When You’ve Done Everything Right

How many of you have been treated unfairly at some point in your life?

We’ve all done things that brought consequences that we thought were unfair at the time. When I say “unfair”, I’m talking about something that happened to you or someone close to you that was genuinely unfair.

Maybe you got passed over for a promotion even though you were the most qualified for the job. Or perhaps your son was the best baseball player on his team, but he sat on the bench because the coach started his son ahead of yours. Have you had to suffer the consequences for someone else’s mistake? Maybe you did your job well and your department exceeded expectations, but because your company’s overall financial performance was poor, you had to sit in on the meeting where everyone got chewed out.

I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all been treated unfairly at times, or we’ve witnessed the unfair treatment of other people. We understand of course, that there is no guarantee of fair treatment, not in this world. In fact, Jesus pretty much guaranteed just the opposite in the last verse of John 16 where He said, “In this world, you have trouble.” And that includes those times when we get a raw deal even we didn’t do anything to deserve it.

Our passage today is from the 73rd Psalm. It was written, under the inspiration of God, by a man named Asaph who was…….what we might call a worship pastor today. He was the minister of music under King David.

Psalm 73

Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart.

2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold.

3 For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

4 They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

5 They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.

6 Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.

7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity; the evil conceits of their minds know no limits.

8 They scoff, and speak with malice; in their arrogance they threaten oppression.

9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.

10 Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.

11 They say, “How can God know? Does the Most High have knowledge?”

12 This is what the wicked are like- always carefree, they increase in wealth.

13 Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence.

14 All day long I have been plagued; I have been punished every morning.

15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,” I would have betrayed your children.

Pay close attention to the next two verses:

16 When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me

17 till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.

18 Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin.

19 How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors!

20 As a dream when one awakes, so when you arise, O Lord, you will despise them as fantasies.

21 When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered,

22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.

23 Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.

24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.

25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.

26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

27 Those who are far from you will perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you.

28 But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge;
I will tell of all your deeds.

Asaph was troubled by the things he saw going on around him and he lays it all out in this psalm.

He saw wicked people who were prosperous and healthy, and he saw righteous people of God who were impoverished and suffering from various illnesses and afflictions. And he could not understand why it was happening. In fact, he was becoming jealous of the wicked and their prosperity.

The wicked people he was talking about were not common street criminals. They were most likely pillar of the community types. As Asaph pointed out in verse 6, they had no problem resorting to violence if anyone got in their way. They had the power to do so apparently.

In verses 7 and 8 he described how they made no effort to hide their sin. In fact they boasted about it. They considered nothing to be too evil or too vile. Nothing was off limits.

They openly mocked God and openly defied God in both word and deed. And because of the prosperity they enjoyed, and because it looked like they were getting away with their sin, they began leading others astray. Other people were drawn to the lifestyle of these wicked people. We see this today. People flock to wealthy athletes and entertainers and hang on their every word, so long as the money holds out.

Asaph said they were so arrogant and sure of themselves, they thought they had concealed their sin from God. Or that God simply didn’t care.

All of these things troubled Asaph so much, he asked, “Have I been a man of God for nothing? Has my devotion and observance of the Law been for nothing?”

He was having a crisis of faith, so much so that it made him physically ill. At some point he considered walking away from his ministry and his faith. But, even though he was having a crisis of faith, he did not have a lack of faith.

Jesus said all we need is faith the size of mustard seed. Asaph kept all of these things to himself. He did not complain openly. He had enough good sense to know that if he did so, he might cause others to start doubting their own faith. He was a leader and people looked to him for leadership. Had he walked away, others may have walked away also. He had just enough faith, and his love for God and God’s people was just strong enough, to keep him from doing anything that would have damaged the reputation of God.

But still, the burden became so great, he came to realize he could no longer carry it alone. That was when he turned to God for help. – “I entered the sanctuary of God.”

He took all of this to God. He probably said something along the lines of “God, what gives? This isn’t fair!!!”

You know what? As long as we do so with proper respect, we can bring our troubles and complaints to God. “God, what’s going on here? Help me understand all of this.”

That’s what Asaph did. He found a place where he could be alone with God. Your sanctuary can be anywhere you happen to be. It can be in your car or in a quiet corner of your home. You can be sitting on a park bench or you find a quiet place at your workplace where you can be alone with God for a few minutes. What I’m saying is, the sanctuary of God can be anywhere. You don’t have to get in your car and drive to your church. The sanctuary of God is any place where you can be alone with God.

When Asaph entered the sanctuary of God, he was able to get away from the distractions. He was able to focus on being in the presence of God. And as he wrote in verse 17, he finally understood the ultimate fate of the wicked. He understood that the prosperity and good health they enjoyed in this world was only temporary. He finally understood that God would judge the wicked and when He does, His justice will be swift and sure.

The things that Asaph saw still go on today. Christians get cheated in business deals.
We see non-believing people prosper while Christians lose their jobs and their homes and suffer financial ruin. We see spouses walk away from a marriage when the other partner has done everything right. We see children of Christian parents go astray. We see people suffer every day even though they did everything right. Why do these things happen? Because we live in a fallen world. Wicked and evil people are given free will just like everyone else. And they use their free will in ways God never intended. They do what seems right in their own eyes. We live in a fallen world where bad things happen to good people and it will continue to be this way…………until Jesus Christ returns and restores all things. Then the perfect fairness and justice of God will prevail.

At the conclusion of this psalm, Asaph confessed that, though he envied the prosperity of the wicked, he was reminded that nothing in heaven or earth is more desirable than God. And it’s a reminder for us too. Everything in the world is temporary. Jesus is eternal, and He is all we need.

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Adventures in Kayaking

I live in Fort Worth close to Cabela’s. If you’re not familiar with it, Cabela’s is a huge retailer of hunting and fishing and outdoor gear.

I go there quite often since I live so close, and if you ever get the chance to visit one of their stores in the spring and summer months, you’ll probably notice the rows of kayaks by the front entrance. I like to fish so I’ve been thinking about getting into kayak fishing. While I was recuperating from a broken leg, I had to time to do some research and to check out the reviews of the various makes and models of fishing kayaks.

There was one review in particular posted by a gentleman who bought his kayak from Academy. He posted some pictures of some modifications he had made to his kayak. He took a gas powered weed-eater and attached a propeller to the end where the string holder goes and in turn, he had the weed-water turned outboard attached to his kayak.
Maybe there’s a conversion kit for that out there somewhere. I prefer to think that it was a brilliant piece of redneck engineering. I can’t wait to get a kayak and try that for myself. What could go wrong?

Our scripture today comes from Proverbs chapter 7. It’s a passage most Christians are familiar with. It was written by Solomon. He was looking out his window one day when something caught his attention. Here are his words, inspired by God, beginning with verse 6:

From the New Living translation:

While I was at the window of my house, looking through the curtain,
I saw some naive young men, and one in particular who lacked common sense.
He was crossing the street near the house of an immoral woman, strolling down the path by her house. (Some Bible translations say he was walking on the corner near her house.)
It was at twilight, in the evening, as deep darkness fell.
The woman approached him, seductively dressed and sly of heart.
She was the brash, rebellious type, never content to stay at home.
She is often in the streets and markets, soliciting at every corner.
She threw her arms around him and kissed him, and with a brazen look she said,
“I’ve just made my peace offerings and fulfilled my vows.
You’re the one I was looking for! I came out to find you, and here you are!
My bed is spread with beautiful blankets, with colored sheets of Egyptian linen.
I’ve perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.
Come, let’s drink our fill of love until morning. Let’s enjoy each other’s caresses, for my husband is not home. He’s away on a long trip.
He has taken a wallet full of money with him and won’t return until later this month.”
So she seduced him with her pretty speech and enticed him with her flattery.
He followed her at once, like an ox going to the slaughter.
He was like a stag caught in a trap, awaiting the arrow that would pierce its heart.
He was like a bird flying into a snare, little knowing it would cost him his life.

Just so you know, when I do pull the trigger and buy a fishing kayak, there will no white water rapids in my future. I have no illusions of trying out for the Olympics. I did a Google search and found numerous accounts about inexperienced canoers and kayakers who had to be rescued because they launched their canoes and kayaks in what seemed to be a calm, peaceful looking river, not knowing that just a few miles downstream, the water turned into raging rapids, or worse, the water went over a waterfall. They got into trouble really fast.  Most were rescued, but not all of the stories had happy endings.

As I read these accounts, I noticed a common denominator. All the people involved underestimated the power of the water’s current. Almost all of them will tell you that by the time they realized they were in trouble, it was too late. That’s because the speed at which the current is moving picks up gradually as the water in a river moves towards rapids or waterfalls. By the time an inexperienced kayaker realizes that the water is moving way too fast, it’s too late and when they try to turn around paddle the other way, they’re already overcome by the current. So there is a point where a line gets crossed. It’s the line between being able to recognize the danger soon enough to escape, or being pulled away and dragged downstream by the current.

I want you to think about this. Sin, often times, works the same way. Satan seldom bashes us over the head with a ball bat. He usually finds a weakness and worms his way in very subtly, very gradually, just like the current in a river upstream of a set of rapids or a waterfall that increases in speed so gradually, you don’t notice it until you’re in trouble. The young man in Solomon’s account got pulled into the current before he realized it. Once he saw how she was dressed and smelled the perfume, he was caught and cooked.

Sadly, I believe he knew where the line was. Presumably, he was a young Jewish man who knew the Mosaic Law. He knew better than to sleep with another man’s wife. He knew where that line was but he decided to go stand right on the very edge of the line. Some Bible teachers and pastors say he went to that place where this woman lived knowing what the outcome would be. Others teach that he was merely curious. Young men like to talk, and he went there to see if the stories were true. I tend to agree with that view, based on what Solomon wrote. Solomon said he went near her house. He didn’t say he went right up and beat on her door. Solomon also said she basically pounced on the young man when she caught sight of him. He did not approach and proposition her. He walked right up to the line but the immoral woman got her hooks in him and pulled him across the line, and he was pulled into the current and swept over the waterfall.

I said sin works the same way. It can pull us in and sweep us away before we realize it. I’m not saying the devil makes us do it. James wrote in the first chapter of his epistle, “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” This was the very thing that led to David’s affair with Bathsheba.
The word of God makes it very clear where the line is drawn and we are not to cross that line. My message to you, don’t even go near the line.

We’ve all heard of too many extramarital affairs that started by a man having coffee with a female co-worker in the break room. I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and says, “I think I’ll have an affair today.” It starts very subtly when people think they can stand on the line and not get pulled across.

Many alcoholics have told themselves, “It’s just one little drink.”

Many compulsive gamblers have told themselves, “It’s just one harmless little bet.”

Men and women alike have fallen into pornography addiction after saying to themselves “I’m only going to peek at that website for just for a few seconds.”

All of us I’m sure, at some point in our lives, thought we could stand with our toes on the line without crossing the line. But here’s what I’ve discovered; if you stand on that line thinking you can resist the temptation, you run a real danger of being pulled into the current and swept into the rapids, just like that young man in Solomon’s account.

Don’t go near the line.
We can apply this same principle from what Jesus taught us in the Sermon on the Mount. From Matthew chapter 5:

You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!

Don’t go near the line.

Jesus said, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Again, not only does the word of God tell us where the line is drawn, Jesus is essentially saying to us, “Don’t go near the line.”

Let’s not put ourselves in a position where we’re trying to paddle against the current. It’ll almost always be a losing battle. We know where God draws the line on sin. Don’t go near the line.

Just One More Time

Luke chapter 5

One day as Jesus was standing by the Lake of Gennesaret, the people were crowding around him and listening to the word of God. He saw at the water’s edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”
Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”
When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.

John 21

Afterward Jesus appeared again to his disciples, by the Sea of Galilee. It happened this way: Simon Peter, Thomas (also known as Didymus), Nathanael from Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. “I’m going out to fish,” Simon Peter told them, and they said, “We’ll go with you.” So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.
Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realize that it was Jesus.
He called out to them, “Friends, haven’t you any fish?”
“No,” they answered.
He said, “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.” When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.

Even though these two passages are similar, they are not parallel accounts. Luke’s account took place early in Jesus’ ministry when He was first calling His disciples. The account in John took place after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But in both cases Jesus instructed the fishermen to lower their nets into the water one more time, in spite of the fact that they had fished all night long and hadn’t caught a thing. Keep in mind that fishing in that day and time was nothing like it is now. Even today, commercial fishing is hard work but back then, it was especially grueling. The nets had to be lowered into the water and retrieved by hand over and over again. After a while, the nets get waterlogged and as the night wore on, the nets got heavier and heavier. They didn’t have luxuries like hydraulic winches and cranes to do the lifting. It was very intense manual labor.

So as Peter pointed out, they had worked hard all night long, hauling the nets in and out the water multiple times and by the end of the night, they had to have been exhausted. But……..there is something in a fisherman’s nature that won’t let them quit. So when Jesus told them to cast their nets one more time, they complied, even though they must have been dog tired and completely discouraged. I’ve never fished commercially, but I can relate to what they were going through at that moment. I’ve spent hours fishing on the bank of a creek or pond without getting a bite. But still, you don’t want to give up. You think to yourself, “I’ll cast my line just one more time. I’ll try one more spot. I’ll throw the bait out just one more time. I’ll fish just a little longer” Call it persistence, determination, or just plain stubbornness – whatever, but Jesus tapped into that part of their nature. He knew they were tired. He knew they had been at it all night. But He also knew they were willing to try just one more time……because that’s how fishermen are.

Everything in the life of Jesus was a teaching opportunity and this was no different. In Luke’s gospel, after they had hauled in their fish, Jesus told Peter, “From now on, you will fish for men.” Peter probably did not fully grasp the meaning of Jesus’ words at that moment, but nonetheless, Peter responded and followed Jesus from then on. What were the lessons to be learned? Well, for one, there was a lesson in perseverance. There will be times when our efforts will produce nothing but exhaustion and frustration, but if we know the Lord has called us to do something, don’t be afraid to keep at it, to try one more time. Quite often, the work of evangelism is like the work of a fisherman. You put in long hours of work without catching a thing. And like fishermen, when you keep coming up empty, sometimes you have to work a little bit harder and little bit longer. That leads us to the next lessons; lessons in obedience and trust.

Obedience is easy when everything seems to make sense. It’s a little harder to obey when it doesn’t make sense. Yet, we must obey God even when, to us, it might not seem to make sense. It certainly made no sense to the fishermen to lower their nets one more time after coming up empty all night. But their obedience resulted in success. And that’s where trust comes into play. Though He may allow times of testing and dry seasons in our lives, we must trust that God will never set us up to fail.

In John’s account, it was the second time Peter had witnessed a miraculous catch of fish. And at that particular moment, Peter was going through what must have been the lowest time in his life. He had denied the Savior three times just a few days earlier. After Jesus’ death, all of Jesus followers, especially Peter, probably thought, “That’s it. It’s over.” What they had when they were with Jesus was gone, or so they thought. That’s when Peter decided to go back to fishing. So once again, Jesus encounters His disciples at a time of exhaustion and discouragement. And he used the occasion to teach them the same lesson he taught them three years earlier when He first met Peter. He told them to lower their nets one more time. And the outcome was the same because the lesson was the same – “From now on, you will fish for men.” Like I said, God does not set us up for failure and in John’s gospel, Jesus reminded them of the value of perseverance, obedience, and trusting in God’s plan.

After Jesus ascended into Heaven, these same men would go on to become the evangelists and preachers of the gospel He called them to be. I have no doubt that when they experienced those inevitable seasons of discouragement later on in their ministries, and everyone who works in ministry and evangelism will go through dry spells, I have to believe that they thought back to those moments when Jesus told them, “Lower your nets one more time.” We know that not all the disciples were former fishermen, but the men who were had that certain trait, that dogged determination that would not let them quit. It was that trait that compelled them to cast their nets just one more time even when their efforts seemed to be futile. I believe that’s why Jesus chose them in the first place.

And I believe all of this is a lesson we can apply in our own lives. Have you been praying for a friend or co-worker or for a member of your family for months or maybe even for years and still have not seen your prayers answered? Pray one more time. Have you witnessed to countless numbers of people and still have not led one person in a prayer to receive Jesus Christ? Witness to one more person. Have you invited someone to church a dozen times and they’ve turned down your invitation a dozen times? Invite him or her one more time. As an older fisherman friend told me one time, if you caught something every time you cast your net, they wouldn’t call it fishing, they’d call it catching. Don’t get discouraged when the nets come up empty. That’s just part of fishing. Remember the words of Jesus – cast your nets……one more time!!!

A Greater Appreciation

2 Corinthians 12

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses. Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth. But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say, or because of these surpassingly great revelations. Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I was given a thorn in my flesh…… I’ve heard numerous pastors and speakers speculate about what that thorn may have been. I’ve heard some say that the Apostle Paul’s eyesight was weak, that he was nearly blind and that was the thorn. I’ve heard others say that Paul had some sort of stomach ailment. Some have suggested that it might have been a rash or skin disease that caused Paul to be in constant pain. In Galatians chapter 4 (which would have been early in his ministry), Paul mentioned that he suffered from some sort of illness, but never went into detail. Regardless of what the thorn in the flesh really was, there seems to be a consensus that it was some sort of physical ailment that was a constant source of irritation and pain.

For the past couple of months, I’ve been recovering from an on-the-job injury that resulted in a broken bone in my left leg and required surgery on the ankle on that same leg. The pain and swelling have been constant. At times, the pain has kept me up at night. There have been times when the pain level has been more intense than at others. As much as I don’t want to admit it, my Bible study time and the time I devote to my ministry efforts have been affected. When those nerves start firing, all I can do is grit my teeth and get through it as best as possible, and it’s hard to focus on anything else but the pain.

Of course, the bone and the ankle will eventually heal. I really feel for anyone who has a chronic illness that has them sick or in constant pain, and I especially feel for cancer patients who have to endure radiation and chemo treatments. My wife had cancer seven years ago, so I know what a cancer patient has to go through. When you’re sick or in pain all the time, you just don’t feel like doing anything, and sometimes that even includes things like devotional time and reading your Bible. And this is one of the many reasons that Paul’s life of ministry was so remarkable. Paul’s thorn was serious enough and painful enough that he asked to God to remove it, yet there is no indication in scripture that this thorn in the flesh, this constant source of pain and irritation, in any way distracted Paul from his mission. I imagine if being shipwrecked, flogged, and imprisoned could not distract him from his mission, then a little thing like a thorn in the flesh couldn’t either.

But even the pain that Paul had to deal with every day of his life paled in comparison to what our Lord suffered on the day of his crucifixion. Even with the flesh torn from his back from the Roman scourging, and even though he suffered the unimaginable pain of having nails driven in His hands and feet, Jesus was not distracted from His mission. Even in all that pain, Jesus remained focused.

“Yes, but Jesus is God, so it was easier for Him.” Jesus is God but He was also flesh and blood. He was man. And…He actually dreaded what He was about to go through when He asked the Father, “If you are willing, take this cup from me.” And keep in mind that during his crucifixion, there was that moment in time when He was separated from the Father. “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” And even in the midst of the physical pain and in the midst of the emotional pain of being separated from the Father, Jesus remained focused on His mission. Remember, he could have stopped it at any time. He said to His disciples, “Do you not know I have legions of angels at my disposal?” Jesus could have called down enough angels to wipe out the entire population of the world several times over. Yet in spite of His incredible pain, he assured the thief on cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” Jesus remained focused.

Any of you who have suffered through a season of pain or illness understands how difficult it can be to focus on the work God has called us to do. So it should give us all a greater appreciation for the ministry work of the Apostle Paul and even more so, it should give us a greater appreciation for the finished work of Jesus on the cross. Jesus suffered far greater pain than the Apostle Paul and far more than most people will ever experience in a lifetime. But the pain Jesus endured was no match for the love of God! For it was the pain and death of Jesus on the cross that paid the price for my sins and yours, once and for all. It was a pain that was born out of God’s love!

Mishaps and Ministry

I knew the instant I hit the floor, something was wrong. At first I thought I had broken my ankle. Whatever it was, I knew something was wrong. I had an accident at work this past week. When we bring an airplane in for structural inspections and repairs, all the seats in the passenger compartment are removed so we can pull up the floorboards in order to gain access to the structure underneath. We lay down temporary floorboards so we’ll have something to walk on, but there are certain areas that must be left exposed while repairs are going on. So when we’re working in the passenger cabin, we have to do a little balancing act on the floor beams when walking to and from our work area. In a nutshell, as I was walking through the cabin on the night of my accident, I lost my balance and took a real nasty fall, the result of which was a broken fibula in my left leg. The ankle I thought was broken was only sprained.

Let me stop here and say what a blessing it is that it was only a broken fibula. If it had been the main load bearing bone, the femur, I’d still be recovering from the surgery that’s usually needed to set the bone. A broken fibula doesn’t even require a cast and as we head into the summer months here in Texas, praise God the leg won’t be in a hot, smelly cast!

As I’ve matured and grown in my Christian walk, I’ve been blessed with numerous opportunities to see God use our mishaps for ministry. I’ve seen God do this for others. And on the night of my accident, God showed something to me that I pray I will never forget. Like I said, when I fell, I knew something was wrong. When I was finally able to get to my feet, I could not put any weight on that left leg whatsoever. Out of an abundance of caution, my supervisor called for an ambulance and I was taken to Parkland Hospital. As most of you know, that’s when the waiting game begins. The injury was painful but not life threatening. It was not an immediate priority.

I called my wife while I was in the back of the ambulance and told her what had happened. When she asked if she should come to the hospital, I told her to stay put for the time being until I knew the extent of the injury. Parkland is a long way from our house in Fort Worth and she’s never been to that part of Dallas, ever. At that point, I did not know if I would be treated and released or if the injury would require surgery. I just didn’t know. So I told her to wait at home until we had more information to go on.

I arrived at Parkland at 8:00 p.m. I got the diagnosis of a broken fibula at around 12:30 a.m. The doctor said I only needed a walking boot and crutches, and could go home once all the paperwork was done. I called my wife to let her know and she said to me, “I’m coming to get you.” I was in too much pain to protest. One of my co-workers was with me at the hospital the entire time, but I did not see myself being able to drive home.

It was close to 1:30 in the morning when I hobbled out of the ER on crutches. My wife had been sitting outside the ER in her van for about twenty minutes. There was no where to park so she had to sit in one of the traffic lanes outside the ER. As I mentioned, my wife had never been to Parkland Hospital or to that area of Dallas in her life. She used the GPS on her phone and relied on the providence of God. She said so. She also told me afterwards that during the drive to Dallas, she had no idea where she was most of time. She was praying and going wherever the GPS sent her. She had no idea where she was until she actually arrived at the hospital.

When I hobbled out of the ER, words cannot describe what a welcome sight it was to see my wife there waiting to take me home. Let’s be honest, that’s not the best part of Dallas to be in at that time of night. Even if you know where you’re going, that’s not an area to venture into at 1:00 or 1:30 a.m. And you certainly don’t want to be wandering around that part of town if you’re not familiar with the area. None of that stopped my wife. She took a risk, and when were talking about it on the way home, she simply said, “I did it because I love my husband.” Let there be no doubt, if the roles were reversed, I would have done exactly the same. I would give my life for her.

When our Savior Jesus was born, He came into a world that was suffering from the ugly stain of the sin. It’s been estimated that 75% of the world’s population lived in slavery. And the region of the world where Jesus was born lived under the heavy handed cruelty of the Romans. The world was an ugly, messy place. It was a violent place. And it was a place that was being increasingly influenced by Satan more and more with each passing day. You do not see any mention of demonic possession in the Bible in the Old Testament. We do not read about that until we get to the Gospels. Demonic activity was on the rise. That is the world Jesus was born into. And do not for one second think that Jesus did not know the condition of the world at that time. He knew, yet He came anyway.

My wife and I both are imperfect people saved by the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I just want to reiterate that truth. But my wife, because of her love, and at risk to her own safety, drove to a not-particularly-good area of town in the middle of the night to bring her husband home. Jesus came to a hostile world where many have and will reject Him. But many have believed in and put their trust in Jesus. And those of us who have believed in and trusted Jesus with our eternal souls; we are the reason He came to this hostile world. He came to take us home. I said that words could not describe what a welcome sight my wife was the other night when I saw her outside the ER waiting to take me home. I think it will be equally indescribable, at least on this side of eternity, when we close our eyes for the last time and then awaken in the presence of our blessed Lord Jesus.

In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. John 14:2-3

Through my wife’s love, God has reminded me of His great love for us.

Freedom with Limits

I was playing with my 11 month old grandson a few days ago in one of the bedrooms in our home and was letting him play and crawl around on top of the bed. Of course, when he got too close to the edge, I reached out and pulled him back so he wouldn’t fall. I wasn’t trying to spoil his fun. I was trying to keep him from getting hurt. Otherwise, as long as he stayed away from the edge, he was free to crawl whichever way he wanted. In other words, he had freedom, but with limits.

We live in a culture today that promotes the idea that a person cannot enjoy “true freedom” unless all restrictions, limits, and boundaries are removed, that freedom with any sort of limits is not really freedom at all. I’ve had more than a few conversations with people who think that way. And whenever the conversation revolves around the Christian faith, they always bring up “all those things the Bible says we’re not allowed to do”. According to their arguments, the Bible is a rule book that restricts individual freedom. They even claim that the Bible is oppressive. Quite often, someone will ask, and it’s always with a sneer, “Why does God have to have so many rules?” It’s as though they think it’s a bad thing to be told not to commit murder, or to steal, or lie, or commit adultery.

So I always counter by asking, “Why is it so bad that God tells us not to murder, or steal, or lie, or sleep with someone else’s spouse?” When I reached over to my grandson to pull him away from the edge of the bed that day, it wasn’t because I wanted to oppress him in any way. I wanted to protect him. The limits I set were for his own good. That’s why the culture’s arguments that “God has too many rules” is so ludicrous. God is not trying to restrict us. He gave us rules and set limits for our own good. Contrary to what our culture claims, you can’t have total unrestricted freedom. There’s a word for that kind of freedom. It’s called anarchy.

The Bible teaches us that we have freedom in Christ. While we embrace that freedom, it’s understood that freedom does have limits and it comes with the expectation that we must exercise self control. Paul and Peter both wrote to believers to further explain our freedom in Christ, and the limits that accompany that freedom. For instance, in 1 Corinthians chapter 10 (I touched on this passage in a previous message not long ago) Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive.

There it is in plain terms. Paul was telling them, “Yes, you have freedom in Christ, but there are limits.”

Paul also addresses the believer’s freedom in the book of Galatians. Beginning with verse 13 in Galatians chapter 5, Paul wrote:

“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want.”

I grabbed my little grandson and pulled him away from the edge of the bed to keep him from falling. Paul is telling the Galatian believers, “Stay away from the edge so you don’t fall.”

Peter had a similar message for Christians. In 1 Peter chapter 2, picking up a verse 11, we’re told:

Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.
His message was pretty much the same as Paul’s. Do not indulge in the desires of the flesh. Do not use your freedom as a cover for evil. Stay away from the edge.

Finally, we have the words of Jesus. Jesus said if a man looks at a woman with lustful intentions, it’s the same as committing the physical act of adultery. He said if we hate someone bad enough that we want to kill them, it’s as if we actually killed them. It’s worth noting that we came to Christ freely and not by coercion. That’s part of what it means to be free in Christ. It also means He came to set us free from the bondage of sin and from the notion that we have to earn our salvation through works or by performing endless rituals. He gave us freedom from all that, but He did set limits. Stay away from the edge.

So modern popular culture, as it always does, got it wrong. The limits that God put in place are not meant to restrict our freedom, they are there for our protection. Civilized society cannot function without limits, without laws. Look at it like this. When God said “Do not commit adultery.”, the limits were put there to protect us from the disastrous after effects of an affair. So if you’re obedient to God and avoid the immoral relationship in the first place, if you stay away from the edge, you won’t have to suffer the disastrous consequences.

God’s laws are designed to protect our health, our families, our relationships. our jobs. How do those limits hurt or restrict us in any way? Obedience to God keeps us out of prison and out of the court system. Paul wrote in Romans 13 that rulers do not bear the sword for nothing. The limits God put in place not only protect our earthly relationships, they also protect our relationship with our Father in Heaven. We can enjoy freedom in Christ within the boundaries set by God and when we live like that, we can continue to enjoy fellowship with God.

Yes the Bible has rules. They’re the God given laws of morality that govern our lives. God did not give his laws out of a desire to restrict our freedom or to withhold anything from us. That was the lie the serpent spoke to Eve in the garden. God did not do that. God gave us freedom but with limits, and it’s the limits, the rules, the moral laws of God that pull us back from the edge and keep us from falling over the edge. God set the limits in place for the very reason I didn’t want my grandson to fall, because He loves us and doesn’t want us to fall. With that in mind, let’s make it our desire to show our love for Him through obedience to His word, by staying away from the edge. We thank and praise God for His Laws and His love.

 

Don’t be Deceived

We’re all familiar with the Parable of the Prodigal Son from Luke chapter 15 in which Jesus tells His listeners of a wealthy man with two sons, and how the younger son one day went to his father and demanded his inheritance right then and there. He had no desire to wait until after his father had passed away. He wanted everything he had coming to him…immediately. The father complied with his son’s wishes and afterwards, the younger son packed up everything he had and left. Jesus said he went to a far off land and proceeded to squander all that he had on ‘wild living’, as it’s phrased in some translations. I like the way it’s stated in The King James version. It says he wasted it all on “riotous living.”

After the money was gone, things only got worse. The land where he resettled experienced a severe famine, and the young man’s situation became so dire and so desperate that he had to hire himself out to a pig farmer who sent him out to tend the pigs. Now I want to stop there for a moment and point out how Jesus used this and other parables to paint a word picture for His Jewish audience. According to the Law of Moses, a pig was an unclean animal. And since the Jews were not allowed to eat pork chops or ham sandwiches, they had no reason to raise pigs. The only people who kept and ate the meat of pigs were Gentiles. So the people standing there listening to Jesus tell this parable would have had a picture in their minds of just how unclean and how filthy the young man had become. He worked for a Gentile tending pigs. For Jewish people in that time, it couldn’t get any worse than that.

So he’s tending pigs for a Gentile and he’s slowly starving to death. Eventually though, the young man has a moment of clarity. Picking up at verse 17, the word of God tells us, “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Treat me as one of your hired servants.”‘ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet.

In his ongoing battle to keep people from embracing the saving grace of Jesus Christ, Satan uses an arsenal of lies and deception. He’s a liar and the father of lies, but there are two in particular that seem to be especially prevalent today. And I must confess that I fell for both of them at various times in my own life. The first lie is, “There’s no hurry. You have plenty of time to accept Jesus. Do it later. Today, live however you want. There’s no hurry” The young man in Jesus’ parable is depicted as someone who wanted to live by his own rules with no thought to the future and no consideration for God or for the consequences of his choices. He indulged in wild living. The same can be said of any number of people in our day and time as well. They live for themselves, indulging in “wild living”, and if they do give any thought to God at all, they tell themselves they have plenty of time, that they can follow Jesus…..someday. After all, what’s the rush? The real truth is, none of us know how much time God has given us, so the notion that accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is something that can be put off until later in life is a lie straight out of the mouth of Hell.

Then there’s the other lie. When the father in the parable ordered his servant to bring the best robe and put it around his son, what jumped out at me was what Jesus did not say. Jesus did not make any mention of the father sending his son to the nearest body of water to take a bath! Wallowing with pigs would tend to make a person very dirty and very smelly, don’t you think? The kid would have stunk to high heavens! Yet there is no mention in the parable of the son having to clean himself up before putting on his father’s best robe. And that is the second lie Satan uses to keep people from Christ, that you are too dirty to approach God, and that before you can even think about accepting Christ, you must first get rid of all the filth in your life. You have to get out of the inappropriate relationship or give up that way of life. You have to stop fussing and cussing and drinking and using drugs and get rid of all sin in your life BEFORE you are worthy enough and clean enough to approach God, Otherwise, God could never possibly forgive you. Well, that too is a lie because we can never get clean enough.

But, it is true that a Holy God cannot look on sin. So then, how can you approach God? If God cannot look on sin and on your own you can never clean yourself up enough to approach God, how can anyone be saved? When the father in Jesus’ parable covered his son with his best robe, he did not see the dirt. All he saw was his son wearing his very best robe. The dirt and filth were covered. In the same way, when a person invites Jesus Christ to be Lord of his or her life, God covers us with His very best robe, the righteousness of Jesus Christ. And when we are covered with Jesus’ righteousness, that’s all God sees. It was no accident that Jesus made no mention of the father giving instructions to have his son cleaned up before putting on the robe. Jesus illustrated the love of the father which in turn, illustrates our Heavenly Father’s love for us. For God so loved the world, He has covered our sins with the blood of His son Jesus Christ, that is, if we choose to accept the free gift of grace. We can never get ourselves clean enough to approach God, so we must allow Him to cover us with Jesus’ righteousness. When you are covered by the righteousness of Christ, God no longer sees the sin. He only sees His Son.

The evil one can lie to you and bombard you with temptation, but you still have the freedom to choose. Satan cannot force you to turn your back on God. He cannot prevent you from asking Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior. He will tell you there’s no hurry. That’s a lie. He will tell you that you have to clean yourself up first because if you don’t, God cannot forgive you. That’s a lie. The decision to accept Christ is your decision to make. There’s no gray area there. We can choose life with or without Christ. And that my friends is the choice between Heaven and Hell, life and death. I urge you, don’t be deceived by the lies. Choose life. Allow God to cover you with the righteous robe of Jesus Christ, while there’s still time. As Paul said to the Corinthians, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation. If you have put off accepting Jesus Christ till “someday”, don’t wait any longer. Your eternal life depends on it.

As a footnote, these devotional messages are read by believers and non-believers alike. If you are a Christian, I hope this will give you another tool you can use for evangelism. And if you are reading this on WordPress or elsewhere and have not yet accepted Jesus Christ as your personal savior but you’re checking out the Christian faith, I hope I’ve given you something to think about.

Have a blessed week in Christ!

 

The Strength, Discipline, and Humility of Jesus

Jesus’ Trial

From Mark 14:

The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree.

 
Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” Yet even then their testimony did not agree.

 
Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, “Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?” But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.

 
Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?”
“I am,” said Jesus. “And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

 
Shortly thereafter, Jesus was sent to Pontius Pilate who asked the question, “Are you the king of the Jews?”. Jesus replied, “You have said so.” According to those familiar with the nuances of the Greek language in which the New Testament was originally written, Jesus’ response was the strongest affirmation that could possibly be given. In our language, it might expressed, “Absolutely, let there be no doubt, I am the king of the Jews!”

 
Pilate then asked Jesus about the accusations and charges that were being brought against Him by the Jewish leaders. Jesus gave no answer. His response to the questioning that night is something we need to take note of. You see, He never once gave an answer to a FALSE accusation, or to their lies. The only time Jesus said anything, that night, was in response to the truth. When asked by the high priest, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of God?” Jesus responded with the truth. “I am.” In the gospels of Matthew and Luke, Jesus’ response to the high priest is recorded as the same type of affirmative response He gave Pilate. “You have said so.” – “You say that I am.” Jesus only answered to truth because the truth is, Jesus is the Son of God.

I said it’s worth noting because it takes strength and discipline to remain silent when someone slanders you or makes false accusations against you. The same can be said when someone attacks your faith, or, as I experienced recently, when they attack the work you do for ministry. Now I used the word ‘attack’ and that might be too strong of a word. It was more of a subtle jab yet the intent was very obvious. Without going into too much detail, I was on the receiving end of some rather indignant comments regarding the value, or lack thereof, of these devotional messages I’ve been sending to you all these past four years. That’s all I’ll say about that.

But I will say that my first impulse was to fire right back. But before my encounter with that person that day, I had been thinking of how Jesus responded, or I should say, how He did not respond to any of the slanderous accusations that were made against Him. In turn, I realized I didn’t owe that man any explanation for why I write these devotional messages. I know in my heart that it’s a calling, so I don’t have to justify myself before any one man. I only have to give an account to God. It is for the glory of God, not my glory. Jesus was a model of strength and discipline from the moment of His arrest till His death on the cross. Compared to what He was about to go through, being gracious in the face of verbal jabs should be a picnic. So I knew I had to be gracious.

As our Christian faith comes under increasing attack, and “attack” is the right word there, there are lessons we can learn from Jesus’ refusal to respond to lies and false accusations. He didn’t dignify any of it with a response. That’s the strength and discipline I was referring to. This is the same Jesus who spoke with authority, and not like one of the scribes – whenever he preached. Yet He saw no need to respond to lies and slanderous accusations. When confronted with lies about our Christian faith, or about the church, we need not get caught up in quarrels and arguments over the lies. We only need to commit ourselves to God’s truth and build on that truth.

So what if we are attacked and slandered personally? What if the attacker is not only attacking your faith and slandering the church, what if they are gunning for you and calling you out personally? What then? Like I said, when that person fired those indignant remarks my way, my first impulse was to fire back. And why was that? The answer is straightforward – PRIDE! Out of pride I nearly escalated that incident to a whole new level, and I would still be regretting it at this very moment. More often than not, when we find ourselves in those situations, we’re governed by pride instead of humility. And I believe that’s another reason Jesus gave no response. He was not governed by pride. He was the model of strength and discipline in that moment, and He was also the model of humility. In humility, he endured the insults and slander and false accusations, just as he later endured the cross.

But is there EVER a time when we should defend ourselves against lies and slander and personal attacks? Absolutely! Long before His arrest, Jesus was accused of being demon possessed, that He drove out demons in the name of Beelzebub, or Satan. And Jesus defended Himself against those accusations by pointing out their foolishness. But again, His defense was not motivated by pride. Whether the scribes realized it or not, by accusing Jesus of driving out demons in the name of the devil, they were actually glorifying the evil one. In His rebuke to the scribes, Jesus pointed out the foolishness of their accusations and at the same time he pointed out the danger of committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit of God. Jesus’ motivation was to give glory to whom it rightfully belongs, to God the Father. His defense against the accusations of being demon possessed was never motivated by personal pride.

There is a passage in the book of Proverbs that comes to mind. It’s actually two verses from the 26th chapter. Proverbs 26 verse 4 says: Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you yourself will be just like him. But then in verse 5, we read: Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes. These is some very simple yet very Godly wisdom in those two verses. There is a time to speak up and a time to shut up. Jesus knew exactly when an answer was needed, and when He did not have to say anything.

Therefore, we need to use Godly wisdom when we come under attack. And the Bible clearly tells us that as we move closer to the day of our Lord’s return, we can expect attacks against us and our Christian faith to increase. There will be times when we need to give a response, and times when it will be more prudent to say nothing. In his first letter to the Corinthian church, Paul wrote these words to the believers there, ‘”You say “Everything is permissible.” But not everything is beneficial.’ So before we respond to any lies or accusations made against us, we need to stop and consider if a response would be beneficial. Would it satisfy our sense of pride or bring glory to God? In all He did and said, Jesus was motivated by His desire to bring glory to the Father. We have the freedom to respond to criticism and lies and slander, but we should never respond out of pride, or out of retaliation. If we need to respond, it should always be motivated by our desire to bring glory to God. It was Jesus’ driving force. Let it be our driving force as well.

In Christ

 

The Earth…..and EVERYTHING In It

Psalm 24, verse 1 (quoted by Paul in 1 Corinthians 10)
“The earth is the Lords, and everything in it, and all who live in it.”

Psalm 50, verse 10
“For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.”

Psalm 50, verse 11
“For I know every bird in the mountains, and every insect in the field is mine.”

Psalm 50 verse 12
“…for the world is mine, and all that is in it.”

Ezekiel 18 verse 4
For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child – both alike belong to me.

Haggai 2 verse 8
“The silver is mine and the gold is mine, declares the Lord Almighty.”

Psalm 22 verses 27 and 28
“All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations will bow down before Him, for dominion belongs to the Lord, and He rules over the nations.”

In other words, God owns it all. The Bible makes that very clear. That means every person, animal, every mountain and valley, every tree, every blade of grass, and every grain of sand belongs to God. The earth, and everything in it, is His.

For us, as followers of Jesus Christ, this is a given. But let’s stop for a moment and consider what it means when the Bible says “everything.” The passages I referenced speak of things that are tangible, things can be visibly seen and touched. They speak of material possessions and money. But I don’t believe God’s ownership is limited to just tangible things. His ownership extends to things that are not seen. It includes our joys, our sorrows, our highs and lows, our successes and failures. It includes our thoughts and our emotions. And It includes all our struggles, our troubles, and the problems we face everyday.

Just so we’re clear, God is not to blame for all the trouble and misery and suffering in the world. All of that came about when sin entered the world. That’s another subject for another time. When I say God owns it all, everything that is seen and unseen, I’m simply following the logic trail and reaching what I believe is a logical conclusion. We are His. God owns our very lives and His ownership is all inclusive. He owns every aspect of our lives here on earth.

All too often, we try to fight our way through trials and difficulties ourselves instead of relinquishing control and giving them over to God. In 2nd Chronicles chapter 20, we’re told that the people of Judah were being threatened by a very sizeable army that was getting ready to invade their land. God told King Jehoshaphat, “Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but the Lord’s”. Those words can be applied in our lives today. Whatever it is we’re faced with, the battle is not ours, but God’s. How different do you think the outcome would have been if Jehoshaphat had replied, “That’s okay God, I got this. I’ll take it from here.” ?

So what is your battle? Is it a prodigal child? Is it financial difficulty or the loss of a job? Is it a difficult boss or co-worker? Is it an illness or a physical disability? According to the word of God, the battle is not yours, but the Lord’s. I don’t believe for even a fraction of a second that I’m taking that passage out of context and here’s why I believe that. When you acknowledge that the battle is God’s, you’re acknowledging God’s sovereignty over that situation, his ownership of it, if you will. Because we belong to Him, all that we have is His and that includes everything that is in any way connected to our lives here on earth. The earth…..and EVERYTHING in it….

Acknowledging God’s ownership and sovereignty requires submission. We submit to His rule and authority. Submission requires trust. In John 14, at the very beginning of the chapter, Jesus spoke these words: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in me.” In Psalm 73, Asaph was troubled by the wickedness of the people around him and could not fathom why the wicked prospered while righteous people were subjected to mistreatment and abuse. He did not understand until, as we’re told in verse 17, he entered the sanctuary of God. In other words, he was so troubled by what he saw, he had to give it over to God. It was not until Asaph relinquished control of the thing that was tormenting him that he came to understand that the owner of all creation, God, will ultimately deal with the wicked. And when Asaph came to that understanding, that was the moment he placed his trust in God. That is true for us as well.

With all that said, I need to point out that God is not a cosmic genie who instantly makes our troubles go away when we give them over to him. As Christians, we understand that. Quite often, even when we place our trust and faith in Christ, the problems that plague our lives persist. The abuses witnessed by Asaph did not go away, but acknowledging God’s ownership of that situation allowed him to gain proper understanding of justice as viewed from God’s perspective. It gave him a Kingdom perspective as opposed to an earthly perspective.

So as Christians, we understand that problems sometimes persist even when we give them to God. It’s something we just accept. And the reason we accept it so readily has to do with what Paul wrote in Romans chapter 8. “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” The reason we must acknowledge God’s sovereignty over the troubles we face – according to Paul – is twofold. First, our present sufferings are only temporary to begin with, and second, we need to spend our limited time on earth working for the glory of God. Therefore, give the battle to God. It was his all along anyway. He has more important work for us to do! And He has plenty of work for us to do. And bear in mind that God’s sovereignty and ownership of our lives does not in any way negate our responsibilities to do the work He calls us to do. God does His part and He expects us to do ours.

God owns the things that bring us joy, like the birth of a child or grandchild. He owns the joy that comes from landing a great job or getting that promotion or buying your first home. He owns our jobs, and our careers, and all our accomplishments. When we’re experiencing life’s joyful times, when we’re enjoying success, it’s far too easy for us to pat our own backs and take the credit that rightfully belongs to God. All that we have comes from God and it belongs to God. Job figured this out thousands of years ago. After losing everything he simply said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job reasoned that it was all God’s to start with.

Finally, in John chapter 10, Jesus said no one can snatch us out of our Father’s hands. God’s ownership of our lives includes our eternal destiny which was secured the moment we trusted in Jesus Christ as our savior. But here is where God’s ownership takes on even more importance in the lives of believers. As God the creator, He owns all that He created. That’s simple enough. But when it comes to the salvation of our souls, He is not just God our creator, he is God our redeemer. He owns our lives and our very souls and the redemption of our souls was not free. It came at a high cost. Twice, the Apostle Pauls tells the Corinthian believers, “You were bought at a price.” That price was the blood of Jesus Christ.

So next time you hear a pastor or teacher say that God owns the earth…and everything in it, stop and think about what that truly means. Reflect on it. Dwell on it. And be thankful that He loved us so much, that He was willing to pay the price that redeemed our souls.

To our Lord Jesus Christ be the glory!

 

“I Don’t Believe in Organized Worship!”

About ten years ago, when I was still at my former place of employment, our managers called us together one afternoon to let us know that one of our co-workers had been let go. He was an aircraft engine mechanic with an Airframe and Powerplant license and that means he had spent about two years of his life in trade school to get that license. In the world of aviation maintenance, we’re subject to random drug tests and we learned later that same afternoon that he tested positive for marijuana. Everything he had worked for was gone, in an instant.

Though we weren’t in the same department, I knew the man quite well. He professed to be a fellow Christian. He was in fact, very well versed in scripture. His memory of the Bible was so good I used to joke that he could quote scripture forward and backwards. We had many spiritual conversations during the time we worked together. It came as quite a surprise when I learned why he had been let go. But it’s important to understand that only God knows the heart, so only God knows if he was truly saved. The fact that he got fired from his job for testing positive for an illegal substance does not mean he wasn’t. As Christians, we are constantly bombarded with temptation, and sometimes we stumble. We’re not immune to temptation. We’re not perfect.

Like I said, we had numerous conversations over the Bible but when I first asked where he went to church, he slammed on the brakes. “I don’t believe in organized worship.” he said. He went on to say that all he ever did was read the Bible at home. He did not see the need to worship with other believers. He flat out rejected the idea and refused my invitations to visit my church.

The sad part is, he was the sole means of support for his wife and their six children. A positive drug test is an automatic one year suspension of your license. Additionally, you’re required to undergo mandatory drug counseling, at your own expense, to get reinstated. His moment of weakness was costly not just for him, but for his entire family. I can’t say with 100% certainty that, had he been part of a church family and attended church regularly, things would have turned out different for him. But I have to believe the odds would have been greatly improved in his favor.

He argued that the only thing he needed to do was read the Bible. I’m not denying the power of God’s word and yes, we need to set aside time to read the Bible in the privacy of our homes, free from distractions. That’s a necessary part of our walk with God. But it’s equally important to be part of a body of believers who come together on a regular basis to worship God. I have to believe that if he had been an active member of a Bible believing church where Christ is taught and honored, he would have had a congregation of Godly people walking with him and praying for him and calling on God’s power to help him spiritually when he needed it most.

I want to interject something here. These messages not only go out to fellow believers, they’re also posted on a blog at WordPress.com and are read by people who may not necessarily be followers of Jesus Christ. They might be checking out Christianity or are just curious about our faith. If you’re one of those reading this on WordPress, I realize you may have had a church experience at some time in your past that left you disillusioned. I get it. Maybe you’re turned off by televangelists who seem more focused on money than God. Here’s a revelation for you: There are wolves among the sheep! The Bible warns of churches that will stray from the truth of God’s word in the last days, and we are seeing that being fulfilled today. Some of your reasons for avoiding the church might be valid, especially if your first experience was with one of the wolves. But most of your reasons are not. Regardless of your past experiences or your perceptions of the church, there is a truth that is undeniable; you need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. And just so we’re clear, salvation comes through Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ alone. I’m not saying otherwise. Just showing up at church won’t save you. But in order to grow in your relationship with Christ, you need to be part of a Bible believing church that puts Jesus front and center!

All throughout history, God instructed His people to gather together for worship. They started in a tent in the desert and eventually built the temple in Jerusalem. In the first century, Christians gathered in each others’ homes. In 1st Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul used the parts of the human body as an illustration to show how important believers are to one another and to show the importance of cultivating healthy relationships within Christ’s church. He concluded that illustration in verse 27 where he wrote, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” God intended for His people to worship together.

Someone not in the faith might ask, “If Jesus is all we need, then why do we need other believers?” In that same chapter of 1st Corinthians, Paul explains how all believers have something to offer our particular congregations. We all bring something to the table, so to speak. Paul called them “gifts of the Spirit.” And he went on to say that these gifts are given for the common good. In other words, God uses our gifts to help others. In the case of my former co-worker, there might have been someone God could have brought alongside him to help him at just the right time. It may have been a minister or a pastor or a fellow believer could have counseled him or given him the advice he needed to hear. He might have had the opportunity to be part of a Bible class or life group that could have prayed with him and for him. But he never gave them that chance. As it turned out, Satan was able to isolate him and find a weakness. I believe it’s for this reason that Jesus never sent his disciples out alone. At the very least, He sent them out in pairs. There is strength in numbers and we need the strength and encouragement that comes from worshiping with our brothers and sisters in Christ. There are times we may need to draw on the strength of a fellow believer, whether through prayer, a timely word, or wise counsel. There are times when we may need to offer that to someone else. None of that happens when we choose not be part of a fellowship of believers.

I gave several reasons why it is necessary for us as believers to worship together. But there is one very important reason I have not mentioned till now. We come together to glorify and honor God. It should be something we do with gladness of heart as it was in the first century church. In Acts 2 verse 46 we’re told “Every day they continued meeting together in the temple courts.They broke bread in each other’s homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, PRAISING GOD, and enjoying the favor of all people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” We strengthen and encourage one another and ultimately we all draw strength from God. But the main reason we gather together is to give praise, honor, and glory….to God.

Jesus taught on the sides of hills, by the seashore, and in open fields. He taught in people’s homes and in synagogues. Can you imagine anyone who might have said, “I don’t really need to hear Him in person. I can learn all I need about God by staying home and studying my scrolls.” Sure, they could have learned all about God’s law and their history, but they would have missed the chance to see, in person, the love of God being put on display through the life of Jesus. It’s one thing to read about God’s love, it’s yet another to experience it and share it firsthand and that’s hard to do alone in your living room.

Finally, I’m not saying that church membership or belonging to a body of believers guarantees us a trouble free existence. Jesus pretty much guaranteed that we will face trouble. He said, “In this world you have trouble.” (John 16:33). For me, when trouble comes, I want all the help I can get. So I go to God. And in turn, I go my brothers and sisters in Christ. I go to my church family. I cannot imagine trying to walk this walk alone.