Friday, March 13, 2009
THE PERFECT PLAN
In the Garden of Eden we see the perfect plan of what God intended for human beings—stewardship of the earth, communion with others and worship of God. Think of this: God had the minions of angels, Jesus, and yet, something was incomplete. Therefore, He created humans to have an intimate relationship. In Jesus’ own words, the heart of God’s purpose for us is to “… love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-40 We often forget how much God loves us. “I have hope when I think of this, the Lord’s love never ends: his mercies never stop.” Lamentations 3:22 Moreover, the Bible is full of verses that declare God’s never all encompassing love for us, such as Psalms 145:8-9 “The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.” Furthermore, He created each and every one of us with a specific plan in mind. We were created to worship him. Romans 12:1 explains “…offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.” Worship is cyclical. It ties back into the command to love one another; by loving one another we demonstrate God’s love and worship him simultaneously. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind…Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon, The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength.” Isaiah 58:8-11 When we serve others, we take the focus of ourselves and our own problems~in turn this is a healing process. In God’s infinite wisdom, He created a harmonious life-purpose for humans.
THE EFFECTS OF SIN
The problem was and is SIN GETS IN THE WAY OF OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. Psalms 66:18-20 clearly states, “If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.” In short, sometimes our sins (the “big ones” and the “little ones”) block our prayers. Everyday each of us is faced with choices—choices that either draw us closer to God or away from him. “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” For my entire life I’ve struggled with my weight and that little Hershey’s kiss doesn’t seem so bad. After a week and a bag of kisses…well, let’s just say, you get the picture. Romans 6:16 and 23“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in union with the Messiah Jesus our Lord.” Anyone who has struggled with addiction can tell you that people don’t wake up one day deciding to be a slave to their vice. It is those daily little choices that determine the big consequences. Sin causes spiritual disconnection, physical illnesses, financial ruin, and emotional DIS-ease. The good news is God is waiting with open arms for us to repent and change.
God sent the second Adam, the Lamb of God, to atone for our sins: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” John 3 16-18 We all can think of self-righteous people who truly feel holier than thou by pointing out all your sins and flaws. Clearly, this isn’t scriptural. “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. Matthew 7:4-5 Mohandas Gandhi basically stated that he didn’t have a problem with Christ, but he did have multiple problems with the Christians. When the British colonized India they approached missionary work with an attitude of “my God and lifestyle is better than yours.” How many Christians try converting others today with this same thread-bare methodology? Just as destructive, some Christians drag a heavy suitcase full of guilt and depression around in their daily life. Why would a "sinner" want to become a Christ follower if that's the example of a Christian? Instead, Jesus pleads, "Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew 11:28-30 Christ transforms lives by modeling a contagious love of others and adopting us as His own.
Condemnation of ourselves and others, isolation, hopelessness, regret and guilt are tools of the devil to deter us from fulfilling God’s purpose. If we are focused on our physical ailments and emotional problems, then we are not worshiping God for all He has done—that’s sinning! 2 Corinthians 7: 10 illustrates this point, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.” For example, depression causes us to feel isolated and alone—that no one could possibly understand our troubles. I assure you, God is with you. “You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross.” Colossians 2:13-14. By accepting Christ as Lord and savior, Jesus acts as a bridge reconnecting us to God and His divine purpose for our lives.
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
WHY DO WE EXPERIENCE TRIALS AND TESTS?
Understand, that in no way am I passing judgment—I struggle daily to defeat depression and my personal thorns of the flesh. “I am quite happy about the thorn…for when I am weak, then I am strong—the less I have, the more I depend on him.” Luke 16:11 Pastor of Dayton Vineyard Christian Fellowship Doug Roe has been known to explain it by saying, “If I don’t listen to the whispers, He’ll allow the jackhammer.” God often tries to gently whisper truth to us, but as rebellious children, we don’t always listen. In short, “God sometimes uses sorrow in our lives to help us turn away from sin and seek eternal life. We should never regret His sending it.” 2 Corinthians 7:10 Right now, I have the lyrics to Jesus, Take the Wheel sung by Carrie Underwood playing in my mind. Some of us have to crash, before we’ll hand over control. As humans it is difficult for us to see our trials from God’s perspective. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 explains what our Christian attitude should be, “That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” There are two reasons for our trials: 1) they are a natural consequence of sin and/or 2) God is using trials to shape us into the likeness of Christ.
As a teacher, I broke down big concepts into daily lesson plans, provided clear goals and guidelines, gave demonstrations with visual aids, and assigned projects. But how did I assess student knowledge? I tested them! Have you been paying attention to God? The answers come when we go through tests and trials. Metals are fired to burn off impurities, clay is fired to make vessels, and sand is molten into glass—we are no different. Hebrews 12:9 explains, “We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respect them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live?” Only God knows the bigger purpose for the events of our lives. Furthermore, John 12:24 explains, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Smith Wigglesworth wrote, “Great faith is the product of great fights. Great testimonies are the outcome of great tests. Great triumphs can only come out of great trials.” Tests can let our patience and faith grow—but only if we let God have control. In order for God to mold us into the likeness of Christ, we have to be broken and reshaped into a “new creature.”
If God’s sinless son wasn’t immune from troubles during his time on earth, why should we arrogantly think we should be spared? Personally, “Why me?” was a dangerous question because my thoughts and actions reflected a victim mindset. Now I realize the more appropriate questions is, “Why not me?” Many televangelist and preachers focus on “feel good, prosperity” teachings; however, in John 16:32-33 Jesus explains, “These things have I spoken unto you, that in me ye may have peace. In the world ye have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world.” The Footprints poem has lost its impact through overexposure, but the theme has resonated with many people…we will have troubles, but we are not alone.
Jesus understands our troubles. Although the Bible doesn’t chronicle all of these trials, I would imagine that in the flesh Christ was tempted by the Seven Deadly Sins. However, we do know that the devil plotted and waited for physical weakness to attack. After forty days of fasting and isolation, the devil offers Jesus food and power. John 4:3-12 tells the story of Christ’s temptation, “Then the devil took him up and revealed to him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. ‘I will give you the glory of these kingdoms and authority over them,’ the devil said, ‘because they are mine to give to anyone I please. I will give it all to you if you will worship me.’ Jesus replied, ‘The Scriptures say, You must worship the Lord your God and serve only him. …When the devil had finished tempting Jesus, he left him until the next opportunity came.” We too can defeat Satan by knowing and planting the Word of God in our hearts.
Also, we learn from this example that the devil waits and plots for opportune times. With Jesus, he waited to attack when he was at the weakest point: hungry, alone, and dreading his persecution/death. Personally, I am the most irritable with my family when I am hungry, stressed, depressed, and sleep deprived. I am always humbled when I think of his sweating blood in the Garden of Gethsemane. Luke 22: 42-45 “’Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.’ Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him. He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood. At last he stood up again and returned to the disciples, only to find them asleep, exhausted from grief. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray, so that you will not give in to temptation.’” There is medical evidence to support that under extreme stress, humans can rupture the blood vessels of the face. Some women experience a mild case of this during labor, resulting in blood shot eyes and splotches of the face. Similarly, the labor of our trials often produces a huge blessing—how do we get to the blessing? Remember what Jesus told the disciples, PRAY for strength and discernment.
Once again, Jesus is the ultimate role-model for how we should cope with life’s trials. He asked God was there any other way…please, let this cup pass. Here Jesus fights temptation with prayer and God answers by sending an angel to comfort him. We are no different…God can answer our prayers by sending others to strengthen us. Like Christ we still may have to endure the trial, but we are not alone. Amazingly, Christ realized the gravity of what he was about to face and still accepted his persecution, trial, torture, and death because of his love for us. Hebrews 2:17-18 clearly explains, “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” His torture and death is the most powerful example of persecution producing a glorious reward, our forgiveness and reconnection with God.
Pastor Rick Warren reaffirms this belief in his best-selling The Purpose Driven Life, "It is a fatal mistake to assume that God's goal for your life is material prosperity or popular success, as the world defines it. The abundant life has nothing to do with material abundance, and faithfulness to God does not guarantee success in a career or even in ministry. Never focus on temporary crowns.
Paul was faithful, yet he ended up in prison. John the Baptist was faithful, but he was beheaded. Millions of faithful people have been martyred, have lost everything, or have come to the end of life with nothing to show for it. But the end of life is not the end!" (P.50)
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