Monday, February 16, 2015

Ministering Spirits- Hebrews 1:14

Original Picture by Ablipintime and obtained under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

My wife is reading a fictional novel right now about angels helping different people in different ways. The angels look just like anyone else and have different jobs and positions and therefore, people think that they are just ordinary humans. I have just gotten a very brief description of the book from her, but because she is reading it, it has caused her to think a little differently when she meets someone she doesn't know. Just yesterday, she came home from the store and mentioned a gentlemen that asked how she was doing and was very friendly. And as she walked away, she ruminated about whether or not he could possibly be an angel.

What an incredible way to live! We know the scriptures say "Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it" (Hebrews 13:2). We also know that God sent angels in the past to talk with men and give messages and by all accounts the angels appeared just like any other men. 

The reason I want to point to this verse as a promise is because we tend to see only the things that are immediately in front of us. Satan does a great job of helping us focus only on those things that are here and now and that we can see, hear, taste, touch or feel. The problem with only focusing on those things is that we lose sight of true reality! None of those things will last! The things that will last are not the things we can see, hear, touch, taste or feel at all! But what difference does it make if that's what we focus on and forget about the spiritual realm?

Well, for starters, if I'm in the middle of a crisis and I'm the only one I can see in the crisis, then I begin to feel pretty overwhelmed! But what does the Hebrews writer say!? He says that angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation! That's me! If I am understanding this scripture correctly, then God has appointed celestial beings to serve me and aid me in inheriting my salvation! That's not because I'm such a great person (I'm not!), it's because God is such a great God!

The second reason we need to remember the spiritual realm is because, when we do think about the spiritual realm, we tend to only think about God and Satan. And, once again, because Satan does a great job of helping us focus on the tangible, we often feel distant from God even if our feelings are misleading. When that is the case, even when my mind is thinking about the fact that there is a spiritual realm, it is easy to feel defeated because I can't feel the presence of God right now in the middle of the spiritual problem that I am facing! But what does the scripture say!? It says that angels are ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation! That's me! Even when I can't feel it, God has not left me alone in this world. He has gone to infinitely great lengths to adopt me as His son, and He promises that nothing can separate me from his love or destroy my inheritance! 

So take courage from the fact that God has sent angels to serve you as you are inheriting salvation. Take comfort that you are not in this alone even when other Christians fail you. Take joy in knowing that God has a plan to protect and keep you.  Live with the wonder and the awe that recognizes that there is more to life than what immediately meets the eye. Look with joy for the places that God has planted His servants that we might never know for sure about.There is an incredible story in 1 Kings 6 in which the Aramean army has surrounded Elisha in order to take him captive. Elisha's servant is terrified as he sees the vast army. But Elisha tells him, "Don't be afraid,...those who are with us are more than those who are with them." And then he prayed that the servants eyes would be opened to see the reality of the situation which included God's greater army between Elisha and the Aramean army!

I pray that our eyes might also be opened to see the incredibly protection of our God that surrounds us every day!
But do you know what is even more impressive about this promise about ministering spirits in Hebrews? The whole point of the passage in Hebrews is that Jesus is infinitely greater than the angels! "So he [Jesus] became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs" (Hebrews 1:4). You have angels who are sent to minister to you! But so much more than that, you have the Son of God Himself who has promised to never leave you or forsake you! Just as Elisha said that those who are with us are more than those who are with them, John says even more powerfully that "the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world" (1 John 4:4)!

Live, and love, and rejoice in that knowledge!! And then go out with confidence to do what God has called you to do in and by His power!

Monday, February 2, 2015

God's Promise to you 2,000 years ago- Acts 2:38-39
Yesterday, the sermon was about our faith. Ed posed the question of whether we felt like our faith would be increased if we could just see some of the miracles that they saw in the first century. We get frustrated sometimes when we read the book of Acts, don't we? We long for the excitement and the wonder that seems to have pervaded the church. We sometimes wish the Spirit still fell on us the same way it fell on them. In ways that no one could deny.

Wouldn't you love to have seen the tongues of fire and heard the languages spoken at Pentecost? Wouldn't you thrill to see the lame man jumping for joy after Peter healed him? Wouldn't you live with more purpose and direction if you heard the voice of the Spirit the way it seems Paul did when Luke records Paul's travels and where he was led and not led by the Spirit?

And yet, here at the very beginning of the church...the very first invitation that was extended after Jesus ascended to a promise that there is no mistaking whom it is for.

"The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off - for all whom the Lord our God will call."

Pay attention to that! There is no "Well if we just had what they had..." There can be no, "I would do better if only God gave me what He gave them..." God, through Peter, specifically spoke down through the centuries to make absolutely sure you would hear the message today...right now! The promise is for you!

It's incredible to me that with thousands of people who responded that day, God looked past the excitement of the day and inspired Peter to speak not just to the thronging crowd in front of him, but to their children and to all who are far off! Indeed to anyone whom God would call!

That's me! That's you if you've answered God's call!

So what is the promise?

"You will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit!"

We sometimes tend to focus on the front half of this passage. The part that we are supposed to do. Once we are convicted of the truth of God's message, what do we do? Peter says, repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. We drill that...and with good reason. It's the only proper response of faith. But in focusing on what we are to do, let's not lose what God promises to do in addition to the fact that He already killed His addition to receiving the forgiveness of sins. That should be enough but God doesn't stop. The real promise is the gift of Himself! He gives us the gift of the Spirit!

There are entire books that try to cover what exactly that gift is. I can't, and won't, try to cover that wouldn't keep reading if I did! But for now, I want you to meditate on the fact of the truth of the gift itself. I guarantee we could spend the rest of our earthly lives figuring out new things that the gift of the Spirit entails. How fun would it be to wake up every morning knowing beyond a shadow of a doubt that because God has called me down through the ages, I can go through the day in possession of the gift of the Spirit!

I'd love to hear your thoughts on how that would change your day. What has the gift of the Spirit done for you? How have you seen it in your life? If you have no idea what the gift of the Spirit is, then I challenge you to spend the day...and the week...and the month...and the rest of your life pondering that question and learning! And then live with the love and the excitement and the thrill and the purpose and the joy that the early Church did because we have all been given the same gift of the Spirit.

Friday, January 30, 2015

"The LORD saves" Matthew 1:20-21

Image obtained from
You hear it thrown out casually every day.
  • Someone jams their finger and yells it.
  • Someone gets frustrated with what someone else is doing and mumbles it under their breath.
  • Someone is surprised about something and exclaims it out loud without every thinking about what it means.
We've gotten used to the name "Jesus." But it is anything but a common word. Just look at the verse above and remind yourself about why God instructed Joseph to name Mary's son Jesus.

The name itself is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Joshua. It means "The Lord Saves."

The Lord saves.

Is there any more powerful statement in the world? Is there anything more important? Is there anything more comforting? Is there anything that gives as much hope?

Isn't it incredible that God was not content to merely tell people that He was willing to save them. He literally left his equality with God in heaven and came down to earth wrapping himself in human flesh for the purpose of dying a human death...something he could never have done if He were not actually human (Philippians 2:6-8). And He did all that while wearing the name "The LORD saves." That message is so important that it couldn't just be had to be lived and worn by God, Himself, in the flesh.

The LORD saves.

And the angel told Joseph to name the tiny, funny-looking, not even halfway formed baby inside Mary's belly Jesus  because "he will save his people from their sins."

Do you really believe that promise? Do you believe that God loves you enough to make himself a single cell inside a young woman's womb that would multiply until it became a zygote and finally a baby? Do you believe that He was obedient to Love enough that He did that willingly and that he carried that obedience through His earthly life all the way to the point of allowing wicked men who were cursing his glorious name of "The Lord Saves" even while they were nailing him to the cross?

Do you believe that?

Because I don't believe that "The Lord saves" simply means that he saved us from the consequences of our sins. The angel said "He will save his people from their sins." That means he doesn't just want you to be forgiven...he wants you to be free of them!

Do you believe it's possible? Or do you believe you will be slave to sin your entire earthly life? I believe I will make mistakes in the future just as I have in the past. I believe I will fall and give in to my flesh again even knowing that God in the flesh wore this name in order to remind me that He saves me from my sins. But I also believe that God does what He says He will do. It will take time. It will be painful. It will take commitment on my part to draw near to God instead of going my own way. But I believe it will happen.

May we remember the power of the name of Jesus and why He was named that in the first place. May we believe the truth of the message it brings. May you be thrilled with the joy of the truth of the message every time you hear it tossed out casually by someone who clearly has no idea the power of the truth they are proclaiming every time they utter His glorious name. And may that truth give us the courage to make the changes we need to make, the discipline to focus on the good, and the faith to believe that God has the power to save us from our sins. May we never be content to simply be forgiven without being also freed.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

The Thirst Quencher- John 7:37-39 
37 On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. 38 Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” 39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
John 7:37-39 

Jesus had also made this promise earlier to the Samaritan woman at the well.
13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”     - John 4:13-14
It's a really impressive statement...but what does he mean by it? I'm grateful that John looks back at this story through the lens of inspiration and explains that Jesus was talking about the Spirit. But as I was studying this passage this week, it made even more sense when considering the context.

Commentators point out that the "last and greatest day of the festival" would have included a ceremony in which the priests would carry water from the Pool of Siloam to pour out on the altar after walking around the altar seven times. After that pouring there would have been great rejoicing. And it was either immediately after that moment, or it was the day after which would have been the first day for 8 days without a similar water-pouring ceremony that Jesus proclaimed in a loud voice that anyone who was thirsty should come to him. John's placement of the story is interesting in itself. In chapter 6 Jesus fed the 5,000 and then proclaimed that he was the bread of life. And then in chapter 7, he claims that he is the living water. Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah in no uncertain terms! The people believed that the Messiah would provide for people in a similar manner that Moses (or rather God, through Moses) had with the Manna and the water from the rock.

So what difference does this make in your life today now that you understand it?

Do you feel capable of making a difference in someone's life? Do you feel content with the work God has given you? Do you feel energized as you go through life because you believe you are making a difference?

Listen to the promise!!!
Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them...Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.

Not only will you never thirst, but the water that keeps you from thirsting will also flow out of you to quench the thirst of those around you! You will become yourself a "spring of water welling up to eternal life!" The "rivers of living water will flow" from within you!

So hear this and hear it plainly...if you have put your trust in Jesus...if you have believed in Him and therefore obeyed him...if you have come to Him to drink, then you have something incredible and eternal to offer! There are no ifs, ands, or buts about it! If you are in the fountain, then you have become part of the fountain! You have the Spirit of the living God living inside you to fill you up and to fill the lives up of those you let Him flow to!

So don't stifle that flow with self-doubt and timidity. Don't quench the Spirit inside you by holding back a word because you are scared of "messing up." Don't close the spigot because you don't want to make other people uncomfortable by pouring the living water on them! THEY ARE DYING OF THIRST AND THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW IT! Give them the water that you have been given!

Last week at EU, Craig Evans presented a lesson on Friday night. He stated very simply: Jesus loves you. Do you believe it? And is it enough? 
Do you believe it? Do you believe His words here about the living water in you if you have already believed that Jesus loves you? And is that enough? What will you do with it this week? 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Guest Article: God In Us- 1 Corinthians 3:16-17

Original picture by Ariely and obtained under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported license.
Several weeks ago when I asked for suggestions to write about when considering the promises of God, I got one request to write about the idea of God living in us. Because of the thought put into the request itself, and because of the respect I have for the person who suggested it, I asked that person it if they would be interested in putting some thoughts about it down. The following is what they sent, but they wanted it to be anonymous.

What would it look like if Jesus decided to come down here and become YOU?

Would people notice the change? What would be different? How would your life make Jesus look?

Having Jesus become me... is that possible? Is it something that I would even WANT to happen?

Yet in Scripture, this gets repeated...
God IN you.
Christ IN you.
The Spirit IN you.

John 14:23... Jesus said, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”

Romans 8:9-11... Paul wrote to the followers of Christ in Rome,
“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives IN you.
And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.
But if Christ is IN you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.
And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living IN you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives IN you.”

(Those “ifs” are hard to ignore.)

Galatians 2:19,20 ... And Paul wrote this to the Christians in Galatia,
“For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives IN me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Colossians 1:27 ... And he wrote this to the ones in Colosse,
“...God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ IN you, the hope of glory.”

Paul personified the Spirit when he wrote these words to followers in Corinth:
2 Corinthians 3:17,18Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

Is it easy for me to wrap my head around this? No. But I am working on it.

It’s hard for me to believe that the LORD, who is the Spirit, would want to come live in my flawed life.

But I do believe that he is able.

Amen. May we live with the knowledge of "God in us" in ever increasing ways every day, and may our lives reflect that knowledge more and more as we grow in it.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Could I sacrifice my child? Hebrews 11:6

Amber and I have tried to read a Bible story to our girls nightly for some time now. We've used different children's Bibles to do so and have recently started using one that Amber's parents read to her when she was little. The story last night was the story of Abraham being asked by God to sacrifice Isaac. Now that's a pretty difficult story for us adults to handle. Needless to say, we were a little anxious once we got into the story about how 4 year olds would receive it!

Just in case you are unfamiliar or need a review, here's the gist of it:

God had previously promised Abraham that he would have descendants so numerous that they would make a great numerous in fact that they would be compared to the stars of the sky. The problem with the promise, however, was that it wasn't fulfilled until after Abraham was a very old man, and his wife Sarah was not far behind. We're talking to the tune of 100 years old and 90 years old respectively. I'm sure you can feel for them when they tried to take matters into their own hands to make the promise come true (Genesis 16)!

Of course, they are told that their human schemes to help out God's plans are not God's plans and the promise is reiterated. And finally, they have a son whom they name Isaac. Fast forward a few years and God tells Abraham to take Isaac up on a mountain and sacrifice him. Now for those of us who have grown up hearing the story, we have gotten comfortable with it because we know the end of the story. God stops the process mid-knife swing and provides a ram for the sacrifice after all.

But if you really stop to think about it, it's a difficult story. How could a loving God even ask him to sacrifice his only unique son in the first place!??

Without dwelling on it, I am starting to think that maybe the story with Abraham and Isaac was really more about God the Father and Jesus, whom God did follow through with sacrificing. But that's another story. What I want you to think about as we start the year is the faith that allowed Abraham to obey this command of God to the point of tying up his son and raising the knife to stab it through Isaac's heart! Could you do that as a dad or as a mom!!?? Could I?

Maybe you don't honestly know the answer to that question. I very seriously doubt we will be asked to find out (And, Lord, do I pray I won't!). But what we can know is why Abraham was able to obey what must have seemed an absolutely absurd order from the God he had learned to trust. The Hebrews writer holds the key:
By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.       - Hebrews 11:17-19
Why did Abraham take his son up on a mountain and prepare him as a burnt offering? Because he trusted God's promise!

He had doubted God in the past and had tried to act on his own understanding of the way things work when he consented to sire a child with Sarah's maidservant. But then he had seen God's miraculous power at work. He reasoned that if God could bring forth a son from a dead and barren womb, then God could also bring back a son from the dead itself!

The reason I point to this story is because it displays so powerfully the power to change the behavior of a man when he really and truly accepted and trusted in the promises of God. Do we accept the promises of God in the same way? God has never asked me to sacrifice one of my children. He has asked me to sacrifice my time. God has never asked me to kill my son. He has asked me to kill my selfishness. God has never asked me to do the hardest thing a parent could ever possibly do. He has asked me to live in response to the truth that He actually did follow through with the hardest thing a parent could possibly do- He sacrificed His only begotten Son.

Over the coming year, we are going to be looking at some of the promises of God. The Hebrews writer tells us that without faith, it is impossible to please Him. It's interesting to me that he points out that it's not just faith that God's faith that He rewards those who seek him. In other words...He keeps His promises!!!

Paul wrote to Titus that the "knowledge of the truth that leads to Godliness" is "in the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time." (Titus 1:1-2)

God cannot lie. God has made promises. All of those promises in one way or another lead to eternal life. Will we believe them? Will we trust them? Will we please God with our faith that culminates in our obeying even the instructions that our sinful natures rebel against as we selfishly and desperately try to hold onto our lives out of fear of death? (see Hebrews 2:14-15)

Without that type of is impossible to please God.

May 2015 be a year that we learn to trust. And therefore may it be a year that we please God.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Never Stop! Acts 28

What would it take to get us to stop sharing about what God has done for us through Christ and what He wants to do for every person we come into contact with?

Do we stop talking when we feel awkward?
Do we stop when it is uncomfortable?
Do we quit when we meet resistance?
Would we quit if we were warned we could lose our job?

Would we quit if we were warned we would lose our life?
Would we keep our faith to ourselves if we knew we might lose our family by speaking?
Would we get frustrated and give up if we lost some of our freedom because of the cause of Christ?

What would it take?

As we come to the end of the year and to the end of the book of Acts, I can't help but think back to the overwhelming sense that the first century Christians would stop at absolutely nothing to serve their Lord. They endured beatings and imprisonment. They rejoiced in persecution. They deliberately disobeyed the authorities who tried to silence them because they claimed a higher Authority.

Here at the end of Luke's record of the early church, we see Paul under house arrest in Rome. It's incredible to me that Luke just leaves Paul imprisoned! But I think it speaks volumes that Luke concludes his history of the early church by saying that Paul just simply continued to proclaim the kingdom of God and continued to teach about the Lord Jesus Christ.

That mission was his everything.

It consumed him and it drove every decision he made. It set his purpose in every day. His words, thoughts, and actions all flowed from the one supreme force in his life- the grace of Jesus that he met on the road to Damascus so many years before.

As you look toward the New Year and begin to think of resolutions and plans for the future, I want to challenge you to think of one question. Is there anything in the coming days and in the coming year that will keep you from proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching someone about the Lord Jesus Christ? Will your circumstances or your family? Will your time constraints or your finances? Will your pride or your selfishness?

If there is anything at all that you can think of that would keep you from proclaiming Him...I want to challenge you to knock that idol down and start 2015 with the passion and the purpose that we read about in the book of Acts.

May we not let anything ever stop us from proclaiming the kingdom that we have been given entrance into. And may that kingdom spread and God be glorified because of it.

Don't forget to post a response to this week's VOW or last week's with your suggestions for future VOWs. I am looking for promises of God from scripture to write about in the coming weeks. I really love researching and writing about things that other people hold dear because it challenges me to grow and study passages that I may not already be familiar with. May God bless you in the coming year!