Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Are You Living Under A Blessing Or A Curse?

Photo by Jessica Wilson
A List Of Blessings And Curses

Near the close of the Books of the Law in Deuteronomy chapter 28, God goes through two separate "laundry lists" with the people of Israel. List number one includes the Blessings for Obedience to the Law (28:1-14). List number two includes the Curses for Disobedience to the Law (28:15-68). When I read through these two lists, I'm struck by the reminder that obedience to God brings incredible blessings into our lives. I'm also frightened by the severe pricetag that comes through disobedience to God.

Now, I totally understand that these lists of blessings and curses are part of Jewish, Old Testament Law and pertain to the nation of Israel. They are in no way directed to Christians and the New Testament Church. But, I do believe that there are universal principles contained in this chapter that not only apply to our Jewish friends, but also to those of us that name the name of Christ as our Lord and Savior.

Experiencing Both Sides

God's desire for all of us is to be wholeheartedly devoted to Him. He doesn't want other "gods" in our life that are taking our attention and affection away from Him. He wants us to joyously live out the Christian life in complete obedience to His will through the power of His Holy Spirit. He wants us to experience Him in a new and powerful way each day.

I've experienced both sides of these two lists. I've experenced the pain, sorrow, defeat, and misery that disobedience brings. On the outside, I may have looked prosperous and blessed, but at the very core of my soul, I was weary with sorrow because my walk wasn't  matching up with God's Word. I was living under the curse that sin and disobedience brings into all of our lives.

The good news is that I've also expereinced the joy and the blessings that come with obedience to God and His Word. I'm sure you've experienced this in your own life as well. Thankfully, we serve the God of the second chance, and even the third, fourth, and fifth chances! He is crazy in love with you and with me. But, as much as He loves us, He still demands our complete obedience and devotion to Him. There's no halfway with Him.

Does this mean for the Christian that living a life of obedience will bring nothing but material blessings beyond measure and zero pain? Honestly, I don't think it means that at all. In the New Testament, I could cite many passages that paint the Christian life as difficult and costly. There's more to blessings, though, than having money in the bank, a brand new car, a huge house with a white picket fence, a spouse, 2.3 kids, and a big yellow dog named Rufus.

Complete Obedience, Complete Surrender

I believe the blessings of living out the Christian life in obedience and complete surrender to God are both internal and also eternal. They are internal blessings because our obedience and surrender brings joy and peace into our lives. We have a closer, more intimate relationship with the Father. The blessings are also eternal because we are laboring in obedience to God for a greater reward in heaven. That's a much better long term deal, anyway.

So, how are you feeling if you read through these two lists of blessings and curses, today? Do you feel like you're living under the blessings of Almighty God, or a curse? If you feel as though you're living under a curse, admit your failure to God, surrender your life to Him, and live in obedience to the Father. Then, just wait for the blessings that obedience brings into your life!

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Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Are You Experiencing A Slow Fade In Your Spiritual Life?

Photo by stumayhew
It's A Slow Fade

Did you ever see the movie "Fireproof" from a few years ago? If so, you might recall the main song by the group Casting Crowns called "Slow Fade" that quickly became a hit around the movie's release. The lyrics to the chorus are:

It's a slow fade when you give yourself away
It's a slow fade when black and white have turned to gray 
Thoughts invade, choices are made, a price will be paid
When you give yourself away
People never crumble in a day
It's a slow fade, it's a slow fade

I recently read through the Old Testament books of Joshua and Judges. As I read through these two books, the lyrics to this song kept popping into my brain. When we see the Israelites in Joshua chapter 1, I think they had to have been filled with so much hope for a bright future. They were finally on the doorstep of entering the Promised Land! Joshua had just assumed the reigns of leadership from his mentor Moses, and God encouraged him and all of Israel to enter the land and take possession of it.

And the nation did take over the land! The invasion and conquest of Canaan wasn't always clean, pretty, or perfect, but Israel eventually took control of the majority of the land. For the most part, the people were being obedient to God and His commands. The book of Joshua ends with this statement: "Israel worshiped Yahweh throughout Joshua's lifetime and during the lifetimes of the elders who outlived Joshua and who had experienced all the works Yahweh had done for Israel" (Joshua 24:31).

As we move into the book of Judges, though, we see the slow fade begin.

The Pinnacle Point Of The Fade

The various tribes of the nation of Israel begin making really poor choices. A little disobedience here and there, plus a failure to do everything God had commanded them to do in taking over Canaan, eventually leads to a pattern of sin and judgment by God. In Judges 17:6, we read "In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what he wanted." This was the sad truth of how far the young nation had declined.

In Judges 19-21, we reach the pinnacle point of Israel's sin and disobedience. We read the story of a Levite and his concubine who travel to the town of Gibeah, within the territory of the tribe of Benjamin. It's a long story, but in this town we have some perverted men who try to have homosexual relations with the Levite, and then end up raping, abusing, and killing his concubine. As a result of the death of his concubine, the Levite dismembers the corpse of his concubine into 12 pieces and sends those pieces to the 12 tribes of Israel. This act leads to a meeting of Israel's elders to discuss how to deal with the tribe of Benjamin, and then civil war breaks out with the 11 tribes fighting against the tribe of Benjamin. Almost all the men in the tribe of Benjamin are killed off as a result.

Be On Guard Against The Fade

This incredibly crazy, complicated story at the end of Judges is not the point, though, to this post. The point is that over the course of a few hundred years, the nation of Israel went into spiritual decline. It was a slow fade, but at the end of this spiritual fade, there was a pretty dramatic, sinful destruction, almost causing the complete annihilation of the tribe of Benjamin.

Everyday, we need to be on guard in our spiritual walk with God. If we give Satan even just a little wiggle room to get his foot in the door in a certain area of our spiritual lives, he's going to exploit that weakness and take over. A slow fade for us spiritually will lead to massive destruction over time, just like the nation of Israel. "Be serious! Be alert! Your adversary the Devil is prowling around like a roaring lion, looking for anyone he can devour. Resist him and be firm in the faith…" (I Peter 5:8-9a).

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Thursday, April 12, 2012

A 3-Step Plan To Teach God's Word To Your Kids

Photo by Rwill
Passing The Torch From Generation To Generation

When God gave the Law to the nation of Israel, He was concerned about the passing down of the various commandments from one generation to the next. Several times in the Books of the Law (Torah), we see God commanding parents to teach their children what His Word says. God knew that Israel would remain faithful to Him as long as each generation did its part in communicating the Torah successfully to the next generation.

Unfortunately, though, if you know your Old Testament history, generation after generation failed to pass God's story on to their children. Each succeeding generation moved farther and farther away from God because the previous generations failed to do their part in transmitting God's Word to their children.

I fear that we believers in the universal American Church have not done much better in this area either, especially in recent years. Those of us who are Christian parents or grandparents have a spiritual obligation to our kids and grandkids to instruct them in the Word of the Lord.

A 3-Step Plan To Pass It On

In Deuteronomy 11:18-21, God gave His people a three-step plan in transmitting His Word on to the next generation:
  1. "Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds…" (Deut. 11:18). In order to be a successful teacher of God's Word, you must first know it yourself, intimately. You have to be a devoted follower of the Lord and a knowledgeable Bible student. Kids can sniff out a faker pretty fast. They will most likely follow your leadership in either direction. If you're living for the Lord or living a lifestyle of sin and rebellion, then they have the tendency to live out what is being modeled before them each and every day. Just a side note to dads: it is vitally important for you to model a Godly life in front of your children since you are directed by God to be the spiritual leader of the home.
  2. "Teach them to your children…" (Deut. 11:19). After we know what God's Word says, then God wants us to teach it to our children. This doesn't have to be anything formal and complicated, either. God tells us to have spiritual conversations with our kids "when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." God wants us to teach our children as we live life with them. So the next time you're driving down the road with your son or daughter, why not take some time to initiate a discussion about everyday life stuff and what the Bible says about it? Ask them questions about what they're learning in their Bible Study classes. Dig deep with them on what they're learning in school, and compare what their teachers are teaching them to what God's Word teaches us. Take time to pray with your kids at the dinner table, before they go to bed, and before they go to school in the morning. Use everyday life experiences to teach your children what God says.
  3. "Write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates…" (Deut. 11:20). God told Israelite parents to put up physical reminders of His commands in their homes. Various Scripture passages posted in the home will will not only be constant reminders to the parents to teach their children, but they could also possibly serve as spiritual conversation starters with your kids. View everything in your home, or even outside of your home as possible launch points into conversations with your children about God and His Word. Make God a part of your everyday life and conversations.
Rewards For Passing It On

God promised Israel that if they would simply teach His commandments to the next generation, then they and their children would live a long time in the Promised Land. God would bless His people for their obedience and devotion to Him.

There are lasting rewards for us as well for teaching God's Word to the generations that follow after us. I can think of nothing more rewarding as a parent than seeing my own daughters growing in their spiritual walk with Christ. Prayerfully, God through the power of His Holy Spirit will bring our children and grandchildren into spiritual maturity, but we must do our part in teaching them each and every day through words and example.

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Thursday, April 5, 2012

God Can Use Your Everyday Tools And Experience For His Kingdom Work

Photo by Reza Vaziri
God Remembers His Covenant With Israel

From the end of the book of Genesis to the beginning of Exodus, a period of over 400 years, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had remained silent as Jacob's family multiplied exponentially in Egypt. You see, after the death of Joseph and his brothers, Jacob's family had grown so large that the Egyptians became frightened and decided to enslave these Israelites. The Egyptians even attempted to control the growth of their population through killing male Israelite babies.

The Israelites cry out to God in their pain and misery. The heavy burden of cruel, Egyptian slavery was becoming too much for them to bear. The man Moses, an Israelite raised in Pharaoh's household, even tried to defend his fellow Israelites by killing an Egyptian taskmaster. As a result of killing this Egyptian, Moses had to flee for his life. He ends up in the Sinai desert for 40 years, where he becomes a shepherd in the household of Jethro.

But God has not forgotten His chosen people. He hears the pain and agony of their Egyptian slavery. He begins to work in dramatic ways in order to accomplish His Kingdom work in the world.

Moses' Staff Becomes God's Staff

One day, Moses was out in the desert near Mount Horeb shepherding his flock, minding his own business, and then God shows up to have a little chat with him. God reveals to Moses that He has heard the cry of His people in Egypt and that He is about to rescue them from their slavery. He will bring them out of Egypt and into the Promise Land. He asks Moses to be his key man to lead His people out of Egypt.

Moses, though, doesn't want to be the leader. He argues with God on several levels regarding why he can't do it and the difficult time he is going to have convincing the Israelite elders that God has actually sent Moses in the first place. So, God gives Moses a couple of miracles that he can perform for the elders in order to demonstrate God's power. One of these miracles involves the staff Moses uses in his current job of shepherding.
The LORD asked him, “What is that in your hand?”  “A staff,” he replied. 
Then He said, “Throw it on the ground.” He threw it on the ground, and it became a snake. Moses ran from it, but the LORD told him, “Stretch out your hand and grab it by the tail.” So he stretched out his hand and caught it, and it became a staff in his hand. “This will take place,” He continued, “so they will believe that Yahweh, the God of their fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has appeared to you.” (Exodus 4:2-5).
What I find even more fascinating is that just a few verses later in this same chapter, this same shepherd staff is no longer referred to as Moses' staff.
So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey, and returned to the land of Egypt. And Moses took God’s staff in his hand (Exodus 4:20).
When Moses finally yielded his life, his profession, his calling over to God and obeyed Him, Moses' tool of the trade, this simple shepherd staff no longer was Moses' staff. It became God's staff.

What Do You Have That God Wants To Use?

Has God through His Holy Spirit been speaking to you lately? Has He been asking you to use talents, abilities, and tools in your current profession in order to expand the Kingdom of God?

Moses was a simple shepherd working the backside of the Sinai desert. His primary tool for his occupation was a shepherd's staff. He had experience leading flocks of sheep and goats from point A to point B. Also, his previous experience growing up in Pharaoh's household (he had most likely been groomed for leadership at some level) made Moses the ideal candidate to lead God's people out of Egypt to the Promise Land.

What do you have that God wants to use? If you're a musician, maybe God wants you to take your musical instrument and yield it to Him in order for it to become God's instrument to use for His glory instead of your own Kingdom purposes. Perhaps you're a nurse or doctor. You have the tools and knowledge to go to a third world country in order to spread the gospel through medical missions. Or, maybe you can swing a mean hammer or work a power saw? Is God calling you to use your tools and abilities to help those in need around the world?

Through using what God has given us, we can be His hands and feet to a lost and dying world. Just allow yourself to be sensitive to the leading of His Spirit in your life. Surrender your life, ambitions, career, and tools of your trade over to Him and watch how He can use them for His glory and His purposes.

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