Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Running the Race Set Before Us

Hebrews 12: 1 – 2 (NIV): 1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

When a passage begins with the word, “therefore”, we need to look back to see what it’s there for. In this case, he is referring to the faith hall of fame we find in Chapter 11; the men and women of old who lived by faith and took God at his word. Now, those heroes of the faith are cheering us on as we live our own lives – as we run the race that God has placed before us.
    The great “cloud” of witnesses is a metaphor for Olympic grandstands full of cheering people, encouraging us to win the race we find ourselves in. God has given each of us our own unique race. We each have a life to live. So we must throw off anything that hinders us from running to win. This is anything that comes between us and God. And we must not let sin entangle our feet and trip us up. Sin causes us to be losers in our own race.
    It is interesting that the word for “race” in this passage is “agon” in the Greek. This is where we get our English word, “agony”. It’s not that our lives are sure to be full of pain and hardship, it’s just that we will face challenges we will need to overcome in order to win our race.  We will need to have self-discipline as we strain ahead toward victory.
    The key to winning our race, then, is to keep our eyes on Jesus. Becoming more and more like him is the goal of our faith. And he will give us the power we need to run and win the race. He gave us our faith and he will see us through. If we will keep our eyes on him and not be distracted by all that is happening around us, we can be winners. We can live victorious lives, full of joy and purpose.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Jesus - The Master of Distance

John 4: 56 – 51 (NIV): 46 Once more he visited Cana in Galilee, where he had turned the water into wine. And there was a certain royal official whose son lay sick at Capernaum. 47 When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. 48 "Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders," Jesus told him, "you will never believe." 49 The royal official said, "Sir, come down before my child dies." 50 Jesus replied, "You may go. Your son will live." The man took Jesus at his word and departed. 51 While he was still on the way, his servants met him with the news that his boy was living.

This royal official was a Roman who was in King Herod’s court. His country, Rome, had conquered Israel, yet he found himself at the feet of Jesus, begging for help because his son was about to die.
    Our success, wealth, and position in life goes out the window when we are desperate. He humbled himself before Jesus. When we humble ourselves, we are in position for God to bless us. He opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.
    The man assumed Jesus had to go to the house, 20 miles away, to heal his son, but Jesus showed that he is the master of distance – he simply willed that the son be better and he was. We can pray for our loved ones who are far away and know that God’s presence is wherever they are and he can answer our prayers. Not only this, but we can never be too far away from God to come back. His Spirit finds and reaches us wherever we are.
    And the father showed tremendous faith by taking Jesus at his word. He believed it when Jesus said his son would live, and headed home. When we believe, then we will see what God is doing. That’s what faith is. We live by faith, not by sight, Paul says. Humble yourself before God, believe what he says, and take him at his word.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Jesus - The Master of Quality

John 2: 5 – 10 (NIV): 5 His mother said to the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." 6 Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. 7 Jesus said to the servants, "Fill the jars with water"; so they filled them to the brim. 8 Then he told them, "Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet." They did so, 9 and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realize where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside 10 and said, "Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now."

John tells us this was Jesus’ first sign to prove that he was indeed the Messiah.  Jesus’ mother had ask him to help the bride’s father out of a terribly embarrassing situation – they had run out of wine at a wedding and it was only half-way through the week-long event. This would have been a social disaster in that culture.
    This proves that Jesus is concerned with every aspect of our lives. By performing his first miracle at a wedding, Jesus put his stamp of approval on marriage and family.
    Mary told the servants to do what Jesus told them to do. This is the best advice ever given. They filled the large jars to the brim – which is important because God can only bless us as we much as our faith allows. If they had filled the jars half-full, they would have cheated themselves. We cheat ourselves when we don’t fully trust Christ.
    Jesus turned the water into wine. He is the creator of the universe. He simply willed the wine into existence.  That’s the power our God has. And it wasn’t ordinary wine, it was the best wine anyone had ever tasted. Jesus is the Master of Quality. He can give us better than we can afford on our own if we will just trust him and do what he says. In this first miracle, Jesus showed that the life he offers is better than anything else. He offers an abundant, full life, full of joy and purpose. We simply have to trust him.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Psalm 1 - The Progression of Sin

Psalm 1: 1 -3 (NIV): 1  Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. 3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. 
                                                              Whatever he does prospers.

Notice the progression of sin in this passage. At first you are walking in the counsel of the wicked – you are listening to those who appose God. Then you are standing with sinners – now you have joined them. Finally, you are sitting in the seat of mockers – you are there to stay. This is how sin works: it starts by tempting us, but soon it ensnares and enslaves us, and then it controls us.
   Sin takes us farther then we wanted to go, keeps us longer than we wanted to stay, and costs us more than we wanted to pay. Sin keeps us from prospering; it keeps us from becoming more and more like Christ, which is God’s design for us. And it keeps us from living the abundant life Jesus wants us to live. It always hurts us, and it hurts the ones we love.
    This is why God hates sin. He is not mocked. We will not get away with it. He does not let it slide or wink at it. We will reap what we sow. Yes, Christians are forgiven, but we will pay the consequences of our sins. Sin breaks our fellowship with God.
    But if we delight in God, we are like a tree planted by a stream. We have an unseen power source enabling us to live in a way that is pleasing to God. We can live a full, purposeful, meaningful, satisfying life. God gives us the power to say no to sin and with his help, we can do it. Delight in God and let him bless you

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Our Unsearchable God

Romans 11: 33 - 36 (NIV): 33 Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! 34"Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?"35 "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" 36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.

    Our God is not some local deity. Paul is assuring us in this passage that God is the god. He knows everything. There is nothing that has ever happened or ever will happen that he doesn't know about. Jesus said God knows each time a sparrow dies, and he knows how many hairs are on our heads. In other words, he knows everything about us. He knows what we are going to do and why we are going to do it.
    But more than that, he never makes a mistake. Nothing happens without his approval and he is never wrong. And he never makes junk. He created each of us just as we are. He has a reason for everything. Some things are painful to us at the time, but we must trust that God knows what he's doing. We could never assume to understand his thoughts.
     No one is equal to God. We don’t pray to advise him. We ask believing – and leave the results to him. God also owns everything. Everything in the universe is already his. He lets us be stewards of what we have, but we must know it actually belongs to God. He is lacking in nothing and has no need for anything.
     What’s astonishing is that he is this powerful and yet he loves us so much. That is unfathomable! And He desires the very best for us. Who can understand this? All we can do is fall at his feet and trust him.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Anchor for our Souls

Hebrews 6: 17 - 20 (NIV): Because God wanted to make the unchanging nature of his purpose very clear to the heirs of what was promised, he confirmed it with an oath. 18 God did this so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf.

    When I first read this, it didn't make sense. Why would the writer talk about a ship anchor going into the inner sanctuary of the Temple, behind the curtain? This is the Holy of Holies, where God's presence is. A ship belongs on the water, not in a temple. Isn't this a mixed metaphor?
    But the NIV may be hurting our understanding some here. It says, "where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf" (emphasis mine). The Greek says "Jesus, our forerunner". A forerunner was a small boat that took the anchor of a ship and dropped it safely in the harbor. Once the anchor was placed in the harbor, the ship's mates could simply pull the boat into the dock. Once the anchor was at harbor, the ship was guaranteed to make it safely in, no matter what.
    Our hope in salvation is an anchor for the soul. Our salvation has already been safely placed in the harbor -- in the Holy of Holies, in God's very presence. We are going to make it. Our anchor is already there, we just pull ourselves in at the proper time.
    Hebrews 6 begins with a difficult passage that many think means we could lose our salvation if we fell away, but read in the proper light, we can see that the writer is saying salvation is a one-time thing, not something we receive over and over. Jesus died once for all, and when we trust in him, he places our anchor safely in the harbor of God.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Preach the Word

Nehemiah 8: 5 - 8 (NIV): 5 Ezra opened the book. All the people could see him because he was standing above them; and as he opened it, the people all stood up. 6 Ezra praised the LORD, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, "Amen! Amen!" Then they bowed down and worshiped the LORD with their faces to the ground. 7 The Levites--Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan and Pelaiah--instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there. 8 They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.

    This happened in about 450 BC. The Jews had been taken captive in 605 BC by Babylon. But Persia defeated Babylon in 539 BC and King Cyrus had released the Jews to go home to Jerusalem. There they rebuilt the temple in about 25 years and rebuilt the wall around the city in an amazing 52 days.
    Now, Nehemiah comes, and he and the priest, Ezra, assemble the people and read God's Word to them. The chapter says Ezra read from early morning until noon and the people stood and listened attentively, saying "Amen", and then bowing before God in respect.
    Ezra is using "expository preaching". He read the scripture, then exposed its meaning. This is the kind of preaching we need today. We need preachers to read God's Word and make it clear. Preachers need to emphasize the Bible and not their opinions. Preachers need to emphasize what God's Word says and not spend their time in the pulpit telling personal stories. Stories are good for illustration, but our stories must support the truth of the scripture -- and not the other way around. The power for revival and repentance is found in God's Word. Churches must stick to it and teach it. We have too many Christians who do not know the scripture. We, as a church, must teach the word.