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Posts Tagged ‘The Gospel’

When Tina sang that, she was saying she could do without it. I wonder how many people, influenced by the words of this song, have come to the same conclusion – have hardened themselves with this same belief. It’s easier to just quit trying than to work until you find it.

And that really is what we do, if we haven’t quit. We work ourselves to the bone to love and win the love of others. It’s disappointing when it doesn’t work, but because of the value we place on it, we try and try and try. It’s cool when it pays off, when the motives are right and the labor is rewarded. It makes it all worth it.

I wonder how many times God, tried and tried and tried with me. What’s love got to do with it . . . I’d hate to think of where I’d be if it weren’t for it. I think of all the things I tried to do to win it and all the miserable failures along the way when my enemy convinced me that I didn’t have it. Mark Hall (Casting Crowns) has a line in one of his songs that says, “I feel I am just one mistake away from seeing You walk away”. If it weren’t for love, wouldn’t He have?

I know when Paul wrote this line that he wrote it as a statement of something that had literally just happened. But think of it in relation to you right now – I did this morning. “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for us”. “God demonstrated His own love for us in this: While we were yet sinners (while we were on miserable failure number ____), Christ died for us.” At just the right time, while we were still powerless, God demonstrated His love for us.

If we quit and walk away, we miss what could’ve been. I could have quit and walked away. God could have quit and walked away. But love, because it has everything to do with it, endures all things. God, the perfect example of love, endured all things with me; and at just the right time, when I was still powerless, He demonstrated it. That kind of love transforms. What does that kind of love not have to do with it?

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I work with guys who, as a result of some bad decisions, have ended up in jail. One is in for the first time because he didn’t control his drinking. Another is in for making and selling meth. Some are in for a short time while others await longer sentences.

I get to work with the ones who have turned to God. One who was in for drinking commented that he couldn’t believe how far off track he had gotten. He was a new person. Soon after getting out though, he is back to uncontrolled drinking.

The one who was in for selling meth, was in at least once before for 2 months. He said while he was in he was on fire for God. Within 4 hours of his release he was making meth again. So here he was, in again, telling his story.

I realize as they tell their stories, that they are not unique. We all struggle to keep from going astray; they just have more trouble with it than some of us who have gained in the fight. They have dug some deep holes for themselves and it will take resolve like never before to break the cycle that grips them.

God is doing His best to help them break it. Psalm 78 says, “Whenever God slew them, they would seek him; they eagerly turned to him again. They remembered that God was their Rock, that God Most High was their Redeemer. But then they would flatter him with their mouths.” I can relate to that.

Is there not that same cycle with all of us to one extent or the other? We forget God; He slays us; we turn back to Him; He helps us. Then we start the cycle over by forgetting Him again.

I’ve been reading Paul’s letters lately. I’m amazed at the going astray he dealt with. His entire ministry was about sharing the gospel, people coming to God with sincere devotion, then falling away after he moved on. His letters addressed the issues.

I like the way he puts in 2 Corinthians 11:3. It reflects not only the potential for the Corinthian people to go astray, but Paul’s concern for it. “But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

It troubles me when I see the guys sincere and pure devotion to God, knowing they will soon be thrown to the wolves and be deceived by the serpent’s cunning. Most of them don’t have the roots to stand strong. I have struggled enough in my own life to know the cycle very well. I tell the guys this one thing that has helped me.

Jesus was getting ready to leave His disciples. He was getting ready to pass the baton off to them. The gospel would be on their shoulders. He knew they would need what He was getting ready to give them. Even He depended on it.

At the beginning of John 16, Jesus makes this statement. “All this I have told you so that you will not go astray.” The ‘all this’ was the importance of ‘staying connected’ that He spent most of John 15 telling them about. When I look back on my walk with God, I see times I was connected and times that I was not. When I was, I was on fire for God. When I wasn’t, I went astray. This will be true if you’re in jail or out, if behind the pulpit or in the pew; there is no easy road. Staying connected is the only way I’ve found to break the cycle of going astray.

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In need of Your light Lord;
my life is such a mess.
Without it there’s no hope Lord;
of this I must confess.

Show me what to do Lord;
I’m ready to listen now.
My way didn’t work Lord;
would you please show me how?

Didn’t intend to forsake You Lord,
but I guess that’s what I’ve done;
one thing then another Lord,
till there’s little of the One.

Forgive me of my wrong Lord;
come and light my way.
Show me what to do Lord;
hear these words I pray.

Help me as I start Lord;
often please remind.
Show me everyday Lord;
life as You designed.

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Jesus’ faith was like a wrecking ball. I had thought mine was at least like a sledgehammer, but I’ve recently decided it might only be as big as my wife’s picture hanging hammer. A slab of concrete will crumble with just one blow of a wrecking ball; several with the sledge; but a picture hanging hammer??? Oh my; that’s going to take some time.

How was it that Jesus could walk up to demon possessed person, and in one command make Satan come out? Or in the case of the centurion asking for his son who was suffering from seizures, how could He say, ‘I will go and heal him’? Not, ‘I will go and try to heal him’, but ‘I will go and heal him’. It’s a little different than how most of us today would approach it. We will try. We will ask and see if the Lord will do it for us and if not we move on. But really that doesn’t even constitute picking up the hammer.

Jesus knew something. Luke tells us in chapter 10 of his gospel that Jesus ‘saw Satan fall like lightening from heaven’. Satan was no match for Him, but . . . that was on Jesus’ turf. What about here? When Jesus came here, He was on Satan’s turf. Inevitably there would have to be a showdown. On the front end of Jesus beginning His ministry He went toe to toe for 40 days in the desert. And again, Jesus came out on top. Jesus showed him, ‘even here you will do what I tell you to do’.

I think each us must have a similar showdown. We must go toe to toe and not back down. Even if we just take into that showdown faith as small as a picture hanging hammer, we’re not to back down. That is what Jesus meant when He told the disciples ‘if you only have faith the size of a mustard seed, you can do the things I do’. ‘If you know that he has to leave and you don’t back down, you will win your battle.’

And so with my little hammer in hand, I stand for a young girl who has seizures. I command Satan to leave her alone – to quit troubling her. I’m not asking God to do it; He wants me to learn that I can do it. He wants me to know what He knows; that Satan has to leave.

In the story that this series stems from, where the disciples had been unable to heal the centurion’s son of his seizures, Jesus’ comment about faith was when the centurion told Him that he had men under him that did what they were told. That is the point Jesus was referring to when He said He had not seen such great faith in all of Israel. ‘I have not seen anyone that understands this – that they can command Satan and know that he has to obey’.

This is what Jesus knew. It is what He wants us to learn.

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Maybe the disciples had hoped that Jesus wouldn’t know that they had not been able to heal the boy of his seizures. Maybe they were a little like us, not understanding why, and just deciding to let it go.

Oh He knew. He didn’t say anything, but He knew. When the father of the boy spilled the beans, I can see the disciples head drop a little – maybe positioning themselves behind someone hoping to not be seen. Jesus is not happy; and after a little scolding, they finally ask Him what they have wondered to themselves, “Why couldn’t we drive it out”?

It is clear that Jesus expected them to be able to. He had told them to. I wonder when He stirs us to do the same – to believe for the same – if He doesn’t expect us to be able to. Somewhere along the line we have given in to the belief that He doesn’t. Surely Jesus wouldn’t say to us, “O unbelieving and perverse generation” – would He? . . . surely not! . . . would He?

We console ourselves by thinking He wouldn’t – by thinking it must not have been His will. I believe there is more to it than that. With the disciples, if it had not been His will, what reason would He have had to be frustrated with them? The reason He was frustrated is that they had the ability themselves and didn’t know it.

And so He makes the point; ‘Hey, I know you don’t know all that I know – that you are not as sure of things as I am; but even if you just understand it a little, you can do the same things that I do’. Because of all that He knows and understands, He walks up like a wrecking ball and says ‘Satan, hit the road’ . . . and he hits it. We tell him to hit the road and he just stands there with his arms crossed; ‘Make me’ he says.

And that’s the deal. It’s not so much praying and asking God, as it is telling Satan. When he stands with arms crossed, it’s standing right back at him. That’s what Jesus meant. ‘Even if you have faith the size of a sledgehammer, you can stand there delivering blow after repeated blow until he moves on.’

Faith is not hoping he will leave. It is not hoping God will make him leave. When God has initiated the faith, it is knowing and understanding that he has to leave. We have given in to him not leaving so long and his heals are dug in so deep that it will take quite a stand – a much needed stand – to drive him out. He really has no option . . . unless we give him one.

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‘Seek ye first’ had been on my top 10 list for over 30 years. How is it that we can do that? It wasn’t first; it was just in the mix. And yet somehow I had worked it out in my mind that it was.

Six years ago, after finally reaching a point where I just flat out admitted to myself that my version of Christianity didn’t match up to the Bible’s, there began a stirring in me to take a fresh look at the Bible’s version. After much review, a knee high stack of hand written journals and three books later, it is quite clear that my interpretation was more than a little off.

The process has conditioned me to wrestle things out afresh – to not apply the same compromising logic that is so easy and tempting to do. He said what He said. What did He mean?

Just this morning I read where a man approached Jesus on behalf of his son who suffered from seizures. “I brought him to your disciples, but they could not heal him”. Jesus directs His attention to His disciples and says, “O unbelieving and perverse generation”. After Jesus healed the boy, the disciples asked, “Why couldn’t we drive it out”?

Before, I would have just blown by this. I would have rationalized that it was something for Jesus’ day but not mine. I can’t do that any more. Instead, I am asking myself the same question; ‘why can’t I’? I’ve asked it before; but somehow this time, it is like so many other issues I have wrestled through during the past six years. I sense Him leading me to ask – drawing me to wrestle this out.

I don’t have all the answers yet, which is obvious because I am still asking the question, but I have learned some things about faith that makes the question approachable. Faith knows something. Jesus was frustrated with the disciples for not knowing it. Jesus knew it. He didn’t huff and puff to heal, drive out and raised from the dead; He knew something. He wants some of us to know it as well.

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When the Lord told Abraham that He would take him to a new land and that he would have a son, was Abraham to pray for it to happen when it seemed like it wasn’t going to, or was it for him pray that his faith – his believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? When Sarah became impatient and tried to help God out, did it help?

When God told Moses that He was going to deliver Israel from Egypt and take them to the promised land, was it for Moses and the children of Israel to pray for it to happen, or was it for them to pray that their faith – their believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? When they were caught between the Egyptian army and the Red Sea, was God after their praying or their believing?

When God told Joseph that he would rule over his family, was it for him to pray for when he was sitting alone in prison, or was it for him to pray that his faith – his believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? Did he help matters when he took things into his own hands by asking the two prisoners to put in a good word for him?

When God anointed David to be king, was it for him to pray that the Lord would make it happen, or was it for him to pray that his faith – his believing – would stay in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looked so bleak? David surpassed them all. He could have taken things into his own hands several times to help God move things along, but he didn’t. His trust was in God to do what He said He would do.

In all cases, God in His timing, in spite of what these men did to ‘help God along’ (which in no case actually helped), did what He said He would do. And so these thoughts have changed the way I pray. I no longer pray for the Lord to provide because He told me early on that before it was too late He would, and He has. My praying now is that my faith – my believing – would remain in tack when the fulfillment of that promise looks bleak.

It says of the Israelites when they were backed against the Red Sea, that they were ‘terrified’. Can you imagine if some of them would have nudged the one standing beside them and said, ‘Watch this; this is going to be cool.’; or when Jesus was standing in front of Lazarus’ tomb; none of the disciples believed. Can you imagine if just one would have nudged a few of the others and said; ‘Watch this, this is going to be cool’. Can we, when our situation looks so bleak, believe enough to say, ‘Watch this; this is going to be cool’? I believe it would please God if we could.

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I read where ‘Paul, as his custom was, went into the synagogue and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead’.

I thought about his audience; they were Jews.  For as long as they could remember, they had been taught that the Christ would come as a king.  Understandably, they had trouble accepting that this lowly Jesus was the one they were looking for.  In spite of the fact that ‘God had accredited Him by the miracles He was able to perform’, and then further accrediting Him by raising Him from the dead, many, just simply, were still not buying it.  And so Paul and the other church leaders of the day spent much of their persuasive energy trying to convince the Jews that Jesus was the Christ.

But what about today?  We, for the most part, have been taught that for as long as we can remember.  We don’t need to be convinced.  We already believe it.  Somewhere though, there has been some kind of breakdown.  To varying degrees, our believing has just become a part of all the other stuff we believe.  It doesn’t occupy the space within us through which and from which all other stuff flows.  We have given it its spot, or corner, and we call on it or take it out occasionally when it seems appropriate or beneficial.

Today, with this kind of believing, many are still able to shack up, overindulge, speak with foul language, use crude humor, watch inappropriate movies, listen to inappropriate music and read inappropriate books and magazines; all contrary to the principals of the One in whom we believe, yet all coexisting semi comfortably.

Today’s gospel is not so much that we should believe; we already do.  We need to be convinced that if we believe it should change the way we live.  It’s not enough to believe ‘in’ God; we need to believe God.  We need to believe what He said – know what He said – and then adjust our lives to align with what He said.  It is not living as we please; it is living as would please Him.

No matter where we are, there will always be room for improvement; I have plenty.  But I believe, overall, there is much room to become more acquainted and committed to the things that please the God in whom we believe.  Conversely, I believe there is much room to become more acquainted and committed to the things that displease Him.  This, I believe, is the gospel we need to hear and be convinced of today.

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You would think there would be more to the beginning of what we now know as one of Paul’s missionary journeys, but it really seems like Paul and Barnabas were sitting around one day and Paul said: “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing”. And with that, a missionary journey was born.

I guess I’ve always thought of these journeys as something bigger than life. But really it is just the record of what Paul did. He went about encouraging and strengthening the churches. He was an evangelist. It’s what he did. It’s what he was good at.

But right after Paul’s ‘good’ idea, comes a ‘bad’ one. He didn’t want to take Mark but Barnabas did; and from there things got really ‘ugly’ fast. In Acts, Luke tells us that “They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord.”

How often do our good ideas get sidetracked before they ever get off the ground? This exchange could have resulted in one less missionary journey; but in spite of how ugly it got, neither Paul nor Barnabas let it keep them from the good they had thought to do.

There will forever be an enemy to any good idea that God gives us. As much as God tries to initiate them for the purpose of encouraging and strengthening other believers, Satan does his best to stifle them.

Lord help me to see the ‘good’ ideas You give me, through to their end; to not let the ‘bad’ or even the ‘ugly’ keep me from what I think to do; to more and more use what I am good at for this purpose.

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The same people who sent Jesus to the cross were in church the following Sunday. Peter addressed them. He said, “you handed him over to be killed”, “you disowned him”, “you killed the author of life”.

Though this specific group of church people were literally part of the actual crowd that handed Jesus over – who disowned Him and killed the Author of life, who just days before were yelling crucify Him – there are some in the group of church people today, who by their blatant conduct during the week are also disowning and killing the Author of life?

And what did God do about it? He gave them another chance to see. Luke points out that He knew they “acted in ignorance”. Their eyes had not seen – their hearts had never understood.

He provided a display of the miraculous of which they could not help but to take notice. He healed the crippled beggar that they had seen Sunday after Sunday on their way to church. They saw it and were astonished. It made them perk up when Peter and John proclaimed the good news, that God had raised this Jesus from the dead.

With the added element of the miraculous, it helped them to see. Is the church not in need of this miraculous element today? In the lack of it, does it not grope around in the dark – acting in ignorance – because it knows nothing better? We pray and little happens. We preach and people don’t hear. What if Peter had prayed for the crippled beggar and the beggar had not gotten up? What if the people inside had not seen that evidence? Would they have listened?

Lord, for the sake of Your church, and those who are lost, both in and out of it, I pray the prayer that Peter prayed in Acts 4:29, 30. “Now, Lord, consider their threats (consider the fact that they act in ignorance) and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” In at least some portion, permit these things.

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