Tuesday, July 28, 2015

As we continued our look at failure, this past Sunday, we spent time dealing with the sins of David.  Despite being called a man after God's own heart, he had some definite flaws.  To hear this message, click on the link.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Where Is Our Help Found?

“The sick man answered him, "Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, and while I am going another steps down before me."”
(John 5:7 ESV)

As we read on about the invalid with whom Jesus spoke in John 5, it seems that he did want to be healed.  After all, why else would he be at the pool?  However, even though he had this desire, he’d lost hope. 
Again, it was believed that whoever made it into the pool first, after the water was stirred, would be healed.  And this invalid had lost hope because someone always beat him to the pool.
            Imagine trying to win a footrace as an invalid.  It’s right up there with a blind man winning a sharpshooting competition or a mute winning a speech competition. No matter your efforts, the deck is always stacked against you.  And, having realized this, he was discouraged.
Even though he likely didn’t realize it, he’d lost hope because he was looking to the wrong source. Instead of looking to the Lord, he was looking to this pool.  Instead of looking to the Lord, he was depending on his ability to make it first into the pool.
We often get caught in the same mindset.  We have a clear need, but we look not to the Lord.  Instead of looking to God, we look to our efforts. Instead of trusting in Jesus, we trust in people or superstition.
In order to remain healthy, or to become healthy, we look to our own efforts or to products marketed in this way.  We look to a certain diet or exercise program.  We look to vitamins or organics. 
I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to eat healthy or to exercise.  I try to do just that.  And there are definite benefits to these practices.  However, we must not allow them to be our focus as we’re seeking help rather than the Lord.
            When it comes to physical illness, we look not to the Lord, but to doctors and medications. When it comes to mental illness, we look not to the Lord, but to psychiatrists and counselors. The Lord can, of course, work through people. He can use people, whom he has gifted, to help meet our need. And, again, I’m not suggesting that it’s wrong to make use of them.  I regularly make use of doctors myself.  Having a chronic illness, I take medication on a daily basis.  We must realize, however, that the Lord is the source of our help. We must realize that he's the source of our strength and healing.
Other times, people will depend upon a rabbit’s foot or a horseshoe over the door for good luck.  They will look to dreamcatchers to rid themselves of bad dreams.  People will rely on sacred relics or on a pilgrimage to a sacred site to gain the blessing needed.
And, just like the invalid, we often lose hope. We lose hope because, no matter what we try, nothing seems to help.  Our life doesn’t seem to improve.  The need that we possess remains unsatisfied.

            Whatever our need, and in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, we must realize the true source of help.  As we read in the first two verses of Psalm 121: I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth.” We must always know and remember that the Lord is the source of our help and it’s to him that we must always look.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

“Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”
(Romans 12:6-8 ESV)

            Many of us have fallen into the wrong mindset when it comes to the church.  We think and act as though the church is here only for our benefit.  We choose a church based not on what we can give, but on what we can receive.  If we perceive that a particular church cannot meet our felt needs, we go off in search of something better.
            Of course there are certain things we should look for when it comes to a church.  We should look for a church that preaches and teaches the Word of God.  We should look for a church that does not deny the truth.  We should look for a church that strives to carry out the call God has placed on us as his people.
            However, we tend to shop for a church just as we shop for a new outfit.  We search for a church that fits us perfectly.  We search for a church that makes us feel comfortable.  We look for a church that provides for us the services we desire.
            If a church asks something of us, we cringe.  If a church expects something of us, we resist. We want no obligations placed on us.  We want only to sit in the pew on Sunday morning.  We want only to participate in those programs that meet our perceived needs.  We want only to receive, and not to give.
            We fail to realize that God has given to us his grace so that we can serve.  We fail to realize that God has given us his grace so we can minister to others.  In fact, our gifts and abilities differ from those given to others.  They complement those given to others.  So we each have a specific role. And we are all called upon to use the gifts God has bestowed upon us.
            We see this in the above passage.  Paul tells us that, having gifts that differ according to the grace given us, we’re to use them.  If we have the gift of prophecy, we’re to prophesy.  If we have the gift of service, we’re to serve.  If we have the gift of teaching, we’re to teach. 
            God doesn’t give us our gifts and abilities for our own benefit, but for the benefit of others.  In 1 Corinthians 12:7, Paul tells us that the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each of us for the common good.  He gives to us his gifts for the good of the church.
            This agrees also with the teaching of Jesus.  He tells us in Luke 22 that the greatest must become like the youngest.  He tells us that the one who leads must become like the one who serves. It’s not about lording our authority over others.  It’s not about receiving service from others.  It’s about laying down our life for the blessing of others.
Now, if everything is working properly, we will receive from the church.  We’ll benefit from the gifts that God has given to others in the church.  However, our motive must be, first and foremost, to serve.

            So, as we consider our place in the church, we should look at how we can serve.  We should consider how we might bless others. Maybe it’s helping to serve at a funeral meal or at one of our community meals.  Maybe it’s teaching a Sunday School class.  Maybe it’s serving on a committee in the church or helping with the youth group.  The opportunities are endless.  But let’s seek to use the grace God’s given us to bless others.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Do We Want to Be Healed?

“When Jesus saw him lying there and knew that he had already been there a long time, he said to him, "Do you want to be healed?"”
(John 5:6 ESV)

            My next few blog posts will focus on this passage, because I've found much to glean from it. Whenever I read the account of this miracle, performed by Jesus, I find it intriguing.  But it’s not the miracle that catches my attention.  It’s the question that Jesus asks the man before healing him.
            We see in this passage that Jesus went up to Jerusalem, and that he visited the pool of Bethesda.  Invalids gathered at this pool because it was believed that it had healing powers.  It was believed that an angel would periodically go into the pool and stir the waters.  And whoever entered the pool first, after the water was stirred, would be healed.
            As Jesus came to the pool, he saw a man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years.  Jesus then addressed him, asking him the question in the above verse.  Jesus asked the man if he wanted to be healed.
            When I read this, my initial reaction is that this is a strange question.  I react this way because who, after all, would not want to be healed?  The answer to this question seems obvious.  It seems like a question that doesn’t need to be asked.
            I’m not an invalid.  But I do suffer from a heart condition.  And, even though I’ve learned to live with it, I would love to be healed.  I would love to be free from the symptoms I experience on a daily basis.  I would love to be free from the limitations it places on my life.  So if Jesus asked this of me, there’s no  question how I'd respond.
            However, as I stop and think about it, I don’t think this is always the case.  I don’t think that everyone wants to be healed.    There are those who have grown comfortable in their present condition.  There are those who, if given the chance for healing, would turn it down.
            We see this often today.  No matter what Jesus offers, there are some who will not receive it.  There are some who are content to remain as they are.
            There are many who like their life just the way it is.  They don’t want Jesus to work in them.  They don’t want Jesus to change them.  They want Jesus to let them be.
            Having worked in a treatment center for those struggling with substance abuse, I saw this frequently.  Many were there not because they wanted help.  They merely wanted to satisfy the courts.  In reality, they liked their life the way it was.  And once they'd met the requirements laid down for them, they fully intended to return to this life.
            I’ve seen those who have embraced the poverty cycle.  Although they complain about the things they lack, they’ve become accustomed to this life.  And they are unwilling to receive the help which would enable them to break free from this way of life.
            There are those who find their identity in their illness.  I’ve seen this in many who suffer from a physical or a mental illness.  And, for this reason, they don’t really want to be free.  They don’t know who they are apart from their diagnosis.
            So the first question this passage leaves us with is this: Do we want to be healed?  Are we willing to receive the healing that Jesus can provide?  Are we willing to leave behind something that’s become comfortable in exchange for something better?
            I don’t mean, when I say this, that Jesus will heal our every weakness this side of eternity.  I don’t mean that he’ll remove every temptation with which we struggle.  Although he has the power to do so, he often chooses to leave the thorn in place.  Like Paul, we’re often left with our struggle as a reminder that God’s power is made perfect in weakness.  He does it as a reminder that he can and will use us no matter our circumstances.
            Yet, we do have his assurance that we will be fully healed in the end.  When Jesus returns, we’ll live in a place where sin and its consequences are a thing of the past.  And this is a gift that is received by faith.  We receive it by trusting in Jesus’ power and authority to do as he’s promised.  But, for him to do so, we must possess a heart that's willing to receive the blessing he has in store for us.


Monday, July 13, 2015

Yesterday, as we continued our look at failure, we looked at the sin of Moses.  And, once again, we saw the grace of God given to Moses in spite of his sin.  To hear this message, click on the link.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Who Am I?

“Then King David went in and sat before the LORD and said, "Who am I, O Lord GOD, and what is my house, that you have brought me thus far?””
(2Samuel 7:18 ESV)

            As I was having my devotions this morning, something struck me.  I was reading about King David.  God had established him as king over all Israel and given him victory over his enemies.  He’d built for himself a palace in Jerusalem.  But it struck him that the ark of the Lord was still dwelling in a tent.  And, for this reason, he desired to build a temple for the Lord.
            God, however, sent word to David through Nathan the prophet. He told David that he would not be the one to build for him a house.  But God also made to David a great promise.  God told David that he would build for him a house.  In verses 12-13, God said to him: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.”
            What a great promise this is that God gave him.  What struck me, however, was not God’s promise. It was David’s response to God’s promise.
            As we see in the above verse, he didn’t feel worthy of this great blessing God was giving him.  He didn’t feel that his family was worthy of this blessing. He was amazed that God desired to give this blessing to him.
            We see the same attitude expressed by other men of faith as well. We see it expressed by Moses, in Exodus 3, when God called him to bring Israel out of Egypt.  We see it expressed by Gideon, in Judges 6, when God called him to save the people from their enemies.  We see it expressed by Mary, in Luke 1:48 after the angel told her that she was to bear the Son of God.
            This is in great contrast to our attitude, today.  Instead of being humbled that God would give to us such a great promise, we feel that we’re deserving of his blessings.  We feel that we’re good people who are entitled to every good thing God is able to provide.
            In fact, if he doesn’t give them to us, we feel that God is unfair. We feel that we deserve more than we currently possess.  If something bad happens to us, we think that we deserve better.  In contrast to David’s attitude, we stand in judgment of God, condemning him as unloving and unjust.
            We fail to bear in mind that we are not good people (Romans 3:10-12).  We fail to bear in mind that all we deserve is God’s judgment (Romans 3:23, 6:23).  We fail to recognize that any gift God gives to us is only due to his grace.
            What would happen if we shared the heart of David, expressed in this verse?  We would be much more grateful for the gifts God has given to us.  We would be much more content in life, even when we don’t receive everything we desire.  We would fully understand the gospel message, spoken to us in God’s Word.
            Let’s then ask God to give us the heart of David.  Let’s ask him to create in us a heart that understands how undeserving we truly are.  And let’s ask God to create within us a heart that’s receptive to the good news.

Yesterday, we heard part 4 of our series on failure.  We looked specifically at Judah, his sin, and the grace that God gave to him in spite of his failure.  To hear this message, click on the link.

Thursday, July 02, 2015

A Scriptural Defense for Homosexuality?

            I recently read an article, posted on Facebook, attempting to defend homosexuality from a Scriptural perspective.  If you care to read it, click on this link: http://www.upworthy.com/there-are-6-scriptures-about-homosexuality-in-the-bible-heres-what-they-really-say?g=3  The arguments used in this article are nothing new.  So let’s take a quick look at them.
            First, the author suggests that the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah was not homosexuality, but gang rape.  One problem with this view is that, when Lot offered his daughters to the men, they didn’t want them.  They specifically wanted the men.  So we see that their desire was clearly homosexual in nature.
While it’s true that the people of the town sought to rape the guests in Lot’s home (who were really angels), Scripture specifically defines for us their sin.  In Jude 7 we’re told that they gave themselves over to sexual immorality and unnatural desire.  So it wasn’t gang rape that was the issue (even though I’d agree it too was wrong).  It was their unnatural desire.  It was their homosexual desire.
The author then dismissed the other Old Testament commands against homosexuality based on the fact that they’re Old Testament laws.  She says that Christ did away with the Law and classes this law together with those relating to shellfish and other ceremonial regulations.
This, however, is not a ceremonial law for Israel.  It’s a moral law, like those found in the Ten Commandments.  And we see it reflected also in the New Testament.
The New Testament makes it clear that laws regulating foods, cleanness, days for worship, etc. are a thing of the past.  It doesn’t, however, do this with homosexuality.  Instead, the commands are repeated, telling us that they are still in force.
The author next attempts to dismiss Paul’s mention of homosexuality in Romans 1.  She does so by trying to frame it in a cultural context.  The problem, she says, is with non-committed homosexual relationships. 
This, however, ignores the plain reading of the text.  We’re specifically told that these relationships (two women or two men) are unnatural.  They are referred to as dishonorable and shameless.
Last of all, she tells us that the Greek words used in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:10 are difficult to translate.  She refers us to Vine’s, where it’s said that the concept of sexual orientation didn’t even exist. 
This is far from the case.  Scripture makes it clear over and over that it’s wrong for a man to lie with a man as with a woman.  As we’ve seen, it refers to the relationships of two men or two women as unnatural.  This reveals that they were very familiar with this concept.
The words themselves are also not hard to translate.  All the common and scholarly lexicons translate them as one who practices same sex activity , or a sodomite. 
Once again, it’s said that the Bible was referring to non-committed homosexual relationships (for which no evidence is offered). 
Homosexuality clearly violates the will of God, as found in Scripture.  These are nothing more than attempts to legitimize it in the eyes of the Church.  The objections of the author clearly use poor scholarship in order to push an agenda.
That being said, God clearly loves the homosexual.  However, just as God does not accept the other sins mentioned in Scripture, neither does he accept theirs.  He, instead, calls us to repent and to receive the mercy that is found in Christ alone.