ADVERSITY

(John 16:33) I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.

Jesus said these words to his disciples as he was getting ready to finish his work and return to the Father.  He knew that they were going to face considerable adversity as they carried the Good News to the world.  His encouragement to them was first that they would have peace in him, and secondly that they would “take heart” because he has overcome the world. 

Take heart is a familiar statement, and most modern translations use the words take heart for this verse.  I wanted to better understand what Jesus was saying, so I did a little digging.  Here’s a definition that I thought explains the term well:  to gain courage or confidence: to begin to feel better and more hopeful.  God put in us great inner strength, but he never meant for us to face adversity alone.  We can take heart because Jesus has overcome the world.

I stumbled on this scripture from Proverbs when I was going through chemotherapy.  (Proverbs 24:10) If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength?  It caused me to take heart, to rise up and continue to face my adversity.    So I gained courage and confidence, and I began to feel better and more hopeful.  I was strengthened in myself, but I was not strengthened by my own ability.  Through my relationship with God and the guidance of his word, I was encouraged in him.  I was able to rise up and face my adversity, because Jesus was at my side through it all.

WALKING NOT RUNNING WITH GOD

(Micah 6:8) He has showed you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you? To do justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Micah 6:8 is one of my favorite scriptures.  It puts the requirements of walking with God in a nut shell.  It teaches us the basics in a clear and simple way.  In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the last part of verse 8 in these words, “It’s quite simple: Do what is fair and just to your neighbor, be compassionate and loyal in your love, and don’t take yourself too seriously – take God seriously.” 

Notice the word “walk”; this scripture talks about walking with God – not running with God.  This is a “me” thing.  I like to think of my life as a quiet and peaceful walk with God.  I don’t believe that we are asked to be constantly out of breath while running with God. 

Walking humbly with God teaches us how to relate to God.  In our walk with God (not a run), we should assume a humble place.  Remember Jesus said, “For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (see Matthew 11:30).  I think it’s acceptable to relax and enjoy our walk with God.  Don’t you think that the work of the Kingdom comes from a relationship born out of our quiet and peaceful walk with the Father God?

Jesus also said, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (see Matthew 28:20).  Those who have received salvation through Jesus the Christ have become the children of God.  He is always with his children.  When we mess up, and fail to follow his teaching, he is with us.  When we take the wrong path, he is with us.  Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus (see Romans 8:37-39).  He will never abandon his children.

Micah 6:8 gives us clear directions, but we have the handicap of being sinners.  We have a tendency to fail when it comes to following those directions.  Therefore, we always need Jesus.  We need to remember that he is always with us, and he will never leave us.  Jesus is always teaching us, and he is always saving us.  He loves us!  In walking humbly with him, we learn to rely on him.  So, not taking ourselves too seriously, but taking God seriously seems to be good advice. 

THE ENEMY WITHIN

(James 1:13-15) When tempted no one should say, “God is tempting me.”  For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.

Did you ever wonder why Jesus was so hard on the Pharisees?  They were the leaders of the Jewish faith.  They were the moral and righteous ones, yet Jesus called them hypocrites because they failed to recognize their hypocrisy.  So I ask myself, “Am I also a hypocrite?”  The answer is painfully, “yes!”  Every time I judge a fellow human, or place myself morally above them, I’m in danger of hypocrisy.  Since I’m a sinner like everyone else, I never have the moral high ground.  I’m as capable as the next guy of sin.  My greatest enemy therefore is my own sinful nature, the enemy within.

I’m amazed at how little impact Jesus’ words, “Love your neighbor, pray for them who spitefully use you, judge not less you be judged, take the plank out your own eye so you can then remove the speck from you neighbors eye, etc.”, have upon my daily actions.  Do I think that Jesus was only kidding when he said these things? Actually, I believe he was placing a mirror before my eyes, so I could see my failures and maintain a humble place in my walk with him.

Truth brings reality, and reality should bring humility, which in turn will put me in a right place with God.  Then the words of Jesus can guide me into righteousness; however, there will always be the enemy within working to cloud out the words of Jesus.  Every day I need the light of his words to disperse the clouds and keep me in that humble place.

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.

HEIRS OF GOD

(Romans 8:14-17) For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about you adoption to sonship.  And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

I know that what The Apostle Paul is saying in these verses is true, because I believe the Bible is true, but I have trouble projecting what this will actually mean.  “Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.”  It is too glorious to imagine.  However,  maybe it’s good that I don’t fully comprehend all that God has planned for his children.  Can you envision me walking down the street all puffed up with the knowledge that I’m a co-heir with Christ.  I’d be annoying and useless.

So then comes the humbling part, God’s wonderful plans and promises are available to us because Jesus suffered and died to redeem us.  We were dead in our sins, and not co-heirs with Christ.  Jesus made it all possible.  As the last sentence in our scripture passage points out, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.  We have a life to live out here in this fallen world.  It’s not always going to be easy as we share in his sufferings.  Yet in humble gratitude we trust that the God who saved us has some unimaginable plans for us his children.

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.

PLEASING GOD

(1Corinthians 5:9 MSG) But neither exile nor homecoming is the main thing.  Cheerfully pleasing God is the main thing, and that’s what we aim to do, regardless of our conditions.

A couple of days ago I read the devotional for March 17th from “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers. For his words of that day he used the above scripture, and he pointed out that the first aim of every child of God is to please God.  It made me think again of the father child relationship, and yes, it should be the goal of every child to please their father.  But what happens when that is not the child’s goal?  What happens when the child wants to do their own thing against the father’s wishes? 

From the father’s perspective it is painful when a child goes beyond our instructions, steps out on their own, and gets them self in trouble.  You tried to warn them, but they did it anyway.  At first you’re angry with them, but as time passes your love for them causes you to forgive them, and you are always motivated to make a way for them to get through the consequences and be restored.

(Psalm 103:8-13) The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.  He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever; he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.  For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west so far has he removed our transgressions from us.  As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.

Our Heavenly Father is the perfect Father.  I imagine that he feels pain when we sin against him, but as this passage from Psalm 103 tells us, he forgives his children and removes our sins from us.  He wants to restore us to himself.  How does he get us through the consequences of our sins?  He sent his only begotten Son to pay the consequences for all of us for all of time.

(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.

I want to please God; I’m a sinner.  I can’t always please him, but I do my best.  When I fall, he is always there to pick me up.  So, faith is the key to pleasing God.  I believe in God, I trust in God, and through faith I know he will always be my Father.