Thursday, February 23, 2006

Living Sacrifice, Lives of Worship

Last night was our midweek service. Our youth pastor was out of town, and his mother, our pastor’s wife, preached the youth service. She spoke on praise and worship, and what the difference really is between them. What followed was a powerful time of worship for the teens, and us adults, that were there. But now, I’ve been thinking about worship this morning.

What do we often think of when we think of worship? I don’t think I’m too far off when I say the majority of people tend to think of worship in terms of the church service. They think of the fast praise songs that get people moving, and the slower, more worshipful songs that follow. Maybe they think of worship as the time spent around the altar after the pastor preaches his sermon. A lot of people really tend to think in this way when it comes to worship.

I’d like to help change our thinking. You see, worship isn’t just what we do on Sunday and Wednesday. Worship isn’t simply an act. It’s a way of life. Our English word “worship”, comes from an old English word, “worth-ship”. It means to express to God how valuable he is to us, how much he means to us. Simply stated, to worship God is to express to him his worth in our life. I don’t know about you, but a song and an upraised hand can’t touch how much the Lord means to me. I use that time to express my love to him, and honor him, but worship goes far beyond music and physical gestures.

One of the great scriptures in the Bible about worship, in my opinion, is Romans 12:1.

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, {which is} your spiritual service of worship.”

This tells us that worship isn’t something we just come together and do; it’s a choice we make, really, on a daily basis. We are to present ourselves as a living sacrifice to the Lord. That is, we must first of all realize that we are not our own. The Bible says that we were bought with a price, the blood of the Lord Jesus. We are his. Therefore, if we belong to him, then he has us everyday, not just for Sunday visits. We need to worship the Lord in our actions and our attitudes.

Yesterday, I spoke of Abraham’s offering of his son Isaac on Mt. Moriah. We always look at the story as one of Abraham’s faith, and it is. But let’s consider Isaac. While the Bible calls him a “lad”, a more proper translation is “young man”. Some scholars think Isaac was as old as 30! In any view, he was certainly strong and quick enough to wrestle away from his elderly dad. Yet, we don’t see Isaac running once it becomes apparent to him that he was the sacrifice. We see a picture of a young man who knew that this was God’s will, and he laid his life down voluntarily. Really, it’s a beautiful typology of the Lord Jesus, how he laid his own life down for us. In fact, history says that the hilltop Abraham and Isaac were on is in fact the very hill that Christ was crucified upon!

The point in my telling this story is that Isaac willingly laid his life down as the sacrifice that day. Friends, we are called to be a sacrifice too. We belong to Christ. Knowing this, worship takes on a whole new meaning. It becomes less about a church service, and more about honoring and expressing our love to God, and declaring his value to us. That’s why it’s so important to live lives of integrity and honesty. That’s why it’s important to do what’s right. That’s why we must truly love and honor those around us, because as we do, we are truly worshipping God. In fact, the Bible goes so far as to say that if we don’t love those people around us, we don’t truly love God! “How can you love God, who you can’t see, when you can’t love you brother, who you can see?” (1 John 4:20) When we prayerfully read our Bibles, seeking to know God more intimately, we are worshipping. When we stay in an attitude of prayer in our hearts, we are worshipping. Let us worship him with our very existence!

Friends, I pray that you are encouraged and prodded to live lives of worship. Let everything you do be an expression of your love of God, and of his worth to you. May God bless, my friends!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Lay It on the Altar

*Today, I am going to follow with the same thought as yesterday, that is the provision of God.

We love getting blessings, don’t we? How many of you have ever had a time where God came through and met a need in your life in some amazing, and even miraculous way? I’ve had my share, too. One in particular, several years ago happened at a time when we were totally broke, with no money for groceries. We were really low on food in the fridge and cupboards, and my sensed the Holy Spirit tell her to write out a grocery list. So she did, listing everything we needed, and even some things we wanted. When she was done, she prayed over the list, and asked God to do whatever it was he wanted to do. She went back about her business that day.

I came home from work that afternoon, and grabbed the mail from the mailbox. I walked in, and my wife was relaxing on the couch. She saw in the mail that I hadn’t even looked at yet a small card, like a thank-you card, and she said, “Ooo, a card came!” She happily opened it to see who sent it, but she didn’t notice the green paper that fell from the card. I did, and I quickly grabbed it, and found that it was a folded $100 bill! That was when she told me about the grocery list, and we rejoiced because God had provided for our need. Immediately, I took that list she had made and went to the store. We got everything on the list!

I have many other stories that I can share about our wonderful Savior who provides for our needs. After all, Philippians 4:19 says, “And my God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus”. God is a gracious God who knows what we have need of, and provides it! Often, I have verbally praised the Lord the way we often do when he has provided for us, with a shout of “Jehovah-Jireh”, which means, “The Lord will provide”.

Where do we first see this name of God in the Bible? It is in Genesis 22, when Abraham commanded by God to take his son Isaac to a certain mountain and offer him as a burnt sacrifice. I can’t imagine how hard this must have been for Abraham. This was the son of promise, miraculously born to him and his wife Sarah in their old age, and with Sarah having been barren her whole life, unable to have children. He loved his son, yet he loved God more, and did as he was commanded.

When they got to the place God showed them, they began the ascent to the top. Though the Bible refers to Isaac as a “lad”, most scholars believe that he was a young man, possibly 30 years old (Chuck Smith’s commentary). At any rate, he was easily quick and strong enough to overpower his elderly dad to escape certain death. But instead, we see Isaac as a willing participant. There is no reading of a struggle ensuing as if he sought to save himself. He laid his life down on that altar in complete obedience to his father, and to God. I’ll save that for a later devotion.

As they walked to the place of sacrifice, Isaac asked his father where the lamb to be sacrificed was at. Abraham responded prophetically, saying, “God shall provide himself a lamb…” (v. 8) With his son now tied up and laying on the altar, Abraham took the knife, and raised it to kill him. Suddenly, out of nowhere, the angel of the Lord stopped Abraham just before the knife made contact. God commended him for his faith, and provided a ram that had been caught in a thicket by his horns. Abraham untied Isaac, and got the ram, and sacrificing the ram that God had provided, called the place they were “Jehovah-Jireh”, or “the Lord will provide”. It’s interesting to note that the place this event happened was called Mount Moriah, which was the very place that Christ hung upon the cross. God did indeed provide himself a sacrifice there, in the person of Jesus Christ!

Nowadays, we often look to God to take care of our every need. We look to him as “Jehovah-Jireh”, but he didn’t become known as the God who provides until Abraham made the sacrifice. How often do we want God to provide for us, yet the area we want his providence in remains in our hands? We want God to give us a better job, or more money, but we refuse to take our hands off of it and let God do what he will. Our finances, our homes, our children, and our jobs all belong on the altar. We have to give these areas of life up to God, for him to do what he will with them. Perhaps there are friendships that need to go on the altar. Maybe relationships that we want God to move in, but we’re unwilling to totally remove our hands and let God do what he will. How can we expect God to bless areas we refuse to give completely to him?

I have to give my family to him, my marriage, and my work. How do I do that? I have to come to the understanding that I can’t help any of these areas without God’s help. I recently took a second job delivering pizzas to make some extra cash for my family. How do I make sure I’m keeping my hands off and doing things God’s way? I make sure that I pay my taxes on what I earn in tips, first of all. Most delivery drivers don’t do that. I’m certainly not above them, but I want to honor God, and I want to walk in his provision. I have to have integrity. I have to do what is expected of me from my boss. I can’t cut corners and expect God to bless it. Keeping my hands off means I’m not trying to make it work by myself, but I’m doing it God’s way. He will bless it.

I encourage everyone today to put those areas of need on the altar. Get your hands off it, and let God do what he wants to do with it. The Bible tells us that God desires to give us good things. But unless we’re willing to take our hands off, and give him complete control, I have to believe that God can’t bless whatever area we need his touch in. May God bless you as you put your situation up the altar.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

The Place of Provision

This year I have embarked on a mission to read the entire Bible through in less than a year. I actually got started a little late, about ten days, but I am well on my way now. My plan is to read four chapters every day, which will cover every chapter in just less than ten months, reading two from the Old Testament, and two from the New Testament. I have fallen behind a time or two, but I manage to get caught back up.

In my reading however, I am learning a lot. Since I have been one to know financial hardship, as well as dealing with asthma problems with a couple of my kids that can be quite serious, I know a thing or two about the trials life often tosses our way. And, it’s been a while since I’ve written about trials, I decided that it's now time.

In Genesis 39, it seemed that things were finally starting to go pretty good for Joseph. Yea, he was a slave, but at least he was the head slave. He oversaw the entire house of his master Potiphar. Things weren’t to stay that way, however, because his master’s wife became, well, quite fond of Joseph. In fact, she on several occasions tried to seduce him. Yet, not wanting to sin against God, Joseph turned down her advances. Finally, one day, she grabbed a hold of him, and demanded he sleep with her. He did the only thing that he really could do, he ran. She had such a tight grip on his shirt that it came off in her hand when he split. She immediately screamed out, and accused him of attempting to rape her. Potiphar believed his wife, and had Joseph put in the King’s prison.

“And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison.” Gen. 39:20

Things had gotten quite bad for this young man that had a promising future. First, his brothers didn’t like him. Then his dreams made them hate him. Next they tossed him in a pit, and sold him into slavery. Now, here he was sitting in a prison. He had done nothing wrong, yet he ended up in a cell block, where he would be for at least a few years. Yet, something in that verse above spoke to me, not just about Joseph’s situation, but mine and yours, as well. “…a place where the king’s prisoners were bound”.
Remember the rest of the story. Two of Pharaoh’s servants, his butler, or cupbearer, and his baker had gotten on his bad side. He tossed them both in the slammer. One night, they both had very peculiar dreams. When Joseph saw them the next morning, they seemed down and dejected, because they had no idea what the dreams meant. God gave Joseph the interpretations and they came to pass. The butler was restored to his job, and the baker was hanged. But I’m not going to talk about the servants dreams. God used the butler in that jail cell to eventually bring Joseph out of prison, and into a position of honor and power. When Joseph went to prison, God had put him in the place of provision!

We often get mad during our times of struggle and trial. I have had my share of angry outbursts, even being mad at God, because he had chosen to let me stay in such a hard spot. But let’s keep in mind that our “prison” so-to-speak, is also a place of provision. God uses the tough times in life to place us for the next spot he’s taking us to. Joseph had to be in that prison, because it was there that Pharaoh’s servants would be sent. That was how God chose to make Joseph known to Pharaoh. Not to mention what he must have learned, spiritually speaking, there in the Big House. He learned how to be forgiving; he learned how to be patient. He learned to exercise the skills that would be necessary once he was the Prime Minister of the whole country of Egypt.

Friends, don’t discount your “prison”. Let God use it to make you into the man or woman he called you to be. And take comfort in knowing that even in the prison, you are in the place of provision. God bless!

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Start Digging!

* I was inspired to write this from the title of a sermon, of which I could only hear a minute of two of, “The Resurrection of the Hidden Talent”, by Pastor Carter Conlon of Times Square Church in New York City.

"But he who received the one talent went away, and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master's money…And the one also who had received the one talent came up and said, 'Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow and gathering where you scattered no seed. 'And I was afraid, and went away and hid your talent in the ground. See, you have what is yours.'” Matthew 25:18; 24-25

I have heard a good number of sermons based on this passage of scripture, or the similar passage in Luke’s Gospel, known as the “Parable of the Minas”. Every message focused on those who were faithful and fruitful in what was entrusted to them by their master. That’s a message that needs to be preached today. After all, there a good many Christians that are doing what God has called them to do, and in the face of adversity and trying times, could use the encouragement. But that’s not what I’m going to talk about today. I want to address that last type of servant in the passage, the fearful one who hid his master’s money.

It’s interesting that money was called a “talent” back then. I’ve actually heard that it is the source of our current word use of the word concerning the gifts that God has given us, like musical ability, or artistic ability. The important thing to realize, however, is that the money given to these servants in the story told by Jesus is that it was not theirs. They were basically given it to manage on their boss’ behalf. It’s the same with our talents and gifts today. I believe that we will be held accountable to God for how we used what he has entrusted to us, just as this parable tells us.

The first two servants are a great example of people who step out and use their talent to honor the Lord. They show us a picture of fruitfulness and faithfulness. When these servants set out to bring their master the biggest gain they could, they did it at some risk. Surely they were somewhat fearful. Who knows what the stock market was like back then? Did they find a good investment in Saul’s Tents Company? Did they make a killing in Zechariah’s Sheep Farm? Obviously, I’m using a little imagination here, but the point still stands that there was risk involved in what these men did. Yet, they trudged on and made their boss an even wealthier man.

Yet the third servant is a picture of the person who is so fearful to use the talent entrusted to him, that he buries it out of sight and pretends he never saw it. He too had to give an account for what he did. It is a most fearful pronunciation of judgment, too.

Though we may deal with fear, friends, we need to press on by the power of the Holy Spirit and put that talent to good use. Someone reading may be a gifted singer, called to sing with all their heart for the Heavenly Master. Don’t let fear keep you from doing the work you’ve been called to. Start digging, and use that talent! Maybe someone has a definite call to ministry in an area you feel totally inadequate in. Perhaps you feel that God has called you to preach, but you can’t stand before a class to give a book report. God didn’t make a mistake when he called you to that. It’s a talent that he entrusted to you. Start digging! Maybe you feel that you have a mission to start up a new church. That’s a noble call indeed, but an incredibly hard one. Some have said that God only uses someone with a magnetic, dynamic personality to do such a work, yet you’re as shy as they come. If God called you, then don’t be put off by naysayers! God still calls the weak to put to shame the strong, and he still calls the foolish to put to shame the wise. Step out and put that talent to work. Start digging!

I’m reminded of Timothy, the young protégé of the Apostle Paul. This was a man who seemed from what Paul told him to be somewhat shy and timid. Yet he was called by God to be a bold witness and mighty preacher of the Gospel. We read in 2 Tim. 1:5-7,

“For I am mindful of the sincere faith within you, which first dwelt in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice, and I am sure that {it is} in you as well. For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of timidity, but of power and love and discipline”

For whatever reason, this young man had a fear come over him, and he was intimidated. Yet, Paul, his spiritual father, reminded him that the Spirit within him was one of boldness, of power. It was a Spirit of love and discipline and self-control. In other words, Paul was telling him that even in the face of fear, the power of the Spirit of God inside him was there to help him rise above it. Paul, in a sense, was telling him to start digging! He needed to fan into flame that gift.

For a long time, I repressed a talent that God gave me. It is writing. I know I have a lot to learn, and with time and “putting it into practice”, I will get better. But I realized that it was a talent that I had long ago buried. So, at least in the articles I write and the blog I write, I have dug up that talent, and I am using it for Christ, my Heavenly Master!

Friends, it isn’t too late for you. You see, the Master hasn’t yet returned, though his coming is soon approaching. In fact, that is a running theme of Matthew 25- the sudden return of Christ, at an hour that we just don’t know. We must be ready. Makes sure you have enough oil in your lamp, and make sure you don’t keep your talent hidden in the dirt, but use it to God’s glory.

May God bless you today!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

It's Valentine's Day!

OK, guys, I hope you rememebered to get the flowers and candy. If you miss today, you will be hurting!

You know, I'm not going to get to deep today. I will say that the Bible exhorts us to love our wives and Christ loves the Church, and today is a good a day to express that love as any. But let's also make it a habit to express to our spouses just how much we love them everyday. You know, if we would listen up to the Spirit of God everyday, we would get reminders of just how much Jesus loves us. From the warm sun on a cold day to the gentle nudging of his Spirit to spend close, intimate time with him, he tells us how much he loves us.

So, be like Christ, and express your love for your Spouse today. God bless!

Oh, a note to my wife: Sweetie, I love you more than you could even imagine! Happy Valentine's Day!

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Lord's Desire

Fellowship. What does that word mean to you? Some may think of a few friends getting together for Monday Night Football and pizza. Some might envision an Elks’ or Lions’ club meeting, or a bridge game. Some I’m sure think of family get-togethers, or even going to church. Webster’s dictionary defines it as “companionship”, and “the quality and state of being comradely”. Whatever you consider a time of fellowship to be, one thing is certain- Jesus was a person who loved good fellowship.

One day Jesus and his disciple’s came into Bethany, to the house of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Theses were good friends and supporters of Jesus. He had been out doing ministry, healing people, casting out demons, preaching, and dealing with those who sought to tear down his ministry. Perhaps Jesus needed a break from all the action. So he came into the house of his friends.

I can imagine everyone gathered around the Lord, laughing and joking, and having a good time (yes, Jesus knows how to have fun, friends!). And they were listening to him. They heard what he preached and taught, and they hung on every word. Well, everyone but Martha, that is. She wasn’t out in the family room with Jesus and the gang. No, she could be found in the kitchen, frantically rushing to prepare a good meal for Jesus. And she was getting more upset be the second. Finally, Martha had all she could take. Let’s read what happened:

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a village where a woman named Martha welcomed them into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord's feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was worrying over the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, "Lord, doesn't it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me." But the Lord said to her, "My dear Martha, you are so upset over all these details! There is really only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it-and I won't take it away from her." Luke 10:38-42

You see, what was really important that day wasn’t the food, or a clean house. What was important was taking the time to fellowship with Jesus. We can get so “Martha-minded” today, can’t we? We insist on doing work for Jesus, but he wants us to spend more time with him, sitting at his feet, so –to-speak, to learn from him, and just enjoy his presence.

That was in a time when the religious folks thought that by doing good works, and keeping the smallest detail of rabbinical law, they could please God. God does have work for us to do, mind you, but not at the expense of time spent with him. My kids could sit in their rooms all day and clean them for me, but not at the expense of coming down and sitting with me, playing games with me, just because they love me. I think that Jesus is the same. We can’t let our works for him replace our relationship with him.

It was this way from the very beginning. God created man, not because he was bored one day, but because he desired fellowship. God would walk with Adam in the Garden in the cool of the day, enjoying Adam’s fellowship. Friends, that hasn’t changed. Because of the sacrifice of Christ, and his blood he shed, we have been given access to his throne of grace. We can enter his presence. In fact, he is with us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

Friends, it’s my prayer that you are blessed by this simple message today. Take the time to get into the prayer closet, and spend some time with the Savior. I leave you with one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible, one that speaks so clearly our need to have fellowship with our Savior. Psalm 27:4 says, “One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to meditate in His temple.”

God bless you this day!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Someone To Look Up To

I have to admit, I thoroughly enjoy sports. Especially football. As everyone knows, my hometown of Detroit has been making football waves lately, not because of our wonderful Lions (can you just sense the sarcasm?), but because the city hosted the Superbowl this past weekend. I stayed out of downtown, but I heard it was one nonstop blast. Everywhere you looked, you saw pro ball players, singers, and entertainers such as Jimmy Kimmell. The city was crawling with celebrities.

In these Hollywood times, we love celebrities, don't we? Some so much that they know more about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes than the Lord Jesus, or the Bible, or even our spouse. We can get so fired up about meeting Alan Iverson or Ben Wallace or Steve Yzerman, but what have these people done to affect our lives?

When I was a kid, we seemed to know the real heros. If the teacher would have asked my first grade class what we wanted to be when we grew up, the words "police officer", "firefighter", and "doctor" would get the majority of mention. Nowadays, its "Pro basketball player", or "a rapper", etc. Yet these people are often terrible role models, with police records and jail time. Who did I want to be like as a kid? That's easy, my dad. He has always been a loving father, working hard to take care of his kids. He taught me how to live. He demonstrated what an honest person was. He had integrity. Yea, he taught me how to throw a baseball, and how to swing a golf club. But more than that, he gave me an example of what it means to simply do the right thing.

We need heros today, not celebrities. Thank God when a pro athelete has a testimony of Jesus Christ. They realize that they aren't just a role model for up and coming kids hoping for a shot in the big leagues, but they model what integrity is, and teach people what it means to live "above the rim", and I'm not talking basketball.

That being said, let's look to our own Eternal Hero, the Lord Jesus Christ. Do you want to see a hero at work? Read the Gospels. A hero is someone who lays down their life for someone else. One of my favorite scripture passages is Philippians 2:5-8, "Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross." That's my hero!

God bless you today!

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Effective, Fervent People

Recently I have written about the life of Jacob, and his encounter with God that caused him to take a good hard look at himself, and admit what kind of character he had. He had to come to terms with who he was. We need to do that, as well. There are times that God calls on us to examine ourselves, to look at our own faults and sins, and to ask God to give us the grace to overcome. While it is important to do this between ourselves and God, we must not forget the importance of having someone near us to hold us accountable and to hold us up in prayer. Today, I want to speak about having the right people in our lives.

“Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” James 5:16

How many services have we been in where we are told the last part of that verse? We may be around the altar in a prayer meeting, and we are encouraged that our prayers can move heaven. That is true, God answers prayer. But we can’t ignore the context of the passage. We are told to confess our faults to each other, that we may be healed. The problem is how do we know who to confess our faults to? Who can we really trust?

Many would read this and shudder with the thought of airing out their dirty laundry with someone else. What if that person blabs my issues to everyone and they’re dog? That is where the context comes into play. So many people spend their time telling the wrong people about their struggles. They tell a friend, a co-worker, or a family member without so much as praying about who they are talking to. But the verse tells who we should speak with- someone who is righteous! Not the church gossip that acts as though they are a consultant to the Godhead, but one who realizes that their righteousness isn’t their own, but Christ’s. When we find folks who are truly walking in Christ’s righteousness, we find those who can be trusted. We find those who won’t take your problem or sin to others, they will take it to the cross!

What we need are true friends. The Bible says that a friend loves at all times (Pro. 17:17). A true friend that we can put our trust in will show us that love by keeping our issues in confidence. Otherwise, it isn’t a true friend, is it?

We need each other. The description of the Church as the Body of Christ is so accurate. Think if your arm suddenly became disabled. The rest of your body would come to its aid and compensate for what is lacking. It’s the same in the Body of Christ. We need to be there to help each other get through life’s tough points. We need help to shoulder our weaknesses at times. Galatians 6:2 says, “Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.”

So be encouraged today, my friends. If you are struggling with a sin, find someone you can trust in to hold you up before the Lord, and hold you accountable. Because in finding that righteous man or woman to come to your side, you are finding the one to help you get the healing and deliverance you really need. God bless!

Friday, February 03, 2006

A Non-Value Meal

When Jacob had cooked stew, Esau came in from the field and he was famished; and Esau said to Jacob, "Please let me have a swallow of that red stuff there, for I am famished." Therefore his name was called Edom. But Jacob said, "First sell me your birthright." Esau said, "Behold, I am about to die; so of what {use} then is the birthright to me?" And Jacob said, "First swear to me"; so he swore to him, and sold his birthright to Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and lentil stew; and he ate and drank, and rose and went on his way. Thus Esau despised his birthright. Genesis 25:29-34

Some years ago, after a Sunday morning service, my family and I were heading somewhere, but we were hungry. My wife really wanted Arby’s, so that is where we went. We walked inside the fast food joint, only to find an unusually long line for a Sunday. My wife told what to get everybody, and took the kids to find a booth. It seemed like an hour passed before I was finally next in line. I placed the order, and the total was pretty pricey. You see, Arby’s is quite expensive in comparison to McDonald’s or Burger King. The cashier then put our food on the tray, and I set off to find my family.

Expecting a tasty, hot lunch, the first bite into my curly fries proved my hope wrong. They were cold and shriveled, and my Beef & Cheddar was severely lacking in both. I’d like to say it was just me, but, alas, my wife and kids got shafted just the same. You see, I paid too much for a meal that didn’t deliver what those shiny overhead menu pictures promised.

We just read of a similar situation regarding these two brothers, Jacob and Esau. As I wrote about several days ago, Jacob was a deceiver, a conniver. His goal for a good part of his life was looking out for number one. And here, he took advantage of his brother’s obvious hunger, and swindled the birthright that would have been Esau’s away from him. As I mentioned briefly in the last talk about Jacob’s life, God had already promised that he would exalt Jacob to prominence, and that his older brother would serve him. All his scheming was unnecessary. Yet, he took his future into his own hands, and cheated his brother.

Still, if there were an award for a dummy of the year, I think Esau would have won hands down. He had just come in from a hunting trip. He undoubtedly shot a deer or some other game. And he was hungry. I’ve been there when I was so starved I thought I would pass out and die, but that really wasn’t the case. Esau could have taken the time and cleaned a deer, and had venison steaks for dinner, yet his hunger was greater than his IQ. Imagine the scene: “Jake, I'm so hungry you’d better plan my funeral. Can I please have some of that stew you’re cooking?” Jacob snickers as a thought passes through his mind. “Sure, but it’ll cost you your birthright.” Esau thinks for a minute, and says, “Hey, I’m dying of hunger. What good will that do me then? Pass the soup, bro!” (Thanks for allowing me to use a little imagination!) And with that, Esau lives for the moment, and sells his family blessing for a bowl of soup. At least Jacob threw in some bread and water. A real value meal!

The New Testament tells us that these historical events were written for our good. So let’s learn from Esau’s stupidity. We can be that stupid, too. How often to we give into fleshly temptations and pursuits, trading the blessings of heaven for the equivalent of a bowl of Campbell’s? Maybe we spend too much time with someone who keeps us from really growing in Christ, simply because that person is fun to hang with? How about the man that sneaks online late at night when everyone is sleeping, to secretly view pornography? Perhaps it is the one who takes their God-given money, and blows it at the casino, or the track. It may be the teenager reading this that is in a sexual relationship with a boyfriend or girlfriend, yet trying to worship God in spite of the blatant sin. You are selling out your relationship with Christ for something that can’t even satisfy!

God has so much for us. Jesus said that it is the Father’s good pleasure to give us the Kingdom (Luke 12:32). Romans 8:32 says, “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” And also, “But as it is written, Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love him.” (1 Cor. 2:9) Friends, the Bible is clear. God loves us and so much for us. I fear to think of what we may be giving up as we choose to live far short of God’s will for us.

Let me encourage every one of us today to sell out to the Lord Jesus. How many of us have gone to buy a concert of movie ticket, and found it sold out? That means there are no more tickets left to buy. Sell out to the Lord! Don’t leave any more of yourself for the Devil to buy. Jesus spoke a couple of parables in Matthew 13. One spoke of a man found who found treasure in a field. He quickly buried it, and sold everything to buy the field. Then he spoke of a man that was pearl salesman. He found the one pearl of immense value, sold everything and bought it. (Matt. 13:44-46) Jesus was talking about being a sellout! So be blessed, and keep your eyes on Christ today. Don’t let temporary urges and desires jeopardize what God has for you! God bless.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Just Like Him

I’ve been thinking a lot about Jesus lately. Specifically, I’ve been dwelling on his ministry here on earth. I’ve been studying it, looking closely into his earthly life, because his life was lived not only to be a sacrifice for the sins of the world, but as an example of how a servant of God lives. I have recently starting reading a new book by author Max Lucado, called Next Door Savior. In the book, the point the author is making is that our Savior is near enough for us to touch, and strong enough for us to trust him totally. I’m not here to review the book. In fact, I’m only a few chapters into it. It got me thinking about the Lord in fresh way, though. Let’s review some of Jesus’ ministry, shall we?

I think first of all of the temptation of Jesus in the desert. After a forty day fast, Satan came at Jesus at his weakest point physically. This tells me that when we are in God’s will, we can expect to be attacked, right from the outset. I like what Pastor Jim Cymbala spoke about in his book, The Church God Blesses. He said that just as the enemy tried to kill Jesus early in his life through King Herod, so he will come after us when we first step out to do something for Christ. Just because we experience hardship in life, and bumps in the road, does not mean that we are out of God’s will. Quite the contrary, we can expect to be attacked.

In Mark’s gospel, we read that after Jesus began to call his disciples to follow him, he has an encounter in the synagogue with a demon-possessed man. Right away, he confronts the spirit and commands him to depart from the man. Yes, Jesus is a picture of meekness, but that doesn’t rule out the need for forcefulness and confrontation. The result? A man bound by demonic powers is finally free.

Then there was the leper. He was cast out of his home, away from his family, living a miserable life in quarantine. But then he saw Jesus. He must have heard of his power. He must have heard the stories from the others in the leper colony of the power Jesus had over sickness, disease and the Devil. He came running to him, begging him to heal him. This was an especially dangerous move on this leper’s part. He wasn’t allowed to come near people that were free of the horrible disease. But something drove him to run and bow down to Christ that day. “If you are willing, you can make me clean”, he said. What Jesus said that day would have been utterly repulsive to the “religious elite” that day, and what he did would have probably given them a heart attack. He said, “I am willing. Be clean” and he touched him.

Then there was the time when he was walking with a man named Jairus, to heal his daughter of a fatal illness. No, it wasn’t just the two of them; there was a massive crowd all around him, pushing into him, thronging him. And one lonely, sickly woman was there. Suffering from some kind of hemorrhage that rendered “unclean”, she, like the leper earlier, set aside legal requirement because she said within herself, “If I can just touch the hem of his robe, I’ll be healed”. She mustered up whatever strength she could and crawled on her hands and knees through the crowd. And she made it. As soon as she reached out and took hold of his robe, she was healed. She knew it, and so did Jesus. “Who touched me?” he asked. When he found out who touched him, he proclaimed her healing.

Then there was the day he received word from the town of Bethany that his friend Lazarus was gravely sick, nearing death. Did he drop whatever he was doing and rush of like some divine paramedic to the scene? No, he did just the opposite. He stayed longer. Why would he do that? He knew that his friend was dying. Yet, upon arriving at Lazarus’s house four days after he died, he assured his grieving sisters that if they would just believe, they would see the glory of God. “Take away the stone”, said Jesus. “But Lord, he’s been dead for four days. He has got to stink by now.” But Jesus didn’t care. He isn’t afraid to go where it stinks. Once the stone was removed, he called Lazarus back to life at his own funeral.

How about his sacrifice on the cross? He didn’t do it because it was good for his health. It killed him. But that was exactly why he did it. “He is the sacrifice for our sins. He takes away not only our sins but the sins of all the world” (1 John 2:2 NLT). How much greater a display of his love for us, than to die for us? “…the greatest love is shown when people lay down their lives for their friends” (John 15:13b). That’s just what he did, isn’t it. He loves us so much, friends, that he died for us. He took our sins upon himself, and the One who created us laid down his life for us.

As I said before, Jesus is an example for us to follow after. Like Jesus, we need to shine compassion to others. Perhaps you know of someone who you think is a modern-day leper or woman with a grotesque physical problem. Not in the physical sense as much as someone you want to simply avoid. I’m talking about the person that if you are caught with would ruin your reputation among your “friends”. People like that are looking with desperation for someone to “touch” them. They want someone to reach out to them. Follow our Lord’s example, and be his hands and feet. Go ahead and reach out to that person.

As I said before, just as Jesus went to the smelly tomb of Lazarus, he will go to those whose lives are stinky and messy. That was my life at one point. Be honest, yours too. Some reading this today may still be in that place were you need Jesus to come to the tomb of your life and raise you out of the spiritual death you are in. That’s what the cross was for.

I just want to mention one last thing. Let’s remember that Jesus came not to care about himself and his interests, but ours. He didn’t die for himself, he died of you. Let’s follow his example of a life of sacrifice. “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, {and} being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:5-8). Look for others around you to reach out to. Don’t think of yourself as being above anyone. What if Jesus thought that way about us?

I hope this little study has encouraged us all to live a little more like Jesus. Get out your Bibles and take a dive into the life and ministry of Jesus. Allow his Spirit to mold you into his image. God bless as you seek to be more life him!