Are You Satisfied with Your Life?


absent-from-body-quote-b-grahamGenesis 25
“Are You Satisfied with Your Life?”

“Abraham breathed his last and he died at a good old age, an old man who had lived a full life.” How is it that Moses could say this about the patriarch? He could because Abraham “believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness.” He had obeyed God and “went out without understanding and by faith, he lived as he looked forward to the city with firm foundations whose architect and builder is God.” [Heb 11] By faith, when tested, he offered up Isaac as his one and only son. And so when the end came Abraham knew that he had done as God had said and God now would let him join his ancestors. And centuries later, Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say “This is the end—for me the beginning of life.” We who believe God know that our preference is to “be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord” for this is just a step on our journey into life with our Lord forever.

When your end comes will you be satisfied that you have been faithful to God? Today you are one step closer to eternity. Are you ready?

FAiTh or No FAiTH ?

matthew 8 faith

What does the word faith mean to you? Mark Mittleberg in his book “Confident Faith” describes the different paths that people take to faith. Some take the relativistic road to  faith–that is all things are relative, what works for you and for me is not the same. How do you trust it then? How do you know you are on the right path to faith? What about traditional faith? You follow the path your ancestors have followed without question. What if your ancestors were sincere but sincerely wrong?  Then there is the authoritarian faith path, you believe because you have been told this is the way, do not digress to the right or the left. Is this the right path? What if what you were told was not correct? How about the intuitive path, it “just feels right.” But what happens when your feelings change? Is there a problem with this path? Then there is the mystical path, I believe because God told me–hmm, really?  Could you have mistaken that voice? Lastly is  the evidential faith by which you examine and search out what faith is and what it is not. You read, you ask questions, you listen and then you either come to faith or after seeing all of the evidence choose to walk according to your own path. Which path is right? Jesus has the answer…it is “FAiTH” with the small letter ‘i’  in the middle.

The question before us is this: Which path is right? Jesus has the answer…it is “FAiTH” with the small letter ‘i’  in the middle.

The Apostle Matthew is writing to prove to us that Jesus is indeed the long awaited Messiah. Jesus has been preaching that the kingdom of heaven is at hand just as John the Baptist had been doing. So this is the listening step. Then he taught what it means to be blessed in the Sermon on the Mount. This the step of pondering His words.  Now in chapter 8, the scene moves to the powerful evidence, his credentials of being the Messiah through healing.  This is the step of observing the results. Whether preaching, teaching or healing He has been proving that God has sent him. He is the long-awaited Son of God, the Messiah, that Moses prophesied about long ago.  He is challenging the people to “follow him” and “listen to him.” He has been giving oral evidence of faith and now will move to the  visual healing evidence of faith.

A leper came to Jesus and said, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” The man knew and trusted the evidence but was unsure if Jesus would be willing to step out and heal him and if he did, how would he do it? So he observed, questioned and then stepped out to test.  The second encounter was with a Gentile Centurion. He sought healing not for himself but for a servant. He too had faith that Jesus could heal but saw himself as unworthy. Although unworthy he trusted the evidence that he had heard but tested the actual evidence—would Jesus heal–even from a distance?

Both had FAiTH. with the ‘i’ in the middle. Think of it this way: After you have gathered the evidence and you can see that it proves to be true, you must  make a  choice. You determine or make a  choice to say I will  Follow, Abide and say “i” Trust Him. That is what faith is all about. It is not about you or me or works but about HIM. Jesus is saying you have to have faith with “i” in the middle, not first or last. He must be first and last, When we take that step we will be wrapped in his love and his embrace. He will not leave us nor forsake us. The leper and the centurion came to Jesus, which is our first step, and then they chose FAiTH.  They exhibited the willingness to trust Christ and His power and both received healing.

Will you place your “i” in the middle? Will you let Jesus lead and you  follow, abide and trust him to accomplish his will in your life or will you like those who offer excuses for not now, not his way? Faith is the key: put yourself in the middle of His way, follow, abide and trust Him.

Photo Credit: David Watmough/Dreamstime.com

Jesus-Believer’s Transformation

1Thess 1 transformation3In Thessalonica Paul preached the truth of the gospel from the scriptures “explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and to rise from the dead, saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” [Acts 17] But his stay was short lived and as Paul left hurriedly he had visions that his work was of no value as it seemed that the word of the Lord had fallen upon deaf ears. How often do we proclaim and think that what we have shared has done the same? It is then that we must remember it is NOT about you or me, but it is the power of the gospel, the power of the Holy Spirit that changes lives. It must have been almost more than Paul could take when he heard that the Thessalonians not only heard but received and now were living as Jesus-Believers. They were transformed!

Three things stood out in the lives of the Thessalonians that we can take to heart. First their transformation was evident to all believers in Macedonia and Achaia so much so that the message of the power of the gospel was echoing everywhere. Does our transformation by Jesus do the same? It was evident in three ways: ‘work of faith and labor of love and endurance of hope.’ They put faith; words and their belief into action. The world is looking for the reality of transformed lives. Are we living out the gospel so much so that even our “trials show the proven character of your faith, which is much more valuable than gold –“?

How does your life and my life look to the outside world?

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Left in Charge

1tim and isaiah stand firm2Many times when I was a teacher I would have to step out of the classroom for period of time for differing reasons. As a parent this was often true as well. In stepping out they often  leave  with  these  words  “I  am  leaving  you  in  charge.”  How  does  that  statement  sit  with  you?  Do  we  really  understand  the  implications  of  those  words?  Do  we  realize  the  consequences  if  we  do  not  live  up  to  those  words?  As  we  open  ITimothy  we  find  that  Paul  essentially  has  left  Timothy  in  charge  and  he  does  so  because  Timothy  has  proven  to  be  trustworthy,  he  is  reliable,  he  is  loyal  to  the  core.  He  is  thus  a    “true  child  in  the  faith.”  It  is  because  of  this  Paul  has  written  this  letter  to  encourage  Timothy  to  “hang  tough”  for  the  wolves  that  he  predicted  are  already  at  work  in  Ephesus  seeking  to  destroy  the  foundational  principles  of  the  faith. Paul  notes  that  his  predictions  are  coming  to  light.  Timothy  has  been  given  a  huge  task  and  he  must  remain  strong  and  be  steadfast.

Beloved,  Christ  has  put  us  in  charge  of  passing  the  baton  on;  we  have  been  given  the  huge  task  to  remain  strong,  steadfast  as  the  winds  of  culture  seek  to  drive  us  from  true  doctrine.  There  are  wolves  amongst  us  and  we  must  be  discerning  and  wise  as  serpents  and  harmless  as  doves.    Isaiah’s warning  long  ago  to  King Ahab is as applicable to us as well:  “If  your  faith  does  not  remain  firm, then  you  will  not  remain  secure.” Beloved, Paul’s  charge  is  before  us:  “dear  brothers  and  sisters,  be  firm.  Do  not  be  moved!  Always  be  outstanding  in  the  work  of  the  Lord,  knowing  that  your  labor  is  not  in  vain  in  the  Lord.”

How  are  we  doing?

“Chosen ..Elected…Called”

ImageThe one who has been fully restored now passes on the torch to us with words of wisdom. As Christ told him “when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old…” Peter is now in advanced age as he writes and seeks to pass on to us the vital words of wisdom he learned on that seashore experience that we too might carry the torch to the world.

Jesus had three tasks for Peter and they are the same three tasks for us as well: Feed “MY” Sheep, Shepherd “MY” Sheep, Tend “MY” flock. This task encompasses and challenges our “Do you love ME?” question. To fulfill these words, Peter reminds us that we are anointed, “chosen, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father by being set apart by the Spirit for obedience and for sprinkling with Jesus Christ’s blood.” It has come with a price and that price is the blood of Christ that was shed on the cross. Just as Jesus faced the trial we too will face trials but each one will “show the proven character of our faith, which is much more valuable than gold – gold that is tested by fire…”

Even though we do not, like Peter, see the risen Christ face to face, yet we believe and because of that we love him. We love him for he bore our sins on that cross and paid our ransom fee for entrance into the Most Holy Place and thus we rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy. This is the Christian walk of faith which leads to our attaining the goal of our faith – the salvation of our souls.

One last piece of wisdom from Peter: “like the Holy One who called you, become holy yourselves in all of your conduct,”

Beloved, you are special this day because of the price Christ paid for your salvation. You were “chosen before the foundation of the world, that you would be holy and blameless before Him” [Eph 1:4]. He has inscribed your name upon His nail pierced palms so that you might carry the torch of His love to His flock. Do you love ME rings forth in our ears. Will you as the chosen, elected, called, step up the task that He has prepared for you?

Unbelief OR Unfaith?

ImageHow great is your faith or do you have “unfaith?” As Jesus returns home for the second time he follows his routine of entering the synagogue to worship. As he did on the first return visit he “began to teach.” The first visit he encountered rage but this time he encounters questions and the sin of unbelief. The Nazarenes were not held in high esteem by the rest of the nation not because of size or greatness but seen negatively because of its lack of goodness. Remember Nathanael’s statement “ Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” [Joh 1:46]

Yet Nazareth had the blessing of a synagogue and this is where we find Jesus. As the worshipers came that day the questions began to swirl —-

“Where did he get these ideas?” Yet, at age 12 he confounded the scholars with his understanding and answers because he was “THE” author and finisher of all wisdom.

“What are these miracles that are done through his hands?” Isn’t he “just a carpenter’s son?

“Isn’t this …the son of Mary?” The whisperers say—we know his background…tsk tsk tsk.

…And so they took offense at him. Are others taking offense at you as they did Christ? When you first gave your life to Christ did others ask similar questions?

Jesus reminded them that they were more willing to accept “experts” from outside than someone they knew as a trustworthy tradesman yet now whose mission was to bring the good news of life to them. And so we read: that he was amazed/marveled at their unbelief. Jesus only marveled twice in the NT, this scene and the Centurion’s faith. But here in Nazareth he marveled at their ‘unbelief,’ their unwillingness to believe the evidence that is before them. Handley Dunelm wrote “We may remark that it is a loss in our language that “unbelief” is the only word we can use as the antithesis to “faith”; for “faith” and “belief” (which see) are not exactly synonyms. “Unfaith” would be a welcome word for such use, if it were generally so understood.” It is as if we, like the ones Paul described in Romans 1, see the very clues of who God is and yet we miss them because they are so familiar to our senses. The Creator, the Giver of Life has come amongst us and as he passes by we miss him because of the repetition of the day in and day out of life.

Today as we approach Resurrection Sunday have you seen the miracle of the Godhead amongst you or have your senses become dulled to His presence? Are you guilty of unbelief or “unfaith” because Jesus has become so familiar that you miss His beauty and His love?

 

“Forgiven and Healed”

ImageWe are all so familiar with the story of the paralytic that we often fail to see all of the dynamics and the underlying truth which is: we are all in need of both forgiveness of our sins and healing from our natural human “paralysis.”

Thus Mark included this story at the beginning of this chapter to show us how we often jump to conclusions which are irrelevant or misguided because we have not been taught the basic doctrines of scripture. The rabbi’s had a saying “there is no sick man healed of his sickness until ALL of his sins had been forgiven”— yet they also said and affirmed that only God can forgive sins. How then does one know if “ALL” their sins were forgiven?

Enter Jesus who will shatter their perceptions. He asked: “Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Stand up, take your stretcher, and walk’? “ Thus by doing the harder first—that is forgiving of the man’s sin, which is invisible to the naked eye He proved that He was Forgiver of sins and the long awaited Messiah, the very Son of God. From that Jesus then vindicated his power by doing the easier which was healing of his paralysis which was visible and tangible. Now the scholars had a dilemma before them. They had asked: ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?” and Jesus answered their thoughts with a threefold action: “rise” which tested the man’s faith, “take up your bed” which tested the man’s ability, “go home” which tested the man’s obedience. Thus Jesus answered the scholars question with the evidence: “the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

Barclay wrote: “The experts in the law were hoist with their own petard. On their own stated beliefs the man could not be cured, unless he was forgiven. He was cured, therefore he was forgiven. Therefore Jesus’ claim to forgive sin must be true.” This is the “aha moment” and when we are brought to the same point and see the evidence we have to ask: will I now take the step of belief that Jesus is who he said he was, the Son of God. From that moment we can then come to Him and not only be forgiven but healed of our human paralysis.

 

Sharing Your Faith to the Almost Persuaded….

ImageWhat do Felix, Festus, King Agrippa and Bernice all have in common with the rich man in Luke 16? They all in some way said that they were almost persuaded to accept Jesus but never did. They sealed their eternal destiny by a single word “almost.” To be almost is to be eternally lost because you have not made the most important decision of your life and this is what Paul presented to these four individuals.

Paul, by sharing, teaches us the primer of how to share one’s faith to those who have not heard and have not made any decision. Paul was “not ashamed of the gospel, for [he knew] it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” We must believe that as well. He had been waiting now for 2 full years and now with a captive audience he asked their patience as he recounts his journey from unbelief to belief and that is what you and I are to be doing.

Vs 4-19 Plant the seed through your faith story. Share who you before you met Christ. No one has your history and no one has your experiences, capitalize on those facts. Note Paul shared both his education and his religious training and then asks a question: “Why do you people think it is unbelievable that God raises the dead?” Before they could respond Paul continued.

Vs 20-26 Water the seed of their thinking just as Paul shared about his change and transformation. No one has your experience and no one has the same story. Jesus stopped him and opened his eyes to see his sin and how he had been persecuting Jesus.  Your story is not the same but it is still just as powerful as Paul’s.

Vs. 27- Ask the key question that will touch their hearts just as Paul revealed the heart of Agrippa. “Do you believe the prophets, King Agrippa? I know that you believe.” In other words, where do you stand before God, as an unbeliever or a believer?

Remember that all men will respond in some way. Festus said Paul was insane which revealed that he truly did not believe that God could raise someone from the dead nor did he believe that Paul actually met Jesus on the Damascus Road and was transformed. He discounted both and thus is without excuse. Agrippa sat squirming knowing if he answered he did believe then Festus would categorize him as crazy as well and that was a place he was not willing to be…so he answered “almost.” To be almost is to be eternally lost for you have not made any decision.  Bernice was silent, but was her heart pricked? The heart is God’s problem not ours.

Beloved, each of us has a story to tell, it is our story, in fact we are the expert because it is ours and ours alone! Peter said we have everything we need. It is the devil’s lie that we are not wise enough, strong enough, educated enough…we are…for God has prepared us to share. How the hearers respond is not our concern, our concern is to be obedient to share. We may not have two years to craft our story for God may bring someone today across our path. Are we ready? Can we share the Romans Road to salvation as Paul did?

G.A.P. = God Answers Prayer (God opens Prison Doors)

ImageWe have walked alongside Peter from a small fishing village to a mountain top to his fearless preaching in the Temple. We have seen one who denied and yet was restored that he may lead the church in its beginning stages. We relate so much to Peter for his faltering steps are much like ours and our hearts yearn to meet him in glory! We have seen his impulsiveness and say, that is me. We see his denial and we say I have done the same once or twice. We see his love for Jesus when he said “if you are the Master, tell me come to you on the water.” And now in this chapter Dr. Luke will give us one more glimpse of his last days in Jerusalem with the exception of Acts 15. We find Peter in prison having earned the ire of Herod. And once again and as he has done before, Peter falls fast asleep.  Peter it seems never has a problem with insomnia! He slept while Jesus prayed and He slept while Moses and Enoch talked with Jesus on the mountain. He just closes his eyes and falls asleep! This time, to be sure that Peter does not escape, Herod has him chained to guards in his prison. But man’s chains are no match for the saints’ prayers!  

God is pleased with the saints’ prayers and often as he bends his ear to our words his heart is open to receive and answer as we beg. We must be like the Canaanite woman unwilling to give up but to seek an answer. When a brother or sister is imprisoned in some way, do we earnestly beg God for their deliverance according to His will or if truth be known is our mind here and there scattered with many thoughts or do we like Peter fall asleep on the watch? We would do well to take a lesson from these early believers whose very lives surrounded a lengthy time in earnest prayer. We remember what James wrote: “The prayer of a righteous person has great effectiveness.” Would that we be like the early church who pounded the doors of heaven for God to answer and deliver.

When Peter is released by an angelic visitor who had to shake him awake and lead him like a child outside the prison walls, we find him knocking at the door of where the believers were sequestered. He might have muttered: it was easier getting out of prison than getting into Mary’s house!  Continuously knocking and finally gaining entrance the believers were astonished to see how God answered! Beloved, trust in the G.A.P. method…God Answers Prayers.

Are you a Barnabas?

ImageBarnabas, the man who impacted my life. God graciously places people into our lives for many reasons but the most memorable are those who come to us and leave with words of encouragement lasting upon our hearts. Barnabas was such a person. Born in Cyprus and living in Jerusalem, he so touched each life he crossed that he was given the nickname “son of encouragement.” Oh would that be our nickname instead of complainer, thankless or some other.

The dictionary defines encouragement as that which inspires courage or confidence. The early church faced many obstacles such as the distractions of the widow’s needs, the raging anger of Saul of Tarsus, the stoning of Stephen, and more. In spite of all this Barnabas was steady, always ready with a word to give courage to faltering hearts. He so loved the new foundling church that he sold his land and gave the proceeds for the church’s needs. And now in chapter 11 we find that the apostles sent him on a journey to check out the Cypriot believers in Antioch. He was fully prepared with language skills, familial ties, he knew the mannerisms and the ways of these brethren of his so he was the perfect choice. But, there is better reason: Barnabas “was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” Stop and think about that for a moment. To be full of the Holy Spirit means that he was demonstrating the Fruit of the Holy Spirit: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” [Gal 5] In addition his faith was his foundation and he lived and walked by this:  “The righteous by faith will live.” [Rom 1] You see that his faith was working together with his works and his faith was perfected by works.”[James 2].

It was because of Barnabas living out his faith through the Holy Spirit that many came to know the Lord. Who is the Barnabas in your life? Take time today to let them know, for the Barnabas’ of this world are usually the unassuming quiet behind the scenes people.  And how about yourself, could you be a Barnabas to someone today?