Take the Faith Step…

Have you ever noticed in your life of faith, that God will call you to ‘step out in faith’ before He comes through?

That really is be design.

After all, as Hebrews 1:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for anyone who comes to Him must first believe that He exists, and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him.” 

The belief and the seeking must come first…then the blessing of the ‘reward’–in this case, a close relationship with Him–comes later.

Proverbs 3:9-10 says: “Honor the Lord with your wealth,
    with the first-fruits of all your crops;
then your barns will be filled to overflowing,
    and your vats will brim over with new wine.”

Giving to the Lord first–before anything else–is the kind of worshipful faith that God will then bless.

 

In Elijah’s day, he was sent to a widow. The drought that Elijah had pronounced, because of the evil of king Ahab and the worship of false gods in Israel was already severe, and this widow was gathering some sticks to make a fire so that she could make a small loaf of bread with the little she had left, and she and her child could eat it as their last meal and die.

Pretty bleak times, indeed!

Yet, what did Elijah say?

1 Kings 17: 13-14:

“Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.14 For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: ‘The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”.

He told her to step out in faith…to give him (the Prophet) bread first, and that the Lord would supply her needs!

What did she do?

vv. 15-16: “She went away and did as Elijah had told her. So there was food every day for Elijah and for the woman and her family. 16 For the jar of flour was not used up and the jug of oil did not run dry, in keeping with the word of the Lord spoken by Elijah.”

God wants us to live, by faith! He often demands that we demonstrate faith–in His love, His Word, His character and His promises–before He comes through.

Live by faith today–first and foremost, faith in Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross…but more than that, live by faith, trusting in God to come through, according to His promises.

It’s the most ‘excellent adventure’ that there is!

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No Rest for YOU!

One of my favorite ‘Seinfeld’ episodes from years ago was called ‘Soup Nazi’. There was a chef in New York who was very temperamental, and IF you wanted soup from him, you had to make sure to conduct yourself according to his ‘code’ while in his shop…otherwise you’d here the phrase, “No soup for YOU!”, and you’d get kicked out. Soup Nazi

Fortunately for us, God’s approach is very different than that, however, many don’t understand that. In fact, many–outside the Church, and even inside of it–believe God to be like that temperamental chef, and if we ‘mess up’, He’s going to say something like ‘No Rest for YOU! No Salvation for YOU! No Grace for YOU!’

The truth is that, IF it were up to us–our heart and behavior–we would stand condemned. Not because God is irrational or moody, but because we have rebelled against His righteous, holy standards. By ourselves, we can do nothing to change that.

The Scriptures make it clear: Romans 3:23: “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”; Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way”; Ephesians 2:1: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins…”

That’s the ‘bad news’ of the Gospel.

Fortunately for us, however, God didn’t let it end there.

Instead, He provided for One–Jesus–to be the ‘Atoning Sacrifice’ for our sin, and to earn our forgiveness…the Perfect One substituting Himself for the imperfect ones…the Righteous One paying the price of us, sinners.

Romans 3:23-24:for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”

Isaiah 53:6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Ephesians 2:1-5: As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time,gratifying the cravings of our flesh[a] and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.”

That’s the Good News of the Gospel!

Here’s the crucial…life-changing…ETERNAL Truth that YOU need to deal with:

God loves you and wants to welcome you in…but you need to repent of your sin and receive His forgiveness, by faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

God wants us to have ‘Rest’…real, eternal rest!

‘Yes–Rest for YOU!

But…sadly, many of us would rather try to figure out our own answers.

We try to either: 1) Write God, Himself, off as an ‘invention’ of people who were more ‘primitive’, and less ‘enlightened’ than we are; 2) Convince God (and ourselves),  that we’re ‘not that bad’ and that we don’t really need His forgiveness or Jesus’ sacrifice; or 3) Show God that we’re going to try to ‘straighten up and fly right’, and that we’ll just try harder.

We invent ways to make ourselves righteous, hoping to placate Him.

This is nothing new.

The people of Israel, who should have known better, did it continually.

They would try to ‘figure out their own answers’, yet they’d miss God completely. Therefore, they’d be disciplined by God–out of His love, and for their own good–to bring them back to Himself.

He–their loving God and Heavenly Father–wanted to show them love and compassion…but it’s as if they said “NO!” “No Rest for ME!”

Isaiah 30:15-18:

“In repentance and rest is your salvation,
    in quietness and trust is your strength,
    but you would have none of it.
16 You said, ‘No, we will flee on horses.’
    Therefore you will flee!
You said, ‘We will ride off on swift horses.’
    Therefore your pursuers will be swift!
17 A thousand will flee
    at the threat of one;
at the threat of five
    you will all flee away,
till you are left
    like a flagstaff on a mountaintop,
    like a banner on a hill.”

18 Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show you compassion.
For the Lord is a God of justice.
Blessed are all who wait for him!”

We’re pretty similar to them.

We try to figure out our own answers…our own ‘solutions’ to our personal and societal problems. We figure that, if we can just pass the right laws, put the right safeguards in place, elect the right politicians, then we can ‘have rest’.

Yet, this will never be the case–as a society, or as an individual.

You and I CANNOT have real ‘Rest’ apart from Jesus the Christ…because, apart from Him, we remain dead…separated from God.

The GREAT news?

We don’t have to stay there!

Through repentance and faith, we can be forgiven–and have New Life, in Jesus!

Then–and only then–can we hope to hear, ‘Yes! Rest for YOU!’

 

 

Boldly Follow God’s Call!

You want to follow God, right?

You want to know His will and do it.

You want to listen for His voice, then follow.

…and you assume that your family and friends want to support you in doing so…right?

Not necessarily.

For sure, most of us have family members or friends who will support us in our desire to follow God. Some will even support you, for example, on a Missions Trip–even if they, personally do not have any interest in ever going on one.

However, there are times when those you care about will not support you.

Luke 12:51–53: Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against each other, three against two and two against three. They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Note: The ‘division’ is caused when Jesus calls us to follow and others don’t want us to. It is impossible to ‘follow Him’ and ‘follow others’ at the same time. The division is caused because many–even, at times, those we know and love–do not want to follow Him, and actively oppose any who do.

There are many times that the culture around you will not only ‘withhold support’, but will actively oppose you! In fact, there are times that they will launch an all-out assault against you for doing so!

Ezra 3:3: “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening sacrifices.”

When God calls you to follow Him in some endeavor–stepping out in faith to do so–don’t let those around you sway you! Instead, make sure–through Prayer, the Word, the wisdom of other godly men and women, and the testimony and leading of the Holy Spirit within–that you are ‘on track’ with the Lord. If, after these things, you still think you hear clearly what He wants you to do, pray and DO IT!

There will be times when everyone gets in line behind you and cheers you on. Be thankful for those times.

However, don’t ‘depend on’ them. Instead, be led by the Spirit!

Romans 8:5-9:

“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.”

When He leads…FOLLOW!

 

 

You Do What YOU Can Do!

Living at peace can be hard.

Add other people to your life, and it gets really tough!

As I mentioned last Sunday in church, conflict is everywhere! We usually don’t have to go looking for conflict…it finds us fairly easily.

There are many ways it gets started…someone says something you take offense to, someone takes credit for your work, someone accuses you wrongly…the situations are almost innumerable.

The real question is, What do you DO about it?

As I mentioned briefly Sunday, there are 3 types of people in this world (even within most churches): Peace-TAKERS, Peace-FAKERS, and Peace-MAKERS. Let me target, specifically, Christians who fill these roles.

Peace-TAKERS are those who try to stir up controversy and division. These are gossips, and those who get into debates about everything from politics to the music in the church to the ways the church is spending money to the Pastors’ outfit. They may have heard something about a church member that is potentially serious, but rather than go to that brother/sister, they tell others about it…’for prayer’.

Peace-FAKERS are those who try to Pretend that everything’s fine. They want to keep up a veneer of peace, so they minimize every conflict, almost to a comical extreme. People like this simply refuse to admit when there are interpersonal problems, because ‘Christians shouldn’t have problems’ like this. These people invest a huge amount of emotional energy in keeping the appearance of peace, but can never really relax and enjoy their relationships, because their relationships don’t grow beyond the superficial.

Peace-MAKERS are those who see both of the above, and have a desire to work through it. They may see elements of the above within themselves–but they know it’s not right, and want to change. More than anything, they know that the Lord wants His children to ‘seek peace and pursue it’ (Psalm 34:14), and they want to heed Jesus’ words: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.” (Matthew 5:9). 

But the question remains, What Should We Do in order to make peace?

I think a few quick guidelines are helpful:

1. Commit to communicate.  

So often, there is conflict because of misunderstanding of words/intent. If you think things are strained, TALK about it (not via text or email). Matthew 18:15:  “If your brother or sister sins, against you, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.”

2. Keep short accounts. 

Everybody messes up. Everybody hurts feelings from time to time. Forgive and move on. Don’t keep bringing past wrongs back up…that’s not forgiveness! Proverbs 19:11: “A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.”

3. Assume the best.

1 Corinthians 13:7 “Love always trusts” (or “Love Believes the Best”). Assume that your Christian brother/sister is indwelt by the Holy Spirit, and therefore wants peace and healing, just like you do. Don’t believe the gossip–if they’re willing to gossip about the ‘other’, they’re probably willing to gossip about you. Give the benefit of the doubt.

4. Be Gracious. 

You did not deserve God’s grace or forgiveness, yet He gave it because of His love and character. Extend that grace to others–even if they don’t ‘deserve’ it.  Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

5. Do what you can do.

Ultimately, even if you’ve tried those things, you may not be able to reach a ‘peaceful’ solution. The other person might not cooperate! Simply make sure that–for your part–you’re doing everything you can to help. Romans 12:17-18: “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

If you and I do all these things, there is a very good possibility that you and I will experience Peace, and we will become Peacemakers…and our world NEEDS many more of those!

Want to hear the message from last Sunday? Go here:

http://kalamazoocommunitychurch.com/KCCpodcast/2016/01/24/move-forward-be-gracious-youve-received-it-now-show-it-01242016/

Reacting to ‘Offense’…What’s a Christian to do?

‘Offense’ is everywhere!

A Pastor online took ‘offense’ to Starbucks not having Christmas decor on their cups, so he made a video and called for boycotts. Donald Trump got into the mix and encouraged a boycott too…and promised that “If I’m elected President, we’re going to be saying ‘Merry Christmas’ again.”

Seriously?

In Missouri at the UofM, a drunk college student used racial slurs against other college students. In another incident, a ‘swastika’ was allegedly put on a building on campus in human feces…and off campus, someone in a red truck hurled a racial slur as they sped down the road. Students demanded action on the part of the University to stop it, and when the actions weren’t enough, they called on the President and the Chancellor of the University to resign. They did. Now the students have made a list of demands, chief among them, the creation of a ‘safe place’ on campus where (presumably) no ‘offense’ will be given. In any way. Ever.

The campus police have actually told students to call to report any threatening, hurtful or offensive speech or behavior.

Seriously? Call the police if someone hurts your feelings?

At Yale University the President and Board sent out an email cautioning students last week from dressing for Halloween in any costume that ‘might be perceived as offensive’ to other students.

Seriously? Halloween costumes?

Another Professor at Yale disagreed with that and sent out an email saying that College Students are at the age where they can make their own decisions, and that they should be able to dress in whatever costumes they want, even if it might be ‘offensive’ to some.

Now there has been a major backlash against that professor and her husband, calls for their resignation by student groups who demand the right not to be offended!

Seriously?

Now, today I saw on the news–local and national–that Target is under fire for a Christmas sweater. It is red and has these words: “I have Obsessive CHRISTMAS Disorder”. Mental Health groups are calling for Target to apologize and cease selling the sweater, because it ‘makes fun of a very serious disorder (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder).

Seriously?

What has happened to us?

Have we become a nation of people so fragile that any real–or even perceived–slight or offense is a federal case? Have we become so ‘soft’ that we give other people so much power over our emotional state that any offensive (or perceived offense) they do is grounds for us to stop everything and demand a public apology, someone’s resignation, or maybe even a change in laws?

I will simply say…as one who has been offended and even hurt by people over the years…that I am very concerned about our culture. If this is what our future leaders are standing up for–the demand to ‘safe places’ where they can insure that they will Never. Be. Offended–I don’t think this bodes well for our future.

The reality, of course, is that people are going to disagree with me, you, and everyone else. Sometimes they are going to disagree in ‘disagreeable’ ways. Should you immediately call for their jobs, their apologies, or payment in some other way?

I propose something better.

Discussion.

Respectful, thoughtful, mature and controlled discussion of the things that are perceived as ‘hurtful’, and why the one doing the ‘offending’ should be more sensitive…AND why the who was ‘offended’ should chill out!

Sometimes we need to realize that there are times and places where you–your opinion, your politics, your religion, etc.–are not going to be accepted. Sometimes you may even be teased. Sometimes someone is going to say something mean to you.

Unfortunately, that’s life.

Should we work for tolerance, respect and diversity? Yes.

Can we DEMAND it by crowd vigilante-ism, policy and laws? No. It simply will not work. As we’ve often heard ‘you can’t legislate morality’. Similarly, we can’t legislate ‘beliefs’. We can’t legislate changes in the heart.

So…As A Christian, what are we to do in these situations? How should we handle ‘offense’? How should we encourage others to do so? Here are a few suggestions:

 

  1. Be Respectful: “As much as it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with all” (Romans 12:18). As Christ followers, we need to be loving and respectful of all people, even those who disagree with us. We need to realize that this world (and even America itself) is not a ‘Theocracy’ this is not ‘heaven on earth’. There will be times that things don’t go the way we think (based on the Word of God) they should. Speak your mind. Try to influence others to go God’s way…but do it respectfully. (See 1 Peter 3:15).
  2. Be Gracious: When others wrong you or you see a real-or-perceived ‘offense’, don’t immediately assume that the other person intended to offend. Check it out. Have a reasonable conversation. Talk to them (or at least ‘Message’ them privately). Seek to speak up for yourself and your point of view, but do NOT be militant or ‘demanding’. Show grace and patience. In that way you may win them over. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them…Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all!” (Romans 12:14, 16)
  3. Be Forgiving: Frankly, there ARE going to be times when you are mistreated. Count on it. We live in a fallen, sin-sickened world that is bent on SELF. Therefore, people will be rude and insensitive to you at times. They may call you names. They may spit on you. They may do worse! But as a Christian, we know that we are ‘citizens of heaven’ more than citizens of this earth. We know that ‘this world is not our home’, and that we look to our Lord and Savior as our example. “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.

    He never sinned,
        nor ever deceived anyone.
    He did not retaliate when he was insulted,
        nor threaten revenge when he suffered.
    He left his case in the hands of God,
        who always judges fairly.” (1 Peter 2:21-23)

    4. Be Reasonable: One of the many things this culture needs is good examples of people who can get along–not by ‘caving’ to pressure, not by pretending that they don’t have reasonable points, but who can be an example of ‘not taking themselves too seriously’. Learn to laugh at yourself, or others in your ‘camp’. I remember laughing at some funny skits about George W Bush on Saturday Night Live when he was in office–even though I supported him. Last week I saw a funny skit about what the Presidency under Donald Trump would look like–it was genuinely funny! Don’t be ‘one of those’ people who are perpetually offended. Get over yourself. Lighten up! “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” (Romans 12:3) “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3)                                    

    5) Be Positive: Look, here’s the reality: There are a lot of crabby, offended, overly-sensitive people in the world. They are negative and want everyone else to be along with them. As those who have been redeemed from this world and it’s sin, and who have been given New Life in Christ, and the hope of heaven, YOU BE DIFFERENT! Share the Love of God and Shine the Light of Christ! YOU be the one to bring cookies to the office! YOU be the one to invite that coworker who’s ‘different than you’ to coffee! YOU be the one that tries to brighten up the day of the classmate, neighbor, or whomever. YOU be the ‘breath of fresh air’ in their lives! Philippians 2:14-16:  “Do everything without complaining and arguing, so that no one can criticize you. Live clean, innocent lives as children of God, shining like bright lights in a world full of crooked and perverse people.  Hold firmly to the word of life”.

    You and I–as followers of Jesus–are called to live differently.

    Don’t get caught in the ‘whirlpool of drama’ that is swirling around you…rather, be the one to help others get free from it!

Faith…REAL Faith!

Faith.

Many talk about it.

Many say they have it.

We are exhorted to ‘have faith’ when things aren’t going our way, almost as if it’s synonymous with being optimistic.

That may be nice, but that’s not “FAITH”–not Biblical Faith anyway.

Faith is “the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not yet seen” (Hebrews 11:1) This kind of faith is not just a ‘hope’ it’s a hope BASED ON SOMETHING…more accurately, SomeONE–the Lord!

The writer goes on to say,  And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” (v.6)

My question is this:

Is your faith REAL?

I think ‘faith’–i.e. the basic belief in God, and even in Jesus–is crucial (obviously), however I don’t think the Scriptures are encouraging mere ‘intellectual assent’.

After all, James wrote: “You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God. Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror.” (James 2:19)

At least the demons’ ‘intellectual assent’ leads them to do something–in this case tremble!

Real faith GOES SOMEWHERE!

It DOES something!

It compels action!

This past weekend, our family (and our church) had the pleasure of having Pastor Solomon Mwisege of Uganda stay with us. He is a man who has learned that real faith is faith that COMPELS ACTION! Not just any action, but Spirit-led action! Real faith starts with the conviction that GOD IS STILL WORKING and that He’s looking for people who will let Him work through them!

I want to be that kind of person.

I want our family to be that kind of family.

I want KCC to be that kind of church.

Where faith is active, expectant, bold and Spirit-led.

 

I am CONVINCED that the Lord is looking for people to join His work–actively–here.

I’m ready!

What about you?

 

 

Why do we call THIS ‘Good’?

You can picture it.

Three Crosses

Three crosses on a hillside, the middle one holding Jesus the Nazarene, son of Joseph and Mary.

He’d been beaten beyond recognition, whipped. A ‘crown’ made of thorns had been thrust onto His head, and He’d been marched through the streets, outside the city, and up the hill. Then He’d been nailed–NAILED–to the cross. It had been raised and dropped into the ground with a thud, and the long, tortuous hours of torture and death had begun.

Occasionally, he would push up on the feet–pierced with a nail–so that He could fill His lungs with air.

Then, due to the pain, He’d let some of the pressure off those pierced feet by hanging from His pierced hands.

This torture could have gone on for hours.

Why do we call THIS ‘Good’?

Because it was necessary. It was crucial. It was what He came to do.

“…the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45)

“Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour.” (John 12:27)

He knew why He came…He came to die! It was ‘good’, because He did it out of love. He did it for us. He did it to pay our debt–ours!

He willingly gave His life for us–for all who will call upon Him as Savior and Lord.

And in so doing, He made LIFE available for us, while He fulfilled the prophecies.

Isaiah 53:3-9:

“He was despised and rejected—
    a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief.
We turned our backs on him and looked the other way.
    He was despised, and we did not care.

Yet it was our weaknesses he carried;
    it was our sorrows[a] that weighed him down.
And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God,
    a punishment for his own sins!
But he was pierced for our rebellion,
    crushed for our sins.
He was beaten so we could be whole.
    He was whipped so we could be healed.
All of us, like sheep, have strayed away.
    We have left God’s paths to follow our own.
Yet the Lord laid on him
    the sins of us all.

He was oppressed and treated harshly,
    yet he never said a word.
He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.
    And as a sheep is silent before the shearers,
    he did not open his mouth.
Unjustly condemned,
    he was led away.[b]
No one cared that he died without descendants,
    that his life was cut short in midstream.[c]
But he was struck down
    for the rebellion of my people.
He had done no wrong
    and had never deceived anyone.
But he was buried like a criminal;
    he was put in a rich man’s grave.”

Jesus paid the debt He did not owe so that we could have a life we did not deserve–all because of the grace and mercy of God.

“God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him would not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but so that the world, through Him, could be saved.” (John 3:16-17)

Why do we call ‘Good Friday’ Good?

Because by sacrificing Himself in our place, He earned our forgiveness and redemption.

He made LIFE available for us!

“When he appeared in human form,
    he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
    and gave him the name above all other names,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
    in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue declare that Jesus Christ is Lord,
    to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:8-11)

Make no mistake: Jesus IS Savior and Lord. At His name, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that He IS Lord!

In the meantime, it was His LOVE that made “Good Friday” good…because at the cross is where He showed it most!