FAITH

(Hebrews 11:1-3) Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.  This is what the ancients were commended for.  By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). This verse from Proverbs has been a pillar of guidance for me throughout my Christian life.  I have come to understand that to do what this passage directs is an act of faith.  Today I’d like to look into faith.  Hebrews chapter 11 is called the faith chapter because it focuses on faith.  The first three verses give us a great definition of faith.  Faith is simply believing in what we don’t see.

The Bible, from beginning to end, is given to us to assist in building our faith.  It tells us what existed before us and what exists in the unseen world.  Our journey begins with faith, just a little faith, and that faith grows as we seek the God who is unseen.  He touches us in our inner being, and we experience his presence.  We find joy and new life as we grow in our knowledge of him.

Hebrews 11:6 – And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.      Here in Hebrews 11:6 we read about this process of starting with a little faith, and God rewarding us in a growing relationship with him.    As our faith in him grows, we approach the place where we can trust in him with all our hearts and surrender our understanding to him. 

The Message translation states our Hebrews 11:1-3 scripture like this, “The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living.  It’s our handle on what we can’t see.”  Growing in trust and faith in our God is a quest all believers share, and this quest is filled along the way with rewards from the God who loves us.

  GOD’S PEACE

(John 14:27) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Nothing can bring you peace like a personal relationship with Jesus.  The closer you get to him the more peace you have in your life.  I believe this is very true.  When Jesus spoke these words to his disciples, he was comforting them, but there is also in these words the challenge to believe them.  Faith is required to attain his peace.

When we surrender ourselves to God and trust him with our lives, he gives us peace.  His peace is spiritual, and it transcends the influence of the physical world.  In Romans 8:6 we read, “The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace.”

Another way of looking at this is that the flesh looks at troubles from a finite perspective.  The peace that Jesus gives is from an eternal perspective.  He said, “I do not give to you as the world gives.”  In verses 28&29 He continues, “You heard me say, ‘I am going away and I am coming back to you.’  If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.  I have told you now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will believe.”  Jesus was teaching his disciples to look at the bigger picture, the eternal picture.

The Apostle Paul tells us in Philippians 4:7, “And the peace of God that transcends all understanding, will guard you hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”  God’s peace is spiritual.  For believers his peace permeates our souls.  We can’t explain it, and unbelievers can’t comprehend it.   Peace is a gift that God gives to his children.  When troubles come, we have confidence that his peace will be there. With his peace, we also have the hope and comfort that it brings.

 NOT AS I WILL, BUT AS YOU WILL

(Matthew 26:39)  Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.  Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Jesus’ prayer, like everything he spoke, is full of insight into who he is, and what he wants us to be.  He is wholly human.  He suffered like we would if we were facing an immanent and horrible death.  I wonder if I could, under those circumstances, finish my prayer with, “Yet not as I will, but as you will. 

The thought came up that Jesus is also wholly God giving me an excuse why I might not be so trusting.  Then I remembered Abraham and Isaac.  In Genesis chapter 22 we have the story of God testing Abraham.  Verses 1 and 2: Some time later God tested Abraham.  He said to him, “Abraham!”  “Here I am,” he replied.  “Take your son, your only son, whom you love – Isaac – and go to the region of Moriah.  Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” 

Abraham then demonstrates his trust in God by carrying out God’s command.  The story climaxes just as Abraham raised the knife to end his son’s life. God stopped him, and provided a ram as a substitute for Isaac.

Abraham was willing to say, “Not as I will, but as you will.”  And Abraham was wholly human.  So, I have no excuse.  Jesus wants me to trust God, my Father, in all things.  Can I do it?  I hope so.  I have the provision of his Holly Spirit living in me.  I‘m determined; I will do it!  Help me Lord!  Not as I will, but as you will.

THE SOURCE OF LOVE

(1Corinthians 13:4-8a) Love is patient, love is kind.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  Love never fails …..

  In these verses, The Apostle Paul gives us a definition of agape love, God’s love.  These are the characteristics of the love God has for his creation, and especially for us the crown of his creation.  This is also the love he wants us to have for each other.  Jesus said to his apostles, “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).

Where did love originate?  Only one answer presents its self, and that is from God.  The Creator fashioned all that is in the temporal world, so it’s a logical assumption that love came from him. This is what the Apostle John has to say in chapter 5 of his first letter, verse 16 – “And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.  God is love.  Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them.”  He goes on to say in verse 19, “We love because he first loved us.”  Love is therefore inherent in God.  Love must have existed even before the creation within the triune of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

I have a desire to love more completely, and if you share this desire with me, we know that we must go to the source of love.  As I meditate on the list of what love is, I am fully aware of how much I lack in loving God and loving others, but this list also speaks of how God loves me. I believe the secret is to first comprehend his love for me.  The more his love pours into my soul the greater the opportunity for it to flow out of me.  God is love, and he is the one in whom we can find true love.

Author’s note: Did you ever realize that God’s love is a very humble love?

RECONCILIATION BETWEEN PEOPLE

(Matthew 5:23&24) Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar.  First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

We have been looking at reconciliation between fallen mankind and God.  Since God is holy and righteous, and man is a condemned sinner, there had to be a leveling of position for reconciliation to be possible.  God had a great plan to bring this about.  He sent his only begotten Son.    Jesus gave us the righteousness we needed by paying for our sins on the cross.  Jesus made it possible for us to be reconciled to God.  All we have to do is receive what God has done.

Today let’s explore reconciliation between people.  When it comes to person-to-person reconciliation, we are already on a level playing field with each other because we are all sinners.    In cases between individual, there has to be a change from both sides for reconciliation to occur.  However, in the above verses from Matthew, Jesus tells us to go and initiate the process.

Sometimes just our willingness to go to our brother or sister is enough to begin reconciliation.  Other times when we go to someone they are totally unwilling to work with us.  We can only do our part.  The rest has to be given to prayer.  I’m reminded that only God can truly change our hearts.

The apostle Paul tells us “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Reconciliation between us and our fellow humans is important.  The love of God and the love he puts in our hearts for one another should encourages us to seek peace with each other.  Confronting an issue that has come between us and a brother or sister is not always easy, but peace and restored fellowship is the goal that makes the effort worthwhile.

THE MINISTRY OF RECONCILIATION

(2Corinthians 5:17-19) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old is gone, the new is here!  All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.  And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

Last week I wrote about God’s amazing plan to bring us back to what he desired for us from the beginning.  He reconciled us through the sacrifice of his only begotten Son Jesus Christ.  Jesus took our sins upon him and paid the price that we were unable to pay.  So here we are a new creation before God.  He has given us the promise of eternal life – never to be separated from him again.  Can we share a WOW! 

What are we going to do to show our gratitude for this great gift?  We don’t have to do anything to earn this gift because it has already been given.  The Apostle Paul tells us what God wants us to do to show our gratitude.  He has given us the “Ministry of Reconciliation”.  He wants us to tell those we live among: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” 

Yes, as you think about it, this message is not necessarily going to be received as the good news.  People don’t always believe it, and some simply want to go on sinning.  They are often offended by the message.  Jesus told us to be as wise as serpents, but be as gentle as doves since our ministry is not always effective by using the direct approach.  I have always tried to live in the joy and hope God has given me. I’ve worked to love people, care for them, and pray for them, while waiting for the time to come when their heart is opened to receive the message.  This is how I have approached the ministry of reconciliation, but we are all uniquely gifted by God to share the message in the way he has designed us. 

In loving gratitude, let’s continue to tell of the wonderful, miraculous gift God has given us.  Our sins have been forgiven, and we have eternal life with him available to us.  Thanks be to God that he has entrusted to us the ministry of reconciliation.

CHRISTMAS MAGIC

Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem

(Luke 2:6-14)  While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son.  She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.

            And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.  But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

            Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

            “Glory to God in the highest heaven,

                  and on earth peace to those on

                        whom his favor rests.”

You hear a lot of talk about the Magic of Christmas at this time of year.  Webster’s definition of magic includes the term “supernatural”.  Christmas is definitely supernatural.  In Luke chapter 2, we read about the birth of Jesus and those who are involved in this one-time event. Think of it, a virgin gives birth, angels appear and give glory to God, and the Savior of the world is an apparently helpless child lying in a manger.  This is real magic; not a slight of hand or an illusion, but God’s kind of magic for it is supernatural.

In our everyday natural lives, we at times experience God’s supernatural intervention.  Someone receives salvation, unexpected generosity, supernatural healing, answered pray, or God’s unforeseen provision.  At Christmas time, we tend to expect these “miracles”.  Of course, God is always at work in our lives, but there is something magical about Christmas.

What could be more magical than the coming of God’s son to save us from our sins?  God’s way of doing this is supernatural, miraculous, and magical. Perhaps Christmas magic is rooted in our hearts because the miracle of salvation has come. 

 I pray that you have a happy and content Christmas celebration, and that the magic of Christmas will be with you throughout the New Year.

THE PLAN OF GOD AND OUR EVERYDAY LIFE

In the first chapter of Matthew, he presents us with a genealogy from Abraham to Jesus.  Each of the people mentioned in this list were just like us going about everyday life.  In all the ups and downs of life, we are all unaware of our specific part in God’s plan.  Yet those mentioned in Matthew’s genealogy are all in the linage of Jesus. 

In his genealogy, Matthew calls our attention to four couples.  These couples are: Judah and Tamar, Salmon and Rahab, Boaz and Ruth, and David and Bathsheba.  They each have their stories recorded in the pages of the Old Testament. 

The story of Judah and Tamar is found in Genesis Chapter 38.  The story of Salmon and Rahab is found in the book of Joshua chapter 2 and culminated in chapter 6 verses 17, 22 and 25. Salmon took Rahab as his wife. His name is not mentioned in the Joshua story, but Matthew’s list confirms him as the father of Boaz.  The story of Boaz and Ruth is found in the book of Ruth.  It’s a great story.  The story of David and Bathsheba is recorded in 2nd Samuel Chapters 11 and 12:1-25. 

The everyday lives of these couples, and all the others mentioned in Mathew’s list of forbearers, played important roles in God’s plan.  Some of them were of Hebrew descent, and some were not.  For three of the couples, sin was obviously part of their story.  Still, they all played a part in the coming of Jesus.  In the course of their everyday lives God brought about his miraculous plan for the salvation of the world.  God’s plan is not finished. 

In our everyday lives, we are living out our part in God’s continuing plan to bring others to salvation.  In the midst of this chaotic world, let’s share the wonderful story of the true meaning of Christmas to all who will listen. Who knows what part our everyday lives may play in God’s miraculous plan.  

WORKING WITH THE LORD

I once attended a church where the common question was, “what are you doing for the Lord”.  I believe the question was well intentioned, but it always left me perplexed.   I felt directed by the Lord to be ministering there, but had no ready answer for the question.  I’ve recently revisited this question, and I believe I’ve discovered a new perspective.

This is what I’ve come to.  I am not doing for the Lord; I am doing with the Lord.  At first this may seem like a subtle difference, but on further thought I have found it quite profound.  When doing for the Lord, I am focused on pursuing my effort.  In doing with the Lord, I am engaged in a relationship that brings about a good work.  I am reminded of Jesus’ words, “I am the vine; and you are the branches.  If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).  He is the vine: I am the branch.  It stands to reason then that I am working with Jesus not for him.  This perspective keeps me from working to find favor with the Lord.  I already have his favor. We are working together.

Jesus’ words, as recorded in Matthew 11:28-30, broadened my understanding of working with him. “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  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.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light”.   

I want the easy light burden that working with Jesus brings.  I want to work with Jesus not for him.  He is my king, and he deserves my every effort for sure, but his words give me a different focus, relationship.  He invites me to come to him and work alongside him.  He affords me the great privilege of working at his side.

A DEPRAVED MIND

In my concern for our country, I would like to spark some Biblical insight about what is happening to America.  Last week I shared that countries will be judged for their wickedness.  Today I’d like to give some thoughts on what is wrong with our thinking.  Have you noticed that our leaders seem especially irrational in their thinking?

In Romans chapter one the Apostle Paul explains how rejecting God affected our thinking.  Romans 1:21, For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

If you think there isn’t a God, you fit in well with the liberal thinking of our times.  However, America was founded with the idea that there is a God who is identified in the Bible.  There is certainly still enough evidence to this conjecture to be convincing.  No doubt there are many who would like to destroy this evidence, but let’s get back to our investigation of the problem with our thinking.

Romans 1:28-30, Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity.  They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice.  They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents.

In God we find the source of wisdom.  We think we’re intelligent, but without God we falter in our use of knowledge.  Sin gets in the way of our ability to think rationally.  We need God!  He is our only hope!  Unless we repent and turn to God, we are doomed to continue in our futility and irrational sin driven thinking.