Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Fool Proof? Fail Proof?

“I am crucified with Christ; nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me; and the life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, (emphasis mine) who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Galatians 2:20
Fool proof and fail proof, two claims that make me suspect there is a bridge for sale in the deal also. What a relief this is not the case with Galatians 2:20. I don’t have to rely on my often times faulty faith, or a lack thereof. God has given me Jesus’ faith to use. So, what kind of faith does He possess and what does it look like?
Revelation 13:8 refers to Jesus as, “the lamb slain from the creation of the world.” Before creation God knew about the fall. Adam and Eve’s sin wasn’t a surprise. Despite their impending failure, Jesus crafted a plan to redeem mankind. He believed in us before we even existed. Because we live by His faith and not something we conjure up, we can have confidence His trust in us was not misplaced. We can make it.
            The second chapter of Luke records an interesting incident in Jesus’ early life. As a twelve year old boy, He traveled with the family to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration. Verse forty-three states, “After the feast was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem.” Jesus was not left behind accidentally like the character Kevin in Home Alone; He chose to remain in the city. This is comparable to young boy striking off on his own in New York City, while his parents, unaware of his decision, return home. Discovering their son was not with other family members, Joseph and Mary began a frantic search. To a parent, a missing child raises fears of a very unpleasant outcome. Compounding this was with the fact the boy in question was the son of God. How do you explain to Him any harm that happened to His son while under your care?
After three days, Jesus was found safe and secure in the temple conversing with the teachers. Mary reacted as a typical distraught mother. What was He thinking? Didn’t He care about them and what He’d put them through? Based only on the written account, without the benefit of non verbal clues, Jesus’ reaction appears to me to be one of surprised annoyance. “Why were you searching for me? he asked. Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” Luke 2:49. (“Duh mom, whataya think I’d be doing!!!!”) Jesus appears dumbfounded his parents didn’t anticipate or expect His actions. What kind of faith operated in this pre-teen boy enabling Him to stay alone in Jerusalem? Without any resources other than absolute confidence His Heavenly Father’s provision would sustain Him, Jesus went about His Father’s business. Strong, powerful faith that made no allowance for failure kept Jesus unshaken throughout the whole situation. That’s the kind of faith we have also.
During Jesus’ ministry here on earth He never encountered a sick person He would not or could not heal. “Faith of the Son of God” harbors no doubts in Isaiah 53:5 that “by His wounds we are healed” (even before the stripes were applied to His back). Jesus boldly stated, “everything is possible for him who believes.” Mark 9:23. How is that possible? The faith Jesus uses and gives us is based on truth. With God, “all things are possible” Mark 10:27. Jesus believed that food would multiply and hungry crowds ate their fill with a surplus left over. When the shortest distance from Point A to Point B meant walking across the sea in the midst of a storm, no problem, mission accomplished. Water turned into wine, tax money retrieved from the mouth of a fish. A net cast into the sea, in broad daylight, necessitated additional manpower and resources in order to save the great catch. Jesus’ faith that His father would not forsake Him sustained Him from the agony in the garden to the resurrection.  
This is the same faith that He gave us to ensure victorious living. Paul reminds us of the key issue “Christ liveth in me.” We have Jesus resident in us. The definition of the word “liveth” is: being alive, active, powerful, strong and efficient. Jesus is not in a passive or inactive state; He is as involved as we permit. Therein lies the rub. The only thing preventing God’s faith from accomplishing the impossible is us. We continue to act as if everything depends on our faith. We must realize His fearless faith is at our disposable to move the mountains we encounter.
How do we walk this out? First, “Faith comes from hearing the message and the message is heard through the word of Christ” Romans 10:17. Second, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” James 1:22. The way to experience what God’s faith will accomplish is to use it. As the popular saying goes, “when all else fails read the instructions.” Go to God’s word consistently for insight and direction. God will teach us what His faith, in our hands, can do.
God is on our side and He wants us to succeed. Jesus resides in every believer and provides all that we need, including His faith. The next time you face any situation ask yourself, “Is Jesus’ faith sufficient to do the job?” When you recognize it is, move forward, confident in the ability of His faith to get you through.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Use It or Lose It

“Stop listening to instruction, my son, and you will stray from words of knowledge.” Proverbs 19:27
Have you ever heard yourself say, “Let me refresh my memory”? You encounter a situation where easy to remember information slips from the forefront of your conscious mind due to lack of use. After a few moments you regroup, collect your thoughts and proceeded forward. You just experienced a temporary case of “use it or lose it”-itis.
The writer of Hebrews 2:1 reminds us, “…we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip.” Reflecting on this surprised me in that the warning wasn’t written to the gentile believers who didn’t have the rich heritage of the Old Testament with the focus of studying God’s Word. Their frame of reference, assuming they had some sort of religious background, was worshipping man-made idols which required appeasing sacrifices. Now God was invisible and He made the sacrifice for them. Approachable, He cared deeply about every aspect of their lives; even providing books to help them learn about Him and His ways. God went above and beyond the norm to show His love for them.
Jewish believers, on the other hand, raised in an culture where reverence for and the study of the Torah were integral parts of everyday life, believed God’s word impacted everything. Perhaps they were in danger of falling into the rut of “familiarity breeds contempt” or in modern language, “same old, same old.”
            Paul expressed concern for the churches under the rule of the emperor Nero. In the second letter to Timothy, he wrote “study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightfully dividing the word of truth” 2 Timothy 2:15. Paul emphasized each believer’s personal responsibility to put forth time and effort in order to know what they believed and to live as if they believed it. The church faced persecution. Christians could no longer count on the pastors, teachers, evangelists and prophets being always available; they needed to learn on their own. “Study”, an active verb, indicates involvement beyond passively receiving what is heard. There comes a point when the listener must apply the principles, progressing from head knowledge to real world experience.
We are very blessed. In Paul’s day the majority of the population did not read or write (still the same today in the world’s population). We however have the benefit of not only traditional avenues of learning but also a vast array of electronic outlets to read and hear the Word of God. Television and radio stations broadcast preaching and teaching round the clock. For those who can read there is a plethora of resources available. Bookstores dedicated solely to Christian books and study materials are everywhere. Universities, libraries and museums place their collections online, giving the general public access to information formerly unavailable. What would Paul think of Facebook, Twitter or “Googling” information? Today, we in the developed nations have the resources but are we using them? I’m not so sure. According to information shared at an orality conference last summer, one third of all high school graduates and forty-two percent of all college graduates never read another book post commencement. A missionary friend who attended the conference gave us this information. She teaches students who have low or no literacy skills. At the conference she learned new methods to help her teach people who learn primarily by hearing. Concern was expressed that the
substantial portion of the educated population appear to take a hiatus from reading upon graduation.
The scriptural admonitions to stay focused and to continue to grow aren’t mere suggestions. God knows if we don’t “use it” we’ll “lose it”. Many of us have almost limitless access to God’s Word from a wide variety of sources. Through television, radio, internet, personal electronic devices and even old fashioned print material we have the ability to learn more about God and His word than previous generations. We know that as time draws to a close “in the last days perilous times will come” 2 Timothy 3:1. We are living in the only “last days” we will experience. Shifts are occurring, even here in the U.S. Attitudes are changing. No surprise, the Bible makes that clear.  I’m not promoting a gloom and doom mentality just proposing a “wake up and smell the roses” approach to current events and trends. Persecution and suppression of religious freedom, once thought impossible here, is happening now. Each of us needs to make the effort to know what we believe and how to apply our beliefs to everyday life. Failing to take heed to what we’ve heard we will falter, which is spiritually fatal; a death none should experience. The choice is ours, “use it or lose it”.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

I Write The Songs
Music is a gift from God. All throughout scripture references to musical instruments and singing abound. Psalms 4 through 9 begin with instructions for the musical director. God, Himself sings over us Zephaniah 3:17.  Mountains and hills break out into song with trees clapping their hands in accompaniment Isaiah 55:12. According to Job the morning stars sing Job 38:7. The most influential and important birthday in world history was announced by a host of angels singing praises to God Luke 2: 13-14. Man is not the only one capable of creating music; God and creation are also in on the act.
At the fall of man, music was hijacked by satan the former archangel responsible for worship in Heaven. God, however, continually infiltrates and influences the songs we hear and sing. Not long ago, a speaker related an incident she experienced. While driving, she scanned the radio for a Christian station. A secular song came on which caught her attention; it spoke very strongly to her about God. Ecstatic, she thanked Him for the unexpected blessing. His response surprised her. “I write the songs,” He said (sorry Bruce Johnston, God beat you to it). Unsure she heard correctly she inquired, “What did You say?” God repeated, “I write the songs.” He proceeded to show her His ability to inspire and give songs to whomever He chooses. Using unusual people and circumstances is S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) for God.
This resonated with me. Music is an important part of my life. Growing up I listened to the radio constantly. My brother and I amassed a collection of over one thousand 45’s and albums (I date myself). Today, throughout our home are stacks of cd’s. When I hear a song from the past I remember not only all the lyrics but also people and situations associated with it. God used music to gently woo me to Him.
In the early 70’s hippies turned their radio dial to WMMR the premier counter culture station in Philadelphia. I stayed tuned in all day long. God, operating as “El Sneaky”1 worked His way into the playlist. The Byrds sang Jesus is Just Alright With Me and Turn, Turn, Turn was lifted word for word from the book of Ecclesiastes. I knew the gods of George Harrison’s eastern mysticism were false so I substituted my own words and sang My Sweet Lord to the one true God. According to Brewer and Shipley, if one found oneself “one toke over the line”, the place to turn was Jesus and not Buddha. My mother thought the term Jesus Christ Superstar sacrilegious; I couldn’t think of any other person more deserving of the title. Eric Clapton declared,
“Everybody knows the secret. Everybody knows the score.
I have finally found a place to live, in the presence of the Lord.”
If everybody, including Mr. Clapton “knows”, then none are without excuse. Cat Steven’s beautiful rendition of Morning Has Broken found its way into my wedding ceremony. The musical Godspell produced songs based on the Gospel of Matthew. Day by Day and Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord were staples in WMMR’s rotation. I would sing along with them (to myself) with all my heart, never realizing I was prophesying my own future.
The inherent nature of country music affords God ample opportunities to get His message across. George Strait’s I Saw God Today speaks of finding Him in everyday events and people. Brooks and Dunn encourage listeners to Believe. Carrie Underwood’s Jesus Take the Wheel became a vehicle for desperate people to articulate a cry for help. I believe God not only heard those requests but also began the process of divine intervention.
Recently our nation celebrated its 236th birthday. Amid parades, cookouts, concerts and fireworks displays patriotic songs filled the air from coast to coast. Our Battle Hymn of the Republic affirms “His truth is marching on.” Lee Greenwood’s popular song Proud to be an American ends with the triumphant statement, “God bless the USA! Since its debut in 1938 Americans have unashamedly sung God Bless America.  Declaring their love for this country and the recognition of a need for God’s oversight and protection, millions of American’s have called on Him for His blessings. When God is given an open invitation, He responds.
Music is more than a gift, it is a powerful weapon. When agitated and distressed by an evil spirit, the songs from David’s harp restored peace to King Saul 1 Samuel 16:23. In times of war musical instruments (Joshua 6:1-21) and songs of praise (2 Chronicles 20:15-22) were strategic elements that attained victory over the enemy. When a sure word from God was needed, Elisha called for a harpist. The music played and the word of God flowed forth 2 Kings 3:15.
God has blessed us with music. From the sweet song of the birds to the complex and multi-dimensional score of a symphony, we are able to not only hear sounds harmoniously woven together, but also create them. These become avenues to express our deepest feelings and emotions. Through all of these, God the master songwriter, composer and creator of music expresses His love and deep affection for us. He is the one who “writes the song.”
1 In Hebrew the name of God is expressed in many compound names beginning with “El”. El Shaddai, El Elyon, El Emeth are a few examples. “El Sneaky” is a term of endearment which speaks of God’s ability to show up in the most unexpected places and ways. Needless to say, you will not find it in any Hebrew dictionary.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

You Can’t Lose!!!!!

“I shall not die, but live, and declare the works of the Lord.” Psalm 118:17

Several years ago, while working for a Christian music television network, my colleagues and I engaged in a discussion concerning healing. They related to me the story of one of the original founders of the company. This man, a Christian, contracted cancer. He believed God told him he was healed. He claimed Psalm 118:17 as the biblical foundation for his confession. He died. His death caused his bitterly disappointed son to walk away from God. My co-workers knew I believe healing is for us now. They asked for insights I had about the man’s death and the healing that didn’t manifest. I couldn’t respond. I didn’t have enough first hand knowledge of the man or the circumstances surrounding his life, illness and death. Recently I remembered this conversation. The Lord showed me the man’s confession indeed came to pass.
The psalm begins, “I shall not die.” Romans 6:23 describes death as “the wages of sin.” This first became evident with Adam and Eve’s disobedience. God told Adam in Genesis 1:17, “For when you eat of it (the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil) you will surely die.” They ate and didn’t drop dead on the spot, but became as good as dead. Immediately they transitioned from the realm of eternal life into an existence fraught with limitations, which included a life span.
“…but it has now been revealed, through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” 2 Timothy 1:10. If Jesus destroyed death, why do people still die? Paul also wrote, “…the last enemy to be destroyed is death” 1 Corinthians 15:26. At first glance Paul appears to contradict himself. On one hand he stated death is already destroyed, on the other, death is the last enemy eliminated. Which is it Paul? It is both.
John 3:16 contains the assurance that anyone who believes in Jesus, “shall not perish, but have eternal life.” Jesus’ destruction of death is appropriated on an individual basis. Sin continues to exist and the effects are still felt. For the believer death becomes the point where one will, “depart from the body and be with Our Lord” 2 Corinthians 5:8 (Aramaic Bible in Plain English). Just as Adam and Eve became as good as dead even though they were alive, we are restored to eternal life while our bodies continue to deteriorate. 
Back to the gentleman who confessed he would not die. He didn’t. He is more alive now than he ever has been. Death did not mean he ceased to exist. Instantaneously he transferred from a lower to a much higher reality. God’s word that he wouldn’t die was true. He experienced 1 Corinthians 15:55, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
            The nineteenth chapter of the book of Revelation paints a marvelous picture of a heavenly worship service. Everyone there declares the ‘works of the Lord’ with greater understanding ever experienced on earth. While here, we can practice, preparing for that glorious event.
            God taught me Psalm 118:17 is not limited to life now. Eternity affords a more meaningful fulfillment. I believe one can stand on this verse for healing. Hebrews 11:39 refers to those who were, “commended for their faith, yet none of them received the promise.” Despite setbacks and difficulties, they believed right up to the end, the same way this man did. That is what fighting “the good fight of faith”, 1 Timothy 6:12 is all about. Far from wasted effort on a hopeless cause, firm resolution that God can and will not fail is powerful. Standing strong when all is against you is not easy, fights never are. Should we not see the answer in this lifetime, we are still ultimately the victor. In a moment of time we apprehend what supposedly eluded our grasp here. Why? We never quit. If we don’t quit, we can’t lose.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

God Never Changes…But He Can Change His Mind

“I the Lord do not change.” Malachi. 3:6

The truth is God never changes. The fact that He can and does change His mind, for the longest time to me appeared paradoxical. Why would someone omniscient ever need to reverse a decision? Could the things I believe to be true today become passé tomorrow?
Over time I learned that while God ‘changed His mind’ regarding specific situations, His nature and character are set in stone, rock solid. He never violates who He is. His ‘changes of heart’ are pre-planned strategic maneuvers. Let me share a few.
In the beginning at creation, both men and animals were vegetarians Genesis 1:29-30. Hundreds of years and eight chapters later, things changed. Men and beast went from The Peaceable Kingdom to Mortal Combat. What happened? The flood.
Before the deluge men and animals had no fear of each other. The animals came willingly to the ark, content to remain in confined quarters for an extended period of time. They peacefully co-existed with each other and with men. Had both been carnivores, life on the ark would be dangerous. The ark could have become “Noah’s Deep Pit B-B-Q” (not safe for a boat made of wood). “Lions and Tigers and Bears,” oh no more! Whole species could have been wiped out. When the waters receded and all were on terra firma, God removed the prohibition against eating meat. The original command was a temporary measure based on an future event.
If God had not ‘changed His mind’, King David would never have been born. He wouldn’t defeat Goliath, write the psalms or father Solomon, the wisest man and richest king ever to exist. How so? David’s great-grand mother was Ruth, the Moabitess. The Moabites were the offspring of an incestuous union (which God never condones) between Lot and his daughter Genesis 19:31-36. God planned to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham interceded on their behalf. God agreed if ten righteous people were found, He would call off judgment. The requisite number didn’t exist, but God provided for Lot, his wife and their two daughters an escape. Had God not altered His plan of destroying the cities and their inhabitants, neither David nor his ancestral line would be born.
Because God ‘changed His mind’ Abraham didn’t sacrifice his son Isaac. God never intended for him to die. That being the case, why put father and son through the stress test of a lifetime? Abraham and God were covenantal partners. These agreements obligated the contractual parties to reciprocate each others actions. Abraham’s willingness to offer up his son opened the door for God to respond in like fashion. Because of their covenant, God could legally offer up Jesus for our salvation, based on Abraham’s offering of Isaac. An interesting side note; God intervened and stopped Abraham from killing his son. When Jesus’ life was on the line, no one called out for His life to be spared.
There are other instances in the Bible where God ‘changed His mind’ based on prayer or intercession. John Wesley once stated, “God does nothing unless someone prays.” Moses stood in the gap and the Israelites weren’t destroyed for building and worshipping the golden calf Exodus 32:7-14. Terminally ill, King Hezekiah prayed for healing. He was not only made well but also lived an additional fifteen years. Jonah was so sure that God would have a change of heart concerning the destruction of Nineveh, (Jonah 4:12) he ran from God’s call to preach repentance to the city’s inhabitants. A strong storm at sea and personal transportation in the belly of a whale changed the prophet’s mind and travel plans.
When God does ‘change His mind’ he is not reacting to new, unexpected information or circumstances. He is omniscient, He knows the future. We don’t. In some cases, if He shared upcoming events, we wouldn’t understand or comprehend them, let alone believe Him. How do you explain a flood to people who have never seen a boat, let alone rain? Be certain of this. First, God’s character and nature never changes; He will not violate His law or His Word. Second, prayer works. God hears and responds to prayer, even to the point of ‘changing His mind’. Third, keep listening. Abraham did and he heard God’s command to spare Isaac’s life. Armed with these facts we are confident that He hears our prayers. We’re assured, based on His knowledge of the future and all the ramification of His decisions, God is open to hearing and granting our requests for a ‘change of His mind’.