Monthly Archives: July 2014

Our Humanity Apart from Christ

“If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

– Genesis 4:7 NIV

 

How do you feel when a teacher allows one student to do something that another student is refused the privilege to do? How do you feel when one student receives a certain punishment for breaking a school rule and another student does not receive the same discipline for their actions? How do you feel when you are being compared to your brother, or sister, because your actions, behavior, or effort in school does not measure up to their standard approved by your parents?

Adam and Eve’s actions in the Garden of Eden assured us that justice, fairness and equality may not always be attainable in our efforts to be validated and justified in our actions when it comes to favoritism. Even Cain, the brother of Abel, felt angry, saddened and deeply troubled when God rejected his offering and accepted Abel’s. Insight is provided as to why Cain’s offering was rejected when you read Genesis 4:7. God reminded Cain that if he did what was right he would be accepted by God, or receive the same favor Abel did. Cain is upset with God and becomes jealous of Abel, but he neglects to focus on the fact that God is telling him he is not doing something right.

Have you ever felt like Cain? I have. I go to church, I pray and read my bible. I give to others, help and encourage others and I’ve even led others to Christ! So, Father, how come I am angry, saddened and deeply troubled sometimes? I always hear His still, small voice remind me of something else I promised to do, know I need to do, or have refused to do that God is telling me if you do it then you will have favor, joy and peace. Like Cain, I want to get by, do less and expect more from God. I’m trying to slide by, get over and be slack in my effort to live right for God, but I am expecting God to bless me like those who sincerely seek to serve Him and make the right sacrifices and have the right attitude to live for Him and do what pleases Him.

I want to live carelessly and expect to be blessed abundantly by God. I want to live in sin, ignore God’s command to repent and expect Him to be okay with me because he knows my heart and loves me. Jesus said that God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust and makes the sun to shine on the righteous and the unrighteous. Sinner or Saint, there are general blessings God provides to everyone out of His goodness and love for everyone, but there are blessings, called favor, He reserves for those who are faithful to Him and does what He requires for all who seek Him. We can either live like Cain expecting favor without being obedient or, like Abel, we can receive God’s favor through obedience.

May God bless you and help you to walk in the light of His favor, grace, and goodness so you may encounter the fullness of life Christ came for us to have.

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Excerpt: Chapter 3 Out of the Darkness

Chapter 3

Temporal Plans vs. an Eternal Purpose:

God’s Plan for Salvation

 

‘But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.’
– Psalm 33:11 (NIV)

 

‘God is not a man that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. 
Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?’
– Numbers 23:19 (NIV)

 

When I reflect upon the theme of this chapter, I can’t help but recall a lesson I learned from the Bible through the lives of Abraham, Sarah, Adam, and Eve. This is a personal experience that helps me vividly understand the wisdom of God expressed in His purposes and plans for the redemption of humankind through salvation. It also reveals to me, by contrast, the reality that His ways and thoughts are not like ours.

            In the book of Genesis, chapter 12, God told Abraham (then known as Abram) that He was going to bless him and make him the father of many nations. At the time, Abraham was seventy-five years old and did not have any children. Some ten years later, Abraham was still without a child. In chapter 15, God reminded Abraham of His promise to give him a child.

            In chapter 16, Abraham’s wife, Sarai (later known as Sarah), told Abraham to sleep with her servant so that she could have the child that God had promised her. “The Lord has kept me from having children. Go, sleep with my maidservant; perhaps I can build a family through her” (Genesis 16:2a). Abraham listened to his wife and slept with her servant, and the servant became pregnant. This story is interesting to me, because Sarah clearly believed that God was withholding His promised blessing from her. God was talking about birthing a nation, but she just wanted to build a family.

            During a Bible study with my mother and sister, I learned from Sarah’s example the consequences of leaning on my own understanding. Sarah reasoned in her mind that remaining barren¾despite God’s promise¾was the result of God’s withholding His promise to bless her. Sarah was challenged by the passing of time, unchanged circumstances, and the same tormenting thoughts and emotions that creep into my own heart and mind to produce doubt and unbelief. My personal experience of having to wait on God and trust in His faithfulness to fulfill His promises, causes me to empathize with Sarah instead of condemning her. My own failure to remain faithful and wait patiently motivates my sympathy for her as well. It also reminds me that God knows and understands that I will sometimes falter and fail in my ability to follow through with what He requires of me. He knows that I am but dust and remembers how I was formed. Knowing this helps me to remain patient with myself when my humanity gets in the way of His divine plan and purpose to bless me.

Let’s keep in mind that Abraham agreed to what Sarah requested of him. It may be because he reasoned to himself, “Well, it has been a while, and maybe this is the way God is going to bless me with the child He promised me.” Whatever Abraham was thinking, his actions compromised his ability to wait with perfect patience for God’s promise to be fulfilled in his life. I thank God that His love is patient toward me, even when I can’t remain patient with Him!

God’s plans for our lives are exceedingly and abundantly greater than what we can even imagine¾if we are willing to trust Him and allow Him to work in and through us. Needless to say, Abraham and Sarah, at the ages of one hundred and ninety, respectively, did have a child born from Sarah as God had promised. It simply took place twenty-five years after God had initially told Abraham what He was going to do. Keep in mind that it was God who came to Abraham and Sarah about the child, not the other way around. This was God’s plan for them. God kept His word and invited Abraham and Sarah to participate in His plans for His people. God has plans for us that He promises to fulfill in our lives and He invites us to allow Him to fulfill His promises and perform His miracles for His people. The process begins with salvation.

            When I came into the profession of teaching, my only goal was to make a difference in the lives of my students. I also hoped to write and illustrate children’s books someday. I recall God speaking clearly to me one day, saying, “Is that all that you desire to do? I have so much more planned for you.”

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring you back from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jeremiah 29:11–14)

I have since imagined God standing with me at a table with my blueprint of my life rolled out before Him. It is all about my plans and my ideas about life and success for me. Of course, I am feeling pretty proud and confident that these are some great plans, and I believe that God will be impressed with the ideas I have for my life. Then God rolls out His blueprints next to mine, turns to me, and says, “That’s all you want to do? Well, these are the plans I have for you.”

I’m sure I don’t have to explain what this means to me, especially after the reminder that Sarah’s plans only involved building a family, while God was talking about building a nation. The same God who intended to build a nation through Abraham and Sarah, wants to do something great for anyone who is willing to allow Him to work through them and fulfill His plans and purposes for His people.

            “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20).

            “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may enjoy good health, just as it is well with your soul” (3 John v. 2 NRSV).

            As I began to understand the context of these two passages of scripture, I began to understand that God desired more for me than blessing me with material possessions and wealth. In fact, the context of both of these verses emphasizes a more intimate, personal expression of God’s grace, power, and blessing for me, if I am willing to allow His power to work in me. I believe the greater blessing or work of God in my life is in allowing the fullness of Christ’s person, or His character, to be expressed in and through me. I believe God desires for us to experience an exceeding, more abundant transformation of our character into the image and likeness of Christ.

At the beginning of His earthly ministry, Jesus began to preach about the kingdom of God. He instructed us in Matthew’s gospel to seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness and not the things of this world. He emphasized the fact that our heavenly Father knows we have need of earthly things, but He challenged us not to seek after earthly things, like those who have no faith in God. Ephesians 3:20 and 3 John v. 2 both emphasize the idea that the greater work of God’s power or blessing is manifested in us¾as we allow Him to work¾so that our souls may prosper. In fact, I believe that without soul prosperity¾even if God prospers us with material blessings and good health¾we will neither appreciate the prosperity God blesses us with, nor be able to maintain it with the level of reverence for God that He would desire us to have.

Soul prosperity is the transformation of the heart, mind, and will, influenced and inspired by the Word of God and His Holy Spirit to sincerely seek after God. Our hearts become loyal to God, making Him the number-one priority in our motivation for living. Our minds become renewed in consistently generating the types of thoughts that are in line with a heavenly, eternal view of life and way of living. Our strongest desire and delight becomes seeking, sincerely and willingly, to do the will of God in the way we live daily. Soul prosperity becomes a passionate, relentless determination to remain vigilant and persistent in action and attitude in becoming and being a Christian in all aspects of one’s life. No matter what circumstances you face, no matter how trying and troubling life may become for you, and regardless of your socioeconomic status in life, your soul’s desire is to delight yourself in the Lord!

There are many in this world who have already been blessed immeasurably, more than they could have imagined, from a material perspective, but their souls are still empty, depleted and devoid of the character, spiritual blessing, and substance that God desires for them to have. They have not yet discovered a soul’s desire to delight itself in the Lord! This is why Jesus said to His disciples that there would be no profit for someone who could gain the whole world and yet lose his soul. “Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions’” (Luke 12:15 NIV).

The message of seeking after God and His kingdom is given with the understanding that the soul is in need of peace, joy, love, hope, goodness, gentleness, patience, self-control, kindness, and faithfulness, which enable and empower us to live the full, abundant life that Christ came for us to have.

Where can I go to get peace? Who can supply me with faithfulness? To whom can I turn to receive self-control? When the one I vowed to love until death parted us has drained me of the ability to love, how can I receive refreshment and replenishment to continue to give, unconditionally, when I don’t feel like doing so? Whether I am at home or on the job, when I become acquainted with the stress and troubles of life, where can I turn to receive a much needed supply of patience? Where can I purchase the internal fortitude to endure until my circumstances change? Where will my help come from, when no one is available to help? When the infatuation wears off, the excitement of the latest purchase dies down, or the thrill of the moment flees, who will sustain me?

The insight that I have gained since obtaining salvation is the understanding that everyone can receive good, or blessings, from God, because God is good to everybody and loves everyone equally. But not everybody experiences the intimate expression of His grace, goodness, and blessing of the life of His Son growing in and through them, because not everybody has faith in Christ. This, to me, is the most intimate way God can express His glory, grace, and power in the life of a person. The transformation of one’s character into the likeness of Christ is the greatest blessing God seeks to give to a person, because it is what He initially intended when we were created in His likeness in the beginning.

When we really think about it, does God really need our help to do anything outside of us? God invites us to work with Him! I am learning to allow God to fulfill His purpose of growing me up in Christ, by being willing to allow His power to work in me so that His life is expressed through me. This is the greater work and blessing I can receive from God. God created me to depend on Him and to be used by Him as I learn to live through Him!

May God bless you and help you to place in His hands your plans to allow Him to do exceeding, abundantly above all you could ask or think to encounter the fullness of life Christ came for us to have.

Satan’s Influence over Humanity

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, ‘Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?’ ‘For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’”

– Genesis 3:1, 5 NIV

 

What are the trees in your life that God has commanded you not to eat from that you have desire for? Eve was tempted to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because the bible says that she could see that it was pleasing to the eye, it looked good to eat and now Satan is telling her it will help her become like God knowing good and evil.

I am sure Eve was thinking to herself, “I know I am not suppose to eat it, but it suuurre looks good!” Or how about, “God, how can something that looks so good, feels so good, tastes so good or sounds so good be bad for you?” Eve taught us that everything that seems good isn’t always good for you.

If you read the book of Genesis’ account of the story of Adam and Eve you may notice the following: 1) Adam was not tempted to eat from the tree, Eve was. “When tempted, no one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desires, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.” James 1:13-15 NIV Everyone is tempted by something, but we may not all be tempted by the same thing.

You may not be tempted to do drugs, but you may be struggling with the temptation to have sex. Sex may not be your struggle right now, but what about the temptation to neglect time to pray and read your bible daily? This is why God refers to the serpent being crafty, because he is not going to come in the form of a red suit, horns and a pitch fork, but his temptations will be tailor made to deceive you into doing opposite of what God wants you to do. 2) Notice when the serpent first spoke to Eve he began with a question directly related to what God had already said, “Did God really say?”

Satan knew what God said and so did Eve, but if Satan can get you to talk you into questioning God’s authority, thinking about your desires, focusing on your desires, entertaining your desires and really begin to imagine how good it will taste, feel, sound, smell and how good it looks then eventually he will influence you to act on your desires and disobey God! 3) Satan did not make Eve eat the fruit, Eve made a choice. Eve knew what God told her to do and even told Satan what God said. Eve even told Satan the consequences of eating the fruit, but eventually she convinced herself to make a choice. What trees are you eating from that you know God told you not to?

May God bless you and help you to stand firm in your faith, steadfast in your devotion, and strong in your resistance against temptation to encounter the fullness of life Christ came for us to have.

The Reality of My Humanity

“What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God–through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.”

– Romans 7:24-25 NIV

 

The bible says one day a rich young ruler came to Jesus saying, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus first responded by saying, “Why do you call me good? There is no one good-except God alone.” Wait a minute! Jesus, the sinless Son of God, is saying there is none good but the Father.  Why do you think Jesus said this?

In first reading the bible I used to read Galatians 5:19-21 and say to myself how glad I was that I didn’t do most of what was written there thinking to myself how good I looked since I did not do those sins. I was okay! You know, I’m a good person. “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5:19-21 NIV

Even today I am convicted to think about how often I read Galatians 5:22-23a never considering how often I did not demonstrate the qualities mentioned consistently in my life. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self control.” Galatians 5:22-23a NIV

Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler’s question was to keep the commandments to inherit eternal life. The rich young ruler began to boast about the ones (10 commandments) he had kept since childhood, but if you read the account in Luke 18:18-29 you will notice he only mentioned some of them and the ones he neglected to mention are the ones Jesus, indirectly, brought to his attention. “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Luke 18:22 NIV

God was not the priority in this young man’s life, because the bible says that when he heard this he walked away from Jesus very sad. No amount of obedience, or good behavior, will satisfy God’s requirement to follow Jesus and our need for salvation. God gave His most treasured possession, His Son, for us so we could live with Him forever. Jesus challenged the young ruler to sacrifice, give, believe and serve and he chose to turn away from his salvation. Being good is not so much what God is looking for as much as He wants us to do good and that will be difficult for us to do without Him living in and through us to help us. Out of the good that you do, what is God requiring of you right now that makes it hard to want to follow Him or receive His salvation?

May God bless you and help you to allow the fruit of the Spirit to grow in you and be reproduced through you as you encounter the fullness of life Christ came for us to have.

The Evidence of Christ in Me

“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.”

– Galatians 5:24-26 NIV

 

 What is the evidence of an apple tree being an apple tree? How do you know when you drink a Coke you’re not drinking Sprite? What is the evidence that my mood is a positive one compared to a negative one? Why the questions? Jesus said that a good tree will only bear good fruit, while a bad tree will only bear bad fruit. If you make a tree good it will bear good fruit. He also said that good things can only come out of the person who has good things stored up in them and out of the overflow of the heart the mouth will speak.

According to what Jesus spoke, what kind of tree do you see yourself to be right now in your life? The kind of fruit that is being produced by the actions of your life is the best assessment of identifying the type of tree you are right now. The kind of person you are, your character, is easily determined by the choices and actions that you make and demonstrate consistently on a daily basis, even when no one is looking!

The amount of good any person has, including myself, is only determined by the amount of good I am allowing to be planted in me through my effort to read and study God’s word and let it be hidden in my heart. David, the King of Israel who defeated Goliath, said that he hid God’s word in his heart so he would not sin against God and wanted God to determine how he should live, according to His word, so sin would not influence his life. There is a man named Job in the bible that said that he treasured God’s word more than his daily bread and Jesus said that man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God’s mouth.

When I allow God’s word to become fixed in my heart with a willing desire to follow His instructions, I begin to allow the person of Jesus Christ to become evident in my life. People begin to see the fruit of His character evident in how I behave. Christ’s character is the fruit of the Spirit. If I wanted people to really know that I was a Christian, beyond the fact that I don’t drink, smoke, curse, get good grades and go to church, read my bible and pray, then all I have to do is demonstrate Christ’s patience in difficult, or stressful, situations.

I should share His love through kindness with an enemy, allow His peace to hold me when I want to fight, be joyful when I want to be disappointed and discouraged about something, allow His goodness & gentleness to be expressed through me towards others in how I speak and interact, showing self-control when others offend me and remaining faithful to God to obey His word, especially when I don’t feel like it.

May God bless you and help you to allow the evidence of Christ’s person to be evident in and through you to experience the fullness of life Christ came for us to have.

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