Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Other Side of the Storm

Peter stood, watching the waves crash against the boat. He wondered why they had been sent ahead into the storm. The others were scared, just as he was. Jesus had stayed behind to send the masses home, but Peter had wondered how He planned to follow them. Then the storm came. Peter knew this was the kind of storm that made you bring in the nets and get to the docks as quickly as possible, but they were in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. Suddenly, Peter saw something in the distance standing out against the blackness of the storm. In only a moment someone cried out, "It's a spirit!" Peter squinted against the rain and the, it wasn't a spirit, it was the Lord. How was he coming across the water? If Peter could believe his eyes, Jesus appeared to be walking on the water. Out of the storm a familiar voice came across the water, "Be of good cheer, it is I; be not afraid." (Matt 14:27, KJV)

Jesus uttered those words in the midst of a literal storm, but today we need to hear them just as much as Peter and the rest did. When we are obedient to the voice of our Lord, there are many times that we end up in a storm, not because we have sinned, but because Jesus wants to show us that we can have faith in Him and not in our circumstances. You read that previous sentence right, I said we shouldn't have faith in our circumstances. Some of you have never thought of it that way, have you?  You are wondering how you have had faith in your circumstances, aren't you? When we are worried or when we believe that we will not overcome the circumstances, then we have placed our faith in the power of those circumstances. Many of us will look at our circumstances, much as Peter did, and decide that the storm is too big for us, so we get ready to endure it or run from it, with no thought given to prayer. No matter how cliche it may sound, prayer is the answer. When we pray, we may not always get out of the storm, but then we may. The thing is that we need to have faith in God, who has control of the storm, instead of the storm.

I have a friend that suffers in pain almost every day, but she does not dwell in her circumstances. She has come to the realization that faith in her circumstances will benefit her nothing, but faith in Christ will gain her everything. She has moments when it seems overwhelming, when fear and doubt tries to take hold, just as Peter did, but she doesn't allow those circumstances to become her god. She is an inspiration to me, because she has a devotion to serve God, in spite of her circumstances, that surpasses the run-of-the-mill Christian. Paul once wrote about a thorn in his side that God would not remove because it kept him grounded in faith. How many of us can say that we accept our circumstances, not as what controls us, but as part of the plan God has for our lives? We need to learn to have the same kind of faith Paul had when he was bitten by the poisonous snake, to know that the circumstance had no power, because Paul knew he was going to be in Rome when he died in the service of Christ. Or we can be more like Peter and the rest on the ship...filled with doubt and fear, even though we have a promise that we will get to the other side of the storm.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Christianity: An American Right?

"There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews." (John 3:1, 21st Century KJV). When most of you hear or read that verse, you know that there is a discussion of salvation coming. For those of you unfamiliar with the third chapter of John, let me summarize. Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the cover of night to ask him who He was. Jesus turns the conversation to how a man enters into the Kingdom of God, telling him that a man must be "born again". Nicodemus could not understand what this meant, so Jesus went on to tell him that what He was referring to was a spiritual birth. Jesus was astounded by the lack of understanding by a very learned man. Education, it seems, was not the answer, instead understanding was the key. When a child reaches for a hot stove or heater, parents tend to try to stop them from touching it, rightfully so, by telling them it is hot and will hurt the child. However, as most parents will tell you, the child will, inevitably, touch the very thing that they have been taught not to touch because it is hot. Those same parents will then tell you that since the child touched that hot item, they understood what hot means and won't touch anything that they say is hot again. The lesson here is that knowing that something was hot didn't stop the child from touching the stove or heater, but once they did they understood what "hot" meant. Which brings me to the subject of my blog today.

I was listening to a radio talk show recently and heard a woman that declared that Americans have the right of self-determination, so therefore an American can declare themself a Christian, presumably without actually being born again. In fact, statistics support that the idea of calling oneself a Christian, without being born again, is not unique to this woman. The most recent statistics that I could find say that 77-85% of Americans identify themselves as Christian, while only 38-50% identify themselves as a born again Christian. I got these numbers from The Barna Group, a research group that covered several years from 1990-2009 and the results varied widely, depending on the individual study. The point here is that many who claim to be Christians do so because they have been taught a certain morality based in Christianity, without having an understanding of Christianity as a relationship between a person and Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Jesus taught that the leaders of the Jewish religion, at the time of His earthly visit, had a knowledge of the Law, but not an understanding of the intention of the Law. Knowing the morality that the Bible teaches does not create a state of salvation or redemption. Salvation is more than just a knowledge of Jesus Christ, it is an understanding that Jesus Christ died on the Cross as a willing sacrifice for our sins, an understanding that He received the death we deserved because of our sins. Only by salvation through Jesus Christ, meaning acceptance of the work that the Son of God accomplished at Calvary's Cross and repentance of your sin, can you begin your relationship with Him. The relationship between a Christian and Jesus Christ defines Christianity. We are not born Christians, as we are born American or Asian or Italian, etc., but we have the opportunity to be born again into Christianity. Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus provides us some beginning of understanding and wisdom. Let us shake off the false assumption that by going to church, or chance of birth, we are given salvation. Being American does not mean that we are Christians, only that we have the freedom to become Christians.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

God is my Strength

I'm tired. In fact, I'm exhausted. I haven't felt this tired in all of my life, at least to my remembrance. I'm tired because I have been running the world's race and not God's race. I'm tired because I have fought to be successful from the world's point of view as opposed to fighting the good fight of faith, as Paul says, and being a successful Christian. I'm tired because the work I've been doing benefits only the secular, materialistic and temporal, while what I should be doing is work that benefits the spiritual and eternal. Do any of you feel this way? We've been in revival this week and I'm quickly realizing the "why" behind being so tired, physically and mentally. My focus has been slowly shifting to the spiritual and away from the material of late, but this week has brought it sharply to the forefront of my attention. We spend so much energy on trying to please the flesh and so little on pleasing the One, who created the flesh. What profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? That question has been running through my mind constantly for the last several months. I started this post before I went to church tonight and I have to tell you that God is Wonderful. I have been soaking up what the evangelist has been saying, but tonight there was one part where he was saying some of the very things that I said above. Not in the exact same wording, but close enough that he could have been summarizing the first half of this post. The answer lies not in myself, but in God and His Word, in prayer and in faith. When we trust in God and His Wisdom, and not in ourselves, we have a freedom to do the work He has called us to do. When we realize that He didn't call us to failure, He called us to do His work and His work doesn't fail. "So shall My word be that goeth forth out of My mouth: It shall not return unto Me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11, 21st Century KJV) In this verse, God tells us that His Word will not fail and if we are doing His work of spreading His Word, then we won't fail. Does that make sense? Do you understand the point I am trying to make? Let me illustrate this in another way. When God gave Ezekial the vision of the valley of dry bones, was it Ezekial that brought the dry bones back to life or was it the Word of God that Ezekial spoke? What are the key things that Ezekial did in this story? First, Ezekial wasn't some random fellow that God picked up and brought to this vision. Ezekial was a man of God that had faith in what God was doing with Israel. Second, Ezekial obeyed God when He spoke. He didn't say, "Well, that just sounds a little too far out there for me, Lord. Why don't your try that church down the road a bit? They do crazy stuff like that all of the time." No. Ezekial knew that God was in control, so if God said, "Do this," then Ezekial did it. We need to be more like Ezekial and less like Balaam, needing a donkey to tell us what to do. And after this week's revival services, I'm ready to follow Ezekial's lead.

God is No Mystery

"God works in mysterious ways." At least that is what we hear quite often for an explanation of some tragedy, or even some miracle, that happens in our lives. The truth is that God's ways are not mysterious. He explains them in His Word through various writers. He spent quite some time explaining to Israel what He wanted from them and yet they still went astray. He spent three and a half years showing us how He wanted Christians to live as examples for the lost and dying, yet we still seem to struggle with living a Christ-like life. There are books of all kinds to tell you how to live your life like a Christian, but there is only one Authority on the subject and He wrote those letters to us over about a hundred years using different men to pen the words. We only have to prayerfully study His Word to understand the simplicity of how we are to live. God didn't make it hard for us, in fact Jesus said in Matthew 11 28"Come unto Me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls. 30For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light." (21st Century KJV). Are there mysteries in the Bible, yes. The way that God expects us to live our lives is not one of those mysteries, however. We may not know all of the answers, but God expects us to live our life as Christians through faith in Him. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is, "8bNevertheless when the Son of Man cometh, shall He find faith on the earth?" (21st Century KJV). Today, as I look around I find faith is still alive in many, but I fear the number who do not live in faith is increasing. Faith is not something earned or bought in the marketplace. Faith begins when a person makes the decision to trust what God says, whether through His Holy Word or revealed through the Holy Spirit. That trust usually begins when a person goes to an altar before God and places the fate of their soul in His hands. The "altar" that I mean is the one in your heart, because if your heart doesn't change, then you won't change. "For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:10, 21st Century KJV) Today, right now, make your confession of faith. The Bible tells us in Jesus' own words that there is only one way to the Father and that is through faith in Jesus Christ, God's Only Begotten Son. "Jesus said unto him, 'I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by Me.'" (John 14:6, 21st Century KJV) I want all of my family and friends to enter into heaven, that's a given, but that is not the limit of my desire. I want everyone who reads this and everyone who comes within earshot or eyesight of me to go to heaven as well. I want children in countries that I can't even pronounce the name of to go to heaven. My desire is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ to those who don't know Him, so that they might enter heaven as well. Again I say, today make Jesus your Lord and Savior.