Relationships and Getting Prepared (Ephesians 6)

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As we all know, marriage is not the only relationship that we have in this life (aside from our relationship with God). We are also sons and daughters, mothers and fathers, and slaves and masters. These relationships must also display the same sacrificial love that I spoke about yesterday. Paul writes, “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right (6:1, NASB). No matter what we are to listen to our parents. It is even one of the big 10 rules God gave us, the Ten Commandments. When we obey and respect our parents, we show our understanding of God’s authority over us. Just like our parents did when we were little, God sometimes asks us to do thing that we don’t quite understand. We must obey what our Heavenly Father is asking of us, in order to show him honor and glory.

Paul then turns his eyes on parents. “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (6:4, NASB). I know it says “fathers”, but honestly it can be applied to mothers as well. As parents, we should not intentionally do things to harm our children. In speaking about prayer, Jesus asks these questions to the crowd at the Mount, “What man is there among you who, when his son asks for a loaf, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, he will not give him a snake, will he?” (Matthew 7:9-10, NASB). Jesus is talking about God taking care of us, and having our best interests at heart. This same relationship, should be the one that we have in relation to our own children. Care for them and have their best interests at heart.

Some of you may have given your screen a second look when I said “slaves and masters”. I assure you that this relationship still exists in its most basic form, only today we call it employer and employee (or government and citizen). As slaves, it is our duty to obey the authority placed over us. We get this from another of Paul’s writings, “Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.” (Romans 13;1, NASB), or in Jesus’ own words “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above” (John 19:11, NASB). We should treat all authority over us as if it where actually God giving these commands (so long as it aligns with God’s Word). As masters, we are to realize that everyone under our authority is a loved creation of God. We cannot abuse these people and exploit them so that our lives can become a little easier. No matter what, we are not the true masters. Everything has been given to us on loan from the real master in Heaven.

Finally we come to the armor of God. I know that I have heard dozens of sermons and read tons of teachings on the subject of the armor. All I will say is that this armor represents our need to be secure in God, and be prepared for the battles that face us everyday. At some point, we will be questioned for our faith. Someone will ask questions that can shake you if you are not prepared. Knowing who we are in Christ, and knowing what God’s Word has to say to us, is the best thing we can do to prepare for that day. It’s coming, are you ready?

Paul teaches us how to live out our day to day lives in this chapter. No matter what, you have one of these relationships facing you today and the need for preparation for battle. Spend time in the Word everyday. That is my best suggestion I could ever make. Don’t just read your Bible, that doesn’t count. Simply reading your Bible is an intellectual exercise that will barely scratch the surface of what Scripture can do for you. Pray through the Bible. Ask God to show you what you need for the day. Ask Him to enter into your time with Him. This allows us to be prepared for the battles, and helps us to be more like Him in our relationships. It’s hard to be imitators of someone we do not spend much time with. So spend time. I provided some Psalms to pray today if you need some help getting started. But give this practice a chance. It will help you polish your armor and get you ready for the day.

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 4-6

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Salvation Comes From the Lord (Isaiah 24-27)

Book of Isaiah

Isaiah delivers a prophecy describing the destruction of the whole Earth. This is fitting since it comes after God’s messages of destruction to many nations in the world. The main theme in this vision is that man’s pride will be destroyed. “In that day the Lord will punish the gods in the heavens and the proud rulers of the nations on the earth.” (24:21, NLT). Isaiah then sees a vision of the coming salvation. People will return back to God, and recognize His ability to provide. “But you are a tower of refuge to the poor, O Lord, a tower of refuge to the needy in distress. You are a refuge from the storm and a shelter from the heat.” (25:4, NLT). This salvation, however, will not be for the people of Israel alone. It is meant for “all the people of the world” (25:6, NLT). After the message of salvation, we find a psalm praising God. It encourages us to keep our trust in God. “Lord in our distress we searched for you. We prayed beneath the burden of your discipline.” (26:16, NLT). It won’t always be easy, but we are reminded to keep our trust in God no matter what. God then offers a vision of the restored Israel. God will defeat all who stand against Him, and He will save those that remain faithful to him. After the defeat of evil, God will call His people back to Jerusalem and they will worship Him.

We’ve all done wrong. It’s that simple. Paul even wrote, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23, NASB). Since this is true, we must all realize a common thread for every man, woman and child on earth. We need salvation from our sins. God recognized this as soon as we first sinned, and began a plan to bring redemption to mankind. There are times all throughout Scripture, where the people of God sin and fall away from God. Why? Because we cannot be saved on our own. Our salvation depends on one act, and that is our trust and belief in God. Isaiah continued to preach this to the people of Judah, even though they were heading towards disaster. We can’t do it, that’s where pride gets in our way. We have to trust that God knows what He is doing.

Let’s look at a couple verses again. “In Jerusalem, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies will spread a wonderful feast for all the people of the world. It will be a delicious banquet with clear, well-aged wine and choice meat. There he will remove the cloud of gloom, the shadow of death that hangs over the earth. He will swallow up death forever! The Sovereign Lord will wipe away our tears.” (25:6-8, NLT). God promises to remove death from our world, and He did just that. These verses remind me of the Easter story. Christ instituted a meal (the Eucharist, aka Holy Communion), then handed his life over as an offering for the sins of humanity. By our belief, we have eternal life. This can only be found through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 6:23). Through our pain and tribulations, we can find relief in knowing that God has promised salvation to those who not just believe in Him, but in the Son as well (John 3:16).

If you don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ, I hope that you seek one out. I am always available to help as I can. Just contact me, and I’ll do my best.

If you do have a relationship with Jesus Christ, I challenge you to talk to someone about Him today. The only way people have an opportunity for salvation, is if His followers lead others to Him. How can we put our trust and faith in someone we don’t know about? Talk to someone, that’s the best we can do.

 

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Harmony Not Discord

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There are days that go by that I feel the Church likes to bicker about what is right and what is wrong. We should worship in this way. We shouldn’t be accepting of this or that. We cannot participate in certain activities. While I can agree that this conversation is important, I think far too often it becomes the focal point. In all things the Church has one major function, to glorify God here on earth. So how can we learn to put our differences aside in order to help people see God?

If we go back to Paul’s letter to the Roman’s we read these words, “For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (Romans 14:17-19, NLT). This is found in a section where Paul is talking specifically about food, but I think there is a deeper point to be made here. We all have a difference of opinion. We cannot help it. No two people can agree on anything, and Paul knew this. He is saying here that it is more important for us to be cooperative than counter-operative. We should recognize where we have disagreement and seek to make a compromise as quickly as possible. As long as we fight, we become less effective at reaching people for Jesus Christ.

In another letter, Paul speaks about prophesying in the Church. He says that it is important for each member to get a turn to speak and finishes by saying, “For God is not a God of disorder but of peace, as in all the meetings of God’s holy people.” (1 Corinthians 14:33, NLT). Our God doesn’t like chaos, he wants us to be peaceful with each other.

I realize that theological disputes will always happen. But we cannot reach a point where unbelievers see us as a group of people that can’t agree on what we believe. Rather, they should be seeing God in us. God knows what is right, and what is true. If we keep our eyes focused on Him, the better we can be at showing him to others. When we keep our focus on what we think is right or best, we don’t focus on what God says is best. Trust in Him is the most important thing. I think many of the problems the Church faces today could be solved with a little more faith and trust in God.

You Can’t Earn It!

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I read an article on the Breathe Cast today. It was talking about a comment that was made in an interview done for the New York Times with former Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York City. The interview was all about the work Mr Bloomberg is doing to advance gun control regulation. However at the end of the interview a statement was made, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven. It’s not even close.” I’m not sure he truly understood the problem with such a comment.

If we turn to Paul’s letter to the Romans, you could easily find out what Paul’s response to this would have been. I think a good sub-title for this letter might be, The Epistle Against Earning Salvation. He consistently speaks out against our ability to save ourselves, and puts that power in Christ’s hands alone. Here are just a few of these verses found in Romans:

“For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, with undeserved kindness, declares that we are righteous. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.” (3:23-24, NLT)

“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23)

“But the people of Israel, who tried so hard to get right with God by keeping the law, never succeeded. Why Not? Because they were trying to get right with God by keeping the Law instead of trusting him.” (9:31-32)

“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (10:9)

These are just a few of the verses in this letter. Our salvation is a “free” gift, that we cannot pay for. All we can do is trust that God is sufficient, and believe it with our whole hearts. There is no way that salvation can be earned. My pastor likes to say, “You can’t bake enough pies to get into heaven.”

I’m not saying that God doesn’t cause us to change or do radical thing for Him. My point is that we cannot go out with the mindset, “I’m going to do this so I can get into heaven.” Finding salvation is easy. There’s no need to earn it. You simply need faith. Paul again keeps this in perspective for us, “For we don’t live for ourselves or die for ourselves. If we live, it’s to honor the Lord. And if we die, it’s to honor the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.” (Romans 14:7-8, NLT)

 

Psalms to Pray: Psalm 94-96

It Takes Sacrifice (Judges 11)

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Today’s chapter has two distinct sections. The first section we see the life of the next Judge of Israel, Jephthah. We see that he is a illegitimate child, and was chased away by his father’s “actual” sons. But during the oppression by the Ammonites that we read about yesterday, the sons of Gilead came back to Jephthah and asked him to rule over them and lead them in battle. In the second section we see a prayer from Jephthah. He prayed, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” (11:30-31, NLT). Upon returning home, Jephthah’s daughter, his only child, came out of the house celebrating her father’s victory. After telling her what he must now do, he sent her away for two months to grieve over the rest of her life and the fact she wouldn’t ever have children.

In order to receive blessing from God, a sacrifice must be made. The bigger the blessing, the more costly the sacrifice. The book of Leviticus is full of directions for sacrifice, what to sacrifice for which situation. But here, Jephthah gave a fairly open ended sacrifice. He wasn’t simply asking for victory over the Ammonites, he was also asking for God to come back to the nation of Israel. So the sacrifice had to be large. Jephthah was going to have to give up his one and only child for the salvation of the Israelites. Sounds a little familiar doesn’t it?

“For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, …” (Romans 8:3, NASB). There is no amount of sacrifice that we could give to overcome our sin, because the sacrifice was more than anyone could give. So God did what no man could do; He gave the greatest sacrifice so we could receive the greatest blessing of all time. Jesus did not die simply because it was in God’s plan. He died because God loved you and me so much that He wanted to gives us a way to be with Him.

Life is hard, and to receive blessing will take sacrifice. But thank goodness the price has been paid for our sins.

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Psalms to Pray: Psalm 61-65

What Type of Soil Are You?

Hands Holding a Seedling and Soil

Sorry I didn’t post yesterday, but my daughter was sick. So Daddy had to stay home and take care of her, which made me very busy.

Jesus once told a story, “A farmer went out to plant some seeds. As he scattered them across his field, some seeds fell on a [road], and the birds came and ate them. Other seeds fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seeds sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. But the plants soon wilted under the hot sun, and since they didn’t have deep roots, they died. Other seeds fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants. Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” (Matthew 13:3-8 NLT).

What is Jesus saying to us through this story. Yea, you could read onward and hear Jesus’ explanation (v. 18-23). But instead of quoting Scripture, I’d rather talk about it.

Each one of these types of soil relates to someones relationship with God, and the seed represents the message of Jesus. The first type of soil is the road. As we heard, once the seed was spread, the birds came and took it away. This person would be an unbeliever, especially someone who is very against the church. They just let God/Jesus bounce right off of them, just like they don’t matter. We all no people like this (maybe you’re one of them), but it is still our duty as the Church to spread Jesus’ message everywhere. Even to the people we know will not receive the message.

The second type of soil is the gravel. This type of person are the people who get hyped up about the cause of the Church. These Christians get super excited about their faith at the beginning, but then the inevitable happens. Life gets tough (and if you don’t believe me you should probably re-check your theology), and they go through some troubled times. The issue that arises in this situation is that they lose their faith, and there is no hope of gaining it back. We all have had a season of doubt at some point in our lives. But the people who are the gravel we’re never really interested in Christ, they were just focused on what His church was doing (or even what it was doing for them).

The third type of soil is with weeds. These Christians hear the message and accept it, but never really venture forward in their belief. These people believe when Paul writes, “The old life is gone; a new life has begun” (2 Corinthians 5:17, NLT), but they don’t live this way. They allow their old ways to continue. They live with their boyfriend/girlfriend, have premarital sex, get drunk every weekend (or during the week too), do drugs. They also don’t always engage in Christian behaviors like praying, reading Scripture, and studying the Bible.

The last type of soil is the good soil. These are the Christians that walk with Jesus. They are the ones that let the message of Christ sink into their lives and change them. They become a “new creation”. They take to heart the words Paul writes, “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace my increase? May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:1-4, NASB).

So where are you? Which type of soil to find yourself in? Don’t feel bad or discouraged if you find yourself somewhere you didn’t expect. I have personally ventured through all 4 types of soil, and I still believe I’m not going to stay where I am. I think we go through periods where, for instance, we maybe good soil, but then some weeds appear. We just have to remember to work through these troubles to our faith. Just as God is a good gardener (John 15), I believe he can till our soil to make us better. So stay strong in your faith and work to God to make yourself a better Christian. If you find yourself in the “good soil” category, then pray that God helps you stay there. Just remember that we must first become good soil if we are ever going to further the Gospel, which is the very command Jesus gave to us (his disciples) before leaving us until his second coming (Matthew 28:16-20).

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God Cares (Jonah 4)

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In this final chapter of Jonah, Jonah gets mad at God. His anger comes from the fact that the message he gave to Nineveh was the same message he was giving at home. God’s response is “Have you any right to be angry?” (4:4 NIV). At that Jonah travels just outside of Nineveh and builds himself a shelter, while God provides some shade by causing a vine to grow. Then during the night, God caused the vine to shrivel up and die. So Jonah became angry at that as well, and God responded in the same way. Then God says to Jonah, “You have been concerned about this vine, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight an died overnight. But Nineveh has more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left, and many cattle as well. Should I not be concerned about that great city?” (4:10-11 NIV).

I believe that God is saying to Jonah, “It’s okay for you to care about something you’ve put no work into, but it’s wrong of Me to care for this city I’ve raised?” Even though Nineveh rejected God and His ways, He still wished from them to come to know Him. God sent Jonah to them, so they would have this opportunity.

It’s an idea that still exists today. Honestly, I have no business being a child of God. I am most certainly guilty of sin, and I am obviously not a Jew. Before Jesus, I had to have the opposite of both those things in order to be saved. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;…” (Romans 3:23-24 NASB). God sent His son so you and I can be reconciled to Him.

God cares for humanity. He doesn’t just sit idly in heaven, watching events happen. Our God is one that intervenes in history; the Bible is full of those experiences, from Genesis 1 through Revelation 22. He wants us to be with Him. I think that’s the underlying point to Jonah. We can read the book at face value and say that it’s all about obeying God, even if we don’t want to. But the deeper meaning is found here. God did everything possible to get the message to Nineveh. Jonah did want to listen, but God turned him around. When the message reached the people, they repented and came back to God. That’s what Jonah is about. God will come after you with everything in his arsenal. All you have to do is repent and believe!

Praise His Holy Name

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So I was reading in Isaiah today and an important point came to mind. Before we get into Isaiah though, I wanted to start in Romans.

In the sixth chapter of Romans Paul writes, “For the wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23 NLT). Sound pretty straight forward, but do we really get the point. If we are in sin, we are DEAD! When we come to Christ, and give our lives over to him, we come to life. We are no longer held by death, and we can finally live. I’ve heard so many people say they never felt so alive before Christ. I believe that’s true. Being spiritually dead can feel just like being actually dead. But when we come alive in Christ, we feel great!

What I read in Isaiah drew this point home for me. “For the dead cannot praise you; they cannot raise their voices in praise” (Isaiah 38:18 NLT). I believe that the main purpose of the Creation is to give glory to God. The best way for us to do that is to join in worship. If we cannot worship God, and lift up His praises, we aren’t doing the very thing we were created to do. Being in sin causes us to be dead, and when we are dead, so is our worship.

So do you still live in sin? I’m not here to say it’s easy. It is a constant battle for anyone, myself included. But if you don’t have Christ, then your answer is yes. Your sin stays with you and makes you dead. But, if we finish the verse from Romans, “the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NLT), we see that God offers that opportunity to come to life. We simply have to recognize our need for salvation, and ask Him for it. When we do that, we are finally able to lift our voices and do the very thing we were created to do; Praise His holy name!!!!!

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Build Up Others (Romans 15 & 16)

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Well friends, here we are. I decided to go ahead and put the last two chapters together, so that way we can start something new on Monday. Not sure what it is, I may just talk.

There is a very important task for us as in the life of being a Christian. It’s not one that many people seem to talk about, and it most certainly isn’t one that I’d given much thought to until I was placed in leadership. It is something that is hard for us to do, especially when we are new to the faith. But it is a vital part to our walk of faith. What I’m speaking of is pouring into someone else. It is important for us to share Jesus with people. This saving grace of ours is not something we can, or should, keep to ourselves.

Paul tells us, “We should help others do what is right and build them up in the Lord.” (15:2 NLT). It is important to help people. Take every opportunity to help people, and open the Scriptures up to them. If we don’t do this, we miss opportunities to turn people to Christ, or even simply to just make new friends. I had an experience with this today at work. As I was preparing for this post, someone at work saw I had my Bible open. She asked me about a specific verse that she wasn’t able to understand. I was able to help her understand, and I could see her eyes open to it.

As a worship leader, I must pour into both the congregation I serve and the team that helps me. This doesn’t mean that I need to be having a Bible study with them every time we get together. But it is important to see how everyone is doing. Checking in with the Senior pastor so she can pour into me and I into her.

The other part of this is that this helps us to fulfill the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Jesus commanded us to make more disciples. We cannot do this unless we are building others up in Christ. It is important because not only does it further the gospel message, it can help us learn more about our faith. I find speaking to people who either aren’t Christians or new to the faith, help my faith much more than speaking to a pastor or someone more mature than me. Don’t get me wrong, speaking with more mature Christians is great too. But “newbies” tend to think of thing I hadn’t. Then we get to travel into the Bible and learn together.

I suppose the main point is to find someone that you can spend time and learn together with. Our faith is not based on a blind decision and devotion. It is important to continue to learn and build others up in Christ. Help them through difficult passages, or times in their lives. They will be able to do the same for you when you have a need. So stand strong and help others and build them up in Christ!

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Live In Harmony (Romans 14)

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In this chapter Paul is speaking about the danger of believers criticizing other believers. It seems that the problem arose from believers saying that other believers were wrong by their dietary preferences or when they choose to worship. Paul’s concern is that it is important to have faith, but it is not important to nitpick in such a way. “Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong.” (14:1 NLT).  The important thing is to believe in Jesus.

Now obviously there are things that are wrong. There are teachings out there that are completely against the gospel, even though they claim to follow Jesus. It is important for those that are more mature in the faith to correct those that start to follow these false teachings, but otherwise we cannot pick out every detail.

There is a couple at our church that my wife and I have started to become friends with. They are vegetarians and my wife has been quoted as saying, “Salad isn’t food, salad is what food eats.” Now Paul is saying that neither of us is wrong. Now we could have a theological argument over this, but honestly in the scope of salvation it is a non-issue.

But I think what lies at the root of this chapter is what Paul says in verse 19, “So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” (NLT). The church isn’t a place where we tell everyone they are wrong, or beat each other down. It is supposed to be a safe place where believers can gather with other believers and build each other up. It is true that everyone has a slightly different approach and view of God and Jesus, and that is because of their experience. All those viewpoints help us to know the true God. Music is pretty boring if every instrument and voice did the same part. It become interesting when we add harmony. So just like music, harmony is important in the life of the church. Simply do everything for the glory of God.

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