Sunday, March 29, 2015

On the Road to Salvation

Luke 19:41-44

 Now as He drew near, He saw the city and wept over it, saying, “If you had known, even you, especially in this your day, the things that make for your peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.  For days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment around you, surround you and close you in on every side,  and level you, and your children within you, to the ground; and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”

As we move into the Resurrection Celebration (Easter season) may I draw your attention to not simply WHAT Jesus has made available but bring attention to WHY He made it available?

Jesus was heading into Jerusalem at the time He knew was right before He would be crucified.  I believe there is prophetic significance in these words He spoke, not just for Israel, but for all believers.

If we had known in this OUR DAY the things that would make for our peace!
As Christians, we are compassed about by the enemy who is always trying to trip us up.

We are to stand fast in the faith, as we also do not know the time of our visitation.  No man knows the day or the hour when Christ will return!

Historically at this time of year, there is a tendency to focus on WHAT took place and WHERE it took place and HOW it took place, so much so that we find a de-emphasis on WHY it took place.

We’ve shortened it to “for our salvation”.  But God has so much more He planned for us!

Colossians 1: 19-22

For it pleased the Father that in Him all the fullness should dwell, and by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross.
And you, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy, and blameless, and above reproach in His sight—
Our peace is through the blood of His Cross.  The purpose goes beyond “just” salvation.  God desires to reconcile His creation to Himself, and then present us HOLY, BLAMELESS and ABOVE REPROACH.

God intended that we would be filled with His Holy Spirit, and He would do the work through us.

Philippians 2:13

For it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure.

The WHY?

Because it pleases Him.  He is the Creator and He can do as He pleases with His creation.

Personally, I am so grateful that I have a true and lively HOPE that goes beyond just what this world has to offer.  You do too, if you’ll believe and receive it.

As Jesus rode into Jerusalem all those years ago, the people covered the way with palm branches and praised Him, crying “Hosanna to God in the Highest.”

A great many of those people had no understanding of WHY, and were easily persuaded just a short week later to cry just as passionately,
“Crucify Him!  Crucify Him!”

Don’t you be one of those people blown about by every wind of doctrine and easily persuaded by others to go this away and that away.

Grab hold of the truth God is placing before you today and stand firm and steady in that HOPE.

Psalm 84:11 tells us,

“For the Lord God is a sun and shield;
The Lord will give grace and glory;
No good thing will He withhold
From those who walk uprightly.”

May you discover NO GOOD THING withheld from you as you walk in obedient submission to your Creator who Loves you.

The Easter season is just one more excellent time to take stock of your life, and examine your heart.  Have you felt the tugging of Gods gentle Holy Spirit calling you to consider His gift of salvation?

The message has never changed since John The Baptist proclaimed it triumphantly those many years ago.

Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Ballerina or Tap Dancer - my minds made up!

I was bold and courageous when I was six years old.  The world hadn’t worn on me yet, and my natural personality traits – stubborn and confident and brash - were at their peak.

I was preparing to take to the stage at my very first dance recital with Miss Connie’s School of Dance and I had my tap shoes firmly in place on my feet.

This was in spite of my Mom arguing emphatically with me in the dressing room when I insisted on putting them on, since she saw that the ENTIRE rest of the cast was putting on soft shoe.   

I tapped my way noisily as we all trooped onto the stage that evening.  I was immovable in my conviction. I'd heard what Miss Connie had instructed us and I could not be persuaded otherwise.

So it was very satisfying when Miss Connie herself came on stage to apologize, profusely, that the show would be slightly delayed while the girls – EVERY ONE OF THEM – except little miss me – would need to change their shoes.

I was six and stubborn and opinionated and confident I knew what I was doing and willing to stand, ALONE if need be, for what I believed was right.

I wonder how it would have affected my life if I’d been wrong that evening?

But I had listened very carefully to the instructions given that day at our last rehearsal before the recital.  For that reason I was confident in my decision.

When we took to the stage my confidence in trusting what I knew to be true was rewarded, and as a bonus I got to do a little solo tap dance while I waited for the other girls to change their shoes.  

I must admit that I've gone on to become a stubborn, opinionated and confident Ambassador for the Lord Jesus Christ.  Not because I was raised that way, for I wasn't raised in the church and my family didn't even attend church with me when I went.  

I was given a Bible the summer after the recital, and I read it.  Since then, I have never wavered in the trust and belief that God created all the heavens and the earth, He created me and He loves me!

I could recite incident after incident here of the many ways He has made Himself known to me.  If you read this page with any regularity, you've been exposed to much of it.  

For the sake of time let's just say that as sure as I knew Miss Connie told us to put our tap shoes on first at that recital so many years ago, I am that certain that in the beginning God created and He’s never withdrawn or changed the plan.

The plan is simple and as straightforward as the strong personality He blessed me with.

He is love and desired to shower that love outward.  So He created Man in His own image and lavished Man with love. 

And when Man and Woman sinned, (separated themselves from walking in perfect obedience to their Creator), He continued to shower them with Love in the form of forgiveness through sacrifice.  

The wages of sin are death.  

Right from the beginning that was always the price that had to be paid.  

Why?  The Bible never clearly says why, but there are plenty of verses that added together point to a conclusion.

God is LIFE, He is the source of all LIFE, so as long as we are in relationship with Him, there is LIFE.  

Separation from LIFE is death, so sin, which separates us from LIFE, is also DEATH.  

(I'm guessing on this point, but I think Lucifer didn't "die" but was cast out of Heaven when he sinned because he was a spirit being and not flesh.)

Then God, not wanting His creation, which He loves, to be separated from Him for all eternity, decided to provide a solution that would also be eternal.  

He  became flesh, came in the form of a man to the earth, then willingly DIED as a substitute sacrifice for each of us, once and for all time, to pay the price of SIN.  

And only He could do it, because the only death that could pay for all eternity, for every human ever, was His.  A perfect, sinless LIFE. 

He had to create a way to do it without breaking any of His laws that He'd already put into being throughout His Creation.  

1. His laws cannot be broken without consequence.
2. No one, particularly the devil, could ever accuse Him of being unfair and circumventing the laws he'd put in motion.

The PERFECT solution.  

And He is perfect. 

Perfectly Holy, perfectly Just, perfectly Righteous in ALL His ways!

I've discovered something else, which I believe to be a truth that affects a great many people also, which I'm going to take this opportunity to share.  

After many years in the religious world, both in the pews and behind the pulpit, I believe that most of the objections people have about God actually have nothing to do with God Himself.  

The objections are usually more about the religious rules and regulations and actions of MAN.  

People don't like the way a church does something.  Or they don't like something a church teaches.  Or they don't like the behavior of a person who claims they represent the church, and God.

The objections then, are really about mans inability to properly represent God.

Because God is infinitely LOVABLE!  Following His commands lead to JOY, PEACE, RIGHTEOUSNESS, HOLINESS and best of all, ETERNAL LIFE!
  

God is LOVE.  It is not that God loves, it is that God IS LOVE.  

Just because we don’t understand everything He does, well, that’s because His ways are far above our ways and His thoughts above our thoughts.  

The created thing can’t out think it’s Creator – that makes perfect sense.

I do not have to understand why air breathed into my lungs makes my whole body respond by being ALIVE.

It does.  I do it.  I live.  It does, you do it, you live.

We do not have to understand why God set things up the way He did.

He did.  I believe it.  You believe it.  Then we live, eternally, thank you Jesus!

This Resurrection Season, I hope that you'll discover how GREAT is our God.  How DEEP is His Love.  And how POWERFUL is the forgiveness He offers through Salvation!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

To Tithe or Not to Tithe; the question of GIVING!

The first time I was taught by the church the principle of “tithing” I accepted it without question and immediately began to put it into practice.

Then something very interesting happened.  Shortly after I began putting this idea into practice, as faithfully as the church taught I should, I noticed great changes almost immediately.  There were increasing circumstances of serious LACK in meeting the needs of my family.  

Not lack in our wants.  Not less to spend on frivolous or luxury items.  I’m talking about real needs.

Groceries.  Shoes for my growing children.  Rent payments, car payments, utility payments.

I tithed faithfully and with trust that God would meet my needs, just like the church taught me.  The idea that was insisted on, that 90% of income would go further with God’s blessing when I faithfully handed over 10% of every paycheck to the church was not the reality we lived with.

I struggled in this area for the next 25 years.  I desperately wanted to obey God, but the truth didn't appear the way the church insisted.  I sincerely hope this Sunday Sermon blog post might save some of you this horrific struggle.

I prayed, fervently and frequently and asked God to show me what I was doing wrong.  Was I lacking faith?  Had I failed to confess some hidden sin?  Was I not tithing 10% of EVERYTHING?

In 1982 I distinctly remember a specific reading, as if for the first time, II Corinthians 9: 6-7 with fresh eyes and a humble, open heart to the Lord:

But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.

I understood the principle of reaping and sowing, so was my very heart wrong?  The journey for understanding continued for many more years.  I would put my children’s needs first, against church teaching, and we were all much happier.  Shoes were bought and the pantry was full, and we generously shared what we had with others and there was plenty.  We never failed to give, just not quite the way the church wanted us to give.

Then guilt would overcome me and I’d get stingy about our needs while trying to faithfully support the church and its teaching. 

My diligent searching for truth never wavered, my fellowship with my Savior never flagged, but my naïve trust toward church teachings began to fade as I searched zealously for what God had to say; about many matters, not just tithing.

I spoke openly and boldly with church leaders.  I spoke to many other Christians, even those like myself who were struggling to find truth and not blind following of what others thought was truth.

Some agreed with me, that cheerful giving could not possibly include guilty giving. 

Some argued with me that I had no faith and should unquestioningly give 10% to the church.

I heard one leader teach that tithing wasn’t mentioned in the New Testament covenant because it was ASSUMED, since Abraham tithed to Melchizedek

Genesis 14:18-20
18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. 19 And he blessed him and said:
“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
And he gave him a tithe of all.
The idea being expounded was that tithing came before Moses was given the law, so we should continue following that principle today in the New Covenant. 
Really?  Because circumcision was also given before the 10 Commandments were given to Moses, so should we ASSUME we’ve all made a mistake not circumcising our sons on their eighth day of life like Abraham did with Isaac?
See Genesis 17:10-14

Human logic and church reasoning was definitely failing me in this area.  I found that as I had the ability to give, I was blessed to do so, both by the immediate gratifying feeling of being able to help another, and overall in the peace and prosperity of my own household.

Malachi began to make sense.  The very same passages of scripture that were being used to enslave me to the idea that I owed 10% no matter what were the very same passages that God Himself through the Holy Spirit, as I studied the scriptures, was using to set me free from this enslavement.

I was no longer easily fooled by those who tried to bamboozle me into giving them money in the false hope of receiving a ton of money in return.  I understood that when I gave of my own choice, God blessed me in many different ways!  Operative trigger here was MY OWN CHOICE.  Just what Corinthians had said.

Malachi, like all of the Old Testament, must be understood in light of what God was saying to His people Israel, and understood in light of how God operated with Israel.  

It didn’t apply directly to me.  Just like circumcision didn’t apply and the keeping of Feasts didn’t apply and sacrificing animals for my sin didn’t apply because Christ Jesus set me FREE from all of the Old Testament Laws and Commandments by fulfilling them FOR ME.

But the principle behind Malachi applied.

Pay attention to the CONTEXT of Malachi: (be so kind as to bear with me here, and read the whole passage please)

Malachi 3: 4 - 
“Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem 

(God is speaking of their offerings which is the sacrificing of the firstborn of their livestock, not what they “give” to the church)

Will be pleasant to the Lord,
As in the days of old,
As in former years.

And I will come near you for judgment;
I will be a swift witness
Against sorcerers,
Against adulterers,
Against perjurers,
Against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans,
And against those who turn away an alien—
Because they do not fear Me,”
Says the Lord of hosts.

“For I am the Lord, I do not change;
Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob.
Yet from the days of your fathers
You have gone away from My ordinances
And have not kept them.
Return to Me, and I will return to you,”
Says the Lord of hosts.

“But you said,
‘In what way shall we return?’
“Will a man rob God?
Yet you have robbed Me!
But you say,
‘In what way have we robbed You?’

In tithes and offerings.

(The Israelites were bringing the blemished, less than the best as sacrifice to God for their sin.   Tithes were paid to the religious leaders as part of that sacrifice for sin. (See Numbers 18:24)

God goes on to tell them He will pour out blessings in abundance when they obey Him.  Once more, all Old Testament law.  It is the PRINCIPLE, which is spiritual, which doesn't change, but the manner in which it is applied has changed!

We now live under grace.  We are saved by Faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.  We are to give, liberally, generously as we are able and according to the purposes in our own hearts.

The COMPULSION of others, false teaching that enslaves and manipulates, like forcing someone else to give a certain amount or at certain times, is not Gods will, but the principle behind freely giving and generously giving works every time!

Reaping and sowing is absolutely a principle we are to live by, but reaping and sowing is to be by our choice, as God moves our hearts and even according to our ability.

I am so thankful God opened my heart and eyes to His truth!  I am FREE, to give or not give in a particular situation; it is my choice to make, just as it is for you.

I am in NO WAY advocating selfishness or stinginess.  I am advocating freedom to choose, because Jesus gave us the freedom to choose!

John 8:36
If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

This freedom removes not only the restrictions of teachings that harm people, taking from them out of their own need, but following this truth would also remove the excuses of those who would claim the church is only interested in taking money from people as their reason for not participating in the Body of Christ.

We are all free to decide what is the right "amount" to give and when we should give, according to the leading of the Holy Spirit and our own hearts.  If we desire bounty, we will sow bountifully.  If we are taught correct truth, we all put our trust in God as we ought, instead of binding others in false teaching even if for a "good cause".

Read the account in Acts 5, about Ananias and Sapphira.  Pay special attention to verse 4.  The Apostle Peter makes clear that they were under NO COMPULSION from the church in any way!  They could give or not give according to their own desire.  Keeping what belonged to them was no sin, no one judged them or thought poorly of them.  There was freedom of each individual to choose, it was between them and God.  The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was in choosing to LIE to the Holy Spirit, not that they kept back a part of the money from selling their land.  

God always knows exactly what He is doing, and He is always doing it for our GOOD!  We have free will to choose and God expects us to operate that free will.  We experience the fullness of His blessing when we operate in the fullness of His principles.

God desires that we freely give so He gave us FREE WILL to choose.


In our worship and in our giving.

We pray your freedom in Christ will prove a blessing to you and all around you as you operate, by choice, the principle's our God has laid out for our good and blessing!

Monday, March 16, 2015

Prompt and blessed

We have been blessed tremendously to be living in such a time as this; instant communication enables us to reach what were once the most unreachable people groups with the Gospel of Jesus.

We enjoy the grace of God in abundance, free from the onerous daily chore of sacrificing animals to atone for sin; Jesus set us free indeed! (John 8:36)

And still we are privileged in the "Old Testament" teachings, as Apostle Paul so lovingly pointed out in Romans 15:4
"For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope",
but we are not beholden to the hundreds of specific laws and observances thanks to the Grace of God made available to us through Christ.

Truly there are many wonderful Old Testament scriptures of great teaching that speak into our lives today, eloquently and truthfully.


One such scripture I believe we should heed with all haste in our hearts is found in the book of the Prophet Isaiah.  During the reign of several Israel kings, God raised up Prophets to speak to to His people, precisely because they had refused to converse directly with their God at the time of Moses (Exodus 20:19).  These Prophets often spoke both to the people of their time and for future reference, to those who would come later.

Isaiah 1:19  If you are willing and obedient you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel you shall be devoured by the sword.  For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

I believe that this is one of those things which was "written before for our learning" that Paul was referring to that has always continued to have affect on peoples lives even when they may not have been aware of it.

While we most certainly DO enjoy the grace and favor of God, and though His love for us is unconditional, this isn't license to sin!  Now more than ever, it is imperative to our own well being, that each of us, individually "work out our own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12) and that we do NOT REFUSE to hear the Lord speak to us personally and directly!

Just as He put it to the Israelites, it is even now a choice put before us much like the choice to choose LIFE over DEATH. (Deuteronomy 30:19) 

IF we are willing and obedient.... which refers to what exactly?  To the rules and regulations of man?  To the statutes and prohibitions of religious leaders?  To an American government (or any other government!) that appears bent on destroying the work of the Lord in our lives?

A simple reading of the verse in context puts it all in perspective and makes itself extremely clear and easy to understand.

Isaiah 1: 18  "Come now and let us reason together" says the Lord.

Then, like He already had planned it for all Eternity, (I really think He did!) the Lord makes clear that He speaks to the Israelites, yes, but also to we who would be saved later, by describing our condition so we will recognize ourselves.

 "Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are like crimson, they shall be as wool."

We whose sins that are like scarlet have been washed in the sacrificed blood of Jesus and have been made "white as snow".  

This verse is written FOR OUR LEARNING.

Here is the physical and spiritual principle at work.

If this; then that.  

We all understand how this principle works in every area of life.  If we do this thing then that thing happens.  

The law of cause and effect.  Each action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Christians, the grace of God, as Apostle Paul so clearly taught in Romans 6:1, isn't a license to SIN, but a method to avoid being enslaved by sin!  

Every thinking human being can see clearly that all of our actions have consequences.  If we desire pleasant consequences that give us joy, we must choose willingly to be obedient to God.  If we choose to rebel; to do "our own thing" then we will suffer the consequences of those choices, good or bad.

With that in mind, wouldn't it be ridiculous for us to then declare that God is not good because we have reaped the unhappy consequence of our own action?  

God has instructed us clearly, as any loving parent would a child, on right behavior in order that we will reap the result of good consequence.

Right now you might find yourself asking this question; "How can I know God's instructions so I can choose to follow them?"

READ HIS INSTRUCTION MANUAL.

On the first read through, I know it will sound foreign and difficult to understand.  The first time we are introduced to anything it seems hard.  Remember arithmetic?  When they first introduced long division, I was convinced I'd never understand.  I went on to achieve A's in Algebra years later in High School.  

The GREAT thing about the Bible is that it is a living work, spoken into being by a Living God who moved on living men to write His will. (II Peter 1:21)

And it gets better.  The word has a spiritual life to it.  When you are born again of Gods spirit, your understanding is that much greater.  This isn't something that can be taught or explained, but only spiritually discerned by those who are filled with the Holy Spirit.


Reading the Bible regularly you will discover that understanding comes naturally.  Understanding increases with each reading.  

You can read the Bible in any manner that works for you.

Read straight through from cover to cover.

Start at the Gospels and work through the New Testament first.

Skip around from book to book, or even chapter to chapter.

Or you can join us, using the daily reading schedule we follow, and we can journey together toward deeper understanding and closer fellowship with the Lord. (See the Daily Reading page of this website) 

When we know, understand and OBEY Gods commands, we reap all manner of GOOD THINGS!  That is a promise directly from God the Father and Creator of all things to His children.  By the same token, if we choose disobedience we have no one but ourselves to blame when we reap those negative consequences.

Our prayer for you is that you will KNOW and RECEIVE the goodness God desires you to experience in your life, in Jesus Name, AMEN!