Friday, March 28, 2014
Giving up. We've all given up at one time or another. I remember when I was in High School at one particular track meet, I found out I wasn't the fastest kid in the neighborhood anymore. I was competing in both the 100 & 220 yard sprint races. In a sprint it's all out as hard and fast as you can get your legs to go for the whole distance. I'm glad "life" isn't that way. Especially now days.
I had won most of my races the year before ... and thought I would continue my winning ways. Nope, it wasn't to be. The starters gun went off and my spikes dug into the cinder track and off I went. Side by side for 50, 60, 70, 80 yards and then with just 10 yards to the finish line, all of a sudden ... I was third.
I didn't plan on that outcome. I remember the word that came out of my mouth as I exhaled and found myself slowing down those last 6 or 7 yards because I realized I was beaten. I "gave up" and "quit" before I crossed the finish line. I crossed it, but I was putting on the brakes thinking ... "Why try now?"
I didn't like losing. But later ... I didn't like myself because I gave up ... even if it was only the last 5 yards. Oh, I said to myself I tried, I did my best, but I knew better ... I quit, I gave up before I finished my race because someone I didn't even know was faster than I was.
That was a, "life lesson." If you start it ... finish it.
I thought I would share this little snippet of my history, to use as a comparison with a man in scripture who didn't give up or quit when things didn't go right. This man is Jacob who struggled and contended with a wrestler many of us have also met. Jacob had to use all of his strength to prevail when he met this man, but he prevailed in the end because he didn't give up.
We enter the middle of this strange drama in Genesis 32:24-30. We find Jacob at the dawn of a new day, still in the struggle he has been in all night long as he wrestles with another Man. Where this Man comes from or why Jacob is wrestling with Him is not shared with us ... only that seemingly, for whatever unknown reason, it is a struggle of desperation with Jacob because he holds on and will not let go of this yet unknown Man.
At this point, this Man asks Jacob to ... "Let me go, for it is dawn." It's as if this Man doesn't want Jacob to see Him in the light of day; but by now Jacob has perceived that he has been wrestling with God.
God ... in the form of the manifestation of the Son of God, now wanting to end this struggle, touches Jacob's thigh and it comes out of joint. Jacob now feels the power of God from only one touch and he can no longer stand by himself. Without any support from his thigh, Jacob now must hang upon this wrestler, and in this weakened condition learns the practice of sole reliance on his God, who is always more powerful than himself.
We should learn to do the same.
It is related that God could not prevail against Jacob because he held on with determination, if necessary it seems, even to the death. "God could not prevail?" How strange is that ... God could have shaken off the clinging grasp that Jacob had on Him as easily as He touched his thigh, but He does not when He hears Jacob's determined faith say ... "I will not let you go except you bless me."
The Word of God assures us that it was God with this statement in Hosea 12:4-5 ... "Yes, he had power over the Angel of the Lord and prevailed; he wept and sought His favor ... the name of Him Who spoke with Jacob is the Lord." (Amplified)
So this Man ... God in the form that Jesus would become ... blessed Jacob and changed his name to Israel because he contended with God and lived, as Jacob said, "after seeing the face of God."
When we struggle or wrestle with anything, even contending with God for something … "hold on" … to your faith with the same tenacity, the persistent determination and strength, that caused Jacob to prevail over God, and "receive" a blessing from Him.
When I was younger, much younger, I could run wind sprints to stay in shape. Now it would "wind me" if I tried to run a sprint. But I am still in a race with time. It's not a spiritual race, it's real ... but what we contend with ... is spiritual.
The Apostle Paul said the goal is to finish the race. I didn't always win every physical race, but I learned after a while, it didn't matter if I won or not. What mattered was ... I didn't quit. I didn't give up ... in life or ... with the Lord.
God will in the end always win.
You can't give up ... no matter what.
I find this drama to be one of the strangest in all of scripture. I believe that God, for whatever reason He chose, entered into a bodily conflict with Jacob. I have no idea as to why. Nor do I need to know why.
The battle is real. But it's not with God.
Friday, March 21, 2014
Some scriptures have the ability to bring to your heart and mind coherent, logical, consistent instruction in Godly principles we can understand. Others do not. I like scripture to be certain and definite, without any guessing on my part.
I was thinking about one the Apostle John wrote, so I looked it up and one word caught my attention ... the word because.
"And whatsoever we ask, we receive of Him, because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight." (1st John 3:22)
Really? We receive ... because ... we do certain things?
This sounds a lot like, "works" to me. What happened to asking in faith?
Jesus said ... "If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes." (Mark 9:23) And again ... "If you have faith, and doubt not ... it shall be done." (Matthew 21:21)
Faith. That is what our hope in Jesus is built upon. But in the scripture I question, John is speaking about works (the keeping and the doing of things) being the prerequisite for receiving an answer.
Is John agreeing with James, that faith ... "without works is dead?" Is this scripture saying that ... "by our works" ... we show God our faith? I thought God looks upon the heart. Is God impressed by what we do? Can faith be measured by works? If so ... how much is enough?
Not wanting any guessing on my part ... I needed to look at this verse of scripture a little closer.
According to the early Hebrew Aramaic translations into Greek, the first phrase, "And whatsoever we ask" ... is conditional, meaning ... provided you are asking "... according to His will ..." (1st John 5:14)
And then John writes, "we receive of Him" ... the word receive in it's primary meaning is ... to take, to get hold of ... which alludes to our part, the faith part, as in "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1)
Okay ... my thinking on the first half of this scripture is ...
1.) Whatever we ask must line up with God's will. Some things prayed for, such as "Lord let me jump across the Grand Canyon" or "Lord let me win the lotto" most likely won't fit within His will for you.
2.) We have a part in receiving from God. Knowing it's something God wants us to receive, we have to see it as something already done, making the answer so real that we get hold of it by faith. It becomes the substance hoped for.
Now the last half of this scripture ... "because we keep His commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in His sight."
The word "because" is a conjugation and seemingly clarifies the reason we receive from God ... because we keep and do certain things.
The way John wrote, "we keep His commandments" is interesting to me. The word "keep" as used here means, "to guard, to watch, to keep your eye upon it."
What do we keep an eye on? His "commandments" ... which translates into English as, "a precept, an authoritative prescription, an injunction" ... that compels a person to carry out a certain act.
I'm not sure compel is the proper word. Compel commonly implies the exercise of authority with the impossibility of doing anything else.
So ... are we compelled by a sense of duty to ... "do those things that are pleasing in His sight?" Maybe, if you think that's what it takes to receive an answer from God.
As far as I can tell from the translations I have, the original wording of this last phrase should read something like this ... "bring forth, perform those things that are agreeable and fit to be before the face of God, and in His presence."
So, I'm bringing this short scripture study down to this ... I want to present my own translation or interpretation of 1st John 3:22. This is just my opinion of what I think John is saying ... based on the fact that a believer should know the heart of God and asks according to God's known or perceived will.
My rendering, such as it is ... "And whatsoever we ask, (according to His will) we receive of Him (take hold of it by faith) because we do (guard and perform) those things (precepts) that are pleasing (agreeable) in His sight (in His presence, before His face.)"
And is it not true that God is as close to us as our breath is, and therefore everything we do in reality is ... in His face ... because His eye is never off of us.
So ... do we have to qualify ... before we can receive from God?
Honestly, I don't know. I hope not or I'm in trouble. But ... although this verse hints or alludes to so called works ... real faith ... is active and produces "good works."
The Apostle Paul writes these words in Ephesians 2:10 ...
"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them."
So, let's walk in them.
Friday, March 14, 2014
If my belief system was based only on the Holy Scriptures instead of being mixed with my experiences in life, then perhaps, I could truthfully repeat what the Apostle Paul said when he quoted the psalmist David.
In 2nd Corinthians 4:13, the Apostle Paul is expressing the same degree of faith that David wrote about in Psalms 116:10.
David said ... "I believed, therefore have I spoken." He said this during a time of trouble and affliction.
Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, speaks as one with them and says ... "We having the same spirit of faith, (as David) according as it is written, 'I believe, and therefore have I spoken'; we also believe, and therefore speak ..."
Paul had just written before this ... "We are troubled on every side, yet we are not distressed; perplexed, (be at a loss mentally) but not in dispair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed ..."
Then he goes on and says, "according as it is written" and quotes David ... "I believe, and therefore have I spoken" ... and immediately adds, "we also believe and speak." So what belief is he speaking about? "That He which raised up the Lord Jesus shall raise up us also ..."
Paul pulls this phrase, "I believe" out of Psalm 116. But there is much more in it ...
David starts with this ... "I love the Lord ..." Every believer ought to be able to declare this without the slightest hesitation.
Then he says ... "I found trouble and sorrow. Then I called upon the name of the Lord." Prayer is never out of season. When a man cannot run to God, he can call to Him. The greatest prayer ever prayed is simply ... "God help me!"
And finally he gives a promise I really need. David says ... "Our God is merciful. The Lord preserveth the simple." Let me translate this verse for you. "God helps those who aren't smart enough to help themselves." That's me. I need all the help I can get. More of Jesus. A whole lot more.
Those who have worldly skills and wit, generally know how to care for themselves through their own craftiness. But believers who simply trust in God, while trying to walk with integrity and truthfulness before God and do what is right, can depend upon God's care and protection to be over them.
Continuing, David declares ... "The Lord hath dealt bountifully with me."
How bountifully? Well, for us today ... God gave us His Son. And through Jesus, His Holy Spirit as a guide also. And should I mention grace and mercy? God has opened His fullness to us with all spiritual blessings. And one I especially like ... my sin, not in part, but the whole of it ... shall not be remembered anymore.
David evidently also remembered that he had said ... "my cup runneth over" ... because in that same theme, he now says of this cup ... "I will take the cup of salvation, and call upon the name of the Lord."
The spiritual cup of salvation ... we can call upon the name of the Lord in times of stress and trouble as we lift it up and say ... "Lord help!"
It's a spiritual cup ... and the only way you can grasp it is by faith. Take it in your hand, make it your own. But just don't hold it ... drink of it, partake of all that is in it.
As a child of God we have that right. You don't need to show God your cup of salvation. He gave it to you. But sometimes ... we need to look at it for ourselves ... to see that it is real, and to remind ourselves that God loves us in spite of who we are. Knowing every secret thing, every thought we think, and yes, even every temptation we desire to give in to, doesn't change His love for you.
You see ... God is totally committed to you, in spite of who you are.
Graham Cooke puts it this way ...
"You need to understand there is nothing you can do to make Him love you more. There is also nothing you can do to make Him love you less. He loves you because that is what He is like. It is His nature to love. His love is unchanging. You will always be loved.
He won't love you any better when you become better. And even if you have no plans to become better, He will still love you as you are. Even if you don't change, He will still love you with His whole heart because that's His nature. His love is unchanging. He loves you right now, this very moment … as you are. He can't help Himself, that's who He is … God is love."
David's problems and how he cried unto God were a little different than Paul's. David knew and understood that God was his salvation. But he looked to the future.
Paul looked back on what Jesus had already done. Jesus had overcome death, hell, and the grave. He had risen. Paul had a meeting with Jesus one day on the road to Damascus. Paul knew whereof he spoke. He had experienced Jesus one on one.
So I say ... give me that same "spirit of faith" David and Paul had so I can say along with them ... "I believe, therefore I speak" ... according as it is written.
Friday, March 7, 2014
I find that in the Book of James, some of what is written by the half brother of Jesus, the first pastor of the Christian church in Jerusalem, gives me cause to study his words very carefully. Things like ... "faith without works is dead" ... as well as ... "how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only."
But that's not what I am going to look at today. In the last six or seven sentences that James writes to his Jewish brethren, those who were also believers in Jesus, I find this question posed in James 5:14 ...
"Is there any sick among you?" This simple question provokes a thought in my mind and soul. Does one even need to ask such a question? Of course there are sick people among every body of believers. So why ask that question?
Could it be that James is alluding to the fact that there shouldn't be any. And if there are, why are they sick? Is it not true that Jesus was beaten bloody by the scourging the Roman's gave Him before His crucifixion, as it says in 1st Peter 2:24 ... "Who in His own self bare our sins in His own body ... by whose stripes you were healed."
I am not of the belief that Christians can ever arrive at a point where they will never get sick again. Our bodies are made of weak sinful flesh and they are subject not only to the passions of the flesh, but also to the wear and tear that time and nature places on us. We just wear out and our bodies stop working.
Even so, the overall view of the Bible is that we can come to the Throne of God with our problems and concerns, and particularly for those … who are sick. So we expect God to be merciful because He promises to be merciful, and we expect God to be present in times of trouble because He promises to be present in times of trouble. We expect God to take our prayers seriously when we pray on behalf of the sick.
Here I go again ... trying to make sense of the promise I believe is hinted at concerning healing for believers in Jesus. I use the term, "hinted at" because I can't find where God has promised us healing every time, in every situation.
One of those situations where God may not heal (no matter how much faithful prayer goes up to God) is when the natural aging process has brought you to the end of your personal number of days and months (Job 14:5) that God has determined for you to have on earth. According to Hebrews 9:27, it is appointed for us to die. And only God knows how many days we have.
But ... if James is saying the answer for those who are sick is to pray for them, then we should do so with the expectation of God healing them. But truthfully, if you are 110 years old, my faith for your healing most likely won't be there.
Look closely at what James said ... "Let him who is sick call for the elders, (the senior, older believers) to pray the prayer of faith over the sick person in the name of the Lord, and (then) the Lord (Jesus) shall raise him up." (My edited version)
Notice James doesn't say ... maybe the Lord will raise him up. No! He uses the word "shall" when speaking about what the Lord will do.
So I go back to the question ... "Is there any sick among you?"
Is it possible James is saying ... "If there is sick among you, there shouldn't be any."
If you can't agree with that statement, try this one ... "There doesn't have to be any sick among you."
Why? Because prayer changes things. I know ... it's easy to say these things. Talk is cheap. It's another thing altogether when the cruel reality of sickness and disease attack a loved one's body or even your own.
But I'm speaking of not just living life, but life more abundantly in Jesus. In His utmost. In His highest for you. Jesus purchased not only your salvation but your healing as well. Why is it easier to believe for salvation than it is for healing?
I am not saying that everyone I pray for gets healed. That has nothing to do with the truth of the Word of God.
When Peter walked on the water ... did the wind and waves have anything to do with his ability to walk on water? It was totally his faith in Jesus. It's the same with healing.
Forty years ago, I heard a young preacher say he was asked the following question about the healing prayer line he had at the end of each service he conducted. And that was ... "What would you do if the person you were praying for dropped dead while you were praying for them?"
He answered it this way ... "I would step over him and say, next."