Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Week Three - Believe

“Be not afraid, only believe.”  Mark 5:36  

“Only believe, only believe.  All things are possible, only believe”.  This is the only phrase of this song that has stayed with me.  I sing it when I need to be reminded.  There is nothing too hard for God.  There is nothing out of his control.  I need not fear whatever is before me – I have only to believe.
But believe what?  In this passage a man named Jarius has a daughter who has just been pronounced dead.  He had been trying to get Jesus there before she died so he could heal her, but it appeared to be too late.  Jesus’ words came straight to Jarius, “Be not afraid, only believe.”  And then, Jesus restored the girl to life.
It shows me that when bad news comes we need to focus on hearing Jesus’ words and we need to believe Him.  We need to keep our confidence in Christ no matter what news we hear.  We can believe that He will act for good in our behalf.  We can believe that He will keep the promises of His Word.  We can believe that He is the Master of the universe and able to subdue the world.  We can believe that he will do what is for the best.  We can depend upon Him.
So when you hear bad or disturbing news do you allow fear to take over, or, do you calm down and hear the words of Jesus and believe Him?

“Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”  Galatians 3:6
Abraham was certainly a man of faith. He went out from his wealthy home in Ur to look for a city of God.  He became a sojourner and watched God protect and increase him.  He had all sorts of family problems, personal struggles and made mistakes.  Yet his faith was strong.  Strong enough that he was willing to sacrifice his long awaited promised son.  Though many times things looked really bad for him, he did not lose his faith in God.
This isn’t a righteousness based on works.  It is a righteousness based in belief.  He counted God faithful and did not doubt.  He is an example for us. 
Now, we are unlikely to hear God call us to do the things Abraham did, but we are still called to believe God.  We will face hardships, family problems, personal struggles, and might even be called upon to sacrifice something or someone we love, but none of those things should deter us from our believing faith in God.
It pays to believe God. God will always honour those who honour Him.  He will bless those who bless Him.  Believing God is to put your confidence in Him.  It is to rest assured of His hand in every area of your life.  Believing God brings not only the reward of eternal life, but also the favour of God in this life.
Are you missing out?  Do your doubts keep the blessings of God at bay in your life?  Do you really believe God is able?  God is willing?  God is good?

“But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”  Hebrews 11:6  
“…believe that he is…”  I like the way Barnes explains this little phrase, he writes:  “That God exists.  This is the first thing required in worship…we do not see him, but we must believe that he is; we cannot form in our mind a correct image of God, but this should not prevent a conviction that there is such a Being.  But the declaration here implies more than that there should be a general persuasion of the truth that there is a God.  It is necessary that we have this belief in lively exercise in the act of drawing near to him, and that we should realize that we are actually in the presence of the all-seeing Jehovah.”
I believe that God is.  Do you?  I try to formulate some sort of image of what I think God might look like, but to no real avail.  How about you?  But just because I can’t pin Him down, that doesn’t cause me to lose my faith.  Does it you?  I believe that God is because the heavens declare the glory of God.  I believe that God is because I know the work He has done in my life.  I believe that God is because I can see Him working in the lives of those around me.  I believe that God is.  Do you?
And if you do, then you must also believe that He will reward your faith in him.  If you do, then you will call upon Him in prayer.  You will draw to Him in times of trouble and in times of great joy.  He will be an active part of your life and you will be pleasing to Him.

“Jesus said unto him, If thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth. And straightway the father of the child cried out, and said with tears,  “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.”  Mark 9:23-24  
This is a really interesting story.  It starts back in verse 14 with the scribes questioning the disciples. A large crowd had gathered. Seems this man had brought his son to the disciples and they had not been able to cast out the demon.  The child had been in this state for several years. 
I can just hear the scribes and disciples reasoning and questioning among themselves as to why the child was possessed.  Had his parent’s sinned?  Had the child sinned?  Was God punishing the parents? 
Then, the accusations. Were the disciples charlatans? Did they really know how to help the boy?  Were they in it for the fame or glory?  Were all of the stories of Jesus healing and casting out demons really true?
Then, Jesus comes upon the scene and addresses the father. My heart always goes out to him.  He so desperately wants to have his child healed.  He had already allowed the disciples to try. Then, when confronted with the fact that believing is the prerequisite, he sees his human weakness and cries out for help with his own need. 
I believe this man is throwing his utter dependence upon the Lord.  He knows that his faith/belief is not adequate to the task of healing his son.  By that knowledge alone he is showing that his belief is in Jesus.  There is no pretense, no superficial piety or spiritual pride, just simple belief that Jesus is able not only to heal the child, but also to give the faith necessary to the father.
This is the point where believe has power.  When we come to realize that all our efforts and surmising are of none effect and pour our hearts out before the Lord in faith believing – then - all things are possible!

“…I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
 II Timothy 1:12
“…I know whom I have believed…” I know him.  I know what He has done for me.  I know who He is – the King of glory.  I made a choice to believe because I saw His power, His sacrifice, and His love.
Knowing that He is God Almighty gives strength to my faith.  Knowing that He is the Messiah brings confidence.  Knowing that He is the Great Shepherd brings comfort.  Knowing that He is the Bread of Life gives me sustenance. And I could go on and on with what is known about Him.
I am fortunate.  I know him and so I believe in Him and on Him.  There is no doubt in my mind that he is able to keep my trust.  But what about those who have not heard?  How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?”  (Romans 10:14)  With all this study on believing, the reward of believing, the power of believing, it reminds me that there are those who have never heard, those who have yet to believe.

If I am so confident that He is able...then why am I not sharing my belief more actively?  Why am I content to enjoy my believing and withhold it from others?

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Week Two - Anger

“He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly…”  
Proverbs 14:17
Basically, a Christian should not be a “hot-head”.  Quick responses of anger reveal a heart that is not controlled and passions that will bring nothing but more exasperation and frustration.  The writer of Proverbs goes so far as to link anger with foolishness.  A quick-tempered person will make rash decisions and speak sharp, harmful words.  The result will only be more trouble.
Proverbs 15:18 states, “A wrathful man stirreth up strife…”  He causes trouble as he goes along.  His quick words and foolish attitude bring him shame.  He is not willing to listen to others, but thinks he has to have the first and last word.  Proverbs 18:13 says that it is “a folly and a shame” to him.  Proverbs goes on to say in 19:19 that a “man of great wrath shall suffer punishment: for if thou deliver him, yet thou must do it again.”
So, while he thinks that his anger will chase his problems away, it actually only brings him more trouble, more punishment, and he will have to learn self-control over and over again.
The lesson is to learn to control our passions.  To listen before we speak; to be a person willing to lay aside or deter our emotional responses so as to avoid playing the fool.
What about you?  Do you burst forth before you think about the consequences?  Do you spit, splutter and stew as a general attitude of life?  Are you known as a “hot-head”?  Maybe you need to take this to the Lord?

“…whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger…”  
Matthew 5:22
To get the complete teaching of this verse you need to read from verse 21 through 26.  Christ is in the midst of the Sermon on the Mount.  He is laying out a new way of living – a new commandment.  He starts with one of the Ten Commandments – thou shalt not kill – and begins teaching on the danger of being angry with a brother without a cause.
So, why would a person be angry without a cause?  Just for the fun of it?  Because of a misunderstanding?  Out of jealousy or envy?  Out of the desire to get his own way? You have to ask yourself…have I ever felt anger at someone when I knew they had not really done anything wrong?  And you have to answer…yes. 
Matthew Henry states, “Anger is a natural passion, but it is sinful when we are angry without a cause….This is a breach of the sixth commandment, for he that is thus angry, would kill if he could and durst: he has taken the first step towards it.”  So we see how the commandment not to kill and the warning against being angry without a cause are linked.
Where does this sort of anger come from?  The sinfulness of our own hearts, pride, self-promotion and other such attitudes breed this type of response to perceived threats and hurts.  Like the saying, “wearing our feelings on our sleeves”, a person unaware of the capability of the flesh might not even realize how damaging it is to allow this type of anger to have a part in their lives.
Jesus gives us the immediate remedy.  Verse 24 – go and confess your anger to the one you have ought against.  Do it immediately, Verse 25.  Or, it will cost you, Verse 26.  Like the root of bitterness, this type of anger will seat itself in your heart and you will be looking for future offenses and eventually build up a pot of anger that will spill over.
Do you have this type of anger residing in your life?  It might be hard to admit.  It will be a hard pill to swallow as you make it right.  No one links to “eat crow”, but it is best to face up to it!  Humble yourself and go and confess to your neighbor.  It will be a lesson you won’t soon forget and it will serve to warn you against such attitudes in the future.

Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” 
Ephesians 4:26
This is probably the one verse that most people have heard about anger. It simply states that when anger comes, we should control it so it does not become sinful and we should settle the matter before sunset.  This is a simple instruction, yet one not always easy to fulfill.
Some types of anger have a place in our lives.  Anger comes when we feel threatened.  It is usually involuntary and consequently innocent, as Barnes states.  It is a prompter to self-protection and when the threat is taken away, the anger subsides or ceases.  However, sometimes, we choose not to allow it to cease.  We persevere in it. We allow it to grow or fester.  We start to desire to rebuke our offender or to injure him.  Then, it becomes sinful.
We don’t like to think of ourselves like this.  We think we would never act this way, but truly, nearly everyone of us will have to admit that there have been times when we just had a hard time letting go of an offense.  When we have gone to bed angry and woke angry.  And, we knew we were doing wrong, but everything in our flesh was crying out for vengeance and justice for our own personal cause.
We were not thinking about the consequences of our anger, only our desire to “get even”.  We can be sure that this type of anger is sinful.  It is stubborn and based in pride.  We just don’t want to admit we are wrong in holding on to the hurt and allowing anger to have control. 
The trouble is that usually we are the one who pays the price.  We suffer sleepless nights, high blood pressure, ulcers and a bad attitude all because we are not willing to resolve the issue.  Meanwhile, the person with whom we are angry goes merrily on their way unaware and unaffected.  That makes us even angrier.  Rather a vicious cycle, wouldn’t you say?
Does this type of anger have a hold on you?  Do you have knots in your stomach as you seethe?  Do you allow a wall of anger to keep you separated from friends or family as you wait to see vengeance fall on them?  Better be checking….

“He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.” Proverbs 16:32
Lest we spend the whole of this study on the negative, let’s look at anger from another angle.  If we are slow to anger, if we learn self-control in our responses and cast aside our pride, we come out the better.
The old practice of counting to ten still has a place.  Being slow to anger does not say that we have conquered the emotion, only that we choose its decibels. We measure our anger rather than letting it be the measure of us.  Being slow in expressing anger means that we can quickly stop and calm ourselves. 
The result is might.  We become stronger.  We rule our spirit.  This requires true wisdom and steady management.
I remember when this verse came alive to me.  I was a young mother with too many little ones.  I would get overwhelmed with the volume of work, noise, crying and demands.  I began to see myself as some screaming banshee and I did not like the picture.  God brought this verse to my attention.  “Learn to rule your spirit”, He said, “and I will help you.”  And He did.
Slowly I began to think about the situations that would bring me down.  I made better preparation.  I made sure I was rested and ate properly.  I did the things that would strengthen me instead of allowing my passions to have control.  I did my part, and God did his!  Consequently, everyone around me benefited!
What about you?  Are you living only on emotion?  Are you out of control?  Why not ask the Lord for help?

…when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts…”  Mark 3:5
This is a statement about Jesus himself.  He looked on the people around him with anger.  This is not sinful anger.  It is not anger that is spiteful or revengeful.  It is an indignation and grief brought on by the action of another.  Their hearts were hard.  He could see down to their core and it upset him.  Rather than lash out, he decided to channel that anger into good.  So, right there he healed the man with the withered hand.
This is one of the best uses of anger – channeling it for good.  That is what happens when people champion a cause.  MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Drivers is but one example. This mother was angry at the loss of her son, but instead of allowing that anger to overtake her, she channeled that anger into creating awareness and bringing forth legislation to make things better.
You might not be ready for this type of challenge, but you can still learn to channel you anger for good.  Clean a closet, take a walk, sing – did you know you can hardly be angry while you sing?  Just try it…when you feel upset at a situation, choose not to lash out.  Redirect that energy into something more beneficial.

Anger is a strong emotion, but it doesn’t have to defeat us.  We can use that strength for good.  We can allow it to make us stronger – not harder or angrier.  Used properly it can give us moral fiber and vibrancy.  Next time anger rears it’s ugly head – face it with the challenge of overcoming evil with good.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Week One - Always

 “Now thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ…”
 II Corinthians 2:14
Here the definition of the word “always” holds more than the simple connotation of continually or evermore.  It means - to be so at all times and growing more and more.  Our victory in Christ is not only consistent and continual, but it is always the truth and it becomes more and more apparent to us over the passage of time and through the channels of spiritual experience.
I am more confident in the sufficiency and supply of my Saviour for my spiritual and ministerial needs today than I was ten years ago.  But that does not mean that I was not triumphing in Christ back then.  I was, just at a different level in my Christian growth.  Further, I will be more confident in the sufficiency and supply of my Saviour ten years from now than I am today.  My victory in Christ is just as secure today as it was and as it will be.  This is true at all times, and yet, growing more solid with the passage of time.
A defeatist attitude has no place in the service of Christ.  As His servants we must remember that the battle is the Lord’s.  We are but tools in His capable hands and He always gains the victory.  Keeping our eyes firmly planted on the Leader will help us to see the victories and thereby increase our faith. 
Someone wrote:  “Don’t confuse your path with your destination.  Just because its stormy now doesn’t mean you aren’t headed for sunshine.” Might sound a bit trite in comparison to this verse, but it brings home the point.  Triumph requires battles.  But we know the end of the story – Christ will be triumphant and we will be at His side.
How about you?  Are you more confident in Christ today than you were ten years ago?  Can you see that the passage of time has increased your faith?  Answered some of your questions?  Brought you into many victories?  Or, are you letting the current battle cause you to forget the triumph you have in Christ?

“And the Lord commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the Lord our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as it is at this day.” 
Deuteronomy 6:24
The definition of “always” in this verse holds yet another idea.  The word comes from three Hebrew words and can be defined as:  daily for an indefinite period for everyone collectively.
Moses is in the middle of his long sermon, which contains the Ten Commandments.  He is admonishing Israel to be obedient to the Lord and to the commands that have been given.  He has reminded them of their escape from Egypt and of the future promised land.  Life is going to be very different for them.  No longer slaves, no longer under Egyptian rule, they are now free men, but under God’s law.  Where Egypt’s rule was for the benefit of the Pharaoh, God’s rule is for their own benefit – “for our good always”.
God’s desire is to bless Israel.  He wants to bless all of them – every day – indefinitely.  Such is His love.  No one is left out.  No one excluded.  No one overlooked.  He is good and all about being good.  I like this thought.  I hear people speak as though God has overlooked them.  This shows me that He has not and does not overlook people.  His will of goodness toward us, as his children, is daily for an indefinite period for every one of us collectively, and individually.
Obedience to God’s commands keeps us in the place of blessing, and, according to this verse may very well keep us alive.  Like a good Father, God knows that his children need boundaries.  His boundaries are not designed to lock his children away, inhibit their growth or expression, but rather, to keep them safe and to give them good - good gifts the New Testament says.
Have you found yourself mully-grubbing about the way God treats you?  Do you think God has overlooked you?  He hasn’t.  His goodness is daily for an indefinite period for everyone collectively, and that includes you.

“Let your speech be always with grace…” Colossians 4: 6 
“…always laboring fervently for you in prayers…” Colossians 4:12 
“But we are bound to give thanks always to God for you…” II Thessalonians 2:13 
Again, the definition is - daily for an indefinite period for every one of us collectively.  If we look at the three verses we can find three distinct things that should be active in each of us daily and continually.
Colossians 4:6 says we should be always guarding our speech.  Our words should be graceful, or, full of grace.  That means savory, discreet, seasonable.  The definition of savory has taken on a different idea for me since living in England.  Here they do not eat savory and sweet together.  Savory food is meat and potatoes.  Sweet is dessert.  They do not go on the same plate.
If we apply that definition to this verse we can see that words seasoned with salt or graceful are not necessarily always the sweet words.  Sometimes people need to hear the meat and potatoes!  Stuff with substance – healthy words to grow on!  But they must be served tastefully!
Colossians 4:12 says that we should be hard at work in prayer. Fervently means with heat.  Without prayer we grow cold, so we need to “hot up” our prayer life always!  Each day we need to be actively serving others by holding them up in genuine, expressive prayer. Jack Taylor wrote that the work of the ministry is prayer.  After that, God does the rest.  Every one of us can have this part in the ministry – always – and for the benefit of everyone collectively.
II Thessalonians 2:13 reminds us that we are to be grateful, thankful creatures.  However, this verse is not speaking of a thankful heart for our food, clothing and shelter.  It is thankfulness for our fellow soldiers and brethren.  Paul was thankful for the Thessalonians who had come to know Christ and were facing trials and troubles.  He wanted to encourage them to stand fast and stay faithful.  He needed to be thankful for them, and they needed to hear of his thankfulness and receive this comfort and encouragement – a collective thankfulness.
So – time for a few questions.  Are you serving up tasteful, savory words?  Are you praying with some real passion and fervor?  Are you openly expressing thankfulness to and for your fellow brethren?  These three things should be daily for an indefinite period for every one of us collectively.

As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing… II Corinthians 6:10 
Paul is giving his definition of ministry.  It really makes for some hard reading from verses 3 –10.  Matthew Henry divides it up this way.
To be a servant of God one must do so by:
1.    Much patience in afflictions – verses 4-5

“But in all things approving ourselves as the ministers of God, in much patience, in afflictions, in necessities, in distresses, in stripes, in imprisonments, in tumults, in labours, in watchings, in fastings..”

2.    By acting from good principles – verses 6-7

“…by pureness, by knowledge, by longsuffering, by kindness, by the Holy Ghost, by love unfeigned, by the word of truth, by the power of God, by the armour of righteousness on the right hand and on the left…”

3.    By due temper and behavior under all the variety of conditions – verses 8-10

“By honour and dishonor, by evil report and good report: as deceivers, and yet true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and, behold, we life; as chastened, and not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things.”

So when we come to this always rejoicing we need to know that this means exactly that – always, evermore.  It is amazing that this instruction comes near the end of this long list of hardships.  Ministry is obviously not for the faint hearted.  It is important to note as well that the rejoicing is not in what they had suffered, or so much about what they might have accomplished, but it is to be in God as when we come to Philippians 4:4 – “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say, Rejoice.”  Always – at all times – and growing more and more. 
Rejoicing is not only for the minister, but for the flock as well.  All will endure trials and sorrows, but the main response should always be one of rejoicing – rejoicing in the Lord.
Are you burdened down with heartaches and trials?  Does sorrow cast shadows on your life? Why not lay it all aside and do a bit of rejoicing as a servant of the Most High God?

“…having always a conscience void of offense toward God and man.” Acts 24:16 
A guilty, nagging conscience is a hard thing to live with.  Keeping a clear conscience does not happen by haphazard living.  Throughout Scripture we are instructed to “take heed”, to examine and judge ourselves, and to be ready and willing to confess our faults and make things right as we go through life.
Small things left unattended or swept under the carpet will collect and grow into bigger problems.  Some writers talk about “keeping short accounts”.  By this they mean diligently dealing with each hurt or misunderstanding that comes through life instead of letting things grow out of proportion. 
I know in my own life that when I leave something unattended it stalks me.  I begin to listen to my inner voice of condemnation or justification and my fear about confrontation grows larger than the initial problem.  I also know that when I am courageous enough to obey God’s directives that things are sorted out much quicker and with less spiritual pain.
Paul is saying here that he always works toward keeping a clear conscience in all things pertaining to God and pertaining to those around him.  I don’t think that means he wanders around looking for offenses, but I think that he is perceptive and responsive in the face of potentially hurtful situations.  He is ready always with an answer and ready to forgive.
The definition of “always” here is continual or constant. This was a pattern of Paul’s life.  He did not want to be a stumbling block, so he took care of things and directed his life in a manner that would please God and man.

Do you do the same?  Or is there a trail of devastation behind you by the way you have treated people, or held on to old grudges?  Is there someone to whom you need to grant forgiveness – or – someone from whom you need to ask forgiveness?  Is your conscience clear or nagging?