Tag Archives: faith

God Gave First

2017-04-He-GaveWe owe God everything. Everything we have comes from God.

He owns all we see, taste, hear, touch and smell. Our thoughts, talents and acts come from faculties He gives us. The things we make for ourselves come from the things He makes. Our jobs come to us because of the natural resources He provides. We depend upon God for our children, grandchildren, the flowers in our garden, and every other blessing in life.

“The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof,” the Psalmist says. All of it. Stewardship means to manage all of God’s blessings in God’s way, for God’s glory. As we do so, we are blessed in ways beyond our imagination, both in this world and the world to come. We are all stewards of God’s gifts. The question is—are we good stewards or bad stewards?

Stewardship is based upon our relationship of trust in the character of God. Every time we act as if it is all ours, we insult the character of God. We tell him our nite minds know better how to bless ourselves than He can bless us with His in nite power and might.

True stewardship has no relation with the attitude that says, “I did it myself,” or “I have a right…” Instead, we thank God for everything and in everything. Stewardship is never a legalistic matter, but relational. God cares nothing about the quantity we give so much as the quality of our relationship with Him. Do we trust Him to do what He says He will do?

Jesus demonstrates this with the poor woman who put only two coins into the offering. She gave everything she had, Jesus tells us. She gave recklessly, not knowing where she would find her next meal. But Jesus saw her faith, and we can be sure that after He praised her faith, He helped her to better her poverty-stricken condition.

Good stewardship brings God’s blessing. God never asks us to sacrifice anything without first making a sacrifice Himself, and He did that perfectly on the cross through His Son. He has proven Himself trustworthy. Good stewardship means to trust God to do what He promises—through all we are and have.

Whether we are grudging or free in our stewardship reflects how we view God and His sacrifice to reconcile us to Himself through His Son, Jesus Christ. The more we see ourselves as sinners in need of God’s grace, the more we will want to express our gratitude to Him and make His interests our own. The less we see ourselves as sinners, the less our gratitude and any desire to thank God through our stewardship.

God’s invitation to trust Him with all we are and have is an invitation to discover Him in His fullness, to experience His glory as we give Him glory. When we refuse to offer Him back what He has given to us, we declare that we are gods.

This Easter, let us thank God for His great sacrifice through His Son which gives us our salvation in this life and the next. Let us make His interests our own, which means making sure we do our part to declare the Good News to all who still do not know Him.

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The First Mission Field

2017-03-slum-school-children-prayerOur children are our first mission field.

We live in a turbulent world inhabited by troubled youth and children, alienated from their families and society. Apart from a dramatic intervention by God, we face a troubled future whenever such troubled youth grow up, become parents themselves and take their places in seats of government, business, education, the arts, media and communication. How we raise our children today, influences our society for generations to come.

These things do not “just happen.” Two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul identified a major cause for an alienated generation when he wrote, “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4).

Too many parents stimulate rebellious spirits in their children when they resort to harsh discipline or fail to discipline them at all. Such extremes never work. What is needed is right discipline.

The key to right discipline is for parents to first discipline themselves, to submit themselves to their heavenly Father. Parents submitted to God know their children are not their personal possessions to treat as they please, but gifts of God. Parents are not to use children for their own purposes and ambitions, but to patiently help them to develop the unique personalities God gave each of them.

Like us, our children are born in sin. We depend upon God’s mercy and grace in our own lives, and we must treat our own children’s shortcomings with mercy and grace. Discipline is necessary, but to humiliate a child or inflict physical, verbal or emotional abuse have no place in a Christian home.

Paul tells us to raise our children “in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” This means parents must learn to sacrifice their own interests to bring their children into emotional and spiritual maturity by instruction and example. Fathers and mothers must spend less time at the office or other activities to accomplish this God-given mission. Their own children are always their first priority.

Trying to force religion down their children’s throats or coerce a “decision for Christ” is never right. Going to church, Sunday school and youth group are good, but even better, children should see in their parents consistent character, integrity, and kindness that win their respect and motivate them to become like their parents.

They should see in their parents a worldview and lifestyle that sets them apart from parents of neighbors and friends. They should understand from their parents that this difference comes because of God’s gospel of grace in their lives.

Children should hear regularly from their parents how God has changed their lives, answered their prayers, and been faithful. Children should see in their parents the joy of the Lord, and know their parents pray for them every day.

Children should see and hear their parents read their Bibles and pray for those in need. They should hear their parents apply the scriptures to their lives, work and family. They should see their parents take a vital interest in those who still live in darkness without the gospel.

Yes, our children and grandchildren are our first mission field. If we have done our job right, our children will more likely become God’s ambassadors to their own children and a needy world around them.

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Christ in You!

christ-in-youWe live in dangerous times. We are like sailors tossed about on the sea, fearing the waves will tear the ship in two. How easy for us to become alarmed and discouraged, to despair that God has abandoned us.

We all need hope in our times. Hope greater than wishful thinking, knowledge based upon fact. Hope based upon the Word of God, upon His character that never fails. Hope as an assurance, a conviction, freedom from all doubt that God will “come through.”

The apostle Paul lived in perilous times. Yet he lived with great hope that certainly was not based upon his circumstances. Consider his frequent sufferings from stoning, floggings, shipwreck, imprisonment, betrayal, hunger, thirst, a “thorn in the flesh.” He lived under a tyrannical emperor who murdered his own mother and threw Christians to the lions. Paul’s own beloved Jewish people despised his message.

“Christ in you, the hope of glory”—this was Paul’s hope in the midst of great trials. For him, this was not only a theological concept, but a living reality, a personal experience.

What did he experience? In Colossians 1, he speaks of Christ, the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. Christ, who created all things in heaven and earth, visible and invisible, all thrones and dominions, rulers or authorities—all things were created through Him and for Him.

Christ, who is before all things. Christ, in whom all things hold together. Christ, the head of the body, the church. Christ, the beginning, the firstborn from the dead. Christ, the preeminent one. Christ, in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell. Christ, who reconciled to Himself all things on earth and in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross.

All of this was more than a concept to Paul, but also an experience. How does one describe such an experience?

How could Neil Armstrong fully describe the moment he became the first man in history to walk on the moon? How does a bride describe the moment when the ring of her beloved slips over her finger? How do a father and mother fully describe holding their first-born child for the first time?

What these people know differs from that of bystanders. These personal experiences cannot be described. Only experience brings full understanding.

“Christ! In! You!” What Paul’s words embody, and what Paul experienced, dwarfs all other human experiences. Those without Christ know nothing of it, and often, too many believers know little of it because they have fooled themselves (or have been fooled by Satan) to expect little from God. This should lead each of us to ask, how much do we expect of God?

Paul makes clear that his experience of Christ in him is to become the experience of all believers, not just a select few religious people. Paul invites us “to comprehend with all the saints [you and me] what is the breadth and the length and height and depth, to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge . . . to be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19).

In whatever prison we find ourselves—and we all know them—let us each accept Christ’s invitation to know Paul’s experience for ourselves in our uncertain times. Then we will become more motivated to offer that Good News to others.

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Walk in God’s Light

2016-11-in-the-lightThe light of God is like a great feast of endless delight for all who accept His invitation to partake of it. With His light, we know we are headed in the right direction. He sent His light into the world through His Son, Jesus Christ, in whom there is no darkness at all.

Those who gladly receive the Light that is Jesus Christ will experience transformation. We receive a changed nature and become part of His new humanity. We receive a more childlike nature, more inclined to trust the word and the person of Jesus Christ in opposition to the prevailing culture. We more readily delight in the truth of God.

Our eyes will open to things we never saw before, and which others, who do not have the Light, cannot see. We will more readily speak the truth. We will more readily see the true mind and character of God and desire that above all else. We will more readily live a life of fruitfulness, joy and peace.

This does not mean we can or will attain sinless perfection in this earthly life, but we will have greater ability to understand ourselves and our world from God’s viewpoint. We will put less trust in human wisdom. We will better understand that human wisdom will disappoint us in some way because human understanding always falls short of God’s perfect Light.

Every follower of Christ has the Holy Spirit who provides the potential to experience all the light of Christ. Because of sinful habits we have developed since birth, we may still allow emotions, social or business pressures, cultural norms and other things to sway us—things that seem logical and even good to us, but do not take into account the full truth God makes available to us.

David was a man after God’s own heart, and yet he allowed Bathsheba’s beauty to capture him more than the Light of God. He suffered dire consequences for his acts, and brought untold suffering upon himself and others that continued even after he repented. In many ways, Judas and Peter perceived the Light better than any of us, yet they betrayed and cursed the Light for short-sighted reasons. If they failed, we are also subject to failure.

Jesus invites and warns us at the same time when He says, “While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light.” We have the Light now, but if we ignore the Light, we will not always have Him. If we continually look to our own light, darkness will overtake us, and he who walks in the darkness does not know where he goes.

The Light of God is found in the Word of God through the Spirit of God. We must learn to let His Word speak to us in our daily lives, let it challenge our ideas, let it take precedence over cultural norms and trendy presumptions. Learning to follow the light is difficult for people like us with sinful tendencies to wander.

Let us remember that in the end, it is not we who possess the Light, but the Light Who possesses us. This is the ultimate message of the Good News, and let us make sure that others see signs of the Light in us.

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Do You Truly Know Him?

More than 50 years ago, Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached, “What this world needs more than anything else is personal knowledge of the true character of God. Our basic problem is a profound ignorance of God’s character.”

If anything, those words are truer today than ever before—a profound ignorance of the character of God. Tragically, this is true even in many churches that call themselves “Christian.”

Too many Christians have bought into the lie that God is a creation of our psychological state, and that we can pick and choose what parts of God we like and leave out whatever makes us feel uncomfortable. Too many Christians have bought into the lie that religion begins and ends with ourselves, that God is about “meeting my needs and the needs of my family.”

The names of God in the Bible do not allow us this fantasy. God’s names in the Bible do not result from philosophical speculation but are the names God gives to Himself. They reveal His true being. They shatter our ignorance. They remind us that He makes us, we don’t make Him.

God reveals who He is through His names because He wants us to experience Him. He wants us to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” God is always greater than what we think of Him. If we are attracted to the God of love and grace, we must also experience the holy and righteous God who hates and judges our sin. We must also experience the God who demands our total submission to Him. In our present culture, these truths cause discomfort even in the church.

When we adapt God to our own desires and dreams, we cannot experience a true relationship with Him. True relationship with anyone is impossible with fantasies about that person, even more so with God. Whenever we leave something out of God’s character, we experience less of Him, not more. We know less of His love and grace. We know less of His power. In the end, He becomes remote and impotent to us, and we trust Him less, not more.

In today’s world, a remote God is the last thing we need. With all its confusion and turmoil, the world looms large, and God appears small and ineffective even to many Christians, unable to help them overcome daily problems of raising families, deal with health issues, find hope in turbulent electoral politics, face the prospect of death.

God is pleased to reveal hundreds of names of Himself in the Bible. The multiplicity of God’s names in scripture reveal how great He really is—and how little we truly know Him. The multiplicity of His names also demonstrate God’s continuing and patient invitation to us to know Him better.

When we allow Him to surround and embrace us with who He really is, and not who we want Him to be, we discover joy in the midst of sorrow, peace in the midst of war, opportunities in the midst of obstacles, accomplishment in the midst of mundane toil.

The multiplicity of God’s names speak of the greatness of God. Let us proclaim this great God to a fragmented world and anticipate His promise of that day when “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.”

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God Introduces Himself

God introduces Himself . . . This fact makes the Bible and the gospel of Jesus Christ different from any other religion.

In all other religions, a celebrated philosopher, teacher or prophet tries to introduce us to God. But humanity’s ideas about God, no matter how seemingly noble and high-minded, always fall short. We always reduce God to something less than Who He is because that is what sinners always do—they fall short. We are all idolaters.

This is a constant danger for all of us, even if we call ourselves evangelical Christians. We all have this tendency to simplify God, to make Him less offensive, to reduce Him to the most common denominator so as to include as many people as possible within the fold. I constantly must watch this tendency in myself.

As sinners, we tend to become attracted to the spectacular, to the “big show.” The people who witnessed Jesus’ earthly ministry exclaimed at His miracles and followed after Him to see what He would do next. But later, they shouted out, “Crucify Him!” Amazement at Jesus’ miracles does not translate into falling at His feet and crying out, “Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

As sinners, we naturally like an easy-going God of love who forgives us (i.e., winks an eye at sin) and fulfills our every wish and dream. Many false prophets today, who call themselves “Christians,” promise this false god and attract multitudes. This god is tame and controllable, like a domesticated cat. He is also powerless to save anybody.

All of these deadly tendencies are why we desperately need God to tell us who He really is.

We know God best by how God introduces Himself to us in the Bible through such names as I AM WHO I AM and ELOHIM. God reveals Himself in many such names throughout the Bible.

In his book, Experiencing God, Henry Blackaby lists more than 350 ways God introduces Himself to us through His names. These names God gives to Himself reveal His character, not only as a God of love, but as pure and righteous, a hater of sin, with no beginning and end, three-in-one and one-in-three, unchangeable, everlasting, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, King of kings–and utterly holy.

I AM WHO I AM dies a humiliating and unspeakable death, and promises to come back as judge to separate the sheep from the goats. No simple God here, and multitudes don’t want Him. They don’t want this holy God over whom they lose all control because He is in control, not them. Little do they know, He is the only God who can truly help them.

This is the God we are called to proclaim to the world around us. Through Jesus Christ, I AM WHO I AM is the only God who can save us from our small ideas and even smaller power. He is the only God who can redeem and transform our lives, give us a glimpse into the future, and create a New Heaven and a New Earth.

When God introduces Himself to us, we had better accept Him for Who He really is, not the domesticated fantasy He is not. Our eternal destinies (and the world’s) depend upon it.

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