Tuesday, February 17, 2015

New Life



I grew up in the ghettos of Philadelphia, PA.  My dad was a violent abusive alcoholic.  We weren't Catholic but my mom put me and my sister in Catholic school to get a good education.  We also got a good dose of religion.  At five years old I began to learn about God and being a good student I developed quite a knowledge of religion.  I was taught many facts about God but also taught that when you die, God would weigh your good against your bad deeds and if you were good enough you would get into heaven.  So I determined to be good and try to please God.  I became an altar boy at eight years old, learned the mass in Latin and served in church at every opportunity.  My goal was to become a priest because I thought they were holy men. By the time I was an adolescent though, I knew that something about the Catholic church wasn't quite right.  I became disillusioned and stopped going to church at age fourteen. 

Home was very dysfunctional because of alcoholism.  I hated my father and tolerated my mother.  When I was a teenager, both my parents became Christians and they got involved in a Baptist church.  At that stage of life, I wanted nothing to do with religion and began hanging out with the hippies, living an immoral life, ingesting any drugs or alcohol that I could get my hands on.  At seventeen I left home to attend college in Tennessee, which was just a continual party.  One year later I was back home working with my dad in the construction business.  For the next three years, I was in and out of college, working various jobs, partying with my friends, trying anything that would bring happiness to my troubled, wounded soul.

At 21, while driving home from work one Friday, I stopped in a Christian bookstore.  I noticed this store every day as I drove to my apartment and was curious about what was inside.  The bookstore owner greeted me and let me browse through some Bibles.  We shared a brief conversation and he obviously could tell that I wasn't sure what I was looking for.  Before I left he invited me to church on Sunday.  I reluctantly agreed and quickly left the premises.

I had no intention of attending church but by Sunday morning God changed my mind and I went.  The people at church greeted me and expressed their joy at seeing me there.  The church was a very simple storefront building compared to the elaborate architecture of a Catholic church.  That morning for the first time in my life I listened and received the gospel message.  I already believed in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and knew that he died for the sins of the world.  But that morning I understood the significance when I heard this message, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" Ephesians 2:8-9. I realized that Jesus died for me, bore the penalty for my sins and I desperately needed a fresh start.  I prayed and asked God to forgive me, take over my messed up life and change me.  I gave control of my life over to God because I couldn't live a good life on my own and I wanted to be saved.

The changes were miraculous!  I stopped taking drugs and alcohol, stopped having premarital sex and instantly had a hunger for the Bible.  I spent many hours in my little apartment reading my Bible and talking to God.  I told all my friends that Jesus was now in control of my life and I was going to heaven.  They ridiculed me back then but now some of them are also Christians.  Since that day I have been far from perfect, but I know that the Spirit of God lives within me, my sins are forgiven and my purpose in life is to honor Him.  My life belongs to Him and I am submitted and surrendered to God. I am assured of my future in heaven and I openly spread the good news about Jesus and the change He has made in me.  "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new" 2 Corinthians 5:17.

God loves you too and wants to transform your life and make you a brand new person.  Talk to him now, ask Him to forgive your sins and take control of your life!

"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.  For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved."  Romans 10:9-10

Monday, February 02, 2015

Groundhog Day

In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays meteorologist Phil Connors. He travels to Punxsutawney, PA with his producer and cameraman to cover the annual festivities where Punxsutawney Phil the groundhog is the star.

A blizzard develops and forces them to stay in Punxsutawney. Connors awakens the next morning to find it is February 2 again, and his day unfolds in exactly the same way. However, he is the only one aware of the repetition. Everyone else seems to be living February 2 exactly the same way and for the first time. This pattern continues for many days, maybe even weeks.

I love the fact that many great Bible teachers seem to find analogies in every day things. Rarely does this happen to me. But this movie seems analogous to trials in the Christian life. It may not be the best analogy but it works for me.

When Phil Connors realized that the same things were happening everyday, he began to memorize events, so he could manipulate people and take advantage of his situation. Later when he begins to get tired of being stuck in Groundhog Day, he tries to fight against it but the repetition continues nonetheless. Finally when he examines his life and priorities and makes the necessary changes, Groundhog Day stops and he wakes up on February 3rd a better man. Lesson learned.

The analogy may be loose but it just reminded me of the trials we go through as Christians. Whether it’s a “blizzard” in your life or just a minor testing of your faith, trials are inevitable. God is doing a work in the life of the believer and He allows things to happen along the way to develop our character. “And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Philippians 1:6

God allows trials in our lives because there is obviously something He wants us to learn from that particular situation. When we don’t pass the test it seems that God continues to bring that particular trial back into our life until we do pass the test...kinda like in the Groundhog Day movie.

Like Phil Connors sometimes we try to manipulate or take advantage of the situation we’re going through, other times we try to fight against it. But when we finally stop and examine our lives and priorities, then we pass the test and move forward. We learn and grow spiritually from the situation.

Many of us complain when we are tested. We pray for patience, and God allows us to be tested so we can develop our patience, and then we complain more. Our character is both developed and revealed by the testing of our faith. “When troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your patience has a chance to grow.” James 1:2-3

It's not a matter of if the storm is going to come, it's just a question of when. People have this idea that when you turn your life over to Jesus you won't have any more difficulties. Christians are not immune to difficulties and hardships but we are responsible for our reactions to the trials we encounter. The Apostle Paul probably suffered more hardship than any other Christian and yet he learned to welcome the trials. He said “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation.” Romans 5:3-4

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Waiting for the Promise

I have a confession to make. I don’t like to wait, but waiting is a part of life. When I was I child, waiting for Christmas seemed like an eternity. As time progressed, I couldn’t wait to become a teen, and then an adult, but I had to wait. Driving to visit my family on the busiest travel day of the year we found ourselves waiting in traffic. Whenever I checkout at the store, I have a tendency to pick the slowest moving line, and so I wait. When I go to Starbucks, all I want is a plain old cup of black coffee, but I have to wait for the woman who wants a Venti, sugar-free, non-fat, vanilla soy, double shot latte, no foam, extra hot, Peppermint White Chocolate Mocha with light whip and extra syrup, double cupped. And so I’m learning to wait.

In the Garden of Eden, God made a promise to Adam and Eve after they sinned against Him. He promised to send a Redeemer who would crush Satan, but the world had to wait thousands of years for the promise to come to fruition.

“And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:15

Two thousand years later, there lived a man named Abraham. God asked him to leave his country and his kinfolk and go to a foreign land that God would show him. He obeys and God makes a promise to Abraham.

“I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you;
I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:2-3

All the people on earth would be blessed through the coming Messiah who would descend from Abraham. But it all began with one child of promise. God promised Abraham and Sarah a son, but they waited twenty five years for Isaac to be born. 

The nation of Israel began with Abraham and one of his best known descendants was King David. When the prophet Samuel anointed David to be the next king, David still had to wait. He waited over 15 years before he would take the throne of Israel. And several years later God makes this promise to David.

The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 2 Samuel 7:11-13

That last phrase refers to the promised Messiah but Israel waited another thousand years before He came. Three hundred years after King David, God raised up the prophet Isaiah. This promise came through the prophet.

Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel. Isaiah 7:14

The virgin birth is important. We’re all born with a sin nature because of Adam and Eve. In order for God to take on flesh and blood without the sin nature, he bypassed the earthly father. The child in Mary’s womb was miraculously conceived by Holy Spirit. Therefore, Jesus was able to live a sinless life and become the perfect sacrificial Lamb of God.

After the prophecy of Isaiah, Israel still had to wait seven hundred more years for the coming of Messiah. And many didn’t even recognize Him when He came. They didn’t realize that He would first come to suffer and die and at His second coming He would establish His earthly kingdom. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.  Many failed to recognize that the promised one is Jesus.

In his gospel record, Matthew traces the genealogy of Jesus all the way back to Abraham.

The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Matthew 1:1

And so after the world waited over four thousand years, the promised Messiah came to earth to save His people from their sins. Jesus the Christ lived a sinless life, was crucified, died and on the third day He rose again victorious over the grave, death and hell.

He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. John 1:12 

Those who have received Jesus Christ as Lord are now children of God. Jesus promised to return, and so we wait. For two thousand years we’ve been waiting for His promised return.  

God’s timetable is not the same as ours. One day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years is like one day to the Lord. So from His perspective, Jesus has only been gone for a couple of days! Peter encourages our hearts and reminds us why Jesus has not returned yet.

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient and merciful toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:8-9 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

No Condemnation



We are born “in Adam”, under the dominion of sin and death. As children of Adam, God has found us all guilty of sin. God is just and He had to pass judgment on our sin and the sentence is death. Without an advocate, we are on death row, condemned to die, physically and spiritually.

The good news is we have an advocate who pleads our case before God the Father. He is Jesus Christ, the one who is truly righteous. He the lawyer who represents our case before God, and He was willing to serve our death sentence so we can be set free. 

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

"No condemnation" means that God will never condemn you to Hell because you are "in Christ”. Jesus paid the penalty of our sins as our Substitute. We have been acquitted, declared not guilty, made righteous through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ our Lord. 

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Romans 8:3-4

The law is holy, righteous and good because it came from a holy, righteous and good God, who is perfect and just in everything He does. But the law can’t save us. The law can't transform us. It can’t bring us into a right relationship with God. So God did what the law cannot do. He stepped in to save the day.

Our salvation is completely from God. He is the one who offers us the free gift of eternal life. He is the One who sent His Son into the world. Our salvation is totally dependent on the sacrifice that Jesus made on the cross. It’s not a cooperative venture.

Our freedom from condemnation only comes through Jesus. He obeyed the Father’s will completely. He showed us what the Father is like. He was the exact representation of God right here on earth. He was tempted in all points just like us, yet He never sinned. He fulfilled the law, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 

Jesus delivered us from the power of sin through His death but daily deliverance from sin is not automatic. It only happens when you allow the Holy Spirit to control your life. God’s righteousness is fulfilled in us when we walk according to the Spirit. Walking in the flesh means allowing your sinful nature to control your life. Walking in the Spirit means living in submission to the Holy Spirit of God.

If you're not a follower of Jesus, you're still in Adam. You are under a death sentence and when you stand before God you will be declared guilty and deserving of eternal punishment. The only hope is to turn your life over to Jesus.

But if you are in Christ you have been delivered from the dominion of darkness and now are part of the kingdom of God’s beloved Son. You have been acquitted, justified, declared not guilty before God because you are trusting in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for your salvation. You have been given new life through Christ and your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Rejoice in Suffering



We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Romans 5:3-5

Peace with God is achieved when Jesus Christ is received. We have been justified by faith we have access into His grace and we rejoice in the hope of eternal life with God. But how should we react to the difficulties of life? We can still have joy even in the midst of our sufferings.

Just because we are justified by faith, that does not excuse us from the trials of life.  Jesus said, “In this world you shall have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” John 16:33

Moses wrote, "Seventy years are given to us! Some even live to eighty. But even the best years are filled with pain and trouble; soon they disappear, and we fly away." Psalm 90:10 

In this life we have afflictions, chronic pain, emotional distress, suffering, heartache, financial trouble, loneliness, debilitating diseases, marriage and family problems, sickness, grief. But for believers in Christ, trials work for us and not against us. God allows trials to make us better, not bitter. Our trials are designed to bring us closer to God and make us more like Jesus.

Paul says we can rejoice in our sufferings. Consider what he endured.

Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 2 Corinthians 11:24-28

Yet he could rejoice in his sufferings because understood the reason why.

Suffering produces endurance; the ability to stand up under difficulties without caving in. But you have to suffer to develop endurance. Just like a runner who stresses his body to develop endurance. Suffering is just part of the Christian life. God knows how much tribulation we can take, so He carefully measures the suffering we face.

Endurance produces proven character. It is a quality of confidence that comes through an experience. You’ve probably seen sports teams that do great during the regular season but when they get to the playoffs play poorly because they’ve never been in that position before. But a team that has been tested with playoff experience has fewer jitters. They perform well because they have been there before. But without the first step the second step won’t happen. When you focus on God in the midst of your suffering you will develop endurance, and that endurance deepens your character. You will be tried, tested and approved by God.

Then proven character produces hope. It gives you a stronger assurance and confidence that God will give you the power, strength and encouragement to see you through what trial you face.

Suffering drives us to the one place where we can find real hope, real confidence and real certainty, God. We can boast in the hope that comes from God. When people look at you and wonder how you can get through the trials of life, you can boast that my hope comes from the Lord and I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

All of us want to develop proven character and have more hope. Those qualities spring out of endurance, which comes through suffering. If it were up to me, I would prefer that God just sprinkle some endurance and character and hope on me while I’m sleeping at night. I could wake up and be a much more spiritual man! But that’s not the way God works.

And hope does not disappoint. The hope that suffering builds in us is a hope that won’t be disappointed. Our hope is centered on God’s promises and they will always be fulfilled. Our hope does not put us to shame because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

The way God works in us produces a domino effect. Suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

What are you suffering through? Grief, chronic pain, emotional distress, heartache, financial trouble, loneliness, debilitating diseases, marriage and family problems, sickness? How are you going to deal with it? Remember, our present troubles are small, they only come when necessary and they won’t last for long.

The more you endure, the greater the blessing. So, don’t complain because you have to suffer. Our complaining doesn’t honor God and it thwarts what He is trying to accomplish in your life. Godly character can only be developed through struggle. The trials, the tests, the pain, the suffering, and difficulties only prove to make us stronger.

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials, for you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance. James 1:2

We can praise God in the midst of the storm because we know that the end result is something good. Our trials work for us and not against us. Our trials are designed to bring us closer to God and make us more like Jesus.


Monday, April 28, 2014

Feed my lambs

When Jesus was arrested the night before His crucifixion, Peter followed behind at a safe distance. Although he boasted that he would never desert the Lord; that night he denied three times that he even knew Jesus. After Jesus had risen from the dead, He and Peter had some face time.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. John 21:15-17

Jesus restored a repentant Peter to fellowship. He also commissioned Him to tend His flock, to feed his lambs and sheep. After Jesus ascended to heaven, a transformed Peter powerfully preached the very first gospel message on the day of Pentecost. He became a strong leader in the first mega-church. 

I find it interesting that God calls his followers sheep. Sheep are ignorant and defenseless and they need the protection and guidance of the shepherd. Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." And that’s exactly what He did for us. Now He has gifted pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of the ministry. The lambs and the sheep need feeding and leading and that is the task of the spiritual shepherd. What an awesome responsibility! 

Our adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. He wants to destroy the shepherd and the flock. Unfortunately, too many pastors have been defeated spiritually, physically or emotionally.

There are times when shepherds feel overwhelmed and under-appreciated. Some grow tired and weary and regrettably give up the fight all too soon. Peter learned what it was like to shepherd the flock and he wrote these verses to encourage all of God’s under-shepherds who would follow in his footsteps.  

To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away. 1 Peter 5:1-4