Monday, April 30, 2007

Philippians 4:11

"Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content." (ASV)

There are few people today who would say that they're truly content in any situation. Often when we read these words, we imagine the author leading a peaceful, serene life, having everything he needs or wants, being surrounded by friends, and generally living on easy street. Of course, that was certainly not the case. The book of Philippians was written by the apostle Paul. He was imprisoned by the Romans when he wrote it, as he had been imprisoned many times before. Yet even from his jail cell, he spoke of contentment.

This kind of fulfillment is foreign to our current culture. The world around us tells us to chase after possessions, money, power and sex in order to be content. But none of these things will ever bring true contentment. Even if we are to gain all of the things the world tells us will make us happy, they will not make us content because we will always want bigger, better, more. We will never be satisfied.

The things the world has for us are passing. Millionaires go bankrupt, CEOs find themselves on trial and the hottest celebrity of today will be all but forgotten tomorrow. We're all familiar with the saying "all good things must come to an end." Nothing on this earth is meant to last forever, and the highs we gain from worldly things are matched or exceeded by the lows felt when those things abandon us.

Christ's instructions on this matter are simple: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:" (Matthew 6:19-20 ASV) While earthly gain is fleeting, heavenly treasure is eternal.

So how did Paul remain content despite all the troubles in his life? He worked for a greater purpose than wealth, power or fame. He dedicated his life to God's work, and followed wherever God lead him. This way he knew his treasures would always be secure because his greatest desire was to please his Lord. It didn't matter what circumstances might befall him on earth. He could preach the gospel in shackles just as easily as he could in mansions. And he knew without doubt that God would never abandon him.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Romans 14:13

"Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge ye this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock in his brother's way, or an occasion of falling." (ASV)

Have you ever caused someone else to sin? Most of us don't ever think about this, but it is something we are called to watch out for. Maybe your groans of disapproval at work set the stage for others to badmouth the boss. Maybe the skin-tight shirt you wore last weekend caused people to look at you in lust. Maybe you were just in a bad mood yesterday, and passed your irritability on to those around you.

It's important that we as Christians not only look after our own spiritual walk, but also those of our brothers and sisters. We are supposed to encourage them toward right ways and right decisions, not be the thing that inspires sin in their lives. We are to care for them as our own family, and help them to walk closer with God, just as they encourage us in our own walk.

If you have a friend who struggles with alcoholism, you wouldn't offer him or her a drink. Sin is the same kind of addiction in our lives. It's deep roots go all the way to our very core where it has hold of us. Just like an alcoholic must be vigilant against drunkenness all his life, we must struggle against our sinful natures. Those who allow a drug addict access to drugs are called enablers. This can be either active or passive, but either way it's no less destructive in the addict's life. So too can we become sin enablers by placing our friends and fellow Christians into situations where we know they may be tempted. Whether we intended for them to fall into sin or not, the result may be just the same.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Romans 12:4-5

"For even as we have many members in one body, and all the members have not the same office: so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another." (ASV)

As a Christian it's often easy to feel alone and isolated. Those around us don't understand us and often may ridicule or in some cases even persecute us for our belief in God. I can't count the number of times I've been told I must be mentally lacking to believe in "a fairy tale". We need to remember though, that not only is God always with us, but also through the Holy Spirit we are united with other believers around the world.

This is one of the reasons it is so important for our spiritual development that we gather with other believers to worship God. As human beings we all have a need to feel accepted by our peers, a desire to be well thought of. Often this can lead to behavior that is against God's calling for our lives because we are too busy just trying to fit in. The only way to put this instinct to work for us, rather than against us, is to cultivate friendships with other believers. In a healthy church setting, Christians can encourage, instruct and inspire one another toward the magnificent plans God has for each of us. There we can find the love and companionship that each of us longs for inside.

We also need to remember that we are a global community of believers. It's easy to pray for the people you see on a daily basis, but much harder to remember those on the other side of the world. There are over four dozen countries in this world where Christians are still persecuted for their beliefs. People there can be imprisoned, tortured and killed just for owning a Bible or praying. Christian churches meet in secret because when they are found out they are thrown in jail. We who live in countries where we have the freedom to worship often cry persecution when we are laughed at or not invited to a social event, but we forget about those who endure real persecution for their faith. Yet these people are our brothers and sisters in Christ. They are a part of the body as much as we are. They need our prayers and support as much as our friends, relatives and neighbors.

It's time for the Christians of this world to remember that we are connected. It's time that we stop complaining about church politics and gossiping about each other and learn to work together. It's time that we learn to pray for those who have put their life on the ine for their God. It's time that we remember that in Christ, we are all one body of believers.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Colossians 3:23-24

"whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ." (ASV)

Have you ever spent time with a real complainer? Someone who never has anything good to say and can find the bad in any situation? It can be a difficult experience. A pessimist can bring down even the sunniest disposition if we're not careful. Negativity has a way of infecting those around them.

At one time or another we've all complained about our job. Maybe our work is stressful, our boss doesn't appreciate us, or we don't get along well with our coworkers. Paul gives us an important reminder. We aren't working for our boss, our company, or our coworkers.

"We are ambassadors therefore on behalf of Christ," (2 Corinthians 5:20 ASV) Our main job as Christians is usually not the one that pays the bills. That is important too, but it's secondary to the work we are called to do as disciples of Christ Jesus. In reality, we Christians are ambassadors for God's kingdom, and in everything we do, we are working for Him.

Monday, April 23, 2007

2 Corinthians 4:17

"For our light affliction, which is for the moment, worketh for us more and more exceedingly an eternal weight of glory;" (ASV)

When they hear this passage, most people dismiss it by saying that whatever problem it is they are facing is not a "light affliction". They forget that Paul is speaking here from an eternal viewpoint. When you look at things from the perspective of eternity, even the most horrible circumstances seem like light afflictions.

Horrible things happen in this world. People suffer from cancer and debilitating diseases. Children suffer from abuse. Nations are ruled by brutal dictators. Wars take our young men and women in the prime of their lives. We lose students to classroom violence. Natural disasters decimate entire regions. It's easy to lose hope in the face of so much death and pain.

Paul reminds us though that the pain and fear that is ever-present in this world is only here for a moment. When we reach heaven and stand in the presence of God, we will be freed from anguish, from heartache, from terror. When you compare the time we spend on earth to the eternity we will spend with our Father in heaven, it's like the blink of an eye.

The pain we endure here can't compare with the glory of heaven either. Even the most difficult, most horrifying afflictions we can think of can't compare to 1/100th of the joy we will one day experience. We can't even begin to imagine the overwhelming goodness we will encounter on the day we are called home with all of God's children.

So the next time you begin to lose hope, the next time your joy starts to fade and the world seems too much to bear, remember Paul's words. Look at the situation from the perspective of one who is assured an eternity of joy and peace in heaven, and remember that your current suffering is momentary.

Friday, April 20, 2007

John 7:24

"Judge not according to appearance, but judge righteous judgment." (ASV)

When Jesus said to judge according to righteous judgment, he wasn't talking about condemning anyone. That kind of judgment belongs to God alone. He meant something closer to the familiar phrase "Don't judge a book by its cover."

All too often we pick friends because of the way they dress or the way they look. If someone dresses a bit differently, they are an outcast from our society. People with obvious physical flaws find themselves very much alone. This is not the way that God intended for His people to behave.

While the world around us is not likely to change the way they judge such people, we as Christians are called to look below the surface and get to know the person inside. Yet sometimes, Christians are the worst about such things. If someone has a tattoo, we shun them. If someone dresses in black or wears too much makeup or has too many piercings, we don't even want to talk to them. We forget that God created them too. He loves them just as much as He loves us.

If you want to see just how real this hypocrisy is, someday visit a church where you aren't known, and dress a bit on the unconventional side. I have witnessed this many times, and I've even been on the receiving end a few times as well. Those who are not "properly" dressed are not greeted very warmly in most churches. They find themselves sitting alone through the service, and no one welcomes them or attempts to befriend them afterward. About the only personal greeting they may get is from the ushers or official greeters.

Yet these people need God's love just as much as the rest of us. When Christ walked this earth as a man, He dined with tax collectors and prostitutes. He didn't keep to the more well-respected crowd. He was unafraid to love those the world considered unlovable. In this aspect, as with everything else in life, we are called to follow His example. Jesus Himself said "And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it unto one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me." (Matthew 25:40 ASV)

So the next time you feel yourself beginning to judge someone based on their personal appearance, look more closely. Is this person "unlovable"? Or is this just another person who is in need of God's love?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Romans 6:13

"Neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." (ASV)

Many Christians allow pet sins into their lives. We cling to something that was a part of us before we became God's followers, and find ways to rationalize it away. We think "It's really no big deal" or "It doesn't affect my relationship with God, so He won't mind". In the end though, ALL sin is grievous to the God we love. It's like keeping a tamed tiger in the house. We may get away with it for years, but one day that tiger is going to show it's true nature and someone we love is going to get bitten.

We become slaves to the sins we allow in our lives, though usually we don't know it. "Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Every one that committeth sin is the bondservant of sin." (John 8:34 ASV) We spend time trying to conceal our sin from the world. We seek after it until it becomes our greatest pursuit. We give it a place on the throne of our lives, where God should be, and it rules over us whether we realize it or not.

What's more, as Christians, we are even more responsible for our actions than we had been when we lived in ignorance. "If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin: but now they have no excuse for their sin." (John 15:22 ASV) God has high expectations for His children. Sure, we're still going to mess up from time to time, but that's not the same as repentantly keeping sin in our lives because we are not yet ready to give it up.

But of course, there is good news. "And the law came in besides, that the trespass might abound; but where sin abounded, grace did abound more exceedingly:" (Romans 5:20 ASV) God forgives sins. His grace is sufficient for anything we can come up with. We need only repent to Him in honesty to be forgiven. His desire is for us to cut sins out of our lives, one by one, with His help. Through this process we learn to walk more closely with Him and we become more like the people He created us to be.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Philippians 3:14

"I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (ASV)

As Christians, it's easy to get caught up in the world around us and forget our purpose. We worry about what people will think. We fret over the little details of life. We spend time accumulating possessions. We forget that we are only visitors here on Earth. Our home lies elsewhere.

Paul reminds us that we have a higher goal in mind than worldly success, popularity, wealth or power. He is echoing the sentiment of Matthew 6:19-20 "Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:" (ASV) We are not to concern ourselves overly much with the things of this world because they won't last anyway. We need to focus more on the things that are eternal.

Of course, this is easier said than done. It's hard to remain focused on things that we can't yet experience or see, when so much is going on around us that looks so tempting. It's hard to remember that the things we see around us are temporary when they seem so permanent. It's hard to have an eternal viewpoint when living in a mortal body.

So what is eternal? Well, God for starters. "I am the Alpha and the Omega, saith the Lord God, who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty." (Revelation 1:8 ASV) Love is also eternal. "And we know and have believed the love which God hath in us. God is love; and he that abideth in love abideth in God, and God abideth in him." (1 John 4:16 ASV) This is the foundation of the two greatest commandments, according to Jesus (see Matthew 22:36-40). If we focus simply on loving God and secondly on loving one another, we will find plenty to fill our time. Also, we'll find that as long as we are doing these two things, the rest of God's commandments will naturally fall in line.

So the next time you find yourself weighed down by the things of this world, pause for a moment and remember your purpose. You may just find that all of those worries are not so important after all!

Monday, April 16, 2007

I-Fri: Fortune

Yeah, I still do these now and then... Anyway, this is just a rough sketch that took all of a minute and a half to do, but I think it came out half ok, so you get to see it. ;-)

Genie Sketch

What finger are you?

You Are the Thumb

You're unique and flexible. And you defy any category.

Mentally strong and agile, you do things your own way. And you do them well.

You are a natural leader... but also truly a loner. You inspire many but connect with few.

You get along well with: The Middle Finger

Stay away from: The Pinky

Galatians 2:20

"I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ living in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me." (ASV)

This is a crucial point to the Christian walk, yet one which more often than not we forget. It's easy for us to say "I've prayed and God's forgiven me, so now I'm done and I'm going to heaven" but that's not all that Christ desires of us. It doesn't end with that first prayer. "And he called unto him the multitude with his disciples, and said unto them, If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Mark 8:34 ASV) We cannot follow Christ and still live our lives the way we did before. We have to become His.

Christians do all kinds of things to proclaim to the world that they love God. Anyone remember those WWJD bracelets that were so popular a few years ago? There are bumper stickers, t-shirts, and any number of other marketable items that proclaim the name of God. We go to church on Sunday. We hang scripture verses on our walls at home. We volunteer. We do good things. None of this is ultimately wrong, but it is not proof of salvation either. No bumper sticker is a ticket into Heaven. We all know hypocrites who attend church regularly but don't really believe in God. Christ never said if you want to follow Me, buy the merchandise.

God expects our devotion to Him to be much deeper than any of these things. He expects us to know Him and He wants to know us. "Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy by thy name, and by thy name cast out demons, and by thy name do many mighty works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." (Matthew 7:22-23 ASV) Christ wants to be the most integral part of our life. He wants to live in us so that once our bodies die, we can live in Him.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Proverbs 10:7

"The memory of the righteous is blessed; But the name of the wicked shall rot."

I once saw a bumper sticker that said "Live your life so the pastor doesn't have to lie at your funeral." More interestingly, this was on the back of a pastor's car. Truth is, we're all going to leave this earth one day. While the Bible certainly provides a guide for how to live your life, God ultimately leaves it in our hands.

Have you ever attended the funeral of someone who was genuinely a wicked person while here on earth? It's a very sad thing indeed. More often than not, most of the attendants are there to comfort the family, rather than to mourn the passing of the individual. The eulogy is short and non-specific, and few people elect to stand up and speak about the deceased.

Contrast that with the funeral of a righteous person. A few years ago I had the privilege to attend the funeral of a good, God-fearing man. Family, friends, friends of friends, and seemingly every person who had ever met him came to say goodbye. The room was packed, standing room only despite the setting of a small town in east Texas. They even had to open the doors and set up chairs in the lobby so that more people could pay their respects. We sang hymns of praise and the pastor (who was deeply acquainted with this man) delivered the sermon with tears in his eyes. While certainly there was mourning, there was also rejoicing that he was finally in heaven with the God he loved and dedicated his life to.

Was this the funeral of a clergy member? No. A great man by the world's standards? Certainly not. He was a farmer in his youth. He never completed school, and wasn't considered a smart man by any standards, but he was wise. When he couldn't make ends meet any longer by farming, he worked on the road crew for the county. He was never rich or what some may call successful, but he loved his Lord and he let that shine every minute of his life. By the time I met him, his physical presence was but a shadow of the man he had once been, but his spirit still shone brightly. In the few short years I knew him, as his health continued to decline, I saw him time and again share the love of God with everyone he met, even this yankee girl from Philadelphia.

When I think about my life and what success means to me, I think of Dalton Melton. When I finally leave this world behind, I want to be remembered the way he is remembered. If I never have the finer things in life, and if no one "important" ever knows my name, that's ok. I just want to leave an ounce of God's love with each person I come across, so that when I'm gone, they'll remember Who I lived for.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Colossians 2:16-17

"Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." (NIV)

Christianity is not a religion. That may sound strange to many, but it is still very true. Many religions have been built around Christianity, but religion is merely a set of rituals or rules that express faith in a particular belief system. Christianity (in this case) is that belief system.

In Colossians Paul warns about conflicts between Christians whose religions differ. At the time, he was probably more concerned with those who observed the Jewish rites and those who did not. Judaism was built on the law of God after all, so many Jews had difficulty moving from living under the law to living under God's grace. They had been God's only chosen people for so long, and now the doors of Heaven had been opened to Gentiles as well. "Or is God the God of Jews only? is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yea, of Gentiles also:" (Romans 3:29 ASV)

Paul says that we should not be judged by religion. The Jewish tradition of the day was "a shadow of the things that were to come," fulfilled by Christ's life, death and resurrection. What is important to a Christian should not be rituals or rites, but faith in God and acceptance of the grace He provided to us through Jesus' death on the cross.

The same is true of the varying sects and denominations within the church today. Those who worship with a pipe organ and those who do so with electric guitars are all still worshipping the same God. We are all part of the same Body of Christ, so long as we hold true to certain basics of our faith, "so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and severally members one of another." (Romans 12:5 ASV) We often bicker among ourselves saying one church is too legalistic, another is too charismatic, but in reality it's like the eyes of the body chastizing the hands for not being able to see and the tongue being angry with the ears because they refuse to speak. If we can't even love each other, how can we ever hope to reach out to the rest of the world?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Romans 5:6-8

"For while we were yet weak, in due season Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: for peradventure for the good man some one would even dare to die. But God commendeth his own love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (ASV)

I'm always amazed at the number of Christians who simply don't "get it." We've all seen them -- the holier-than-thou types who like to look down on everyone else. They seem to believe that they're "good enough" for heaven, but the rest of the world is beneath them. Fortunately for us, God doesn't see it that way.

Christ did not sacrifice Himself for those who are good enough, rather it was quite the opposite. If there were any people good enough for God's kingdom, there would have been no need for Him to die. If it were possible for us to get to Heaven by being good enough, we could have taken care of that on our own. To believe oneself to be above the rest is to deny the need for His intervention on our behalf.

The truth is, Christ died for sinners. He died for murderers, drug dealers, perverts, thieves, liars, prostitutes and criminals. And what's more, He loves them just as much as He loves the rest of us. Who are we then, as Christians, to condemn such people? I'm not proposing that we do away with jails or make the courts more lenient. That type of earthly justice certainly has it's place, and it's for the government to decide. Rather, we as Christians should learn to see them as Christ sees them.

When Jesus hung on the cross, He was not alone. He was hung between two thieves. One of them mocked Him and told Him to get down from the cross if He was in fact the Christ. The other though, may have understood what the chief priests failed to see. "But the other answered, and rebuking him said, Dost thou not even fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this man hath done nothing amiss. And he said, Jesus, remember me when thou comest in thy kingdom. And he said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:40-43 ASV) Jesus showed love to this man, who had been condemned to die for his crimes.

If Jesus loves even criminals, shouldn't we as well? If we are truly His followers, shouldn't we have compassion for those the world condemns? Don't they need to see the light of God's love just as much as the rest of us?

Friday, April 06, 2007

Philippians 2:13

"for it is God who worketh in you both to will and to work, for his good pleasure." (ASV)

"I've tried and tried to do it, but I just can't." So many people make this complaint about giving up old sinful habits. I'm here to tell you that they're right. No human can overcome sin. We aren't built to be able to. From the moment Adam and Eve bit into that apple way back in the garden, we're a fallen race. We can't escape sin on our own because it is a part of us.

There's good news though. We don't have to. The reason the above complaint is made is evident within the complaint itself. It's the emphasis on the word "I" that does it. If you're struggling against sin, stop struggling and be still. "I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13 ASV) All of your efforts may get you nowhere, but simply praying that God will take away the sin will have an enormous effect.

Just as a lump of ore can't refine itself, we humans need the refiner's fire to bring out our true potential. This is not an easy process to go through. "Behold, I have refined thee, but not as silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction." (Isaiah 48:10 ASV) Just as Israel endured difficulty and hardship in the Bible, so we too are refined today. When you ask for God's help in removing a sin from your life, be prepared. Often our faith is tested most when God is working hardest on us.

You see, it's not us, but God's work in us that perfects us. Where we are fallen, He alone is holy. Where we are weak, His strength will prevail. God knows the sins we struggle with, better than we do most times. He wants us to be made holy, "Ye therefore shall be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48 ASV) While the process will not be complete until we stand in His presence in heaven, He is working toward that end even today.

So the next time you find yourself wondering why you can't do something, remember that it's not yours alone to do. Give it to God in prayer and let Him handle it.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Matthew 13:54

"And coming into his own country he taught them in their synagogue, insomuch that they were astonished, and said, Whence hath this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?" (ASV)

Not much is known about Christ's childhood, but we can assume it was a fairly normal one. This accounts for the reaction He got upon returning to His hometown. Those who knew Him before He began His ministry were baffled at the revelation of His wisdom and knowledge of God. "Just who does He think He is?" was their response. They took offense at His works. They couldn't accept Him because He was not what they expected.

In the same way, sometimes the people who know us best can be discouraging. When they see a change in our lives, they may feel threatened by it. They are comfortable with the way things were before, so they tell us we can't change, or we're out of our depth. While it may seem easy to listen to them and go back to our old mediocre lives, God's plan for us is greatness, whether it be here on earth or later in His kingdom.

Job faced a similar situation. When he was at his lowest, three of his friends came to him and gave him advice. They told him his suffering was because of his own sin or because he refused to confess his sins. Since Job knew they were wrong, he refused to listen to them. If Job had listened to his friends, he might have been discouraged and missed out on the blessings God had stored up for his later years. Instead, he stood his ground. When the Lord finally gave answer, He rebuked those who had given Job bad advice, and told Job to pray for them.

"For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith Jehovah, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope in your latter end." (Jeremiah 29:11 ASV) If we listen to the people around us who are comfortable in their sinful lives, it's easy to miss out on God's plan for us. Who are the nay-sayers in your life who may be holding you back from all that God has in store for you? Perhaps rather than listening to their advice, you should stand your ground and pray that God would reveal His truth to them.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Psalm 9:9

"Jehovah also will be a high tower for the oppressed, A high tower in times of trouble;" (ASV)

Living a Christian life is no guarantee against difficulty. God never promised to keep us from pain or struggle. Instead He has promised to help us get through whatever hardships may com our way. Paul, who knew what it was to suffer for the gospel if anyone did, wrote "For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39 ASV)

Likewise, David, who wrote the above referenced Psalm would know all about times of trouble. His reign as King was marked by assassination attempts, battles and struggles, yet he never lost his faith in God. The same sentiment of God's refuge is echoed in Psalm 32:7 where he writes "Thou art my hiding-place; thou wilt preserve me from trouble; Thou wilt compass me about with songs of deliverance." (ASV)

Now then, if David (who was an adulterer and a murderer) and Paul (who was there for the stoning of the first Christian martyr before God got hold of him) can find solace in God's love and protection, then can't we all expect the same?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Psalm 16:11

"Thou wilt show me the path of life: In thy presence is fulness of joy; In thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore." (ASV)

Atheists use many words to describe the Christian life. They tell us we're trapped in a prison, we're suffering for no reason, we allow ourselves to be enslaved to a God who isn't there. You never hear them talk about joy, peace, freedom in association with the Christian life. That's because they're missing the point. Since they don't know God, they don't know about the good things He has provided to His children.

God is not some stern lecturer hurling lightning bolts from the sky to punish His followers. While He is certainly just, He's not all about rules. He is all about love, and His love for us who He created is far more powerful than we could ever fathom. Because He cares for us so much, God has provided us with a number of gifts which are ours for the taking!

One of these gifts is joy. In the above verse, the Psalmist writes "In thy presence is fulness of joy." Joy is not to be confused with happiness. Joy is a long-term state, rather than an emotion of elation. It is the ability to stand in the face of pain and depression and say "My God loves me, and that's enough for me!" Joy doesn't fade with the circumstances around us, rather it aides us through our mourning, keeps us from drowning in our sorrow.

Another gift God bestows on us is peace. In Phillippians 4:7 Paul writes: "And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall guard your hearts and your thoughts in Christ Jesus." (ASV) There's a calmness that comes with the knowledge that God is in control. Have you ever found yourself calm in a situation where you felt you should have been panicked? Have you watched the hustle and bustle around you and been content to move at God's pace rather than the world's? Have you made what should have been a very difficult decision with certainty because you knew it was God's will? Have you ever tried to explain to an unbeliever why you're not worried in spite of difficult circumstances? These are all examples of the peace God grants to us who follow Him.

"For freedom did Christ set us free: stand fast therefore, and be not entangled again in a yoke of bondage." (Galatians 5:1 ASV) Possibly the one gift most non-Christians have the hardest time understanding is the freedom we find when we follow God's path for our lives. They see it as a set of rules to be followed. They assume we're not allowed to have any fun because much of what the world calls "fun," God calls "sin." While it's true that God has made rules for us to follow, they're not in place just to make our lives more difficult. Rather, God has set these rules because He know's what's best for us. But more than the rules, He gives us the freedom to live our lives without worry.

Imagine yourself to be a player in a big championship sporting event. There's a lot of pressure involved. You don't want to mess up and let your team down, let your fans down. Now imagine that you also have seen the future and you know that your team will win, regardless of your performance. What a weight off your shoulders that would be! You would be free to just enjoy playing the game, rather than worrying about putting in a perfect performance. In a lot of ways the Christian life is like that. We're playing in a game that has eternal consequences, but we know that in the end, Christ has already won it for us. We are free to enjoy the game because we don't need to fret over the conclusion.

Of course, there are many other gifts God gives to each of His followers. Most of them the outside world will never fully understand. So the next time someone tells you that you're a slave to your God, or that you don't need to be entrapped by your religion, share a little of God's joy, peace and freedom with them.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Matthew 18:10

"See that you do not look down on one of these little ones. For I tell you that their angels in heaven always see the face of my Father in heaven" (ASV)

Do you believe in angels? I get this question pretty regularly when discussing my faith. People are often surprised that I do in fact believe in them. For some reason our culture seems to have equated the concept of angels with new age spirituality.

The concept of the guardian angel is not a new one at all, but rather a very old one. In connection to Jesus, we often think of angels associated with His birth (Christmas) and His death (Easter), but forget about them for the rest of the year. It should also be noted that the Bible mentions them attending Him in the desert (Mark 1:13) and predicts their appearance at His return (Mark 8:38).

We also know that angels were present in the early church. It was an angel who freed the jailed apostles in Acts 5:19. An angel placed Phillip on the road where he met the Ethiopian in Acts 8:26. In Acts 10 an angel appeared to Cornelius and directed him to seek counsel from Simon Peter. Afterward an angel rescued Peter from a jail cell where he was surrounded by guards Acts 12:7. And all of that happened in just one book!

The Bible also takes for granted the concept that angels will always serve as guardians to God's chosen people. "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" (Hebrews 1:14 ASV) In the above passage from Matthew, Jesus makes reference to "little ones" having angels who dwell in the presence of God. In Hebrews we are reminded that not only do angels live in heaven, but also they walk among us here on earth. "Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it." (Hebrews 13:2 ASV) Just as angels existed in the days when Christ walked the earth, so too do they work today as messengers and servants of God.

While the Bible does assure us that angels are real, it also warns against worshiping them. It is clear that angels are merely servants and messengers of God. "Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you for the prize. Such a person goes into great detail about what he has seen, and his unspiritual mind puffs him up with idle notions." (Colossians 2:18 ASV)

Verse of the Day