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Friday, June 28, 2013

Created for a Purpose (Jeremiah 1)

Jeremiah 1:4-8, 19 (NASB)

4 Now the word of the LORD came to me saying, 5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you and before you were born I consecrated you; I have appointed you a prophet to the nations." 6 Then I said, "Alas, Lord GOD! Behold, I do not know how to speak because I am a youth." 7 But the LORD said to me, "Do not say, 'I am a youth,' because everywhere I send you, you shall go, and all that I command you, you shall speak.” 8 “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the LORD.
19 “They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you, for I am with you to deliver you," declares the LORD.

          In first looking at the book of Jeremiah, you wonder what God would have you learn from such an old book. After all, the book of Jeremiah is about the Israelites’ idolatry and God’s punishment upon them, their future restoration, and the coming Messiah. For Christians today, seeing God’s activity in the world of that time reminds us that God is active and He requires faithfulness from His children. Before Jeremiah spoke of these things, though, we read of his call by God and His plans for him before He formed him in his mother’s womb (verse 5). Before God tells Jeremiah he is His chosen prophet to the children of Israel and other nations, God tells Jeremiah He created Him for a purpose. Is that not what we each want to hear? God created you because He has a purpose for you, which requires being in a relationship with Him, the omnipotent and omniscient LORD. It matters not if you are young, old, a poor speaker, a persecutor, weak, sick, strong, poor, or just plain human. What ultimately matters is God created you because He loves you. He can accomplish what He wants through a yielded heart and life.
          Let us consider the lives of Samuel and David. Samuel was an answer to the prayers by a tearful woman (1 Samuel 1:1-20). His name came from Hannah’s tearful prayer to God. Hannah named him Samuel, which means, "God has heard" (vs. 20). He was a young boy of three or four years of age when Hannah gave him to Eli as a minister to the LORD (1 Samuel 1:11 & 28). Did Samuel do anything of great value? Did he own anything of great worth at this tender age? No, Samuel did not, but whose he was became why he was important to God. When Hannah birthed Samuel, she gave thanks to the LORD. Hannah gave him back to God for His service because God listened to her cries for a child. Samuel was important because He was God’s.
Jesse loved David. His mother, Nitzevet, doted upon him. David was the youngest of eight boys in his family. He was the lowest on the totem pole in his family and given the most menial jobs in the family - guarding the sheep and serving his brothers. God did not choose David for his great physical stature or for being the best guard of sheep. He chose David for his heart (1 Samuel 13:14 & 16:7). David was the least important man in his family. He owned no riches and won no accolades. David was just a young man with a heart for God.
          We can continue to look at others called by God for His purpose. Consider Esther. She was a young woman with whom the king fell in love. Through Esther’s position with the king, she could thwart prejudice and injustice towards the Jews (Esther 8:4-10). Did she have anything of personal or monetary value? Esther had a heart for God.
Consider Paul, too. He held a high public position as a Pharisee who had great learning and zeal for the LORD. Paul was an enforcer of the law and a persecutor of the followers of Jesus. It looks as if he had great knowledge and wisdom to offer God. Did God need any of these things for His Word to spread and believers to come to Him? No, God just needed a heart tuned to Him. Paul, though well educated, had nothing to offer God but his heart. His teachers trained him to perceive and listen to God’s voice. Through this doorway, Jesus came to him. Paul heard Jesus on the road to Damascus. Jesus did not ask Paul to enforce the law. He told him to proclaim the truth of the Gospel. Jesus gave him the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 9).
          Now, let us go back in time again to Moses. God called him to His service through the burning bush experience (Exodus 3). Moses’ mother and people taught him about the God of the Israelites. Pharaoh’s daughter raised him in Pharaoh’s home. Moses had the advantage of an excellent education. He had the power of being Pharaoh’s second in command. When God crossed Moses’ path via the burning bush, Moses was a shepherd for his father-in-law, Jethro. By then, He lost his stature, his power, and his money, but he did not lose Yahweh. God stood with him and called him to his service. Moses objected to the LORD’s calling because he felt unprepared and an inadequate speaker. God did not let him go that easily. He appointed his brother, Aaron, to speak for Him. Moses became the leader of the Israelites leaving Egypt. He knew who God was. Moses recognized the sound of God’s voice and was in awe of His presence. He recognized he was in Yahweh’s presence and removed his shoes, covered his face and in humility, stood before God’s presence in the burning bush.
          Finally, let us consider Jeremiah. Jeremiah was the son of a priest of Israel. His father and the priests taught him about Yahweh since his birth. Jeremiah learned how to perceive and listen to God’s voice and how to make petitions and sacrifices to God. His teachers taught him the purpose priests since he would one day become a priest in the temple. What he did not realize was that God knew him before He formed him in his mother’s womb (Jeremiah 1:5). God had a plan for his life before Jeremiah existed. He dedicated and set Jeremiah apart to be His prophet to the nations, not just to Israel. God had plans for this young man from before his birth. What made God desirous to use him? Was it how he looked? Was it his position as a priest’s son? Did he have great wealth that God might need? No, it was none of these. God needs nothing because He is the creator of everything. What God wanted was Jeremiah’s heart, which God consecrated for His holy purposes before He created and birthed him. He wanted to use Jeremiah as His voice calling out to the Israelites and other nations to stop worshipping idols and turn to Him. Nothing Jeremiah did, said, or owned was the reason Yahweh picked him for His service. God prepared him to be His servant from before his creation. He set him apart for His purposes.
          What does this mean for us? Nothing we have done, are, or own can make us valuable to God for His use. Whose we are determines our value, not who we are. God chose David because of his heart for Him. He chose Esther because of her love for Him and His purposes. God chose Paul because of his heart and his ability to recognize, hear, listen, and obey Him. He chose each of these people because they had a heart for the LORD. Nothing they did, were, or possessed convinced God to use them.
God calls each of us because of His grace and mercy. This brings us to our final point. God does not call people today because of who they are, what they can do, or what they own. He calls us because He loves us, has mercy on us, and knows our hearts. We each must decide what is important for our own selves - money, power, stature, beauty, possessions, deeds, or relationship and love. I hope, after reading this lesson, you choose the latter. The former five things you do not own; they own you. The last indwells you through the Holy Spirit and you become a relational person seeking God’s heart of love, mercy, and forgiveness. We must decide for ourselves who we will serve. God has gives us life, food, shelter, clothes, protection, guidance, love, and salvation. We ultimately come to where Joshua arrived at the edge of the Jordan River and spoke to the Israelites. Whom do we serve - ourselves and our idols or God? Joshua made a definitive statement in Joshua 24:15,
If it is disagreeable in your sight to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve: whether the gods, which your fathers served which were beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.
          What matters to God is a yielded heart and life to Him, not who we are, what we have, or what we have done. God loves us and chooses us because He created us. David said, “I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14 NASB). God made us in His image. We are His glory and show His glory. WE must choose whom or what we will serve.
For whom will you decide your life is to be devoted - yourself or the LORD?


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Servant's Choice

Isaiah 53 (Amplified version)
Who has believed (trusted in, relied upon, and clung to) our message of that which was revealed to us? And, to whom has the arm of the Lord been disclosed?
For the Servant of God grew up before Him like a tender plant, and like a root out of dry ground; He has no form or comeliness [royal, kingly pomp], that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him.
He was despised, rejected, and forsaken by men, a Man of sorrows and pains, and acquainted with grief and sickness; and like One from Whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we did not appreciate His worth or have any esteem for Him.
Surely He has borne our griefs (sicknesses, weaknesses, and distresses) and carried our sorrows and pains of punishment, yet we ignorantly considered Him stricken, smitten, and afflicted by God as if with leprosy.
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our guilt and iniquities; the chastisement needful to obtain peace and well-being for us was upon Him, and with the stripes that wounded Him we are healed and made whole.
All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has made to light upon Him the guilt and iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, yet when He was afflicted, He was submissive and opened not His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He opened not His mouth.
By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who among them considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken to His death, for the transgression of my [Isaiah’s] people, to whom the stroke was due?
And they assigned Him a grave with the wicked, and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, neither was any deceit in His mouth.
10 Yet it was the will of the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief and made Him sick. When You and He make His life an offering for sin and He has risen from the dead, in time to come, He shall see His spiritual offspring, He shall prolong His days, and the will and pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.
11 He shall see the fruit of the travail of His soul and be satisfied; by His knowledge of Himself, which He possesses and imparts to others, shall My uncompromisingly righteous One, My Servant, justify many and make many righteous, for He shall bear their iniquities and their guilt with the consequences, says the Lord.
12 Therefore, will I divide Him a portion with the great kings and rulers, and He shall divide the spoil with the mighty, because He poured out His life unto death, and He let Himself be regarded as a criminal and be numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore and took away the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors (the rebellious).
God puts us into situations and relationships; it is our responsibility to make sure we follow Him, His principles, and precepts. If we think God’s Word is not pertinent to a situation, then we should not continue in that situation but pull back to the point at which we knew He and His Word applied. We should follow God out of the situation. If God is being overshadowed by a relationship, we should get out of that relationship. Not all situations in which we find ourselves are God-ordained, but have come from our choosing a way that did not follow God’s will.
In Isaiah 53, we see the story of the suffering Savior. Isaiah prophesied about a thousand years before Christ’s birth that the Savior would come and would choose to be stricken with grief, sorrow, pain, and separation from Yahweh. Yahweh and He were in agreement on this necessity and the LORD made is come to pass. He “has put Him to grief and made Him sick” (vs. 10). God purposely made the Savior sick in His body and in His spirit by choosing to allow the Son to experience being the sacrifice for the sin of all humanity, which separated Him from Yahweh, and by allowing nails to be hammered into His hands and feet and a spear pierce His side. Christ took on grief in body and spirit when He chose to be THE sin offering. Jesus was able to foresee the children of His love and chose to be killed so that we all may believe He is the Son of God sent to take away our sins so that we may have a perfect relationship with the LORD. 
Later in history, Jesus is explaining to the disciples that what He experiences, they will experience and more because that are His followers. In John 15:20, Jesus tells them, “Remember that I told you, a servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word and obeyed My teachings, they will also keep and obey yours.” Yahweh did not make Jesus’ path always painless and easy. Fortunately, He made it similar to ours so that He could relate to our human lives and so that we could gain a godly example of how to walk in this life as a follower of Jesus. As the LORD chose to allow grief and pain occur to His Son so that humankind could see Him, relate to Him, and receive forgiveness of Sin and eternal life with Him, He also allows, even puts us into situations which allow grief and pain. Not everything in a Christian’s life is going to be easy or pain free. How we approach the situations and choose to handle and process it will determine who we will become. If we look to God’s Word for guidance and use it to lead us through the difficult times, then we will grow within ourselves and in our relationship with God. If we find that there is nothing in the Word that is pertinent to the situation and rely upon our own understanding, then we will walk away from God. (Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5-6). If there is at any time a place where this is the case, then we have walked away from God. God’s Word is pertinent to all of the life of His children because He created the universe and because His Son chose to walk as a man and experience everything as we do. When we reach the place where it seems God’s Word is not pertinent, we have two choices. We can step out on our own understanding or we can back up on our journey and find out where the last place was that we heard God’s voice, where His Word was pertinent to our walk. This place is where we left the path of God. Let me reiterate this, if we get to a place in our spiritual journey where we feel the Word is not pertinent and we are not hearing the voice of God, we have strayed from the path He wanted us to take. This is true for situations and relationships. If you are putting more emphasis on a relationship with a person than on God (God is being overshadowed), you should not be in that relationship; it is taking your eyes away from the LORD. You must get out of that relationship and return to the last place in which God was primary in your life, where you last heard from the LORD. 
In Isaiah 53, he continues his prophesy by stating, “When You and He make His life an offering for sin and He has risen from the dead, in time to come, He shall see His spiritual offspring…” (vs. 10). Jesus was rewarded for the pain and grief He bore with spiritual children. He chose to put His comfort aside so that others would see and know Him, experience His love for them and, by this, come to be His followers, His children. Others in the Bible also were told they would have offspring in the future; consider Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and David. People followed their example and became believers in Yahweh. Without this complete giving over to the LORD’s will and way, there would not have been believers in Yahweh and in Jesus the Christ. Abraham chose to believe and it was credited to him as righteousness (Romans 4:3). Jesus chose to go through the pain of His crucifixion and the anguish of being separated from Yahweh for those brief few days, so that we could be cleansed and made right with God, so that we could be followers of Him. For both of these men, their concern was about eternal rewards. They were considering us, their hoped for spiritual children. If Jesus had not done this, we would not be His children. It is conditional. When He sacrificed Himself, then He would see spiritual children. It is the same with us. When we look back over our life when we are nearing the end of our mortal life, we will see our spiritual children, those who chose to follow the way we walked with the LORD. They came from watching us choose to follow God even when we had to get out of a situation or relationship. They saw us struggle with situations and relationships and saw us choose to seek God even if that meant moving backwards in our life journey. They saw the LORD was more important than any person or circumstance. Or did we? 
We can choose to crucify ourselves by remaining obstinate and standing firm in a situation God would have us leave or a relationship from which He would have us remove ourselves. Alternatively, we can allow our desires to come second to God’s will, way, and love. We will experience difficult times. We will have to remove ourselves from people and situations. It is the journey of life, for a believer in Jesus, which is important. Our decisions determine our journey. Will we choose God and His ways over our desires and circumstances? When we do, people will see. They will see our journey, our faith walk. Some people may come to follow Jesus because of seeing our faithfulness to Him. It is all about our willingness to be in a loving obedient relationship with Him. Do you have this kind of relationship with God, a relationship that turns seeking Him when you have not heard His voice in a while and when the Word no longer seems pertinent? We must each choose, as Abraham and Jesus did, to seek and follow the LORD. When we do, not only will we be blessed by our relationship with God and gain eternal life, but also we will be blessed with spiritual children who have arisen because of our faith walk. What is your walk like today?

Monday, June 24, 2013

What's been happening

In preparation for our return overseas, we have spent the last 9 days with family.  I do not want you to stop coming to this blog.  Please be patient.  God has been speaking to me while we have been gone.  This week, I will share some of it with you.

On other fronts, the personal Bible study, The Miracle of Faith, is being edited now.  It looks like it will be available to the public early 2014 on, Barnes and Noble, and Lifeway.  If you do not regularly frequent these places, you can ask your bookstore to order it for you from CrossBooks next year.

Thank you for your prayers.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Unless You Become...

Matthew 11:25-30 and Matthew 18:1-6

Matthew 11:

25 At that time Jesus said, "I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and intelligent and have revealed them to infants.
 26 "Yes, Father, for this way was well-pleasing in Your sight.
 27 "All things have been handed over to Me by My Father ; and no one knows the Son except the Father ; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.

28 "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.
29 "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and You will find rest for your souls..
30 "For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Matthew 18:

1 At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and said, "Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"
2 And He called a child to Himself and set him before them,
3 and said, "Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
5 "And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me;
6 but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.

Jesus often speaks of children. He speaks of their innocence. He speaks of their dependence upon others. He speaks of them being great in His kingdom. Why does He speak so often about children? He does it so that He can give a living example of what people should be like who follow Him and what their characteristics are. In two passages, Matthew 11:25-30 and Matthew 18:1-6, Jesus is speaking of children as those who need to be fed, taken care of, and taught, and who are humble because they know they do not know much, especially of religious matters. Jesus holds them up as a standard to which all must become to be able to follow Him. He compares them with religious leaders and civil leaders in Israel and Judah. What can we learn from this? 

In the Matthew 11 passage, Jesus has been talking to John the Baptist’s disciples who were sent to ask if He is the one who was prophesied to come. After that, he spoke to the crowd around Him telling them that they would not accept Him and He knows this because they did not accept John’s message of repentance. He goes on further and laments the people of Bethsaida, Capernaum, and Chorizon. He says that if the people of Sodom, Gomorrah, Tyre, and Sidon had seen the miracles He had performed in Chorizon, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, those people would still be alive today because they would have believed in Him and repented. At that time, Jesus prayed to the Father, in the midst of the crowd, and thanked Him for hiding the miracles from those who consider themselves wise and intelligent (expert and learned) and for giving it to infants, those who are not highly educated and learned. Does this explain, then, why it seems that the humble and unlearned, based on society’s standards, are more apt to believe in Jesus than the religious and civic leaders? Is that possibly why we have not believed? 

In Matthew 18, the context in which Jesus speaks of children is when those who believed in Jesus and followed Him began jostling for status in regards to Jesus. Children often want to be given a compliment to be assured that their teacher/parent esteems them highly. Here the disciples not only wanted to know that, but their question asks Jesus to use a human measurement in categorizing His followers, those who will be in the kingdom of heaven. First, we must remember that our criterion for labeling people is not the same as God’s. God considers us all equals because He made all of us. There will not be one greater than another. The rewards He will hand to us are based on the work we have done, not on who we are. Jesus’ reply to the disciples calls them back to the here and now because He knows there is no distinction between persons in the kingdom. They asked a human question, and He will answer the question within a human framework. He takes a child and says to the disciples that, unless they are converted to belief in Him and come as a little child, they cannot enter the kingdom of heaven. Status is only a consideration as it affects your belief on earth not in your being in heaven, though it is never status to which God and Jesus look to determine our merit. Whoever then is humble like this little child is greatest in heaven. Only by conversion, because of your realizing you are nothing and God is greater than you and has provided the way to Him, can you be received into heaven as a believer and follower of Jesus. Not only does Jesus show the way to heaven by comparing people to a humble child but also He states that when a person receives a brother or sister in Christ into his home, he is receiving Christ into his home. Additionally, He states that whoever causes one of His children to stumble, would have been better to have drowned in the deepest sea. In saying people need to become like children in this passage, Jesus is stating that people must know that they are not the most learned, they cannot think their way to salvation, they must realize there is One who is greater than they are; this person is Yahweh God. When they realize they cannot win their own salvation, when they quit trying to “beat the system” by their learning, and realize there is nothing they can do to attain their own immortality or be good 100% of the time, then they are on their way to being humble. It is at this point of humility, when one realizes He needs to be fed daily by the bread of God and needs to be taught how to live, that Christ can be recognized, seen, accepted, and glorified in a person’s life. 

In these passages, Jesus is saying that we must become children to accept Him. If we think we can get to Him by following rules and laws or by learning all about Him, but do not accept Him within our hearts as supreme, then we cannot become His followers. We must be like children who know from where their food comes. Children know they are not strong enough so they rely upon their father and mother for protection. They know they do not know everything, so trust their parents to teach and lead them. God wants to be that parent, that Father for us. If we stop and realize that all we are, have, and will be comes from God the Father and Creator, we will recognize our 100% dependence upon Him. At that point, we will recognize the gift He is offering us; the gifts of guidance, protection, provision, and eternal life. We will recognize the love of the Father. We will desire to go to Him and give our lives back to Him. This is why in Matthew 11 Jesus says at the end of the chapter, “Come to Me all who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest.” Once we realize that God loves us and will take care of everything, we can hang up our yoke from the burden we have been pulling and let God carry the burden of food provision, life protection, life guidance, and eternal life.  

What keeps us from becoming like children? Does it seem that this offer by God is unreal? Pray and ask Him to reveal Himself to your mind and heart. Does it seem too simple? Remember it is said in the Bible that the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:25). Does it seem unbelievable to believe in a being Who is unseen? Consider there are many hundreds of thousands that have believed to the point of giving up their lives for this unseen God. Consider, the writer of Hebrews says, “Faith is the assurance of things hoped for and the conviction of things unseen” (Hebrews 11:1). Each of Jesus’ apostles believed and began a world revolution with their words of God’s love and testimony of what they had seen in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. For what do you hope most? Is it not that like would have meaning and purpose and that this is not all there is? Let me tell you again, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, loves you and gave His life up to die for you so that you can be holy enough to be in God’s presence, in His heaven, when you die. This life here on earth is not all there is. This is just the beginning of our eternity. Whether you choose to believe in Jesus or not, there is more life after our bodily death. We get to choose that life. We can choose eternal judgment and estrangement from God or eternal joy and happiness in our Father’s presence in heaven. We must each choose to believe. We must each ask the Father for faith so that we can believe. What do you choose to do, ask for faith or go on in ignorance to judgment? It really is up to you. Unless you become as a child and in humility believe, you will not see God.

Monday, June 10, 2013

The Lord's Prayer for Us

Luke 11:2-4 and Matthew 6:9-13 

In considering prayer, the first place one goes as a believer is to the Lord’s Prayer. The Lord’s Prayer is included in two of the Gospels, Matthew 6:9-13 and Luke 11:2-4. Both Luke and Matthew put the Lord’s Prayer into a context. For Matthew, the context is in how a believer is supposed to live. First he speaks of giving to the poor, then how to pray not like the religious hypocrites, and then in context to forgiving those who sin against us. Luke puts the Lord’s Prayer in the context of how to pray and how our Father in heaven would undoubtedly hear us because of His love for us, like an earthly father loves his child. In both of these passages, we are taught how to pray, but each of them speaks of it in different contexts.   

The Lukan account of the Lord’s Prayer comes about after Jesus prayed and the disciples listened. They heard the relationship with which Jesus approached Yahweh. They heard the certainty in Jesus’ voice when He prayed to Yahweh. They knew they were with a true Teacher of the Word of God. As disciples of a teacher, they asked to be mentored/taught in how to pray. He taught them to say, “Father, hallowed/holy is your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts (no longer keep a debt against us), for we ourselves also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And, lead us not into temptation (keep us from being enticed to sin).” In this prayer, Jesus taught His disciples about revering God and asking for Him to reign on earth. He also taught them how to ask for their needs, for food, forgiveness, and guidance away from temptations. Jesus told them it is not the amount of words that is meaningful, but the request and order of the words. First, as disciples, we are to revere God; we are to recognize that He is most important in the universe, not our needs. Second, Jesus shows that God’s will for earth is more important that our wills. That does not mean that these two are contrary to each other. It does mean that we should be concerned about that with which God is concerned, His people with whom He desires a relationship. Next, we can and should ask for ourselves. Once we have the perspective of God in place, His priorities of our relationship with Him and His relationship with the world, we will be in-line with His desires. We are taught then to pray for our needs. Jesus considers our physical and spiritual needs. When we are in-line with God, then we will ask for those things that are important for our body and spirit, food, clothes, shelter, relationships, forgiveness of sin, and guidance in His way. Jesus recognizes that we are created with mortal bodies that have needs. He knows that these bodies have requirements to be able to survive in the world. Without those provisions, we could not be in the world; we could not be about God’s purposes, to tell others about Him. God does not ignore our physical needs; He knows best what they are because He created them. He also knows we have spiritual needs, once again because He created our spirits. He knows that nothing in the world can fill that need within us and is teaching us through Jesus how to have those needs met. We must recognize our inability not to sin. When we do that, we will have come into the realization that there is a higher level of life than what we can experience with our five senses. We recognize there is a being who is great enough not only to create us, our bodies and spirits, but also to fulfill our needs and desires. It is this need that Jesus addresses in the Lord’s Prayer when He teaches His disciples to ask for forgiveness of sin, ask for strength of spirit to forgive others who sin against us, and to lead us so that our relationship with this higher uncreated being, Yahweh/Father God, is priority. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus teaches His disciples to recognize the Father, rectify their relationship with the Father and with men, request guidance, and relinquish control to the Father’s better knowledge and judgment. 

When you consider the Matthew account of the Lord’s Prayer, it is noted in context with how to be a Christian. Matthew teaches how to give to the poor, how to pray, how to forgive others, how to fast, and why not to be anxious. This is not to say that Matthew’s account of the Lord’s Prayer is less important. It is to say that it is a part of being a Christian. We are to pray this prayer regularly as being a part of God’s kingdom. We recognize God, our sins, our needs, and His guidance as we walk through the life He has given us. As we fast, we should consider the Lord’s Prayer, God is more important than our desires. As we give to the poor, their needs and God’s purpose for giving us the means to help are more important than that we helped. We should not set ourselves up so that others know we have helped someone. As we live, we should forgive people who have done things against us, as God forgives us each day we sin against Him. In addition, we are not to be anxious because, as the Lord’s Prayer teaches, all we must do is ask. By knowing to ask for our needs, we acknowledge that God is the provider for everything we need; thus, we will not be anxious. God is greater than anything we encounter and will provide all we need. 

The Lukan account teaches Jesus’ disciples how to pray. The Matthew account teaches us how to live, knowing God, pray, fast, forgive, and be assured that all our needs will be fulfilled. The Lukan account of the prayer teaches not only of God’s supremacy, but also of His sufficiency and grace. God will provide for our spiritual and physical needs. Luke, later in his Gospel, gives a prime example of this. Consider Luke 18:1-8; in this passage, we see a widow who is unashamedly persistent in asking the judge for judgment in favor of her. The woman never ceased asking but kept bringing her petition before the judge. Before the judge’s patience was worn down and because he knew it was the right thing to do, even though she could not give him anything in return, he gave in to her request for favor in the eyes of the civil law. The judge said, “For a while he was unwilling, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection; otherwise, by continually coming, she will wear me out.’” Jesus showed that even a non-God-fearing man knows what is right; how much more will your Father in Heaven, the God you recognize as supreme, will give what a person needs. The widow’s persistence paid off. God says not to give up in the face of need; ask and keep on asking and it will be given to you. Seek and keep on seeking, and you will find. Knock and keep on knocking and the door will be opened to you. For all those who ask, seek, and knock will be heard, seen, and led to God’s provision for their physical and spiritual lives. He asks once more, how much more will your Father in heaven give you good things if your earthly father gives you good things. If earthly fathers know how to give good things, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask? God knows that the Holy Spirit is what humans need most; He gives eternal life (Luke 11:9-13 NASB). Your physical needs are always met. Your spiritual needs are met, too; however, you must agree to accept this grace of God. 

The Lukan form of the Lord’s Prayer is for all of us. It teaches us to acknowledge there is a God and He is supreme. It teaches us to know there is a gift of grace given to us if we will ask for and accept it. It teaches us that God not only provides for our physical needs but also for our spiritual needs. It teaches that not only are we sinners who need to ask for forgiveness from God, but we also need to forgive others for their sins against us. Finally, it teaches that we need God’s guidance every day to be able to walk the life He has given us in the way that is most edifying for our character and for God’s glory. It is the best road; all other ways are disjointed, disappointing, and dispiriting. We must decide whether to acknowledge God’s existence, His supremacy, His love, and His grace. Which road will you choose?

Friday, June 7, 2013

What is Determining Your Love?

Hebrews 13

As we read Hebrews 13 today, we need to remember to whom the writer was writing. During the first century of the Christian era, two groups of people were being confronted with the Gospel. The Jews were the ones to whom God sent His promised Messiah. Many Jews, particularly the scribes, Pharisees, Levites, and Sadducees, had a very difficult time accepting that Jesus Christ is the promised Messiah. (I have gone into detail before as to why this is.) The other group of people to whom the Gospel was proclaimed was the non-Jew, the Gentiles. After Pentecost and after the conversion of Saul and his renaming to Paul, separate ministries aimed at each of these two groups of people were realized. Peter became the apostle to the Hebrews and established the Christian church in Jerusalem. Paul became the lead apostle to the Gentiles. The book of Hebrews was written to the people who called themselves Hebrew, yet were also Christians. For this select group of Messianic Jews, they had to determine how to live in their culture, what parts of their religious culture could be retained, and which had to be removed since they were now followers of Christ. By the end of this first century, they would no longer be allowed to worship in the Jewish synagogues as a Jewish sect but would have to be completely separate from their Jewish culture. The book of Hebrews addresses some of the issues that confront Jewish Christians as they determine what from their religious past to carryover, what to discard, and what to add so that their worship reflects not just a sect of Judaism, but also a completely new belief. The Messiah has come and He has become the Redeemer for all humanity.

In Hebrews 13, the first sentence states explicitly, “Let love for your fellow believers continue and be a fixed practice with you; never let it fail” (AMP). Love appears to be spoken of throughout this chapter as we hear of other attributes of a believer such as hospitality, compassion, fidelity, contentment, faithfulness, and discernment. Without love, none of these would be possible. If we consider Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 13, he states what love is. Near the end of this chapter in 1 Corinthians, Paul sums it up and says of faith, hope, and love (the three abiding attributes) that love is the greatest. In Galatians 5:6, Paul says that what matters in faith working through love. If we look at the two commandments that Christ says are the greatest, love vertically to God and horizontally to all humanity. Paul teaches this also in Galatians 5:14. It seems obvious, then, that the greatest attribute and character trait of a follower of Jesus Christ is to be love. Looking at Hebrews 13 through this filter then, makes it seem obvious that the writer was not only speaking about love, then hospitality, then compassion, but was speaking first of love from which the ability to be hospitable, compassionate, faithful, et cetera.

Considering that the writer of Hebrews is beginning the final chapter of Hebrews with the concept of love and how it is acted it out, we must then look at verse 5 with that same filter. Verse five states in the Amplified Bible, 

Let your character/moral disposition be free from love of money, including greed, avarice, lust, and craving for earthly possessions, and be satisfied with your present circumstances and with what you have; for God Himself has said, I will not in any way fail you nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake nor let you down (relax My grip on you)! Assuredly not! 

This passage is taken from Genesis 28:15, 1 Chronicles 28:20, and Joshua 1:5. This was taught to the Hebrew children from the time of Jacob. He received this word of encouragement and confirmation from the LORD/Yahweh in his dream. The character of love, then, can be considered to have been one the LORD required and instilled in His followers from almost the time at which He called the Israelites to be His chosen people. The writer is getting to the point that love is the overarching theme of God, His creation of humanity, His sustaining the Israelites, and His providing the sufficient sacrifice of His Son, the Messiah to bring people back to a faultless relationship Him. Verse five of Hebrews 13 not only speaks of God’s love for us, but our trust of Him as all-sufficient. He says, remember, He has this love covenant with humanity and do not worry about money. He says since you know that Yahweh loves you and has loved you from the very beginning, know that you will never be bereft, and know that you do not have to worry, be greedy, or jealous. God in His love for them will never leave you, no, not ever, nor will He forsake you, no, not ever. Yahweh will be there for them at all times, to provide sustenance, clothing, shelter, and everything your body needs. Because of this, you can enact His love in your actions by being hospitable, compassionate, kind, faithful, and generous. He adds, that if you do not know how to be a Christian without a Jewish culture, look to your leaders, the ones who “brought you the ones who brought you the Word of God” (vs. 7 AMP). Observe then closely and live as they live. They are the role models for how you are to live as Christians; imitate their faith.

            The rest of Hebrews 13 tells the Messianic Jews what to do with the sacrifices that are brought to the temple each week. The writer tells them when the blood of the sacrifice is brought into the temple, they should go out the city’s gate to where Christ was sacrificed, to where Christ was cast out by the leaders of the city. We should remember that, as Christ had no permanent home on earth, neither do Christians. That is one of the reasons they crucified Christ outside the gates. We are to offer sacrifices of praise to glorify God by doing acts of kindness, goodness, generosity, and philanthropy (vs. 16). These sacrifices are pleasing to God. The Hebrews and all followers of Christ have a new and better sacrifice, the sacrifice of love for God and humanity.

            I assert that the writer is stating that the main attribute and purpose of Christians is to love God and man. He gives suggestions on how this is to be done. He also says that our love of God will also show itself in our trust of the Lord to never leave us or forsake us. If we do not trust the God and Creator of the entire universe, then how can we say that we have received His love? Whether we are going through times of difficulty or easy, ordinary days, God loves us and will never leave or forsake His children. What affects this acceptance of God’s love within ourselves is determined by whether by how much we have allowed God’s Holy Spirit to recreate us on the inside. When we become followers of Christ, His Holy Spirit resides in us. We determine how much we are willing to allow the Holy Spirit to change us. We choose whether to study His Word and be in a growing relationship with God. When we choose not to spend time with the Father every day, we choose not to grow and we hold back parts of ourselves from Him. It is from this unwillingness/stubbornness to submit our whole selves to Him that we do not grow enough to trust Him. We also do not grow in the knowledge of His love. This is reflected in our actions to God and humanity; we will not be as hospitable, philanthropic, compassionate, and kind.  

Does our lack of loving others and not loving God completely come from not trusting God? Alternatively, does it come from our stubbornness not to give our whole selves, heart, mind, spirit, and body, to Him? We each must decide for ourselves if we exhibit the pure love that comes from Christ. If not, what is keeping us from doing it? Is it due to our lack of trust or from stubbornness? We must get to the underlying cause because until we do, we will not be able to grow into the whole person that Christ wills for us and makes possible for us through His Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Bold Intimacy

Psalm 25

As God began teaching me with this passage, I was a bit reluctant to study Psalms. I know of several people who love the Psalms; I, however, have never felt too drawn to them until this day. God made verses 12-14 stand out and from there I had to delve into this psalm. I see this psalm as the psalmist’s recognition of God’s sovereignty and His place as Redeemer. This psalm also shows where men and women are in relation to Yahweh. David gets even more specific and talks about the ones with whom HE has a very close bond, an intimacy. He then goes the final step and speaks from his own personal experience as one of those who do have this close, personal, intimate relationship with I AM. Not only David had this intimacy but others such as Adam, Abraham, Samuel, Elijah, Paul, and Peter. We have each know at least one person who was this close to the LORD if we ourselves are believers.
We must set the background for this psalm. Most commentary writers say the time this was written was most likely while David was running from Absalom after he declared himself king of Judah. Up to this point, David had been a shepherd, warrior, calmer of a king, and a king himself. The people held him in great esteem, even God considered him a man after His own heart. 
David begins this psalm with his explicit statement, “To You, O LORD, I lift up my soul” (vs. 1). First, we must understand that David was not talking about God his close buddy and chum. He was talking to the LORD, all uppercase, denoting I AM of the Old Testament or Yahweh. David was addressing I AM, the One who was before time and will be after time concludes. This is the GOD to whom Abraham, in his understanding, offered his greatest sacrifice, his son. This Yahweh God is all mighty, all knowing, and all-powerful. This is the ONE GOD Who made promises in the Old and New Testaments. This is the ONE GOD Who adopts even those from Gentile backgrounds to be a part of the covenant promise to Abraham. This is Yahweh for David.
In this next section of the psalm, David puts for this pleas for God’s intervention on his behalf. Verses 1b-7 contain these eight pleas: lift me, your servant, up with You (this is implied)  [hold me out of their reach]; do not let me be ashamed; shame my pursuers; make me know your ways; teach me your paths; lead me in Your truth and teach me for You are salvation; remember Your loving-kindness and compassion; and do not remember my sins. Notice he does not just ask for help; he couches it in a statement about the God Whom he follows, knows, and worships, i.e. in You I trust, do not let me be ashamed (verse 2) or make me know Your ways, which comes with the implied Your ways are higher than mine (verse 4).  Through verse 7, David makes pleas to God based on Who God is and who David is, a mere human who fails, is pursued by evil, and who sins.
Verses 8-10 begin the next section of the psalm. David is no longer talking to Yahweh; he is speaking to his hearers/readers of this psalm. He states that Yahweh, the LORD, is good and upright. Because there is no evil in Him, He can instruct sinners in the way to go. Next, David states that I AM leads the humble in justice and in His ways. To be able to follow anyone, a person must realize he or she is subordinate and the other is superior and worthy to be followed. David established Yahweh’s goodness and uprightness in verse 8. In case a person doubts whether he or she can follow Yahweh blindly, David states that all I AM’s ways are from His loving-kindness and truth. You may ask, what exactly is loving-kindness? It is kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. It is some of the traits we have each wished for ourselves, but to which we have not met the mark at all times. How do we know what the “mark” is? We look to Yahweh and see the “mark” and standard for goodness, kindness, love, and faithfulness. Therefore, when David speaks of the paths of the LORD being loving-kindness, we can know this is genuine and real love, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness. Yahweh is not faking or trying to trick you or me.
Verse 10 does not stop with just this. David says, I AM leads people who keep His covenants and testimonies. That is a mouthful. What does it actually mean? We must understand this to be able to grasp the rest of the chapter. God had a covenant several times in the Old Testament (testament means covenant, by the way). Each of the Old Testament covenants was conditional on actions kept between two parties, Yahweh and a person, like Abraham, David, Moses, and Israel. For keeping to their covenant, I AM covenanted to keep them safe, provide for their needs, and be their redeemer, the One who will pay the price to gain their freedom. Each of these Old Testament covenants were not fulfilled because humans are fallible and were not, could not, keep their side of the covenant. Yahweh was willing to fulfill His side of the covenants of grace; humans were unable. I AM saw their willingness. He called David a man after His own heart. He called Abraham a friend. He took Elijah before death so that he would not have to taste death. There were people who kept most of God’s covenants and Yahweh gave them His grace to overcome their shortcomings upon their confession and repentance. David refers in the last part of verse 10 to these people. These are the people who kept His covenants and His testimonies. They not only had a relationship with Yahweh, but they bore witness, they testified, to I AM’s goodness, faithfulness, love, and grace to the rest of Israel.
Now that is explained, we move on to the crux of David’s psalm, the reason David wrote in verse 11, “For Your name’s sake, O LORD, Pardon my iniquity, for it is great.” David, the man after God’s own heart, recognized, confessed and repented of his iniquity/sins. David was in a desperate situation; his own son was pursuing him to kill him and take over the kingdom of Judah. Now, after he has spoken to God and told Him his plight and what he needed and spoken to the hearers not only of I AM’s greatness and goodness, but to whom Yahweh speaks and is in covenant, David must put first things first. He must confess those things that separate him from God, those sins that have put some distance between him and I AM. Since Yahweh is all good and kind, He cannot be in its presence. To be in the LORD’s presence then, David must recognize himself as a sinner, confess those sins, and repent, to be given grace from I AM which makes him clean to go before the LORD. David has repented, but he realizes that it is not for his sake alone that he needs repentance but for Yahweh. He is so close to I AM that he does not want his sin to blacken the name of the LORD. All people knew that God had chosen David. If David was seen running from his son in fear, the people could believe that God was punishing him, maybe God’s favor was withdrawn from David, or Yahweh was not strong enough to save His chosen one. David did not want there to be any doubt that Yahweh was strong enough and he did not want all the great things that I AM had done for His people to be negated by this incident. David had to make sure to have all his sin removed so that he could go before the LORD and know that he was being heard by I AM. More importantly, David had to make sure that he could hear God, that his path to I AM was open so he could hear exactly what God would have him learn and do. This, then, becomes David’s faith statement; YOUR name is great, YAHWEH, and I am a sinner. David has laid it out for all to hear him and know this is the God Whom he follows and trusts.
In the next section, David talks about the LORD again. He spends three verses telling his hearers/readers about Who Yahweh really is. He is the One who will instruct a person in the way he should go. He is the one who will give prosperity to not only the physical person but to the soul of a person. Added to that, He will not only give it to the person, the one who follows the way of I AM, but promises to give land, His provisions, to his descendants. This is a reiteration of Yahweh’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 17. David is calling the hearers to remember this covenant for them and he is telling those who will be their descendants, later hearers and readers. Additionally, He is recalling God’s faithfulness to himself as well and acknowledging it before the LORD and his hearers. 
Verse 14 is the apex of this passage in the psalm. “The secret of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He will make them know His covenant.”  There is the implied statement that the LORD is so immense that He should be feared. The king of Judah, the man after His own heart, acknowledges that this LORD, this I AM, is so great that He commands fear, reverence, and awe. This says a lot. Yahweh does not demand it, but commands it by His presence and greatness, love and faithfulness. This statement by the beloved king speaks volumes to adoring subjects of that time and readers and hearers later. It says this I AM is the ONE GOD and HE is worthy to be worshipped and trusted. The other part of this verse that makes it the apex of this chapter is David’s wording about a “secret of the LORD.” This secret, in the Hebrew language, means an intimacy with the LORD that makes one so close to Him that not only do you fear and worship Him in awe, but also you hear Him when He speaks. Not only to you hear Him, but also you obey because it is your heart’s desire to follow the One you love and to make Him glad with your actions and attitudes. This is the secret of the LORD, you know Him so intimately and love Him so dearly that you will know in your heart, mind, soul, and body what His covenant of grace really is. His love for you desires you to be in a very intimate close heart and spirit relationship with Him. At this point, you are close enough for Him to counsel and guide you moment by moment. Yahweh can teach you and make you know in your inmost parts of His covenant/pledge/promises. Yahweh is the Almighty One from before all time, until beyond time and come to the point of revering Him.
Where does David go from here? He has laid it out exactly Who I AM is and who he, and we, are, sinners in need of Yahweh, redeemer GOD. David makes his personal faith statement. It is right there; David, the king said it, “My eyes are continually toward the LORD, for He will pluck my feet out of the net” (verse 15). David said it also in Psalms 123 and 141; our eyes are continually toward the LORD. Why? Because He is God. His actions and intentions toward us are and always have been faithfully loving, good, and kind. It is to Him from Whom we seek refuge because we know inwardly from our spirits and from God’s actions over the thousands of years of His interaction with humanity that He is I AM, Yahweh, “the existing One.” He is the One Who not only can, but also will, “pluck my feet out of the net.” Literally this means He will “bring out” my feet from the net. Additionally, this “net” is used doubly not only to mean the trap in which he is caught by men, but the judgment that is due him because of his sin. I AM has plucked him from the judgment by His love and grace, by His covenant promise to His children of Israel.
The remaining of the verses David is speaking to I AM again. He has confessed and been redeemed. There is no longer a wall between Him and Yahweh. This one who is a part of the “secret of the LORD” and is intimately related to Him is close enough to be bold in his pleas. Instead of couching his requests as a sinner before the holy I AM, he can now go before the LORD as His child, a part of the secret of the LORD. He can boldly ask for Yahweh’s assistance. He asks eight things in verses 16-22, just as he asked for eight things in verses 1-7. This time his asking looks like demands; he is boldly going before Yahweh, his Redeemer. He states to I AM, “Turn to me and be gracious” (vs. 16), “Bring me out of my distress” (vs. 17), Look at my affliction and trouble…Forgive my sins” (vs. 18), “Look at my enemies” (vs. 19), “Guard my soul…Deliver me” (vs. 20), “Let integrity and uprightness preserve me” (vs. 21), and “Redeem Israel out of his troubles” (vs.22). He speaks of his external physical trouble and moves inwardly towards the needs of his Israel before the LORD. When he speaks of Israel, he is speaking of Israel at that time, the Israel in turmoil politically, as well as Israel’s spiritual state, a sinful people. He is also speaking of Israel as the descendants of Abraham, not just the Hebrews, but also the body of believers who are adopted by Yahweh through the covenant of grace He has provided for them through the blood of Jesus as the sacrifice. David is speaking about himself and to the hearers and readers in all times of this psalm.
Verse 22 is a reiteration of verse 1. In verse 1, David states that the LORD is the One to Whom we should and can turn to seek help, not only for our physical bodies in this time, but for our souls, for all time. Verse 22 states unequivocally that God is the Redeemer and will help in all our troubles. Yahweh does not want to be called upon only when we are in a crisis and do not have any other options. He desires to be in an intimate relationship with us at all times so that we do not necessarily have to call upon Him for guidance and counsel, but we will already know because of our intimacy. This is the promise He has given us a multitude of times in His Word, such as in Jeremiah 29:11.  
When we are this close to Yahweh, we can know and say with David, “My eyes are continually toward the Lord” (vs. 15). He is our Redeemer and removed us from the net and from our deserved separation from Yahweh. He is the eternally existent One Who created us for a relationship with Him and has provided the way for us to live with Him eternally. There is nothing that we have done to deserve this grace; I AM has always wanted a relationship with us. This is a psalm about sovereign I AM. It is about His greatness and love. He is contrasted with our sinful selves in need of a Redeemer. This psalm shows us that we are sinful, God is upright and almighty, and we are in need of a Savior for our daily walk through life and for our eternal life. David wrote a psalm of what, upon a cursory reading, would seem to be of persecution. Upon a closer reading, it becomes apparent that this is really a psalm of Yahweh’s love and redemption given for all humanity. Faced with this psalm of David, we, the hearers and readers, must decide for ourselves if we will accept God’s covenant grace of redemption. We must decide if we will have this intimate relationship with the loving, good, kind, and faithful I AM.

[One additional note needs to be given. The structure of this psalm is chiastic. It starts with David speaking to God for seven verses. Next David speaks about God for three verses. The center of the psalm, verse 11, states the theme of the psalm. David then goes on to speak to the hearers and readers of the psalm for 3 verses followed by him talking to Yahweh in the final seven verses. It looks like this in structure.

            Speaking to God, 7 verses (pleas when unconfessed)

            Speaking about God, three verses.

            Theme of the psalm, verse 11.

            Speaking about God, three verses, with verse 15 as David’s own statement of faith.

            Speaking to God, 7 verses (demands when David’s relationship is restored

 through confession)

Structurally, too, verses 1, 15, and 22 provide the verses of redemption. These become the encasement for the psalm, the vehicle for David’s psalm.]