Building Up our Faith

Obeying God

man reading bible near lakeI learned to spell the word “obedience” as a child through a song I learned. The lyrics were:

Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe. Doing exactly as the Lord commands, doing it happily. Action is the key, do it immediately, joy you will receive. Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.
O-B-E-D-I-E-N-C-E. Obedience is the very best way to show that you believe.

The Apostle John was very blunt when he wrote 1 John 2:3-4. “We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands. The man who says, ‘I know him,’ but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”

Many people claim to be Christians, but live no different than the world. If the world looked at our lifestyles, words, attire, books we read, hobbies, tv shows, movies, radio, etc., would they see Christ in us? What about the way we treat others? Would they see Christ in our marriages and the way we interact with our spouses? Would they see our lives lived out every day serving God, worshipping Him? Would our lives point them to Christ?

The word “Christian” was originally a degrading term for the people that followed Christ. It only makes sense that those who choose to follow Him would obey His commands. As Christian follow Christ’s commands, they demonstrate to the world that they know Him as their Savior. However, obeying His commands is not dreaded, hated, or done out of expectations because we “ought to.” Obeying His commands is like a treasure. Because I can trust God to want the very best for me and I can trust His plans for my life, then I know the commands He gives are out of His love and protection for me.

Obeying Christ’s commands should be the desire of our heart. As we reflect on the price that Christ paid on our behalf so that we would have the privilege of following him, our natural response to His sacrifice should be loving Him. Because we love Him, we willing keep His commandments. In John 14:15, Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

If out of our love for Him we have a desire to obey Him, then the opposite would also be true. If our desire is to continue to sin and live from the lust of our hearts, yielding to every temptation, than we need to examine whether or not we truly know Christ as Savior. Not that any of us ever live a perfect, sinless life. If we did, then Jesus’ sacrifice would not have been needed. Even as a Christian, we mess up. However, as a Christian, it should cause us to grieve over our sin. There should be an uncomfortable stirring within whenever we step out of obedience of God’s commands and peace only comes as we ask Him to forgive us and we step back onto the path of obedience once again. However, sin and living like the world should not be the way of life for the Christian. Instead we should be spiritually growing, and have a desire to obey the treasured commands of the one we are to be imitating as we go out into the world.

We can’t do this just by sitting in church for an hour every Sunday. Living Christ-like lives is hard work and the more like Christ we become, the more likely we are to draw the attending of Satan who will throw temptations up before us just to make us stumble and fall. When Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, Jesus used scripture from the Old Testaments to answer each temptation. This is the reason the psalmist wrote, “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee.”

Setting aside a daily time to read the Bible and pray is essential. You can know what Christ’s commands are if you are not reading the Bible and hiding its contents in your heart. If you were in a long distance relationship, and your only means of communication was a hand written letter, would you not long for the next letter to arrive and then once it did would you not pour over each and every word? And then as you waited for the next letter to arrive, would you not read and reread the letters you already have? The Bible is not just God’s commands, it is His love letter to us. As a Christian, there should be the same joyful expectation of “getting” to read His Word to us. If our joy and desire is to obey His commands, then reading His letter to us is essential to knowing what His commands are.

Take a moment to examine your own life. If the world examined how you live, would they call you a Christian?

Advertisements
Building Up our Faith

Does God Exist?

sunsetHave you ever wondered if God is real? Or maybe you’ve had someone ask you, “How do you know God is real?” As Christians we have experienced God at work in our lives. However, the non-Christian does not always recognize God at work. They may consider events and circumstances as coincidental. Or “just being in the right place at the right time.” So how do you explain that God is real to the person who is unable to see Him?

One way to look at the world in which we live and the entire universe. Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky proclaims the work of His hands.” Nature was designed by God to proclaim His glory, show His power, and demonstrate His greatness. In every sunrise and sunset…in every creature, in every plant, in the vastness of the ocean and the rolling of the waves, in the roaring waterfalls, and silent starry night, nature is constantly showing us the existence of God and just how amazing He is.

The more we learn about our universe, the more we can see just how splendid the work of God is. Everything created points at God as creator. Consider, for a moment, the following points:

  1. Earth is the only planet that can sustain life…only because it is just the right distance from the sun so that life is possible. If we were any closer to the sun, we would burn up. Any further from the sun and the planet would be too cold for life. After Time Magazine ran an article in 1966 entitled “Is God Dead?” the astronomer, Carl Sagan, announced two criteria for a planet to be able to support life: First, the right kind of star and second, a planet the right distance from that star. With the estimated octillion (1 with 27 zeros) planets throughout the universe, there should be roughly a septillion (1 with 24 zeros) planets that could sustain life. In the years since 1966 both the government and private companies have invested countless of dollars searching for life on other planets and to date, nothing has been found. Since that time, scientist have learned that there are more than 200 factors necessary for a planet to be able to sustain life and every single one of them must be met perfectly. No mere coincidence could make all 200+ align perfectly. Only a creator could do so.
  2. Earth most rotate at a precise rate to sustain life. If the rotation of our planet was off by even 1/10 of its present rate, the length of our days and nights would increase so much that plant life would burn up in the long days and night temperatures would drop so low that anything that survived the heat would freeze.
  3. Earth’s size supports life. If it were smaller gravity would not be able to hold water or atmosphere. If it were bigger, gravity would be doubled so that its pressure would increase from 15 to 30 pounds per square inch. If Earth were as big as the sun, gravity would increase by 150 times, making life impossible.
  4. The Moon is the perfect distance (239,000 miles) from earth. If it were only 50,000 miles away, our tides would completely submerge us twice a day.
  5. The Earth’s Crust can’t be thicker and the oceans can’t be deeper. If the crust were only ten feet thicker, the metallic elements would combing with the oxygen in the atmosphere and there would be no animal life. If the oceans were only a few feet deeper, they would absorb too much carbon dioxide making it impossible for plan life to exist.
  6. The Atmospheric composition is roughly 78 parts nitrogen and 21 parts oxygen. If there was more nitrogen, bodily functions would slow down, causing certain death. Any more oxygen and bodily functions would increase so that life would be very short lived.
  7. Earth sits tilted on its axis at 23 ½ degrees and revolves around the sun, giving us seasons supporting a supply of food as well as a period of time for the soil to be idle, soaking up moisture and increasing its own fertility so that food is available once again.
  8. The atmosphere surrounding the earth acts as a protective shield from deadly radiation. It also protects the planet from millions of meteors that enter it every day. Jupiter’s gravity draws away asteroids and gives another protection from the Earth’s surface being hit by them.

These are just a few of ways that our universe cries out that we are here by the loving hand of a powerful creator…not mere coincidence or chance. No matter how the universe is studied, precision and order are found everywhere. From the smallest atom to the largest galaxy God has revealed Himself and all of His glory through the creation of the world. While creation reveals the power of God, it does not bring us into direct contact with Him. From nature, we can see God’s wisdom and power. It can be a source of learning truth about God. And yet, the miracle of the universe is a testimony to the existence of God. The more we learn about the world around us, the more of God’s glory we see and the more evidence we have that He is the One responsible for its creation…and He is the one that sustains it. Proverbs 8:29 tells us that God set a limit for the sea and that He laid out the foundations of the earth.

While the only way one can have a relationship with God is through the free gift of salvation, one only needs to look at the world around us to realize that God exists and that the heavens declare His glory and the work of His hands.

Building Up our Faith

Bad Company Corrupts Good Morals

hanging with wrong crowd

Does the people you hang out with matter? The fact is that we are all impressionable. We allow everything from current events, to movies, to people influence us everyday. The things we see, hear, smell, touch, and taste all leave impressions on us. They burn into our brains and take root into our thoughts, words, and actions. The Apostle Paul has a warning that we should all heed: “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’” (I Corinthians 15:33, HCSB)

Paul was writing about the many false teachers that had wormed their way into the church at Corinth. These false teachers were attempting to convince the early Corinthian church that Jesus did not rise from the dead. The false teachers believed that this life is all there is and there is no life after death and that the resurrection didn’t happen. Because the Corinthian Christians were listening to them, they were being negatively impacted in their Christian faith.

Just as it was important for the Christians at Corinth to carefully choose who they were forming relationships with, so should we today. Especially when those relationships are with non-Christians. As Christians, we do need to share our faith and lead other to Christ. However, we need to surround ourselves with God’s Word and other Christians who will help us grow in faith, walk in faith, and live by faith.

Unfortunately, the simple fact of the matter is people tend to lower their standards by hanging out with ungodly people. Peer pressure, wanting others to approve of us, the feeling of not wanting to “stick out” in a crowd, or not wanting others to make fun of us generally make us cave in and join in with whatever the crowd is doing. Before long what we used to see as ungodly becomes the norm and a way of life. Instead of them mimicking our behaviors, we end up mimicking theirs. We end up taking up their “cause” and making it our “cause.”

Today, this is even more true than ever before. We are living in an “instant information” world where news and social media keep us instantly updated on everything that goes on this world. The way we see ourselves, see others and see our world are all impacted. We need to remember that as Christians we are “set apart.” In Romans 12: 2, Paul wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” He also gave advice at the end of 1 Corinthians 15: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.” (verse 58) We are only able to do this by staying in the word of God. In Psalm 119:105 says, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.” In verse 11 of this Psalm, David wrote, “Thy Word have I hid in my heart that I might not sin against thee.” The Apostle Paul also in Ephesians 6:10-18, “Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength. Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the tactics of the Devil. For our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the world powers of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavens. This is why you must take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.  In every situation take the shield of faith, and with it you will be able to extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is God’s word. Pray at all times in the Spirit with every prayer and request, and stay alert in this with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints.”

So stand firm…stand apart…let the love of Christ shine to a world that desperately needs God.

Building Up our Faith

Taking a Pause

matt 11 28According to the Department of Labor website, Labor Day is a holiday created for Americans to acknowledge the contributions workers made to the strength prosperity, and well-being of our country. It first gained governmental recognition in 1885 through municipal ordinances, which led to the state legislature taking action. The first state bill was introduced into the New York legislature, but was first pass in Oregon on February 21, 1887. That same year, four other states would follow. On June 28, 1894, Congress passed an act making the first Monday in September of each year a legal holiday.

While it is important to celebrate our successes and acknowledge our hard working colleagues and professionals, it is equally important for us to take time for rest. Since God created us, he knows more than anyone else that our bodies need adequate rest. Because Jesus, the Son of God, came to dwell amongst us in a flesh and blood body, he experienced being tired. In John 4:6, we find Jesus worn out from His journey and sat beside the well where he would encounter the Woman at the Well. Without rest, we are not fully able to accomplish the tasks he called us to do. When we become so tired that we don’t know how we can keep going, Matthew 11:28 says, “Come to Me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”

The Greek word for “come” is deute and means to “come hither” or “follow.” Jesus calls us to himself and to follow His example. He calls to experience Him in an up-close-and-personal kind of way. He longs to bring us into close proximity and into an intimate fellowship with himself. He wants us to take whatever circumstance we are in and give them to Him is total surrender and dependence on Him. As we learn to trust him, we are then able to find peace and rest. In 2 Chronical 20:17, God tells his people to “position yourselves, stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord. He is with you.” Sometimes we get so caught up in hurrying from one to-do item to another that we barely have time to breathe. We end up heavy-laden with burdens and become weary. The Greek word for “weary” is kopiao and means “to labor, toil, expand great effort in hard and disagreeable work,” “to grow weary, tired; labor to the point of exhaustion.” Doesn’t this sound like us? But instead of taking time to rest, we just grab some caffeine or one of those very unhealthy energy drinks and just keep going. The result shows in both our physical health and emotional health.

“Rest” is the Greek word anapauo which means “to refresh, rest up,” or “to cease form labor.” God created our need for rest…a pause from life…for our own good.  A pause to cease from the hustle and noise of life so we are able to:

  • Seek His will and determine our steps
  • spend time with God so we are able to listen to Him
  • re-energize

At times, we allow ourselves to get so caught up in life and say “yes” to too many things (sometimes, even ministry areas in the church) until we become burned out. But when we take a pause and seek His will, He will give us insights and let us know His will so that we don’t overextend ourselves to the point of becoming exhausted. We can protect ourselves from being involved in too much if we take the pause to determine His will. However, even when we are following His will, we become weary and need to take a pause. It then becomes a time of re-evaluation and we need to eliminate unnecessary things from our lives so that we have the energy and time to do what He has called us to do. Sometimes, as we do the will of God, Satan fights against it and we feel as if we are rowing a boat upstream without a paddle. Taking a pause to spend time with God and pray over the task we’ve been given will send the angel armies our way. Daniel is an example of this In Daniel, chapter 9, he is praying for the Lord to hear him. Verses 20-23, Daniel pleads to God and in his weariness, Gabriel comes to him. Daniel wrote in these verses, “While I was speaking, praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my petition before Yahweh my God concerning the holy mountain of my God- while I was praying, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the first vision, came to me in my extreme weariness.” Then in Chapter 10, verses 12-13, Daniel receives another visit. In these verses we read, “Don’t be afraid, Daniel,” he said to me, “for from the first day that you purposed to understand and to humble yourself before your God, your prayers were heard. I have come because of your prayers. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia opposed me for twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me after I had been left there with the kings of Persia.” God had heard Daniel’s prayers and sent his messenger to Daniel, but the prince of the kingdom of Persia stood in the way opposing the messenger. Daniel was completely unaware of the spiritual warfare his prayers were stirring up. Yet Daniel continued to pause and seek God until messenger arrived.

Another reason to pause and rest is so we are able to listen to the voice of God. 1 Kings 19:12 is the only verse in the Bible that talks about God speaking in a whisper. Because we have the Spirit of God dwelling within us, the way God speaks to us today are the soft whispers across our heart as we are reading His Word or as the Holy Spirit recalls a verse of scripture to our minds. Sometimes it comes to us as our pastor is preaching or in a conversation with a friend. These soft, quiet impressions are easy to get loss in the loud bustle of everyday life. If we want to hear the voice of God, we need to quiet ourselves and listen with expectation. He longs to speak to us. But we have to ask ourselves, do we really want to hear His answer? Too often our prayer lives become a one-sided conversation where we tell God what we want Him to do in our lives then jump up and go on about our day. There are things God would love to say to us, but we have to quit talking long enough for Him to get a word in. If you feel as if God never speaks to you, then perhaps it’s time to take a pause and rest in His presence….quietly before him and give Him a chance to speak as we sit silently and listen expectantly.

Taking a pause also gives us the change to re-charge. Just as your car runs out of gas, so do our bodies run out of energy. We reach a point where we feel that we have nothing left to give and yet people are still demanding more from us. In Matthew 14:23, Jesus found the need to have some alone time. “After dismissing the crowds, He went up on the mountain by Himself to pray. When evening came, He was there alone.” Did you notice what he did on the mountain, he prayed. Our help and our strength to keep keeping on comes from God. In Psalm 121:2, the psalmist wrote, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.” In Psalm 28:7, he wrote, “The LORD is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in Him, and I am helped. Therefore my heart rejoices, and I praise Him with my song.” If you feel as if you energy tank is running on low, when was the last time you had some meaningful time along with God?

While we also need to take time to get plenty of physical rest each night, we cannot neglect the rest our souls need if we are going to be spiritually healthy. So as we take today to honor the labor of our hands, let’s also take time to rest, recharge so that our labors tomorrow hold new energy, ready to continue in the tasks that God has called us to…whether it’s a ministry related job, real estate, medical, education or any other field where work.

Building Up our Faith

Be Steadfast. Be Immovable.

1 Cor 15-58

Living by faith is hard. Living out your faith is hard. Sometimes the busyness of life clamors for our attention and we don’t have time to have a quiet time with God. The more days that slip by without it, we risk becoming apathetic about serving God…especially when we are not seeing results. As a result we become discouraged and often give up.

I first started serving in churches when I was only in middle school (only back then we called it junior high school). My dad was a pastor and he served mostly in small churches. I taught a group of younger children on Sunday evenings. I’ve pretty much served in churches or a religious ministry in some capacity since then. Most of my working career has been in religious organizations. I know how discouraging it can be when we serve God day after day and yet it seems as if there are no results to the work we are doing. Pastors are not the only ones to experience this. Sunday school (or Small Group Leaders), Vacation Bible School volunteers, the volunteers at the homeless shelter, teachers, therapists or any other person who serves in a “helping vocation or capacity” can experience discouragement when they give all they have to give (and even more) and it appears to yield no results.

No matter how God has called you to serve, let me encourage you through the words of Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:58. Paul writes, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” – (ESV) Paul gives us four thoughts in this verse:

  1. Be steadfast. To be steadfast means to be resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering. Applied here, we need to be firm and unwavering in the faith of the gospel of Christ. That gospel includes his miraculous birth, his sinless life, his death on the cross in payment for our sins, and his glorious resurrection from the dead. Don’t let discouragement turn you away from the faith and service you have been called to do. Stand firm and know that God is at work as you serve Him. Keep being obedient and trust God to do the work. You may never know in this life the impact you are making…but one day in your eternal life you will see the rewards of your service. Be steadfast!
  2. Be immovable. To be immovable means to not yield to argument or pressure. It means we should be fixed and unchangeable. The opposite of immovable would be to be fickle or changing as the wind blows. Ephesians 4:14 instructs that we are not to be “tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.” James 1:8 says “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.” The way to be immovable is through studying the Bible and allowing the Holy Spirit teach you. It isn’t enough to sit in church on Sunday and listen to the preacher…no matter how good he is. How would you ever know if he preached something that was against the teaching of the Bible if you are not a student of the Bible yourself? We need to be in God’s Word every day…growing in spiritual maturity so that when the storms of life come or when some incorrect doctrine is taught we will know it. It’s like a tree, planted near a water source with a deep root system. When storms come that tree will still be standing. However a tree that has a shallow root system will topple over with a good wind. The more we know about God, the better equipped we are to serve God as we serve others. It is how we grow spiritually and how we develop a deep root system. You cannot be immovable if you are not planted deeply in the Word of God. You need a deep root system to be immovable.
  3. Be abounding in the work of the Lord. The work of the Lord can be found in the Great Commission. In Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus tells us to “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The work of the Lord is to bring the good news of Jesus to everyone. Acts 1:8 tells us that we are to be witnesses for Christ in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. However, we are not just to be about the work of the Lord, we are to abound in it. The Greek word is perisseuo and means to “be in excess or to cause to superabound or excel” (Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, 1980). In other words we are to spread the Gospel of Jesus beyond measure…everywhere we go, to every person we meet. So be abounding in the work of the Lord.
  4. We can know that the work we do for God will not go in vain. You can rest assured that what you do for Christ will reap results, even if you don’t know about them. When you reach Heaven there will be those who are there because of a Sunday school lesson you taught or because of a meal you served to a homeless person. Maybe you served kids cookies or snacks at Vacation Bible School but you served with the love and kindness of Christ to a child who may have only experienced harsh words or violence at home. You never know what heart you will touch and in what way. But you can know that God will take each act of service you do for him and it will reap rewards.

One day, Jesus was teaching the crowds of people and told a story or a parable, which is a story with a meaning or teaching to it. In Matthew 13:1-8 we find the Parable of the Sower.

On that day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea. Such large crowds gathered around Him that He got into a boat and sat down, while the whole crowd stood on the shore. Then He told them many things in parables, saying: “Consider the sower who went out to sow. As he was sowing, some seed fell along the path, and the birds came and ate them up. Others fell on rocky ground, where there wasn’t much soil, and they sprang up quickly since the soil wasn’t deep. But when the sun came up they were scorched, and since they had no root, they withered. Others fell among thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them. Still others fell on good ground and produced a crop: some 100, some 60, and some 30 times what was sown.

The sower in the parable is much like us as we serve God. Some of our efforts fall along the path and they are swooped up before they can take root. Some might fall along rocky ground where there is a little dirt. It springs quickly, but there isn’t a deep root system to sustain it. Some might fall among thorns and get all the life choked out. But then there will be the efforts that fall on fertile ground and produces an abundance of crops…30, 60, and even 100 times what was sown!

Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 3:5-6, “Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. If you feel as if your efforts are not making a difference just remember that there are some who plant the seed, some who water it and help it grow, but it is God that does the actual work. Whatever the call is for your life…however you are serving God…it makes a difference and when you get to Heaven you are going to be amazed at how many people are there because of the work you do for Christ! Don’t get discouraged. Be steadfast. Be immovable. Be abounding in the word of the Lord. Know that nothing you do for Christ is in vain.