Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Committing to the Covenant

God is a covenant making God. He is good. He blesses. He promises. He delivers. In fact, God is so perfectly good and so completely holy that it is sometimes hard to fathom why He would be willing to make covenants with mere men. God is not like man (Num. 23:19). He never breaks a promise. He never fails to keep His part of the covenant. Nevertheless, because He is a loving God He makes covenants. He has not only made covenants with men, but He has even made covenants with all of creation (Genesis 9:9-17).

Since God offers covenants in benevolence and mercy and love, they ought to be embraced! It is  time for the rest of us to realize that God expects us to accept our part of the covenant. The truth is that we struggle with covenants because we know upfront we are going to break them. We know we are fragile and weak and many times we even fail to please our own spirit. So we look at God's contractual offer and we often turn away, feeling that we'd better not commit to anything like a covenant, especially when it involves the One who is going to judge our souls. But to err on the side of caution - is still to err!

There are two common examples of our failure to commit that can be seen in every day living. They both involve the two greatest commitments a person can make during their lifetime. They are the two basic forms of marriage, spiritual and physical. We have the spiritual marriage of making a commitment to Christ through obedience to the gospel. We have the physical marriage that involves the public exchanging of vows to be once and for all obligated to our mate. In these two cases there are some common denominators that describe each individual's fear of commitment:

1. We are afraid we will regret the decision to give ourselves up completely.
2. We are afraid things will not turn out as we had hoped, that our expectations won't be realized.
3. We are afraid we will fail in our duties to the one to whom we have made the promise.
4. We are afraid we don't have enough experience or knowledge to perform our commitment as we should.

Remember this - God knows how weak we are. He knows how sinful we are. He knew Jesus would have to die for us even before He made us. He made us anyway. He wants us anyway. He loves us anyway. He is a gracious and merciful God! Do we not understand that God is not as interested in our ability to perform as He is in our desire to love Him completely?

Noah agreed to a covenant and then committed an egregious sin that broke up his family. Abram agreed to a covenant and then lied about who he was. Moses agreed to a covenant and then failed to give God the glory. David agreed to a covenant and then committed adultery and murder. All of these men broke the covenant, but they repented and turned back to God and God restored them. They are considered spiritual giants! God was willing to be patient and let them learn and grow until they could love the way He loves. God will do the same for us.

If we needed to be perfect to enter into a covenant with God, we would forever be lost and cut off from His holiness. God simply wants us to know the means by which we can enter the covenant, and then He wants us to enter the covenant with our whole heart. The rest we will figure out as we go. And if we stay humble, His grace will be there for us.

Stop making excuses about why you can't make a promise. Realize that it is in the covenant alone that love and hope and salvation and joy and relationship exist. Without covenants, without relationships, our lives would be meaningless and loneliness would abound. God saw that it was not good for man to be alone. So He made covenants. Now it is your turn. Make the commitment! Walk by faith! Enjoy the blessings of the covenants God has made available! Live your life in praise and glory to the God who offers covenants!

"Know therefore that the Lord your God, He is God, the faithful God, who keeps His covenant and His lovingkindness to a thousandth generation with those who love Him and keep His commandments." - Deuteronomy 7:9

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Control

Control: Some people think they have it, and most people want it. Well, forget about it. You never had it and you never will. The weather this past week humbled us all and reminded us how small we are. As I watched tree limbs crash in the woods behind our house, as I saw people slip and slide on the roadways, as I continued to get reports of people losing their electricity, as I called a friend each day who is sitting up at the hospital with his wife waiting for a better day for her and getting no answers from the doctors – I kept thinking about how powerless we all really are in this world.
We have created for ourselves straw houses that we believe are made of bricks. We have a false security, a carefully constructed fa├žade. When it comes to sickness and death and tragedy, we pretend we are removed from it, that it will never happen to us. When it comes to future plans we make them as if nothing is going to change our ability to make them realities. When it comes to spiritual matters we put them on the shelf, falsely claiming that our sins aren’t that bad, that they don’t need to be dealt with immediately, and even if they are ruining our lives and our eternity we still will have plenty of time to deal with them later.
Wake up, people! God is in control! “He sends out His command to the earth; His word runs very swiftly. He gives snow like wool; He scatters the frost like ashes; He casts out His ice like morsels; Who can stand before His cold?” (Psalm 147:15-17). This weather event was nothing to Jehovah. As we slept and wondered if trees would fall on our homes, the majority of the rest of the world wasn’t even aware of any danger. And then there is our God, who somewhere through the vast expanse of space exists in His heavenly home, having created the entire universe with the breath of His mouth.
And yet it is God who cares the most. It is God who has visited us in our time of need. It is God who looks down from heaven and considers our ways and our thoughts and the meditations of our hearts. And the ironic part is that He is wondering when we will ever stop trying to have control and let Him be in charge when there has never even been one second in time when He wasn’t on the throne.
And so I will stand at the invitation song again this Sunday, if Sunday ever comes. And I will look out to several hundred people who either have the illusion that they are in control, or are simply just unwilling to stop trying to have control. This must be the case. Otherwise we would have revival. Otherwise we would have restoration. Otherwise we would have responses. Otherwise we would have repentance and baptism for the remission of sins.
It is time that we stop pretending. “For the time has come for judgment to begin at the house of God…” (1 Peter 4:17).
“Blessed is the man who makes the Lord his trust…” – (Psalm 40:4).
“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation.” – (Isaiah 12:2).

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Sowing All Over Again

January is usually a rainy season in the south. The fields are wet and muddy. The water table is recovering. The hope of spring is still several freezes away. But it is not too early to start getting ready for new growth.

A new year sparks evaluations and resolutions. Many assess the past year and consider their ways. People usually don't go into the year saying, "I am hoping to have the worst year I have ever had." They think about opportunities and challenges and they dream that everything is going to be great. They want success, and happiness, and peace. But how can they help it happen?

Our lives are like fields. They primarily contain weeds. We do not just come up producing strawberries. Sometimes we try to mow the weeds, cutting our problems down on the surface. But if we really want to bear fruit we must go deeper. We need to get under the soil. We must plow the field and sow all over again.

This year, you will bear fruit if you...

1. Plow up the weeds of anger and resentment you have and remove them from your life. Did someone hurt you? Did you get a raw deal at work? Are you unhappy about some circumstance? Are you holding something in your heart? Such weeds will dominate your field and leave little room for growth. Forgiveness is one of the main ingredients to success in life. It is an attribute of God (Psalm 86:5).

2. Plow up the rocks of idleness. Most people bear no fruit because they sow no seed. Christians are supposed to be living stones built upon the foundation of Christ (1 Pet. 2:5). But many are just cold hard rocks taking up space. Jesus explained that people cannot belong to Him of they do not bear fruit for God - "By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples" (John 15:8). We cannot bear fruit alone. We need Christ (John 15:4).

3. Plow up the old, dead ground. You have to cultivate the soil. You have to add nutrients to your field. The best additive to your field comes from above. The farmer knows that nothing is better than good seed and the rain from heaven to water it. The Word of God is the seed (Luke 8:11). The rain that we need will come from God if we patiently and confidently wait (James 5:7).

"Father in heaven, thank you for today. Thank you for a new year. Thank you for hope. Be with us and help us. Help us to grow closer to you. Help us to sow all over again. Help us to glorify your name. In Jesus name, Amen."

"But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully." ~ 2 Corinthians 9:6

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

The Nice List

This past week has been a very nervous one in our home. My two youngest children have been concerned about what Santa might bring. One of them said that Christmas Eve was the most stressful night of the year. When you are a kid you have a lot invested on what may happen on Christmas morning. This is the magic of the holiday - the joy of innocent imagination and the laughter of experiencing the reception of realized dreams.

And then my daughter said something to me, tonight, December 23, that really made me think. She was talking about whether or not she was on the nice list. Her anxiety about it brought her to tears. She knew her cousins were soon arriving and that she had one more day to be good. She said she would be good all day and share her toys and make sure that Santa would know that she was a nice person and that even though she wasn’t always good she surely wanted to be good. Being on the nice list matters to my daughter! It matters enough that she is deeply sorry for anything she might do to remove herself from it.

There was a time for all of us when being on the nice list mattered. It was when there was someone watching over us whom we considered more powerful than us – who held the key to our happiness. We did not want to disappoint him. But when we grew up and our innocence was lost there were many of us who no longer cared about our presence on the list.

A lack of genuine kindness is usually an adult problem. We become cynical, impatient, and we get distracted with things that are not important. One minute we are volunteering at a soup kitchen and the next minute we are cutting people off for a better parking spot at a busy holiday shopping mall. One minute we are delivering a fruit basket to a widow and the next minute we are cross with the waitress who isn’t serving our every whim. Kindness spent on others is often lost on our spouses and children. Patience we extend to a person for whom we have compassion is often shortened for anyone we don’t respect. And the scariest thing from all of it is our general justification for our bad attitude. We just don’t cry at the idea that a nice list might be something on which our name would not be found.

Jesus’ appearance to the earth was not just for salvation, but for peace on earth and goodwill toward men. Titus tells us that the kindness and goodness of God toward man presented itself in the person of Jesus Christ. This is when grace came that taught us how to respond to love of God. Nice should not be a stretch for a people visited by the Son of God who willingly spilled His blood and forgave His murderers while still hanging between heaven and earth.

My child taught me a great lesson this evening. She reminded me I should always want to be on the nice list. She reminded me that the very thought of not making it on the list should reduce me to tears.

“But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” – Titus 3:4-5

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Jesus and the 21st Century Sabbath


It was a three and a half year sticking point: Jesus and the Sabbath. In John 5 Jesus healed a lame man on the Sabbath. From then on it was all the unbelieving Jews could think about. The very next week His disciples were found plucking the heads of grain and eating them, again, on the Sabbath. Jesus spoke about the Sabbath on several occasions and expounded on why the Rabbinical teachings on the Sabbath were out of line. Jesus never violated the Sabbath. He simply exposed the Pharisees’ improper interpretation.

Two statements from Mark 2:27-28 basically explain why Jesus acted the way He did from Sabbath to Sabbath. “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” “The Son of Man is also Lord of the Sabbath.” The first statement explains that God set aside the Sabbath to teach man a spiritual lesson. It was not just about the obedient resting, it was about learning what God had done. The second statement is a call to understand that Jesus was involved in creating the material universe, and every holy law. He had the right as having the divine nature in Himself to change any law He created without being questioned.

God ordained the Sabbath as a holy day for the Jews because He wanted them to remember His creative work. The Sabbath was a reminder of the fact that God had ceased from that work. But Jesus explained later (John 5:17) that since day seven the Father and the Son had continued working. Jesus had not taken a day off since day seven. When He came to earth He was doing the work of God seven days a week.

If one were to closely examine everything Jesus did during His human life on the Sabbath, it would be impossible to prove that he had in any way broken the commandment. The Jewish Mishnah, (a Rabbinical commentary on the law), had come up with 39 specific activities that were unlawful to do on the Sabbath. Jesus certainly broke many of them, and in the meantime encouraged others to do so. He knew it did not matter, because the Mishnah was an addition to the Law of Moses. It was therefore not binding, and in fact it was causing people to miss the entire spiritual purpose of the commandment.

We can learn some very important things from Jesus’ treatment of the Sabbath: 1. God’s law is for a purpose, it is divine, and men must do it. 2. We are not supposed to do more or less than has been commanded. 3. It is important for us to see why the law is there as much as it is important for us to follow the law. 4. The only one who has the right to make adjustments to the law or set it aside altogether is God.

Jesus shocked the people by what He did on the Sabbath. But He never broke it. They were just doing it wrong. Which makes me wonder, if Jesus came into our churches each Sunday, what we He do differently? Would we realize it was us, and not Him, doing it wrong? And would we accuse Him?

“For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” – Matthew 12:8

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Falling in Love all Over Again


Do you remember when you first fell in love? I am not talking about your first schooldays crush. I am not talking about your first infatuation. I am not talking about the time when you saw that person and thought to yourself, “I would be happy if they were mine.” I am not referring to those moments in your life because those moments were not about love at all. Those moments were about you, and genuine love at its very core is not about you. It’s about others.

I am talking, however, about the first time you really fell in love. When you knew that you and the other person truly cared for each other. When you knew the two of you were willing to do anything for one another. When it was a joy to hear their voice on the phone and you anticipated the next time you would hear it as soon as you sadly had to say goodbye. When every song you heard reminded you of them, and when everything you read found a relationship to your relationship with them, and when every thought you had somehow included them, too. And then that love matured when you came to the point that you decided to make a lifetime commitment to this other person and become their spouse.

Marriages go through periods in which the feelings of courtship fade and the relationship needs to be renewed. Couples must keep dating. They must continue to express their feelings and love for each other in a variety of ways. Exciting new things sometimes become everyday regularities. The once unexpected blessings soon become normal and there is a danger of each person in the relationship taking the daily sacrifices of their companion for granted. But a committed relationship also leads to seasons of falling in love all over again. The more things in life you experience together, whether good or bad, the more that you realize your mate loves you. The loyalty of your spouse and their constant support and sacrificial giving will hopefully lead to you falling in love with them over and over again.

Spiritual renewal is very much the same. Inward revival is falling in love with Jesus all over again. We remember the first time the cross brought conviction and tears. We recall the overwhelming weight of our sin coupled with the unconditional love of our Father. Then we add in the suffering of the cross and the yearning of Savior for our souls and we conclude in our minds and hearts that we are in love with Jesus. Because Christianity is also a lifetime commitment, the more time we stay in the relationship the more opportunities we have to fall in love with Jesus. And His blood remains. And His blood cleanses. And we love Him all over again because of it.

Every person wants to be loved the way they were loved in the beginning. It seems natural then to conclude that God also would want the same. Every new day is an opportunity for us to look at our loved ones and be thankful for their presence in our lives. By their simply being there and loving us we can appreciate what they mean to us and fall deeper in love with them - one day at a time.

When you woke up today I hope your first though was Jesus. I hope your second thought was of a very special person here on earth who loves you. And I hope that each day that you live God will grant you the ability to keep falling in love with them over and over again.

“The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: ‘Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you.’” – Jeremiah 31:3

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Part of You God Doesn't Have Yet

One hundred percent! We have made an effort for this Sunday to have all of those people in attendance who have made themselves a part of the local congregation here at Willow. This is an impossible task. Some people will be sick or shut-in. Some people will be traveling. Some people will decide not to come. Some people will be at work. Some people will somehow not know about it (they must live on Mars).  So many barriers stand between us and one hundred percent. But does this mean we should not try?

Obstacles in life can remind us that there are things that are keeping us from completely belonging to God. Even if you are a strong and faithful Christian, there is a part of you that God doesn’t have yet. Although you may argue for it, you cannot convince me that you have given God everything. Your effort may be admirable and even worthy of imitation, but your activity gives you away. Be honest with yourself. It may be your thoughts, it may be your time, it may be your love – it really could be just about anything. The most important question deals with whether or not you have been able to identify which part of yourself you have been holding back from the Lord – and whether or not you plan to give it to him.

God knows everything about us. He knows every thought in our mind. He knows what our goals are. He knows what we are doing now and what we did five minutes ago. He knows for certain what part we have been holding back from him. He not only knows about it, but he desires for us to give it to him. This truth has been exemplified throughout human history in God’s interaction with mankind. Why else ask Abraham to offer Isaac? Why else ask for daily sacrifices from Israel? Why else consider the greatest commandment of all to be to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength? God wants to know if we truly love him altogether. After all, this is the way he loves us.

The Bible says, “Blessed are those who keep His testimonies, who seek Him with the whole heart!” (Psalm 119:2). The beginning of giving God our all has to do with what we are seeking. If we have no intentions to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus, then we cannot be his disciples. Though we will always fall short of God’s glory, our Lord will be satisfied with our effort to be like him and much as possible. If we run the race with less than our very best we have missed the whole point of even running (1 Cor. 9:24).

There is something extremely exciting about unreached potential. It means we still have a purpose. It means we can still make gains. It means we can do more than we have ever done before. It means the future can be better than the past. God made us people with unlimited spiritual potential because he knew we needed hope. He created us in such a way that in the flesh we would never be perfect. God wants us striving, reaching, trying, so that one day when we have given all we can give and yet we have still failed to be just like him, he can take us home by his grace. In that moment God will know that we loved him because we gave everything we had. In that moment we will know how much he loves us because he accepted us in our weakness. In that moment there will be no more need to try, because God will have accomplished it all. In that moment we will give him all the glory and worship him in joy for eternity.

“I entreated Your favor with my whole heart; Be merciful to me according to Your word.” – Psalm 119:58