Living Differently

Esther 3:8
Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the people in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from all other people’s, and they do not keep the king’s laws. Therefore it is not fitting for the king to let them remain.”

Haman’s problem with Mordecai and the Jewish people as a whole was not that they were lawless, insubordinate, unruly or even rebellious. His problem was that they lived by a higher law and as a result were not easily swayed by the changing tides of cultural. As a result he determined to rid the landscape of all those who named the name of YHWH. As a follower of Christ we should seek not to be lawless but to live by a higher law. When the apostles were being threatened they responded “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard.”

A careful examination of the commands of Christ teach us that believers are to love God with all their heart, love others with a self sacrificing love, take the low place and serve one another, turn the other cheek when mistreated, give without any expectation of return, pray for those who mistreat us, seek to win people over with words of grace and truth, behave with patience, speak words that are edifying, forgive when wronged, and the list goes on and on. What is it about those behaviors that is so unpalatable to the world we live in? I think the answer to that question is that the person living under the law of Christ is not swayed by the changing tides of culture.

If we live for Jesus we cannot avoid opposition from a world that is floating in another direction, but we can be sure that the opposition is not because we are failing to rightly represent Christ.

Jim

 

“To Be Honest…”

Numbers 30:2
“If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.”

A vow is a form of a promise. The person taking the vow is promising certain actions will follow. This whole chapter is emphasizing the need to be faithful to the promises made to the Lord and to others. The basic idea is that God wants His people to be honest.

Honesty is a foundational principle for healthy relationships. If a person lies they cannot be trusted, and it becomes impossible to build or even maintain relationship with them. As parents, it is critical that we instruct our children on the value of honesty. This is done by both setting an example and establishing certain guidelines. We lie because we think the truth will get us into trouble. We need to encourage truth from our children and help them see that lying is, in many ways, only delaying the inevitable and making things worse.

Honesty is also a critical part of our walk with the Lord. We are easily deceived, and in many cases, not honest with ourselves. When we sin, we are very good about blaming circumstances or other people. We need to take an honest evaluation of ourselves and make the proper changes so we don’t end up falling into the same sin over and over again.

Let’s be sure to allow the Lord to examine us, be willing to confess our faults to Him, and receive His grace to move beyond them.

Pastor Jim

 

Locked Up

Jeremiah 32:2
“For then the king of Babylon’s army besieged Jerusalem, and Jeremiah the prophet was shut up in the court of the prison, which was in the king of Judah’s house.”

Judah was on the brink of disaster with the armies of Babylon were camped outside the city walls. Food, water and morale, were at risk of running out, and the only hope for the nation was locked away in a prison cell. The people were neglecting the one thing that could ensure victory over the enemy they were facing. That victory would be found in obeying the Word of God, spoken by the prophet Jeremiah.

Times have changed and circumstances differ, but we do the same thing today. When faced with a problem, trial, temptation or personal struggle, we often look everywhere else, before we resort to the promises of God. We think money, medicine, counsel, or some other natural thing, will provide us with deliverance. We neglect to go to the pages of God’s Word where we meet the Lord face to face.

Part of the reason Judah ignored the Jeremiah’s message was they did not like, nor want to hear, what he declared. His message was one that involved surrender, and God dealing with personal and national sin. He told them the secret to victory was in surrender to Babylon. Rather than accepting the ways of God, they chose to silence the Word of God.

Again, this is common today. Many who refuse to seek counsel from the Word, do so because they already know what God will say. His message will include a solution to the problem, but the solution will involve dealing with the sin that caused the problem.

If you are facing difficulty, don’t run away from the Word of God, instead run toward it. Open the pages of your Bible and allow God to speak into your life. Some of what He declares may be hard to handle, but in the end, He will always lead us in triumph through Christ.

Pastor Jim

 

The Book

Hebrews 10:7
“Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come— In the volume of the book it is written of Me— To do Your will, O God. ’”

Years ago I had a friend who worked in a local book store. Part of his job was to be familiar with the books so he could answer questions and make recommendations. The problem was he really did not enjoy reading. His solution was to read the book jackets which often gave a brief summary of the content of each book. While that did not make him an expert by any means, it did give him a good idea of what to expect if and when he ever ventured into reading one of the books. If the Bible contained an inspired summary of its content it would be but one word: Jesus.

John 5:39 “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.”

While the Bible touches on, and even addresses, a wide variety of topics, it is primarily a book about salvation. The Old Testament is filled with promises of a savior coming to provide atonement for sin, and the New Testament tells the story of the Savior. The more you know the pages of your Bible, the more you will know Jesus. He is found on every page and in every story. Sometimes He is the main character of the event, other times He may rest in the shadows in the form of a type or illustration, but He is always is there. As you read the Word, be careful to observe the context so as not to make the Bible say something it does not mean, but also be careful to look for Jesus.

As you continue through Hebrews, keep in mind one of the key themes of this letter is that Jesus is better. That is why He is being contrasted with the Old Testament laws, covenant, priesthood and sacrifices. They all served the purpose of pointing to Christ, He serves the purpose of fulfilling the Law and sacrifices. As a result, we no longer live under them, but live in a relationship of grace.

Pastor Jim

 

That Will Fix It

Isaiah 33:22
“For the Lord is our Judge,
The Lord is our Lawgiver,
The Lord is our King;
He will save us”

Israel, in Isaiah’s day, was in dire straights. The Assyrians were on a rampage, overthrowing any nation that stood in the way of their desire for global dominance. Israel watched as their neighbors were defeated and enslaved to the most bloodthirsty nation the world had ever known. In the midst of these threatening conditions, people began to offer solutions. The most common was to make an allegiance with Egypt to withstand the Assyrian invasion. Isaiah offered an entirely different remedy. He encouraged the people to understand, it was God who could save them. But in order for this to happen, they would have to look at Him very differently than they had been doing. He used three words to describe a proper relationship with God.

First he refers to God as the Judge. This word was used in Israel for those who ruled over the people. If Israel was to be delivered, they must return to allowing God to rule over them, instead of following the dictates of their own hearts. Today, it very common for people to assume there is no absolute standard of right and wrong, and each person must do what is right in their own eyes. This is not a new concept, it was prevalent in Isaiah’s day and led to the collapse of the nation. The first step to deliverance is to allow God to be our judge.

Second, Isaiah refers to God as the Lawgiver. This word means exactly what it says. God is the one who sets the laws for mankind to follow. He has given moral laws to keep us in check and to lead us to His provision for our salvation. What we call the Ten Commandments, are a set of standards that will create a healthy living environment for mankind. However, they will also show us, we are unable to keep them on our own. There purpose is to lead us to Christ, the one who forgives all sin, and makes us right with God. Today, there are those who are passionately oppose to the law of God. They are attempting to remove His commands from schools, courthouses, and other public places, as though these laws were dangerous and destructive. Imagine for a moment what our nation would be like if we kept them. No murder, dishonesty, theft or destroying of families through sexual misconduct. I wonder why people are so opposed to the law of God?

Finally, Isaiah refers to God as King. A king sits on a throne and rules. Jesus was asked if He was a King, to which He responded, “that is the reason I came into the world” (John 18:37). Jesus did not come to be our personal advisor or friend, as much as He came to rule over us. He is a beneficent ruler, but He is a ruler none the less. The proper place for Him in our life is not as co-pilot, but as king. Deliverance will be found when we allow Him His rightful place.

I think Isaiah’s prescription for Israel is as necessary today as ever.

Pastor Jim

Tutor

Galatians 3:24
“Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

The law Paul refers to is what is commonly known as the Ten Commandments. This law is distinct from all other laws in its source and in its purpose. We are surrounded by laws written by men and designed to be kept. The Law of God was written by the hand of God; its purpose, to reveal that we are incapable of living up to His standard of righteousness. When confronted with the Gospel, many will claim they are good people, trying to honor God by keeping the commandments. Anyone who makes that statement, completely misunderstands the commands of God. Let’s take a look at a few of them and see how we measure up.

Exodus 20:3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.”

God demands first place in our lives. If anything ranks higher in your life than God, and seeking to please Him, you are guilty of breaking the first commandment. Jesus elaborated on this commandment saying, we must love God with ALL of our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:37). That is a tall order, isn’t it? It requires that we ask ourselves, “Is there anyone or anything more important to us than living to please God?” If we are involved in an ungodly relationship, or ungodly practices within a relationship, we are guilty of breaking the very first commandment. That should be enough to prove to any honest person, they are not keeping the commandments of God. However, for the sake of argument, let’s look at one more.

Exodus 20:15 “You shall not steal.”

Stealing is defined as taking something that does not belong to you, without the permission of the owner. Stealing is not determined by the value of the item taken, but rather to whom the item belongs. The first recorded act of stealing is found in Genesis chapter three, when Eve took a bite of a piece of fruit that did not belong to her. God took that action very seriously. He did not wink at it, suggesting it was only a little sin that did not matter much. Her act of taking what did not belong to her, and her husband following suit, resulted in their banishment from the garden and sin entering the world.

Clearly, none of us are living up to the commandments of God. If that is true, why then, did God write them? Most laws are written to be observed. When I was a school teacher, I had a list of standards written on the wall of my classroom. Every student could look and understand clearly what was expected of them while in my room. God gave His list of standards to show us we are not capable of meeting them, and each of us is in need of a savior. Like a tutor who sits beside a student to help them understand a concept, the law speaks to each of us, explaining that we cannot save ourselves. No work we have ever done can erase the sins we have committed. We must cry out to the One who saves. Paul wrote, “the Law was a tutor to bring us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” It is when we recognize we are sinners and Christ is the Savior, that we will cry out to Him to rescue us. Paul went on to say,

Galatians 3:26 “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

When we put our trust in the Savior, all of our sins are forgiven and we become the children of God. Instead of pretending we are good enough, it is time to honestly evaluate ourselves in light of the standard of God. Then we must cry out for Him to forgive us of our sins and and make us His children.

Pastor Jim

 

Free From Sin’s Control

Romans 8:
“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

As we read through the Word, it is important to remember the chapter breaks were added later to make it easier to find specific passages. At times, they can create a break in thought not intended by the author. This often causes us to miss something vital in the text. The thoughts of Romans 8 are an obvious conclusion of what Paul declared in Chapter 7. He referred to himself as carnal, a word meaning worldly; and wretched, meaning deeply afflicted, or extremely bad. The reason for his dire view is that he found himself incapable of living a proper Christian life. The Word of God clearly expresses the kind of life which pleases God, and the particular behaviors, thoughts, desires and actions that are regarded as sinful. By his own admission, Paul knew what was right, but lacked the power to accomplish these things. He writes,

“For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice.” Romans 7:19

Have you ever been sitting in a church service, hearing a particularly convicting message, knowing that you come short, desiring with all your heart to live up to it, yet walking out the door and failing again? Understand, you are not alone in this, even Paul faced the same struggles. While it is encouraging to know we are not alone in this battle, Paul did not write about his experience in order to make us feel better when we fail. Instead, he is writing his story to offer us help. He goes on to give the secret of his success; “I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” While Chapter 7 describes the struggle Paul faced attempting to live for Christ, Chapter 8 gives the secret behind his victory.

“For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death.”

The life of victory over sin, results in a life filled with the fruit of the spirit, has impact upon others, and produces treasures stored up in Heaven; this is the life empowered by the Spirit of God. The Christian life was never meant to be lived in the energy of human strength. God requires that we learn to depend upon His Spirit for our strength. It is the one who sits daily before the throne of grace who will be filled with the Spirit of Christ. He will find himself with an increased ability to conquer personal sin and live well pleasing to the Lord. STOP trying to win the battle against the flesh with will power and human strategy. Instead, sit daily at the feet of Jesus, in the Word of God, and ask Him, nay, plead with Him, to fill you beyond capacity, with the Spirit of holiness that raised Christ from the dead.

Take a few minutes to ask God to baptize you with His Spirit. Ask Him to give you power to set down the sins you keep picking up, and to give you spiritual gifts that you might be useful for His Kingdom purposes. Then, read through the rest of Romans 8 to find insights into how to walk in the Spirit. Especially note what Paul says about the mind.

Pastor Jim