As a believer in Jesus I read the whole Bible. Most of the Bible is what we call the “Old Testament.” Throughout the centuries after Jesus came, Christians have struggled and debated questions such as: “Do I need to obey the Old Testament?” and “What do I apply to myself and what do I simply overlook in the Old Testament?” The answers to these questions are found in the teachings of the New Testament. Jesus declared that He came to fulfill the Law (the teachings given by God to Moses for the Israelites) and the Prophets (Matthew 5:17). Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection, many of the Old Testament ceremonial and temple rituals are fulfilled in Christ. The laws given to Israel teach us good things about God, and they also reveal the wonderful ministry of Jesus the Messiah. For example, we don’t need to sacrifice bulls and sheep as the Israelites did because Jesus gave himself as the perfect and final sacrifice! In the Book of Galatians, Paul wrote to believers who, after receiving Christ, were trying to “add” to their salvation the practice of the Law. Paul called them on this. In strong, unmistakable terms Paul proclaimed that the believer in Jesus is free from having to live under the Law found in the Old Covenant. Being declared righteous before God, He taught, was not a matter of proclaiming ourselves “worthy” because of our efforts to keep a bunch of laws. Righteousness comes through faith in Jesus! This “freedom” from the Law, however, does not mean we abandon morals or godly behavior. Paul wrote, “You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13-14). So, the way we live out our Christian life is by faith in Jesus and love for one another. This is not a “law of works,” but it is the “law of love.” Paul again wrote, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Galatians 5:6). Catch Paul’s vision here: Living for Christ is not a “burden” of having to perform duties and keep laws; it is, rather, a freedom to live above the sinful nature and to express our faith through loving God and others. You can’t beat that!
A while ago I was talking to a young man (let’s call him Sam) who experienced a great disappointment. As a believer, Sam loved Jesus, but his heart felt the heavy weight of discouragement. These questions kept surfacing in his mind: Why did I have to go through this? Why didn’t God answer my prayer? Spiritual confusion led to an abundance of self-pity. How can we help others who are disappointed with life…and with God? Well, let’s try to imagine a life without any problems or challenges. Would there be any need for faith? Would we see our need of God or have compassion for anyone else? The Bible helps us with these questions. The Apostle Paul wrote two letters to believers in Corinth who struggled with many issues. Life was going very well. Here is how Paul reconciled the reality of suffering with the will of God. He wrote, “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4). God is not aloof in our struggles. He doesn’t take pleasure in the disappointments we face. The clear truth here is: God wants to comfort us! For this to happen, we must step off the treadmill of self-pity and reach out to the Lord in faith. Jesus was acquainted with persecution at the hands of those who hated Him—as well as disappointments from those who loved Him. Yet, He committed himself to the One who is just, and who is able to keep what is committed to Him. We must admit that in our difficulties we grow more in our faith and learn more about God than we ever could if life were always smooth sailing. As we ask God for help, His Spirit does a deep work in us and renews our perspective on life. He reminds us that we live in a fallen rebellious world where most people are suppressing the truth instead of embracing it. As God comforts us, we “rediscover” our true source of hope and strength…the Lord himself! Also, our trials serve an amazing purpose…not just for us but also for others. As we receive God’s comfort, we are then given the ability to comfort others! Has God sent someone to you who “happens” to be going through what you just experienced? You would never know how to help someone else if your faith was never challenged. So, look at your disappointments not as the period at the end of a sentence, but, rather, as a comma that leads you into the unknown adventure of faith! Keep trusting, keep receiving comfort, and keep giving what God has given you!
A Christian was witnessing to a man and asked him if he ever read the Bible. He said, “No, the Bible is just about an angry God sending people to hell.” Is that so? Nothing could be further from the truth. I just finished reading the Book of Jeremiah. It’s true, the prophet had a lot to say about judgment and God’s wrath coming on many nations—including Israel. Babylon, a powerful nation to the north of Israel, would be God’s instrument, sharpened and ready to devastate the land. Does God delight in punishment? Is judgment what He desired for Israel? Absolutely not! Over and over, Jeremiah pleaded with the king and the people. God gave them much time and many opportunities to repent and turn from their sins. Judgment eventually came, not because “God is an angry God” but because the people chose evil over obedience. King Zedekiah, the leader during the final years of Judah, met several times with the prophet. Each time, Jeremiah tried to get Zedekiah to act in faith, to believe that God is merciful, and to believe that God is holy and just. But Zedekiah, and the people who followed his “misleadership,” showed no interest in what God said. Through their own hardness of heart, they marched themselves right over the cliff of judgment. While reading this sad account, I thought of how easily God could have simply annihilated Israel and started over. However, after some of the people were taken captive to Babylon, God showed His concern and love for them. Through a letter written by Jeremiah, the Lord said to them, “‘When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart’” (Jeremiah 29:10-13). Does this sound like the “angry God” some people imagine? Our Lord loves us so much that He warns us ahead of disaster. And, even after the bitter consequences we bring upon ourselves, He offers us hope. We serve a good God!
A sign along a road in Alaska reads, “Choose your rut carefully, for you’ll be in it for the next 200 miles!” We are given a free will to make choices that affect eternity! With the help of the Holy Spirit, we can pursue God’s will and make right choices. We get into trouble when we misuse the gift of choice and end up going after the flesh. Many Christians are in all kinds of tormenting habits and addictions—all because of pursuing bad choices. How can we let God help us in our choice making and in doing the right thing? The key to great victory is having great passion for the right things. How is our passion for the Lord Jesus himself? The Word tells us that “in [Christ] are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:3). Therefore, receiving and appropriating Jesus is the “secret” to an overcoming life. Judges 11:24 gives us this challenge: “Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.” God has already given us great and mighty promises and “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3). Make up your mind to “possess” all that God has for you. Don’t have the attitude, “Well, I may want more of Jesus.” Rather, proclaim, “I must and will have a close relationship with Christ.” You have as much of God right now as you’re willing to hunger and thirst for. How do we possess the life of God? The Bible teaches us the principle of putting off the old self and putting on the new (Colossians 3:9-10). A bad habit doesn’t just go away; it must be replaced by Christ’s newness. Take a portion of Scripture that deals with new qualities, such as love in 1 Corinthians 13. Read, meditate, and pray over each verse. Possess the Word through sincere repentance and appropriate it to your life through prayer and waiting upon God. You will discover that if you are serious with God and about growing in Christ, good things will happen! Your choices will turn into godly habits which will grow into a life that shines for God! You will possess what you pursue!
This past week, Terry and I had the opportunity to vacation with our daughter, Nicole, and her husband, Tirus. It also happened to be their first wedding anniversary. As I observed the love and devotion between them, I was reminded of the relationship God wants with each one of us. The Lord, speaking through Jeremiah, said, “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me and followed me through the desert…” (v. 2:2a). This Scripture made me think about my own devotion to the Lord Jesus. I asked myself, “Do I love Jesus more now than at the beginning?” “Has my devotion cooled to a mere formality?” “Is there anything in my life that means more to me than Jesus himself?” In Jeremiah’s time, the Lord pointed out to the Israelites their neglect in seeking Him. “They did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord, who brought us up out of Egypt and led us through the barren wilderness…?’” (v. 6). The downward path into lukewarm “religion” begins with a lack of prayer. Even the priests of Jeremiah’s day “did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord…?’” It’s interesting that God sums up our prayer relationship with Him with the question “Where is the Lord?” God is not asking us to try to figure out where He dwells or doubt that He is around. When we are asking “Where are you, Lord?”, we are pressing beyond the things of the world to seek His presence. We are saying to God, “I choose to seek You and involve You in everything I go through in life. I want to know You and invite You into all of my experiences.” So, I challenge you, as I challenge myself, to seek the Lord with all your heart. Don’t allow a dull or hardened attitude to keep you distant from Him. As the years pass, our relationship with God has the potential to be closer and deeper than when we first received Him. First love is wonderful, but love forged through the years is even greater and more satisfying. God is lovingly and faithfully devoted to us. Direct your heart to seek Him!
When I was in my twenties, a friend of mine gave me an inflatable bop bag. You may have had one as a child—a three-foot plastic boxing toy on a rounded base, made to bounce back up every time someone punched it and knocked it over. No matter how many times it was knocked to the ground, it would bounce right back—still smiling. One day, my nephew, who was about a year old at the time, visited my apartment and, seeing the familiar face of the cartoon character printed on the bop bag, ran over to give it a hug. Much to his surprise, the toy—which was meant to be hit, not hugged—tumbled to the ground, taking him along with it. The Bible tells us that we are to “put to death whatever belongs to our earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5). What makes life difficult is that, however often we strike with what we think is a death blow, our old nature—like that bop bag—just pops right back up again. It’s frustrating to see our old attitudes popping back into our lives again after we think that we had put them to death once and for all. The reality is that we will have to deal with our old nature for as long as we’re alive on earth. That nature is resilient, so we must be relentless and keep on punching. The mistake that Christians too often make is letting their frustrations get the best of them and, instead of fighting, they run like my nephew and embrace those sinful attitudes. The outcome is the same: They fall crashing to the ground. Never give up! “Fight the battle well, holding on to faith and a good conscience!” (1 Timothy 1:18-19).
Suppose you have a child and you love her dearly. You have invested in her and spent time praying for, giving to, and loving her with all your heart…all because you want the best for her. And, let’s also suppose she turns away from you. She not only doesn’t want anything to do with you, but also slanders you about not being a good parent. If you can relate to this, you can begin to feel the “angst” God feels about His children who ignore Him. I am reading through the Book of Isaiah in my devotions. Page after page I see the passion of God’s love for the Israelites and their blatant turning away. As I consider the people of our country, I feel like I’m at the ocean watching the horizon and seeing a huge “rogue” wave approaching. Hardly anyone notices…it’s all just fun and games and soaking in the blessings. But, the wave is building. Listen to the message of Isaiah as he prepares us to meet God. “The Lord will rise up…to do his work, his strange work, and perform his task, his alien task. Now stop mocking, or your chains will become heavier; the Lord, the Lord Almighty, has told me of the destruction decreed against the whole land” (28:21-22). First, God is just, and He will judge sin. While it may seem that people get away with a lot of evil, God takes into account every deed. God doesn’t enjoy judging, but He is the God of truth and justice and must judge sin. Jesus’ death on the cross shows us what God thinks of sin, and the only payment to wash away sin (atonement). Second, Isaiah reveals that God provides mercy and is able to keep His own during the most trying times. “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you” (26:3). We don’t need to wring our hands or stress out over increasing evil. Our greatest need is to keep close to Jesus which leads to our greatest blessing…His perfect peace. Be blessed!
It’s easy to get distracted. Recently, I was in a room filled with people talking. There was music playing in the background and children were running around. An individual stopped me and started talking about something important. As he spoke, I found myself wanting to listen, but I was distracted by the “room noise.” At one point, I watched his lips moving, but I could not hear a word he was saying. I needed to change something. This past Monday morning, I found a quiet place and started to pray. It seemed like a flood of thoughts came rushing into my head…all this “room noise” in my head of things I felt I needed to do that day and the cares of life. I asked the Lord, through the power of the Holy Spirit, to help me focus on Him. Only after several minutes was I able to start praying with faith and clarity. The Psalmist knew the importance of prayer and our need of staying centered on the Lord Himself. In Psalm 123:2 we read, “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, and as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till he has mercy upon us.” A good servant knows the importance of closeness and attention to detail. Life is full of competing voices and many distractions. In order for me to hear my friend over the noise, I had to alter a few things. First, I had to step closer to him and put my ear nearer to his mouth. At the same time I continued to watch his lips and listen intently to what he was saying. This definitely helped our communication. In hindsight, the best course of action would have been to step into another room, close the door, and listen to every word clearly. The Lord Jesus deserves our undivided attention. As we tune in and listen, life takes on the sense of a mission and not just a “merry-go-round.” Following Jesus is our call…let’s not get distracted.
Most of the Book of Proverbs was written by King Solomon. However, God also chose a few others to bring us truth through this amazing book. A man named Agur wrote Proverbs 30, and in verses 7-9 he prayed an interesting prayer: “Two things I ask of you, O Lord; do not refuse me before I die: Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God.” So, Agur is probably an older man at this time (he mentions these requests “before I die”). He has reflected on life and his relationship with God. First, he prays that he might not become a liar or get caught up in lies (“Keep falsehood and lies far from me”). Agur, in wisdom, knows that a good life is one of truth. Lies only bring confusion in our relationship with God and enflame strife between people. Next, Agur prays over his daily needs. He prays not to be rich and not to be poor. He simply asks God for his daily bread. The Bible teaches that both riches and poverty carry deceitful temptations. The rich person is tempted to “disown” God, saying things like, “Who is the Lord?” This attitude is all too common in America as many who “have it made” totally ignore God. An attitude of ingratitude never leads to anything good, and Agur asked to be spared this. He also prays about poverty, asking God to allow him to live above this. Poverty tempts people to break the law and dishonor God. From these verses, I receive the truth that God wants me to trust Him and be content with whatever comes my way. I don’t need to seek wealth or choose poverty as somehow “being more spiritual.” Our Lord graciously gives us everything we need. Let us give Him thanks!
There’s a lie going around, and I’d like to put a stop to it. People have been saying, “I don’t need anybody in my life to be a Christian. I don’t need the church. I don’t need to be part of a small group. I don’t need close brothers and sisters to share my life with. I’m fine just the way I am.” A person who is a Christian is under the authority of the Word, right? Each of us will one day be judged by the Word of God. The Bible clearly teaches a “one another” Christianity. Jesus died and rose from the dead—not just for your individual salvation, but so that you could be a part of His body—the Church. If you are truly born again, you have been born into a family (Ephesians 3:15). The success and blessing of the Early Church was due to the Christians living out their lives as a loving community under the Lordship of Christ. The Spirit was poured out as “they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). The Lord added to their number daily because, as part of their life, “they broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts” (Acts 2:46). The phrase “one another” is found over 76 times in the New Testament. In the Book of Ephesians, for example, we read: “bearing with one another in love” (4:2), “we are all members of one another in love” (4:25), “be kind and compassionate to one another” (4:32), and “submit to one another” (5:21). My favorite “one another” verse is “Bear one another’s burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). How can we possibly fulfill the law of Christ if we don’t even make an effort to be with each other? The reason for fellowship and togetherness is to learn how to love others and share the special gifts and ministry abilities God has given to each of us. “But, Pastor,” you may say, “you don’t understand. I’ve been hurt by other Christians.” Who hasn’t? What if the Apostle Paul had withdrawn into himself when he was hurt by the Corinthian believers? The beauty of being a Christian is being able to forgive and love others through Jesus—regardless of what they have done. We have a great responsibility…to love God and to love each other. If you don’t get involved in the lives of your spiritual family, you will never be able to fulfill God’s will for your life. Don’t wait for others to come to you. Go to them!