you don’t curse yourself or others.

“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin.” Proverbs 13:3

Think of some of the horrible things you’ve heard people say that led to their ruin. The bully who was expelled from school for teasing the other children. The male politician who lost endorsements and eventually the race because of his misogynist comments about women. The NBA owner who was banned from the league and subsequently lost his team for making racial slurs about black players. The Hollywood producer blackballed for inappropriate behavior with actresses. All of these people had one thing in common: They could not control their mouths.

As Christians, we have an equal, if not more urgent obligation to watch what we say. In an earlier post, we talked about how our lives are always on display. That there is always someone watching, whether it’s to follow our Christ-like example (1 Corinthians 11:1), or to catch us in a sin (1 Peter 2:12), and our actions—or in this case, our speech— may be the one thing that brings them closer to God or drives them away. Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world (Matthew 5:14), and every aspect of our lives should reveal that light, including what we say, for “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). So let that abundance in your heart be good, not evil.

“Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” James 1:26

Whether we’re talking with other believers, with nonbelievers, or with God, we should take care in learning when to and when not to speak. When Jesus teaches on prayer, He says, “And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words” (Matthew 6:7). Instead, when we enter God’s presence in prayer, we should come ready to listen, as written in Ecclesiastes 5:2; “Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.” God’s word tells us that His thoughts are higher than our thoughts, His ways higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:9); He has plans for us, plans to prosper us and give us a hope and future (Jeremiah 29:11); He’s ready to give us exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20). Jesus already said that God knows what we need even before we ask (Matthew 6:8), but how can we ever receive it if we don’t shut up and listen?

There comes a time when we are to be quiet, but there also comes a time when we are to speak, and the best way to know when that is, is to rely on the guidance of the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). He knows exactly what you should say and when precisely you should say it.

“Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words . . . But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me?'” Matthew 22:15, 18

Let’s look at Jesus’ encounters with the Pharisees and teachers of the law as an example. Throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, the Pharisees persistently sought ways to trap Jesus with His words. But Jesus recognized their evil intentions and always had an answer prepared. Likewise, since we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), which is Jesus living in each of us (Romans 8:9), we should never get tongue tied when the enemy throws trick questions our way (Ephesians 6:11), but as Peter writes, we should always “be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). Where do we get this answer? From the Holy Spirit.

Jesus says in Matthew 10:19-20 “Do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.” Allow Him, whose thoughts are higher than your thoughts and whose ways are higher than your ways, to speak through you. And don’t ever add to what He says (Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32, Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 22:18). As we often say in the country, God does not need your two cents from the peanut gallery. His word alone is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). So don’t nullify its power because you still have something to say.

Remember, God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few.

God Bless.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Colossians 4:6

Prayer: Heavenly Father, set a guard over our mouths; keep watch over the door of our lips. You said in your word that on the Day of Judgment we will all have to give an account for every careless word we have spoken, for by our words we will be justified, and by our words we will be condemned. Father, please forgive us for every mean-spirited, perverse, deceitful, and slanderous word we’ve ever spoken. We wish to abide in your word, to let the word of Christ richly dwell in us as we teach an admonish with all wisdom, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with thanks in our hearts to you, doing everything in the name of Jesus. And let our conversations always be full of grace, seasoned with salt. Let every answer we give be directed by the Holy Spirit, and that each answer comes with gentleness and respect, so we keep a clear conscious and anyone who speaks maliciously about our good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. May the words of our mouths and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Where is Your Faith?

What is faith? Hebrews 11:1 defines faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” To put that in simpler terms, faith is the confidence or assurance that the things we hope for (from God) will be granted. Faith is the conviction of that reality. According to the Amplified Bible, “faith comprehends as fact what cannot be experienced by the physical senses.”

Faith is our belief in the invisible God, knowing He’s there even though we can’t see Him or touch Him. Faith is our belief in Jesus Christ, that He is God in flesh, that He died on the cross for our sins and rose again on the third day. Although we were not there to witness it ourselves, as Jesus says to Thomas in John 20:29, we “have not seen, and yet have believed.”

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 (NKJV)

Faith is trusting in God, in the plans He has for your life. Even when He tells you something that doesn’t make sense—like you will bear a child at 90 years old—faith is continuing to walk down that path, with God leading your every step, doing His will and trusting that He will bring that promise to fulfillment.

As Proverbs 3:5-6 says, faith is trusting in the Lord with all your heart, leaning not onto your own understanding, acknowledging or submitting to Him in all your ways, and allowing Him to direct your paths. Faith is believing you already have something even before you pray for it. Faith is believing in God’s gift of eternal life.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” Ephesians 2:8 (NIV)

Do you have faith?

I’ll admit that some days my faith is stronger than others. Often I hear God repeat to me those same words He’s said to the disciples so many times: You of little faith.

Like when the storms of life are tossing me to and fro and I fear I’m not going to make it, but He gets up and says, “Peace, be still!” (Mark 4:39) and everything is suddenly calm.

Or when I’m worrying about the security of my job and if I were to lose it how would I pay my bills, and He says, “Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Or when I’m walking faithfully with God, but the things happening around me start to distract me—foolish presidents, angry protests, acts of terrorism, threats of nuclear war—and my inner peace is disturbed because in an instant, I take my eyes off God, and I become afraid and cry out, “My Lord, save me!” And immediately He stretches out His hand, catches me before I sink into the chaos and troubles of this world, and says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:29-31).

The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.” Luke 17:5-6

All of us have experienced periods of doubt in our Christian walk, whether it’s not trusting in God to relieve us of our burdens enough to cast them on Him, dealing with trials and temptations on our own instead of turning to God for help, listening to the wrong person and allowing their negativity to convince us that God’s promise to us wasn’t real.

While we may consider doubting to be a natural part of being human, this is what James has to say about doubters: “That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do” (James 1:7-8) These are strong words to describe someone who is supposed to be a follower of Christ, but they are true! How can we expect to accomplish anything good for God’s kingdom when we ourselves don’t even believe the things we preach? What if God gave us the assignment to cast out demons? How can we expect to be effective in doing God’s will when our commands sound more like, “Demon, come out . . . I think . . . ?” We think? Jesus says, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19). We should know!

A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech . . . I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not . . . But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” Jesus said. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” Mark 9:17-18, 22-23

When the disciples are unable to free the young boy of the demon that possesses him, they ask Jesus why, and He answers, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matthew 17:20). The question is, do you believe? Do you believe you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you (Philippians 4:13)? Do you believe in His power, and the power He’s given you through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8)?

Some translations of the Bible include Matthew 17:21 in this scripture (compare to Mark 9:29), which says, “But this kind of demon won’t leave except by prayer and fasting” (NLT). Interesting that Jesus makes this point right after telling the disciples about their little faith. This would be the answer to the disciples’ request to increase their faith. Daily prayer, fasting, reading and studying God’s word—these are all ways that one strengthens their faith, but it starts with prayer.

If we go back to James 1, verse six says, “But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt.” Likewise, Mark 11:24 says, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.” Lastly, 1 John 5:14-15 says, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” Our faith starts with our prayer—praying and then believing that we will receive whatever we ask for in prayer, if it is God’s will, and having that faith confirmed when our prayers are answered.

I can definitely see a connection between my little faith and my lack of a consistent prayer life. But the moment I cut all distractions—TV, phone, internet, random busyness, etc.—go into my secret place, immerse myself in His word, and begin praying and fasting, and I receive that inner peace that comes with being in God’s presence, I see my faith skyrocket almost immediately.

So, ask yourself: Where is my faith? And if you lack in faith, is it because you don’t pray as often as you should? Let’s get into the habit of praying more, praying consistently, praying according to God’s will (which we will learn by reading His word and remaining sensitive to His voice), believing in what we pray, and ultimately building our faith, so that we can move mountains, curse fig trees, drive out demons, but most importantly, trust God in everything that we do.

God Bless.

“Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them.” Mark 11:22-23

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for our lack in faith. You said in your word that without faith it is impossible to please you, and how can we please you when we are double-minded and unstable in everything that we do? We seek to purify our unfaithful hearts, to live by faith to your word and your commands and your promises, and be counted as righteous. You said that whatever we ask for in prayer, if it be your will, to believe we have received it, and it will be ours. So Father, we pray for an increased faith, a convicted belief in the impossible, for we know that with you anything is possible, including the rising of the dead, which you’ve shown through your son, Jesus Christ, in whom we have total faith for our salvation. And it’s in His name we pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

How Will You Inherit Eternal Life?

How does one inherit eternal life? This question is asked a few times in the New Testament, and I would sum up the answers given in one clear statement:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul, believe in His Son, whom He’s sent, and in everything you have and do, put Him first.

All this week, we’ll test this statement by studying different scriptures throughout the Bible which pertain to how one acquires eternal life. Today we’ll look at the rich young ruler (Matthew 19:16-29; Mark 10:17-30; Luke 18:18-30) who approaches Jesus with the very direct question, which has a very easy yet hard answer: What must I do?

“Now behold, one came and said to Him, ‘Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?’ So He said to him, ‘Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.'” Matthew 19:16-17 (NKJV)

Is there one good thing we should be doing in order to live forever? We’re doing everything right in our minds. We don’t cheat, we don’t steal, we don’t kill, we respect our parents, we are good to our neighbors—Jesus says to do all these things, “keep the commandments.”

All? But there are so many. Well, Jesus says all of the commandments hang on these two alone: To love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-40; Mark 12:28-31; Luke 10:27). In an earlier post, we looked at what it really means to love God, and we looked at it through our adherence to the commandments specifically, because Jesus says, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15).

So do you love God? Are you doing what He’s told you to do? Are you actively pursuing righteousness, separating yourself from such sins as sexual immorality, idolatry, drunken behavior, rage, hatred, selfishness, and the like (Galatians 5:19-21)? Are you keeping His words in your heart so that you might not sin against Him (Psalm 119:11)? 1 John 5:3a says, “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments.” If we want to inherit eternal life, we must prove that we love God, and we do that in our actions, in our obedience to Him and to His word, in our turning away from sin and our pursuit of righteousness and holiness through Christ Jesus (Romans 5:21, 6:22-23).

But there’s more to it. Because we’ve done all that and we still lack. Well, the next thing we must do is have faith.

“Jesus said to him, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven, and come, follow Me.” Matthew 19:21

The second half of 1 John 5:3 says, “And His commandments are not burdensome.” Unfortunately, we tend to make them difficult, especially when they are not what we want to do, and they cause us to sacrifice certain things. The next two verses (1 John 5:4-5) say, “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” If Jesus told us right now to give up everything that we have to follow Him, would we do it, or would we come up with excuse after excuse for why the cares of this world are more important?

But I can’t quit my job, Lord. What am I supposed to do without any money? How will I pay my bills? Where will I live? How will I eat? Who’s going to take care of my family?

Ultimately, the cares of this world is what the rich young man chooses. But Jesus says in Matthew 6:33 to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” This is the faith we must get now. Hebrews 11:1 describes faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.” God knows that we have certain needs to live, like food, water, shelter, but He wants to see how great our faith is, and our belief in Him to provide, both in our life here, and in our life eternal. Are we willing to do things that don’t make sense to us—give up our source of income, sell our home, move to a whole new city where we are complete strangers, etc.—all for His sake, because we hope for what He has promised?

“Now he who received the seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.” Matthew 13:22

For the rich young man, giving up his wealth for Jesus is a sacrifice too great, and he walks away sad (Matthew 19:22, Mark 10:22, Luke 18:23), for he is much content with the things he has that he can’t lose them, even for something greater in heaven, which brings us to our third point: putting Jesus first.

In Mark’s telling of this encounter, Jesus tells the young man to “take up the cross, and follow Me” (Mark 10:21). The cross is a sign of submission to God. It’s a willingness to deny yourself, giving up everything in this life to be Jesus’ disciple (follower) and to endure whatever hardships, tribulations, or sufferings, that may come because of your faith. Jesus said that you will face many troubles in this life (John 16:33) and that the world will hate you because of Him (John 15:18) but to pick up your cross means to show that your faith in Jesus is stronger than any threat of persecution or death (Mark 13:13).

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 16:24-25

When Jesus says in Matthew 16:25, “Whoever loses his life for My sake will find it,” He is referring to eternal life. If you are willing to give up everything to follow Jesus—house, car, job, family, material possessions, even your own life—you are sure to have a reward waiting for you in heaven.

This all circles back to our love of God, because if we truly love Him with all our heart, mind, and soul, we won’t hesitate to put Him first. Jesus says in Luke 14:26, “If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple.” Jesus doesn’t mean actual hate here, since hate it a sin. Instead, what He means is that our love for Him should be so great that in comparison it would be like we hate everything and everyone else. Similarly, Matthew’s account of this says:

“He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:37-39

After the rich man walks away sad, Jesus begins a teaching on why it is so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. And by rich, He doesn’t simply mean people who have a lot of money, but people who are so wealthy in money, possessions, love of people, love of themselves, etc. that they can’t find room in their hearts to put Jesus above all of it.

But Jesus makes a promise to those who do choose Him: “Assuredly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now in this time— houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions— and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29-30; Read also Matthew 19:29 and Luke 18:29-30).

So, to repeat the question of the rich young ruler, what must we do to inherit eternal life? It’s more than just doing a specific thing, for Ephesians 2:8-9 says that we are saved by grace through faith, not just works, so that no one can boast. By those verses alone, we can see that it starts with our hearts. How much do we love God? Enough to keep His commandments, to do His will? Yes. But also enough to believe that Jesus Christ is His Son, that He came to give His life for us? And the true test—enough to give our lives back to Him and drop everything to follow Him?

It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? How is any of this possible? We as human beings are just too selfish. But Jesus says this in response: “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26, Mark 10:27, Luke 18:27).

Rely on God, and if you can say yes to all of these things, then you will have eternal life.

God Bless.

“As for you, let that remain in you [keeping in your hearts that message of salvation] which you heard from the beginning. If what you heard from the beginning remains in you, you too will remain in the Son and in the Father [forever]. This is the promise which He Himself promised us—eternal life.” 1 John 2:24-25 (AMP)

Prayer of Salvation: Heavenly Father, I seek your gift of eternal life through your Son, Jesus Christ. Father, please forgive me of all my sins. I turn away from anything that is not of you, and instead I pursue righteousness and life through Christ, for He said in John 3:16 that God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish by have everlasting life. I choose to believe in Christ, in His promise of eternal life. I choose to believe that He died for my sins and rose again so that I may live forever with you in heaven. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for saving me, but now I need your help, to continue in this walk, to pick up my cross and follow you no matter the costs, for you said that by my own ability, this is impossible, but with God I can do all things. So send me your Holy Spirit, to be a Helper forever, to keep me on the path of righteousness and toward eternal life for your sake, and it’s in your Name I pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Am I My Brother’s Keeper?

“Am I my brother’s keeper?” A question asked (I imagine, sarcastically) by Cain after having just murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4:9). While God already knew what Cain had done (Genesis 4:10), He asks him anyway, “Where is your brother?” not because He is looking to find Abel, but because He wants Cain to understand the weight of the sin he’s just committed. Not only did he kill an innocent man, his own brother, but he also cursed himself in the process. The real question God asks him is, “Do you realize what you’ve just done? To your brother, and to yourself?”

Which brings us to today’s topic: Are my actions (or lack thereof) helping or hurting my brothers and sisters in Christ, and as a result, myself as well?

“When I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways in order to save their life, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. But if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways, they will die for their sin; but you will have saved yourself.” Ezekiel 3:18-19 (NIV)

God appointed Ezekiel to be a watchman (keeper) of the people of Israel. He was tasked to warn them of their sin, and if they heeded his warning, they were saved, but if they did not, they would die for their sin. Likewise, if he obeyed God and warned the people, he would save himself, but if he disobeyed and did not warn the people, and they remained in their sin, then their blood would be on his hands.

Concerning a brother or sister who sins, in the New Testament, Jesus says we should go and point out their fault in private. If they listen, then we have won them over. If that doesn’t work, we should take one or two others with us as witnesses, so that maybe they would accept correction then. If they still don’t listen, then we should take them to the church, and if they refuse even to listen to the church and repent, only then should we treat them as an unbeliever (Matthew 18:15-17). In this scripture, Jesus basically gives us the same assignment God gave Ezekiel, to be watchmen or keepers of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Likewise Paul writes in Galatians 6:1, “Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.” And he adds in the following verse, “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ,” emphasizing, what Jesus says in Matthew, that the spiritual maturity and the building up of others should be of high concern for us. And finally, James explains why all of this matters:

“My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” James 5:19-20

We as Christians should want to see all people saved. We shouldn’t want anyone to perish, but all people to repent and turn to Christ. We shouldn’t be happy to see anyone go to hell, not even our own enemies. 1 Corinthians 12 says that we are one body of Christ, with many parts. There is no distinction between Jew and Gentile, slave and free, male and female (and for today’s society, there’s no distinction between black and white), for we are all one in the body of Christ (Galatians 3:28). And since we are all one, we should want every part to function properly so that the body doesn’t suffer. Hebrews 3:13 says, “But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today,’ so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”

Unfortunately, some of us have been hardened. We’ve gotten a little lazy. We’ve forgotten that Jesus assigned us to spread the gospel and make disciples of everyone (Matthew 28:19-20). As James 4:17 says, we’ve seen the good we could be doing— whether it’s building each other, helping one another in need, restoring those who’ve fallen off the path, etc.—and we haven’t responded. The spirit of apathy has come over us, and we don’t feel compelled to move beyond being the average Christian who is complacent in his or her own salvation and no one else’s.

Like Cain, we go through the motions of church, but there is no real faith or spirituality behind it (Hebrews 11:4). Genesis 4:3-4 says Abel gave out of his best (“fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock”) while Cain just gave God what he had (“some of the fruits of the soil”). However, Romans 12:1 says to “offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, for this is your true and proper worship.” Like Cain, we’re not giving God all that we can give Him. We’re not giving the best of ourselves. God comes second to our jobs, our possessions, our significant others, our favorite television programs, and other things that mean nothing with our souls are at stake. And when it comes to helping our brother’s and sisters in Christ, we shrug our shoulders and say nonchalantly, “Am I my brother’s (or sister’s) keeper?”

Yes! Yes we are! Because according to Ezekiel, according to Matthew, according to Galatians and to James, our none action doesn’t only condemn those who have fallen away, but it condemns us as well. There’s no time to be selfish, for the body cannot walk without the feet; it cannot touch without the hands; it cannot taste without the tongue; it cannot smell without the nose, hear without the ears, see without the eyes. It must function as a unit and grow, and so must we.

That means to cast out all jealousy, all apathy, all selfishness. Be a keeper of your brothers and sisters. There will come a time when we all have to give an account to God for our time here on earth. Don’t be the one who has to explain the death of a brother or sister you could have saved. But if we only imitate that same compassion that Jesus had when He gave his life for the whole world, as James says, we will cover a multitude of sins, and each receive our rewards in heaven. So, watch over one another.

God Bless.

“He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” Colossians 1:28

Prayer: Heavenly Father, please forgive us for holding ourselves above other members of your body. When we gave our lives to you, we inherited many brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers in the kingdom, but if we cannot love them, if we cannot show pity, have mercy, admonish and correct them, how can we love you, how can we expect the same from you? You said in your word that the last shall be first and the first shall be last. That the greatest among us must become servants. That whatever we do for the least of your children, we do for you. So give us the strength and the wisdom to be keepers of our brothers and sisters, to build them up, to encourage them, to help them, to warn them when they veer away. Help us to do so with all humility and respect, giving all thanks to you for your grace, which saves. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Does God Need My Help?

Has God ever made you a promise that you were anxious to see fulfilled? Maybe He told you that you were to start your own ministry, that you would pastor over thousands. Maybe He promised you a future spouse with whom you would do many great works for the kingdom of heaven. Maybe He promised you that child for which you’ve been praying for years now.

After a while, did it ever seem like God was being too slow in bringing those promises to fruition? You wondered, Did He forget? Can He still do it? You prayed and asked for an update, but an answer never came. You felt like you wasted enough time already, so after waiting impatiently for God to do what seemed to amount to nothing, you decided to take matters into your own hands, do things the way you believed God should have done it. You gathered together a handful of members from your home church, without your pastor’s permission, and told them to leave and join your ministry. You married that person you met online even though you knew he or she was not the one and not even saved. You attempted to get pregnant through artificial insemination, stepping outside of your marriage, or as a last resort, you adopted.

How did those plans work out for you? Did you still receive God’s promise after doing things your way, or did you make a mess of it all? Your church never grew, your marriage fell apart, you strained your family so much going through all those processes to have a baby that the child you do have is not loved. Would things have been different if you had only waited on God?

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.” Acts 17:24-25 (NIV)

We’ve got to get out of the habit of thinking that God needs our help. He is God! Everything He needs is already within Himself to do. For crying out loud, He created the universe with one simple phrase— “Let there be . . . ” and there was, and it was good! What on earth could we possibly do to help? God says to Job in Job 38:4, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation?” Where were we when God created heaven and earth? Where were we when He made land and sea? Where were we when He separated day from night? And did we happen to be present when He first breathed life into man’s lungs? No, not even close!

In fact, according to Acts 17:26, God has already marked out the appointed times when we will occupy the earth. So, if God created heaven and earth, if He gave us life and everything we’ll ever need to live this life, if He has already mapped out when we come and when we go and knows all that we’ll do within that short time span, why do we think we need to insert our own agendas into the things He has planned for us? We should get out of God’s way!

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8

Abram and Sarai thought God needed their help. God had made them a promise that was unbelievable, and truth be told, God will say some things to you that sound absolutely crazy in your own understanding and impossible to ever accomplish. But remember what Jesus said; “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”  (Matthew 19:26). When Abram tells God his only heir will be his servant because he has no children, God says to him, “This man will not be your heir, but a son who is your own flesh and blood will be your heir . . . Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them . . . So shall your offspring be” (Genesis 15:3-5)

And Abram believed him, at least for a little while, but as time went on, doubt must have crept in, and he started to question if God could really do it. Abram was nearly 100 years old, his wife well beyond child bearing age. How could they possibly have a child in their old age? So they went down to Egypt, picked up a slave girl named Hagar, Sarai instructed Abram to sleep with her, and she bore him Ishmael. But when God comes to Abram again to make his covenant and change his name to Abraham, for he is to be “a father of many nations,” He again tells Abraham that he will have a son with Sarah, that He will not establish His covenant with Ishmael, but with the son Sarah will have in the next year, Isaac (Genesis 17:15-22).

Despite their stepping outside of God’s will, taking matters into their own hands, despite trying to pull in God’s promise the only way they knew how, which only created problems (Genesis 16:3-6), God still tells them the same thing He said before, that Abraham and Sarah will have a child. “Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son” (Genesis 18:14). Remember, if God created the entire universe, is giving a 100-year-old man and 90-year-old woman a baby really that hard for Him? Jeremiah 32:17 says, “Ah Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.” There is nothing too hard for God. He’s sovereign, all-powerful, and He needs no one’s help but His own. And sure enough, a year later, Sarah had a baby.

“Now the Lord was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age, at the very time God has promised him.” Genesis 21:1-2

God’s promise is coming. Hebrews 10:36 tells us we need only patience. It also tells us to do God’s will. Have you done the will of God? And if He told you to do nothing, then listen and stay out of His way, don’t attempt to help Him out, simply wait on God to do what he’s promised. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.” The following verse says, “The Lord works out everything to its proper end.” The moment you accept that God created heaven and earth by Himself, that He made all things by Himself, that He turned an old man into the father of a people as numerous as the stars by Himself, then you will begin to accept that He can fulfill His promise to you by Himself, without your help.

So does God need our help? The short answer: No. We need only to keep our faith, continue to trust in Him to do what He said he will do. Sit still and let God be God.

God Bless.

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring—not only to those who at of the law but also to those who have the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all. As it is written: ‘I have made you a father of many nations.’ He is our father in the sight of God, in whom he believed—the God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not.” Romans 4:16-17

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for ever doubting your ability to fulfill what you have promised, for your are able to do exceedingly abundantly above all the we could ever ask, think, or imagine. Help us to remember the great things that you have already done so that we may strengthen our faith in what is yet to come. You redeemed us from sin and death. You came down from heaven to die on the cross and rise so that we could be saved if we just believe. If we believed you then, we must believe you now, for there is nothing too hard for you, there is nothing you cannot do. So we relinquish everything into your hands, knowing that your plans are far higher and greater than anything we can think, and that they always come together for our good. We thank you for all that you have done, and all that you will do. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Are You Waiting to Get to Heaven to Praise the Lord?

There’s a popular gospel song that says, “Praise Him! Praise Him in the morning. Praise Him! Praise Him in the noonday. Praise Him! Even in the midnight hour. Praise Him! All night long!” It’s a catchy song, but do we truly mean what we sing? Do we praise God throughout the day and all night? Do we wake up thanking Him for His mercies? Do we bless His name when we have enough money to pay our rent and car note for the month? Most importantly, when we’re going through hard times, do will continue to worship Him and put our trust in Him?

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18; NKJV

Are you one who often says, “When I get to heaven, I’m going to—“? Stop, and ask yourself why can’t you do it now. As the saying goes, if you’re not going to do it now, you won’t do it then. Yes, Revelation 4 gives us a glimpse into what it would be like to be at God’s throne, worshiping Him day any night, and Revelation 21 and 22 shows us the new heaven and new earth, where we will serve and worship God forever, and He will dwell among us, His people, and He our God. It’s a wonderful thing to look forward to, but don’t you know you can have that now?

Jesus said in John 4:23, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” The time is here now for you to worship God from your inner being, with your whole heart. He’s seeking you now, not after you get to heaven. Psalm 150:6 says, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.” While you’re still alive and breathing His air, you should praise Him.

“For this world is not our permanent home; we are looking forward to a home yet to come. Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.” Hebrews 13:14-15; NLT

We have no excuse for why we don’t praise God, and I include myself in this lecture because I know I don’t praise Him enough, or as often as I should. So let’s look at why we ought to praise Him, because maybe one of the problems for our lack of praise is that we just don’t know, or we’ve conveniently forgotten, we’ve been too wrapped up in ourselves. Well, after today, my hope is that we would all be wrapped up in God. There are many reasons for why we should praise God now, but for the sake of brevity, I will give you three based on some of my favorite psalms.

Praise Him for Who His Is

“For the Lord is the great God, the great King above all gods. In his hand are the depths of the earth, and the mountain peaks belong to him. The sea is his, for he made it, and his hands formed the dry land.” Psalm 95:3-5; NIV

Simply put, praise God because He is God. 1 Chronicles 16:29 (also in Psalm 96:8) says, “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name; bring an offering and come before him. Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.” Praise God because He deserves it. He is worthy of all the glory, honor, and praise.

God is great. Another song says, “I searched all over; couldn’t find nobody/I looked high and low; still couldn’t find nobody/Nobody greater, nobody greater, nobody greater than You.” There is no one greater than our God. Psalm 145:3 says, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom.” Isaiah 40:13 says, “Who can fathom the Spirit of the Lord, or instruct the Lord as his counselor?” God’s greatness, His wisdom, His power is unfathomable, it’s beyond measure, it’s beyond our comprehension.

All things are possible with God; there is nothing He can’t do. Jesus says in Matthew 19:26, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Psalm 96:5 says, “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.” Psalm 95:6 says, “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” No one but God can say He created the heavens and the earth. No one but God can say He drew man from His own image and breathed the breath of life into his lungs. No one by God can say that all things were created by Him and for Him. Psalm 24:1 says the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Psalm 148 calls on all of creation to praise Him.

So praise God because He is God, the only true living God. Praise Him because He is great and worthy of the praise. Praise Him because He is the Creator of all things, including you.

Praise Him for His Love

“Praise the Lord, all you nations; extol him, all you peoples. For great is his love toward us, and the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever. Praise the Lord.” Psalm 117:1-2

Don’t you know that God loves you? In fact, according to 1 John 4:8, God is love. Love can’t even exist outside of God. He says in Jeremiah 31:3, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” Psalm 136 tells us over and over why we should praise and continuously give thanks to God: Because His love endures forever, and He would do anything for His people whom He loves.

Isn’t that truly a blessing, that God’s love for us endures forever, that it is everlasting, steadfast and unchanging? Another song says, “You love me through my good and my bad.” Certain translations of the Bible also calls God’s love “unfailing.” God’s love will never fail us, it will never hurt us, it will never let us down, it will never leave us feeling “high and dry.”

And we know all too well the fickleness of human love, how it is typically based on happiness, what one can do for the other; how we can tell someone we love them, yet still hurt them, or leave them when they hurt us. But God’s love doesn’t have any requirements. He loves us already, He loved us before the foundation of the world, and He will never stop loving us, no matter what we do. Think of His love as a parent’s love to his or her child, but infinitely greater. God loves us despite our flaws, all the mistakes we may have made or will make in our past, present, and future. As my Pastor often says, “He loves us through our good, bad, and our ugly.” And why wouldn’t God love His own creation (Psalm 104:31)?

John 3:16 gives us the greatest example of God’s love. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” No greater love, Jesus calls it, than someone who is willing to lay down his life (John 15:13). Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Remember what we said earlier, that there was nothing too hard for God, that God would do anything for the people whom He loves. God came down to earth as a man, took our place on the cross to die for our sins, and then conquered death three days later by rising from the dead, so that any and all who believe in Him and in His unfailing, unchanging, unending love, would live forever.

And with that, I am sealed. You don’t have to tell me anything else. For His love alone, I will praise Him for the rest of my days!

Praise Him for Where He’s Brought You From

“Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits— who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion, who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” Psalm 103:2-5

Lastly, we should praise God for what He’s done in our lives. He’s forgiven us our sins. Psalm 103:12 says, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.” He says in Jeremiah 34:31, “For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God has wiped the slate clean. Paul writes in Ephesians 5:25-27 that Christ gave himself up for us to make us holy, cleansing us through the word, to present us as radiant, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. Now, we can come to God freely. Romans 5:1 says now we have peace with God. 1 John 1:9 says He is faithful and just to forgive us and cleanse us from all unrighteousness, and 1 Peter 2:9 says that God has called us out of darkness into His marvelous light. No longer are we slaves to sin and death, but we are slaves to the righteousness of God, which promises us life.

In forgiving us of our sins, God has also redeemed us from death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” We were all on that path toward death and destruction, and whether or not we think one sin is greater than another, it is all sin to God. But thank God for Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for every one of our sins and took it up again so that we too may live. Jesus says in John 10:28-29, “And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand. My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” We have been brought back from the pits of death and now we have double security, through Jesus Christ and God our Father, and no one, absolutely no one, has the power to snatch us out of their hands and return us to that darkness we were saved from. Jesus tells us rejoice that our names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

A praise shout, made popular by Kirk Franklin says, “When I think about His goodness/ And what He’s done for me/When I think about His goodness/And how He’s set me free/I want to dance, dance, dance, dance, all night!” Have you danced for, shouted for, praised Jesus for where He’s brought you from? Isaiah 53:5 says, “But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed.” Psalm 30:11 says “You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; You have put off my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness.” Psalm 23:3 says He restores our souls. All these things we should praise Him for— forgiveness, salvation, healing, a purpose for our being here (Ephesians 1:4-6).He didn’t have to do any of it, but as we’ve learned in the previous point, He did it because He loves us.

In closing, we can take all these reasons for praising God and combine them into one final conclusion. God, who is the one and only, true and living, great and mighty God, who created all things, loved us, His own creation, so much that He went above and beyond— coming down to earth as a man, living, performing miracles, dying, rising again—to reconcile His people to Himself, forgiving them, cleansing them, giving them eternal life. For that, we should praise Him always!

God Bless.

“Sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, praise his name; proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all peoples. For great is the Lord and most worthy of praise.” Psalm 96:1-4; NIV

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we thank you and we praise you for your goodness and mercy which follow us all the days of our lives. Lord, we know you are the one true God, the maker of heaven and earth. And you made us. You are the Great Shepherd, who laid down His life for His sheep, and we are yours, your people, the sheep of your pasture. You are great, Lord, and most worthy of all our praise and adoration. We will proclaim your love in the morning, and your faithfulness at night. We will give thanks and praise to your holy name, for you are good, your love endures forever, your faithfulness continues through all generations. You will never leave or forsake us, but you have redeemed us, healed us, forgiven us, saved us, and we thank you and praise you always. In Christ Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

Sunday Morning Word

Will You Submit to God?

What is submission, and how do we submit? Over the years, the word “submit” has inherited a negative connotation; no one wants to submit to those in authority anymore. Wives refuse to submit to their husbands, children refuse to submit to their parents, citizens refuse to submit to governing authorities, and no one is submitting to God.

We tend to think that submission means that we are giving up the power and control to make our own decisions, that we lose our independence, the ability to use our own free will. But submission doesn’t mean that you accept a dictator over your life, who commands your every movement.

I think the best and most precise definition for the word “submit” comes from the Macmillan Dictionary, which states that to submit means “to agree to obey a rule, a law, or the decision of someone in authority.” I like the use of the terms “agreement” and “authority” in this definition, because I think they go hand in hand when it comes to submission.

Authority means that someone has been given power and permission to make final decisions, and agreement involves two consenting parties. Therefore, when we submit, we agree or consent, to giving authority or permission and power to someone for making a final decision over certain matters. In my church, we are taught nine spiritual principles by which we should live. When we let these spiritual principles govern us, we will live successful, abundant, and satisfying lives, not operating from crisis to crisis, desperate for God to work a miracle every other week. Of these nine spiritual principles are the spiritual principle of authority, which is God’s plan to protect our lives, and the spiritual principle of agreement, which is God’s plan to crown our lives with peace. So let’s look at examples in the Bible of how these two principles work together, particularly when we submit to God.

And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17; NIV

Going back to the very beginning, when God created man and put him in the Garden of Eden, He commanded that man could get from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. By obeying this command, Adam had submitted to God. He was under the authority of God; he had God’s protection from death— as long as he did not eat of the tree, he would not die—and he also had God’s protection from sin, for the Bible says, “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame” (Genesis 2:25). Because he was in agreement with what God had commanded, Adam also had peace with God, who often came to fellowship with him in the Garden (Genesis 3:8-9).

Unfortunately the serpent slithered along with his cunning and trickery to get Adam and Eve from under submission to God. If we take a moment to look back at Genesis 2:16-17, we see that God gave the command not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil to Adam, not Eve. Adam was to relay that information down to his wife. Eve was under the authority of Adam, and Adam was under the authority of God (1 Corinthians 11:3; Colossians 3:18). The serpent disrupted this by going to Eve, who received the command second-hand, and questioning God’s authority (Genesis 3:1-3). He tricked her into thinking that the fruit would make her be like God (Genesis 3:4-5), and she took it, coming out from under the authority of her husband, and gave it to Adam, who was with her, and he came out from under the authority of God. And because they disobeyed God, they were cursed—they lost peace with God, for God is holy and cannot be touched with their sin (Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 59:2; James 1:13)—and they were cast out of the Garden of Eden, not permitted to eat from the tree of life and live forever—they lost God’s protection, for the punishment of sin was death (Romans 6:23).

From this example, we know that catastrophic things can happen when we don’t submit to the authority of God, but thank God for Jesus Christ, who restored to us both power and authority over that pesky serpent, and reconciliation with God, which Adam and Eve lost in the Garden (Luke 10:19-20).

Another example of submitting to the authority of God, and indirectly to human authority, comes in 1 Samuel 24.

Afterward, David was conscience-stricken for having cut off a corner of his robe. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do such a thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, or lay my hand on him; for he is the anointed of the Lord.” With these words David sharply rebuked his men and did not allow them to attack Saul. And Saul left the cave and went his way. 1 Samuel 24:5-7

In 1 Samuel 24, King Saul of Israel was pursuing to kill David, who had been anointed by the prophet Samuel to be Israel’s next king. You see, God had rejected Saul as king of Israel for his disobedience (1 Samuel 15). This is another example of what happens when we don’t submit to the authority of God. Instead of completely destroying the wicked Amalekites as God had commanded—killing man, woman, child, and livestock— Saul and his soldiers pounced on the plunder, and for that, Saul lost the favor of God. He had came out from under God’s authority, was no longer in agreement with His commands, and lost peace—Saul was in constant conflict with the neighboring kingdoms, especially the Philistines—and protection—eventually dying in battle.

But in this particular passage, David had the opportunity to kill Saul and become king. Instead, he cut off a corner of Saul’s robe, and immediately felt guilty for it, remembering God’s command not to blaspheme Him or “curse the ruler of your people” (Exodus 22:28). Another verse of scripture says, “Do not touch my anointed ones” (Psalm 105:15). Last week, we learned that God is sovereign; He is always in control. He has the authority to raise up kings and bring them down (Daniel 2:21).  Instead of acting on his own accord, as Saul did, which resulted in him losing the kingdom, and as Adam and Eve did, which resulted in them being kicked out of the Garden of Eden and losing eternal life, David recognized both Saul’s authority given by God, and God’s authority—that He had the power to remove Saul Himself, and anything David would do would equal his disobedience and would require catastrophic consequences. So twice David was given the opportunity to kill Saul, and twice David spared his life. And for his obedience and submission to God, he was given the kingdom, and it was established firmly through his line of succession (2 Samuel 7:16).

So what can we learn from these two examples? That submission doesn’t necessarily mean relinquishing all control and free will, but that it does mean recognizing the authority of a higher power. Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (NKJV). Sometimes we are not going to understand everything that God tells us to do. We are not going to understand why he allows certain people to come to power. But we do know that “all things work together for the good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to his purpose”  (Romans 8:28).

So instead of deciding for ourselves that we are going to do what we want to do, and having to face the possible disastrous consequences, why not just trust in God and see how His plans for us unfold? It doesn’t matter who we are or how high up on the authority scale we rise, we are always submitting to someone, whether it’s a parent, or boss, or ministry leader, etc. But imagine the rewards you will receive if you only submit to God. Adam and Eve had eternal life. David’s throne was established forever, and through his line came Jesus Christ, whose death on the cross and resurrection three days later returned to us eternal life with God forever (John 17:3). There’s no greater reward than that. So will you submit to Him?

“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” John 11:25-26

Prayer: Heavenly Father, teach us to revere you, to respect your authority, to come into agreement with you and submit to your will. Not our will, but yours be done. You said in your word that if we love you, we will keep your commands. Lord, we love you, and we have an urgency to heed your call and follow your commands, for we know that our rewards here on earth and in heaven will be great. Lead and guide us by your Holy Spirit to continue to do what is just, what is righteous, what is pleasing in your sight. We give you all the glory and honor and praise. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Originally published June 18, 2017

Sunday Morning Word

Are You Keeping Others from Entering the Kingdom of Heaven?

Two of the most common complaints sinners have against Christians, or “church folk” as they like to call us, are that (1) we are too judgmental and (2) we are nothing but hypocrites. These are two of the worst things a Christian could be called, especially since Jesus condemned the Pharisees and Jewish leaders of His day for these exact practices. Can anyone say these things about you? Have you wrongfully passed judgment on someone? Do you often fail at practicing what you preach? What can you do to change this so that you never prevent someone from entering the kingdom?

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.” Matthew 23:13; NIV

It should be every Christian’s goal to see more people saved. One of the last commands Jesus gave before ascending into heaven was for us to make disciples of the nations (Matthew 28:19). In Acts 1:8 He says, “And you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

One of the biggest problems in church today is that people have gotten complacent in their salvation. We think that once we’re saved, that’s it. We focus more on ourselves than we do others. That’s not to say that it’s a bad thing to want to better yourself in Christ, but you should be equally as passionate for the spiritual maturity of your brothers and sisters. The Bible says we are all members of one body, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:12), and we should want to see that body expand.

To see the body of Christ expand, we’ve got to stop being that blockage that keeps people from entering the kingdom. That starts with our actions. As I said earlier, we are criticized the most for being judgmental and hypocritical. So let’s first look at how we are judging others.

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Matthew 7:1-2

So often we are quick to condemn others for the mistakes they make while at the same time we preach about our own righteousness as if we’ve never messed up. But remember in John 8, when the Jews tried to stone the woman caught in adultery, Jesus said, “If anyone of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). Not a single person in that crowd could say they never sinned (1 John 1:8). One by one they left, until only Jesus remained.

None of us is perfect. There’s a popular saying that goes, “When you point your finger, three others are pointing back at you.” Romans 2:1 says when you judge, you only condemn yourself because you do the same things. Romans 3:10 says “There is no one righteous, not even one.” Later in that same chapter, Paul writes, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (v. 23). But it is our faith in Jesus Christ that redeems us. So who are we to decide who gets that opportunity or not?

When all the people who sought to condemn the woman had gone, Jesus asked the woman has no one condemn her. She responded no one, and Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11). Only God can judge, and He gives everyone, everyone, the opportunity to repent of their sins, turn to Christ and be saved (1 Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9). So unless we want God to remember all the bad things we’ve done (Hebrews 8:12), unless we think we can handle not being forgiven our sins (Matthew 6:14-15; Luke 6:37), let’s not keep others from the promise of salvation by making them think their sins are too great.

“The teachers if the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. They tie up heavy loads and put them on mean’s shoulders, by they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.” Matthew 23:2-4

Being judgmental and hypocritical go hand in hand, because the worst thing we can do is unfairly judge someone for something we ourselves have done or are doing. One of the biggest criticisms of Christianity today is that so-called “saints” behave one way in church on Sunday, but by Monday morning, they are completely different people. They’re cursing out their co-workers, they’re impatient with others, they’re rude, they hardly speak or smile; or worse, they’re drinking, going clubbing, sleeping around—all the things they tell “sinners” not to do.

Our lives are always on display. There is always someone watching, and people are quicker to point out the bad than the good. Don’t give the naysayers a reason to talk bad about you and your faith, leading others astray. 1 Peter 2:12 says, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” Our actions can either draw people closer to Christ or give them the perfect excuse to stay in their unbelief. But when they see us praising and worshipping God, when they see us pursuing holiness, when they see the good fruit we produce (joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) because we’ve remained in Christ and His words in us (Galatians 5:22-23; John 15:7-8), when they see all the good things happening in our lives because of our obedience to God, they’ll want to know a reason for the hope we have, and then it is our time to witness (1 Peter 3:15); then it is our time to show them the way, which is Christ; then it is our time to expand the body.

“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house.” Matthew 5:14-15

Some people might not like the idea of their actions being scrutinized, but we as Christians should welcome it. Jesus calls us the light of the world. He doesn’t want us to douse that light, to hide our faith as if we are ashamed (Luke 9:26), but to let our light shine for the whole world to see, so the whole world will wonder why we choose to pick up our cross and follow Jesus in faith (Matthew 16:24-26) no matter what comes our way, it’ll wonder what there is to gain by doing such a thing, and maybe it’ll seek to obtain that promise too.

We have to be light, the examples of Christ here on this earth (1 Corinthians 11:1). Jesus says, “Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). So shine on. Don’t be a hypocrite, don’t be judgmental, but continue to share the gospel of Jesus Christ in truth and love so that others will come to know and understand the hope we hold on to so dear.

God Bless.

“As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:1-2

Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for standing in the way of others coming to know you as their Lord and Savior. Forgive us for letting our pride block the work you are doing in their hearts. You said in your word that blessed are the humble, for they shall inherit the whole earth. You said that unless we humble ourselves like one of these little children, we will never enter the kingdom of heaven. We need to be humbled, so we remember that this life isn’t about us and our own righteousness, but it is about you, bringing glory and honor to you, and seeing souls saved. So we revitalize our motivation to do your will, to reap your harvest, to welcome all who wish to enter your kingdom as if we are welcoming you. And we continue to praise you and bless you and thank you for the work you continue to do in our lives and in the lives of others, all for our good. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.