Live in Harmony, Life’s Not a Solo

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Live in Harmony; Life’s Not a Solo

1 Corinthians 1:10

 

Today, America is more divided than ever before. Each political party keeps saying they want “bipartisanship” but is unwilling to work towards it. The fact is, whether you like what President Trump is doing or not, he is our president, and we must stand behind him. In my lifetime there have been several presidents that I did not agree with, two, in particular, worried me about what would happen to this country in their administration. But the fact is that the Bible tells us in Romans 13:1, “Everyone must submit to governing authorities. For all authority comes from God, and those in positions of authority have been placed there by God.” So, as Christ followers, no matter what you think of a president, we must submit to him and pray for him. But the fact is if you are a Christ follower, you should be voting for leaders that follow biblical principles and, whether you like his policies or not, President Trump does stand for biblical principles.

But I digress, this isn’t a blog on politics, it’s a blog about unity. 1 Corinthians 1:10 says a lot in just 41 words, take a look at it, “I appeal to you, dear brothers and sisters, by the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ, to live in harmony with each other. Let there be no divisions in the church. Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” First, Paul is appealing to the Church, but not on his own authority, in the authority of our Lord Jesus Christ. We all need to take this lesson from Paul; he never did anything in his own strength, he did it all in the authority and strength of Christ. Notice also that he doesn’t specify that this is to the church at Corinth, he says, “dear brothers and sisters.” You see, all of Paul’s letters were written to specific churches, but for the Church as a whole, because once that church was finished reading it to their body, they would pass it on to other church gatherings around the region. Eventually every church in the known world would have read it, and of course, some of them were included in the canon of scripture, and we all got to read them.

Paul goes on to say for what he is appealing to us. First, let’s look at that word appeal, exhort, or beseech, depending on your translation. It was translated from the Greek word παρακαλέω parakaléō, (par-ak-al-eh’-o) which the Strong’s Concordance translates as, “to call to one’s side, call for, summon.” So, this is a call to arms, if you will. Paul is summoning all Christ followers to come together and live in harmony with each other. After writing my first book, Cathedral Made of People, I realized how important unity of the Body of Christ is, so I began writing a second book that I am calling, One Church, One Body. In my research, for this second book, I started counting the verses that refer to Church unity and was astounded at my findings. What I realized is that about 10% of the verses in the New Testament talk about Church unity. Notice the capital “C,” Paul is not talking about the unity of your local church body, although sadly we aren’t even very good at getting that right, he isn’t even talking about the unity of one denomination, since there were no denominations at that time. When the Bible talks about Church unity, it is talking about the unity of the entire body…all believers!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying we should throw out all doctrine and stand around a campfire singing Kum Ba Yah. What I am saying is that there is only one doctrine that should divide us, the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace, through our life-changing faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. We need to set aside all our petty doctrinal differences, study the Bible literally and in the context of the whole Bible, which will in itself dispel most of those doctrines, and worship God together in spirit and in truth.

Right after Paul says to live in harmony with each other, he tags it with an exclamation by saying that we are to let NO divisions in the Church! Friends, there is no room for any division in the Body of Christ. If we are to function the way that God intended for us to function, we must drive out ALL division. Remember what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12:15-21, 15 If the foot says, ‘I am not a part of the body because I am not a hand,’ that does not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear says, ‘I am not part of the body because I am not an eye,’ would that make it any less a part of the body? 17 If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything? 18 But our bodies have many parts, and God has put each part just where he wants it. 19 How strange a body would be if it had only one part! 20 Yes, there are many parts, but only one body. 21 The eye can never say to the hand, ‘I don’t need you.’ The head can’t say to the feet, ‘I don’t need you.’” Don’t you see? A body can’t function correctly if some parts don’t cooperate, that’s why Paul continues to use this analogy throughout his writings.

So, if we are going to live in harmony and not allow any division in, how can we do this? Look how he finishes this verse, “Rather, be of one mind, united in thought and purpose.” The Church, the Body of Christ, must be of one mind! We must be united in thought and purpose, and the only way we can do this is, as I just said, lay aside all of these doctrinal differences and worship God in Spirit and in Truth! We will talk more about what this means in the upcoming weeks.

What’s a Pastor to Do?

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What’s a Pastor to Do?

Have you ever wondered why God gave us Pastors? Well, let’s look at Ephesians 4;11-12 and see what the Bible has to say about them. It says, 11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”

So, the first thing this tells us is that Christ Himself gave the Church 4 gifts; Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, and Pastors. How often do you look at your Pastor as a gift from Jesus? If you don’t, maybe it’s time you start…just a thought. Anyway, let’s take a minute to look at these 4 gifts.

  1. Apostles, these are special ambassadors of God’s work, they provide a foundation for the Church as described in Ephesians 2:20, “Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.”
  2. Prophets are also here to provide a foundation for the Church, as we just saw in Ephesians 2:20. The Prophet is defined in the Strong’s Concordance as: “One who, moved by the Spirit of God and hence His organ or spokesman, solemnly declares to men what he has received by inspiration, especially concerning future events, and in particular such as related to the cause and kingdom of God and to human salvation.”
  3. Evangelists are specifically gifted to preach the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ.
  4. Pastors and teachers (or, pastor-teachers; the ancient Greek clearly describes one office with two descriptive titles). The role of a pastor goes far beyond just teaching, the word literally means shepherd. The shepherd is responsible for the wellbeing of the sheep.

These gifts of the Spirit are given at the discretion of Jesus, working through the Holy Spirit, as we see in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11.

So, what does this passage say the pastor’s job is? We all know that he is to shepherd the Church, but what is his specific job? Verse 12 gets right down to the brass tacks, it says, “Their responsibility is…” that’s pretty clear, right? So, what is it? “to equip God’s people to do His work and build up the church, the body of Christ.” So, the pastor is a trainer for a bodybuilder, the Body of Christ. He makes sure we have the proper equipment, and that we know how to use it. But, even if the bodybuilder has all the best equipment available, and has been taught how to use it, but doesn’t put any work into it, he won’t be effective. Like in the movie Central Intelligence, Kevin Heart’s character asked Dwayne Johnson’s character, “What did you do?” referring to his muscles, and Dwayne’s character said, “I just did one thing…I worked out six hours a day, every day, for the last twenty years straight.” You see, the pastor is not there to do the work for us, he is there to equip us and make sure we are doing the work properly. And, by the way, that work can never end. I once saw an interview with Arnold Schwarzenegger, and he was asked if he will ever stop working out. His answer was that if he stopped, it would kill him. He said that he would have to keep working out for the rest of his life. We can never stop doing the work. One of my favorite stories was told by a former pastor of mine, Terry Larimore. He was talking about a visit to his 92-year-old grandfather, who was a retired pastor. He said that when he walked into the room, his grandfather was sitting at the table reading his Bible. He looked at Terry and said, “Come here Terry, let me show you what I learned today.” You see, we can never stop doing the work, we can never stop learning, we can never stop growing.

The next thing it says is, the pastor will keep doing this until we are mature and can measure up to Christ’s standard, and after that, we won’t be swayed by false doctrine. We will be so immersed in the Scripture that nothing or no one will be able to move us. We will be so filled with the Word of God that when those false teachers come, and they will come, we will speak the truth in love, and in every way, we will grow more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body…we will become Christians, Christ-like. I love the way he ends this passage. In verse 16 he says, “He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Christ, being the head of the body is the glue that holds us together. Then, after we are mature and held together in Christ, we will work together to be healthy and grow and full of love. Did you see that? We are training so that we can work together as one body to become more like Christ. And, notice he is very clear that we all are different parts of the same body. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 12:17, “If the whole body were an eye, how would you hear? Or if your whole body were an ear, how would you smell anything?” So, we need to celebrate our different Spiritual Gifts and grow together in Christ.

You see, we were not called to be spectators, we were called to be doers of the word, James 1:22, and we were called to be disciples or imitators of Christ, Matthew 28:19. If we all would set aside our preconceived beliefs and what we have been taught by people, and study the Bible, in context as a whole, we wouldn’t need all the different denominations. If we all did this, I genuinely believe we would all believe the same things. Now, of course, we are human, and we will probably have some minor differences, but overall, we will see eye to eye. Overall, we will be united, we will be one body.

Cathedral Made of People

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

Cathedral Made of People

Everyone loves the title of my blog, which is also the title of my upcoming book, but I can’t take credit for this title, Cathedral Made of People is the title of a song by the group, Downhere. The song lyrics say:

If they shut down the churches
Where would you go?
If they melted all the
stained-glass windows
Replaced every sanctuary
with a condo
Where would you go?
Where would you go?

We are a cathedral
made of people
In a kingdom that
the eye can’t see
We’re a house, we are the bride
Where God’s Spirit lives inside
And nothing ever
can stand against her

It goes on to ask questions like, “If they burned every Bible, what would you know?” And, “If they declared your devotion to be criminal, what would you know?” This has been the theme of everything I have written for the last four or five years, we are the body of Christ. Your church building isn’t your church, your church is you and your local group of believers, no matter if you meet in a building, in a park, or on a street corner. We must get this through our heads, we are the called out ones, “you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession.” 1 Peter 2:9.

The passage of the Bible that best describes this phenomenon is the last few verses of Ephesians chapter 2. Paul has just talked about tearing down the walls of division and has said that there is no division in Christ, no Jew or Gentile, no bond or free, no male or female, we are one in Christ. He ends this passage by saying this, 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself.21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” Ephesians 2:20-22.

What does Paul mean when he says we are “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets?” He is saying that our foundation must be the word of God. A building is only as strong as the foundation it is built on and there is no foundation stronger than the word of God. I remember back in the 80s when we were living in central Florida, I was managing a hotel which is located at the entrance of Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven. Right across the street, they were building this high-rise condominium building called The Marlborough. We watched for months as the workers were building it, it was huge, and the top floor was all one penthouse condo for the owner. Months had gone by and they had already presold many of the units when one day we came to work and noticed that the building was leaning drastically to the right. They had to tear down the building and the owner went bankrupt because they didn’t build it on a firm foundation. So, I need to say this, if you are attending a church whose foundation is not on the word of God, you need to get out and find another church because that is not a church, it is a social club.

We see more about this foundation in the book of Matthew. He chronicles many of Jesus’ teachings and parables throughout his book. In chapter 5 Matthew tells us about the sermon on the mount and then goes on to give many of Jesus’ sermons all the way through chapter 7. The last in this list is found in Matthew 7:24-29 where he says, 24 “Anyone who listens to my teaching and follows it is wise, like a person who builds a house on solid rock. 25 Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock. 26 But anyone who hears my teaching and doesn’t obey it is foolish, like a person who builds a house on sand. 27 When the rains and floods come and the winds beat against that house, it will collapse with a mighty crash.” 28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law.” Again, Christ is telling us that we must be built on the firm foundation of the word of God.

Paul goes on to say, in Ephesians 5:20, that Jesus Himself is the cornerstone. So, what is the significance of a cornerstone? According to Wikipedia, “The cornerstone (or foundation stone or setting stone) is the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure.” So, our foundation is on God’s Word, and Christ is the stone that determines the position of the entire building. Christ makes sure we are always positioned right.

Paul goes on to say that we are “carefully joined together in him”. We aren’t just thrown together, we are laid carefully right where God wants us, and we are joined together in Christ. This might be a good time to go back and read my blog titled, “In Christ” and remind ourselves what it really means to be In Christ. Paul goes on to say that through this process we are becoming a holy temple for the Lord. Remember, your church building isn’t the temple of the Holy Spirit, you are, in fact, Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, 19 Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, 20 for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.”

He ends the passage by saying that, through Christ, we Gentiles are made part of God’s dwelling. Remember what we talked about the last couple of weeks. The big racial divide in those days wasn’t what we deal with today. It wasn’t about the color of their sin; the big racial divide back then was between Jews and Gentiles. Now, don’t get me wrong, the Jews were God’s chosen people, but because of religion, they believed that if you weren’t Jewish, you weren’t anything. God never told them this, their religion did. So, Jesus tore down that wall of religion and built a new building for His Holy Spirit to live in, a Cathedral Made of People.

More Churches – Thyatira

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

More Churches – Thyatira

Thyatira was an interesting choice for Jesus to send a letter to in the Revelation. You see, Thyatira was a very insignificant city, in fact, according to Barclay, “The elder Pliny dismissed Thyatira with the almost contemptuous phrase ‘Thyatira and other unimportant cities.’” The only thing Thyatira had going for it was its trade guilds, it had more trade guilds than any two cities of its size, and it was known for making purple dye and purple fabric…the fabric of royalty.

This time, when Christ describes Himself, He comes right out and says, “This is the message from the Son of God” in Revelation 2:18. Then He goes on to describe Himself even further when he says, “whose eyes are like flames of fire, whose feet are like polished bronze.” Again, He takes this from John’s description of Him in Revelation 1:14-15. So, what did He mean by eyes like flames? Fire often represents the Holy Spirit, as we see in Acts 2:2-4, another sign pointing to the triune nature of God. Fire can also represent refinement, as with metals, or judgment. The feet like polished bronze is referring to His steadfastness. Bronze was the hardest metal known at that time and the bronze feet represent that Christ is immovable. So, this description of Him is demonstrating His steadfast, immovable judgment on the people.

He goes on in verse 19 to say, “I know all the things you do. I have seen your love, your faith, your service, and your patient endurance. And I can see your constant improvement in all these things.” So, as with the church at Ephesus, He starts out by complimenting them on what they are doing right. But, notice that He begins by saying, “I know all the things you do.” He’s about to compliment them, but lets them know up front that He knows it all…the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then He goes on to talk about their love, their faith, their service, and their patience. Do you recognize these? You should, because they are some of the fruits of the Spirit seen in Galatians 5:22-23, 22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!”

It’s looking pretty good for the church at Thyatira, but then He hits them with, “But I have this complaint against you. You are permitting that woman—that Jezebel who calls herself a prophet—to lead my servants astray. She teaches them to commit sexual sin and to eat food offered to idols”, in verse 20. So, there was a woman in the church leading them astray. She was obviously a woman of authority, some believe she could have been the pastor’s wife, but she was a self-proclaimed prophet. Now, this is where many churches are divided, and is where we need to take the Bible literally and in context. The Bible never says that a woman can’t be a prophet. In fact, if you look at the accounts of the birth of Christ, it talks about Anna who was a prophet, and there were many other examples. But, the problem here is that they didn’t do what they were taught. John says in 1 John 4:1, “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God. For there are many false prophets in the world.” So, the problem wasn’t that she was a woman, the problem was that she was a false prophet and the church didn’t test what she said against scripture, they just believed her. Jesus goes on to call her Jezebel. It is possible that her name was actually Jezebel, but it is more likely that Christ is using that name to describe what she was. So, let’s think about who Jezebel was in the Old Testament. She was found in 1 Kings 16-21, and in 2 Kings 9:30-37, and she was one of the evilest people mentioned in the Old Testament. She was the wife of King Ahab and tried to use her place of power to combine Israel’s worship with the worship of Baal, which included sexual sin and pagan practices.

In verse 21 Christ says, “I gave her time to repent, but she does not want to turn away from her immorality.” Even this horrible, evil woman who was trying to lead the Christ followers astray, Christ gave time to repent. You see that? He didn’t just give her a chance, He gave her time, but she wouldn’t turn from her immorality.

In verses 22 and 23, Jesus tells them what He will do to her, and them, if they don’t repent and turn from their evil ways, He says, 22Therefore, I will throw her on a bed of suffering, and those who commit adultery with her will suffer greatly unless they repent and turn away from her evil deeds. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am the one who searches out the thoughts and intentions of every person. And I will give to each of you whatever you deserve.” There are those who say that a loving God wouldn’t punish us. The problems with that school of thought are that, as we just saw, He always gives us a choice. He won’t make us do right, He wants us to choose Him, to choose to do right. And, secondly, He is a loving Father, and a truly loving father will discipline his children. First, to try to correct them and turn them back to the right path, and second to demonstrate to His other children that there are consequences to doing wrong, Proverbs 13:24.

He goes on, in verses 24 through 27, commending those who are victorious, and tells them that He will give them the authority to rule nations. Then in verse 28 He repeats that promise and tells them that He will give them the same authority His Father gave to Him. He ends verse 28 by saying, “and I will also give them the morning star!” So, what does He mean by this? If we look at the end of the book of the Revelation, we see in Revelation 22:16, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this message for the churches. I am both the source of David and the heir to his throne. I am the bright morning star.” This is truly awesome! What Jesus is saying here is that if we are victorious, He will give us the greatest gift of all…He will give us Himself!

Of course, like in all the other letters, Christ ended this one in verse 29 by saying, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches.” He wants us to hear the warning to this church, and He wants us to be victorious and claim the ultimate prize…Him!

Simeon & Anna

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Simeon & Anna

When Jesus was eight days old, His parents did what the law told them to do. They took him to the temple to be circumcised. After that, they went to give their purification sacrifice. While they were doing this, a prophet named Simeon came up to them, took their child from them, and began praising God. Put yourself in their shoes. Yes, they knew that He was the Messiah, but for a total stranger to come up to them and take their child and say, Luke 2:29-32 29 “Sovereign Lord, now let your servant die in peace, as you have promised. 30 I have seen your salvation, 31which you have prepared for all people. 32 He is a light to reveal God to the nations, and he is the glory of your people Israel!” It’s no wonder that verse 33 says, “Jesus’ parents were amazed at what was being said about him.” Of course, they knew it, but Simeon realized who He was without being told, even though He was just eight days old. But, Simeon didn’t stop there. He went on to bless Mary and Joseph, and then say, in verses 34 and 35, “This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. 35 As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.”

Okay, so let’s look at what just happened. First, he picks up Jesus and starts praying that God can take him now because he has seen God’s salvation. And, he adds that this salvation is for ALL PEOPLE! This is huge! The Hebrew religion taught that salvation was only for the Jewish people…you had to be born into salvation. This was never God’s plan, He saved Rahab and others who were not Hebrews all through history. But that’s what religion does, it divides. So, Simeon, speaking through the Holy Spirit, said that salvation has come for all people. He then expounds on it when he says, “He is a light to reveal God to the nations”. Some translations say a light to the Gentiles, but the Greek word used here is ethnos, which is where we get our word ethnic. Christ is a light to reveal God to everyone. He then says that Jesus will be the glory of Israel.

So, this is where it says that His parents were amazed at what was being said. Then Simeon blesses Mary and Joseph and it’s great, it’s all good stuff up until now. Then Simeon goes on to say that their child is destined to make many in Israel fall, and many others rise. You see, that was Jesus’ destiny, to make many fall and many rise, and we see this over and over throughout Jesus’ ministry. We see Peter rise from denying Christ, to leading the Church after His resurrection. And, we see Judas fall, even after spending day and night with Christ for three years. We also see most of the Pharisees fall because they are unwilling to let go of their religion and traditions, while we see Nicodemus tell Jesus that he knows He was sent from God. Actually, he doesn’t say he knows, he said we know. Nicodemus was saying that all of the Pharisees knew that Jesus was sent from God, but for most of them, their religion and their place of authority was too important.

Simeon goes on to say that even though Jesus was sent from God, many will oppose Him. He knew the hearts of mankind, and how we seek signs and wonders, but even when we see them, we still don’t believe. I talk a lot about taking scripture literally. Had the Hebrew people taken the Old Testament literally, and not tried to add their own interpretation, they would have seen Jesus as the Christ. All of the scriptures pointed to Him, but they wouldn’t believe.

Simeon says that because so many will oppose Him, the deepest thoughts of their hearts will be revealed. And, then he says directly to Mary, “a sword will pierce your very soul.” You see, Mary had to realize that, yes, giving birth to the Messiah was a huge honor, but it would also be a huge burden. Think about it. Thirty-three years later, Mary had to watch her son be brutally beaten and crucified for crimes he didn’t commit. But, even before that, He was homeless for three years, He was hated by all the religious leaders, He was even hated by her other children. The Holy Spirit used Simeon to remind her of this.

Next up, Anna. Let’s look at her backstory. First, it says she was the daughter of Phanouel. This is the only time that Phanouel is mentioned in the Bible. He isn’t a prominent figure in the Bible, or in history. His name is given here because of its meaning. Her father’s name literally meant, “the face of God”, so Anna was the daughter of the face of God. And, on top of that, she was from the tribe of Aser, which means “blessed”. So, she was the blessed daughter of the face of God…wow. It goes on to say that she was eighty-four years old. It doesn’t say how old she was when she got married, but we know that Jewish tradition was that a girl was usually twelve to fourteen when they got married. So, this tells us that she was probably nineteen to twenty-one when her husband died seven years later. Then it says she lived as a widow, to this point about forty-four years, and never left the temple, but worshiped God day and night. So, it’s safe to say that Anna was pretty dedicated to God.

When Anna heard Simeon, she began praising God, then it says, “She talked about the child to everyone who had been waiting expectantly for God to rescue Jerusalem.” Luke 2:38. After living in the temple for forty years, she knew who these people were. She knew exactly who was diligently looking for the Messiah.

Here’s the thing. The Christmas season is a good time to remind ourselves that we need to be more like Simeon and Anna. First, we need to be like Simeon, we need to listen to the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 tells us, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you.” So, the Holy Spirit is teaching us EVERYTHING…we must listen. Second, we need to be like Anna. Once we hear from the Holy Spirit, we must tell

EVERYONE. The world needs God, but they don’t know it. Jesus is as dividing today as He was when He was on earth. So, some people will hate us for what we believe, but that’s okay, we’re not here to please people.

As we go through this last week of 2017 and into 2018, we need to ask ourselves, how can I be more like Simeon and Anna? What is the Holy Spirit trying to say to me? Remember that prayer is a dialog, not a monolog, so when you talk to God, listen to what He is trying to tell you. Then, when you hear from God, go tell everyone. James 1:22 tells us, “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves.” So, when you hear a word from God, act on it! We have all missed so many blessings because we didn’t act on what the Holy Spirit is telling us. Stop missing out on blessings!

What is a Servant – Part 2

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

What is a Servant? – Part 2

So, to pick up where we left off last time, what can we bring to the Lord? The prophet Micah asked this question and then answered it, let’s look. Micah 6:6-8 What can we bring to the Lord? What kind of offerings should we give him? Should we bow before God with offerings of yearling calves? (plural) Should we offer him thousands of rams (what a king would offer Him) and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? (what every king put together would offer Him) Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? Here’s the answer. No, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” This is service. Do what’s right, all the time. Bob Jones Sr. used to say, “Do right till the stars fall.” Love mercy! Not just God’s mercy on us, that’s easy, but we need to emulate that mercy on those around us, Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” Walk humbly with our God. James 4:10 Says, 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor.”  And in James 4:6 it says, But he gives us even more grace to stand against such evil desires. As the Scriptures say, ‘God opposes the proud but favors the humble.’” Do you want to know what service is? If we’re always doing right, and showing God’s mercy to everyone around us, and walking humbly with God, WE WILL BE SERVING.

Is there a price to serving God? Of course, there is. Nothing that is worth anything comes free. If it does come free, it’s just a blind sacrifice. Sometimes the price is financial, in fact, it often is. Sometimes it’s your time, again this is often the case. To tell you the truth, it will probably be both and more. But if we love God half as much as He loves us, we will gladly sacrifice for Him. Let’s face it, He gave His life for us, it doesn’t get bigger than that. Let’s look at Matthew 6:31-34 it says, 31 So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. 34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” Notice, it doesn’t say we’ll be rich. If you’re listening to a pastor or teacher that tells you that you will be wealthy if you are living for God, walk away. The Bible never says anything like that. If that were the case, then Christ Himself wasn’t living for God, because He was homeless. He said Himself, Luke 9:58 But Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens to live in, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place even to lay his head.’” The Bible also tells us Acts 14:22 “where they strengthened the believers. They encouraged them to continue in the faith, reminding them that we must suffer many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” And again, 2 Corinthians 6:4 “In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.” And, Paul said about the illness he had that he had prayed three times for God to remove, 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. 10 That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” The verses go on and on, but I think you get the idea.

So, I’m not going to lie to you and tell you the Christian life is going to be easy, but I will tell you that the reward is great. Philippians 3:12-14 12 I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. 13 No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.” Believe me, when I say the prize is worth the trial.

We started with the prophet Malachi, so let’s end with him. Malachi 3:16-18 says, 16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and always thought about the honor of his name. 17 “They will be my people,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. “On the day when I act in judgment, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient child. 18 Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” We have been called to a life of service. Not serving ourselves, but serving God and serving others. If the Church in America was doing the job that God gave us, we would have no need of government welfare, we’d be taking care of each other and those around us. In the new year coming up, lets purpose in our hearts to stop bringing God blind sacrifices. Let’s focus on serving each other, our community, and the world. The Bible tells us to be a light to the world, so let’s focus on being a light this year. God bless you all in 2018.

Making Hard Times Count

 

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Photo by Michelle Pearson

 

Making Hard Times Count

Has anyone else gone through a hard time in their life? I see those hands, I’m sure we all have. If your hand isn’t up, you’re either under 8 years old, or you’re not being truthful with yourself. I know I’ve had my share of them; financial, physical, emotional, you name it. When I was 8 years old my grandmother committed suicide, when I was in my 30’s my brother committed suicide, my dad died at 64 of brain cancer, when my kids were in high school we lost everything…and I mean everything, and just last May, I lost my only remaining brother to a car accident. But, I know that everyone reading this has been through similar hard times. Check out this video Francis Chan “Balance Beam”.

The question isn’t, “Have we been through hard times?” The real question is what do we do about it and how do we handle it? The first thing we must remember is this, the hard times don’t have to last. Let me give an example; You lose your job. Being without a job is hard, but it doesn’t have to last. If you put all your energy into job hunting, I’m talking about making job hunting your job, you will find a new job, quickly. But if you go home saying woe is me, my life is over, and just sit on your butt for weeks on end, that hard time will last and get worse as bills start to pile up.

Here’s the kicker. Everybody…I mean everybody, whether they are a Christ follower or not, goes through hard times. So, what this means is, if you are not going through hard times now, brace for it, they are coming. The problem is, so many churches out there are teaching that, if you follow Christ, your life will be a bed of roses. Oh yeah? Check out the life of Christ Himself, or His disciples. None of them had easy lives! In fact, Christ told us that we will have hard times, but as Christ followers, we can overcome them. John 16:33 “I have told you all this so that you may have peace in me. Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows. But take heart, because I have overcome the world.” I love that last line, “take heart, because I have overcome the world”. You see, there’s nothing to worry about if we trust in Him. 1 Peter 5:7 “Give all your worries and cares to God, for he cares about you.” He not only cares about you, He sings over you with joy, Zephaniah 3:17 17 “For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”

I know what you are thinking right now. I didn’t title this, “How to Cope with Hard Times”, I titled it “Making Hard Times Count.” So, how can we make them count? I’m glad you asked.

Matthew 11:28-30 28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.” For us city folk, a yoke isn’t talking about the yellow an eggs. A yoke is that big wooden thing they put on the necks of oxen or workhorses. A yoke is a burden, they are awkward and heavy and rub you the wrong way. So, what Christ is saying here is, if you are tired and carrying a heavy burden, give it to Him. But, notice He doesn’t say that you won’t have a burden, He just says that His burden is light. Even though we will still have a burden, He will teach us and we will find rest in Him.

Jeremiah 29:11-13 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” The second point is, when those hard times come, just remember, God’s Got This! He has a plan for your life, and it’s to give you a future and a hope, so we need to look at these hard times as temporary and learn from them. Ask yourself, how does this hard time fit into God’s plan for my life? What is He trying to teach me? And, then…Grow.

Jeremiah 17: 7-8 “But blessed are those who trust in the Lord and have made the Lord their hope and confidence. They are like trees planted along a riverbank, with roots that reach deep into the water. Such trees are not bothered by the heat or worried by long months of drought. Their leaves stay green, and they never stop producing fruit.” The Bible often compares us to trees planted by a river, and that’s such a great analogy. When we trust in the Lord, we are like a tree planted by a river. What does it mean to trust in the Lord: Psalm 1:1-3 tells us, Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers. But they delight in the law of the Lord, meditating on it day and night. They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season. Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.” So, to trust in the Lord, we need to first, think about who we are hanging around with. That doesn’t mean we can’t be friends with non-Christians, Christ Himself was, but who do we look to for advice, who influences us? Secondly, we must delight in God’s word and meditate on it all the time. We all give our time and energy to what, or who, we are passionate about. As Christ followers, we get passionate about God and His word.

Psalms 9:9-10 The Lord is a shelter for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble. 10 Those who know your name trust in you, for you, O Lord, do not abandon those who search for you.” When those hard times come, run to Christ. He alone is our shelter and our refuge, and He does not abandon those who seek Him. Matthew 7:7-8 “Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Notice it says, “Keep on seeking, and you will find.” We must seek Him with all our heart. Again, we need to be passionate about Him.

Isaiah 41:10 says, Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my  victorious right hand.” That’s it…don’t be afraid, don’t be discouraged. I love that the Bible tells us not to be afraid 365 times, one for every day of the year. I said it before, I’ll say it again, God’s Got This!

So, how can we make hard times count?

  1. Know that God loves you and cares about you.
  2. Remember, God’s Got This!
  3. Trust in the Lord.
  4. Keep on seeking Him.
  5. Make Him your hope and confidence.
  6. Hide under His shelter.
  7. Delight in the Lord.
  8. Know that hard times are temporary.
  9. Let Christ teach you.
  10. Be like a tree planted by His water.
  11. Rest in Him.
  12. Know that God has a plan for your life and He already knows the end of the story.
  13. Know that, when you pray, He is listening.
  14. Be Passionate about Christ.
  15. Grow!

Names of God – El Qanna

King
Photo by Michelle Pearson

Names of God – El Qanna

Exodus 34:14 says this, “You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you.” El Qanna means Jealous God…thus, His very name is Jealous. I know what you are probably thinking, isn’t jealousy a bad thing? It can be, but God is jealous of our time with Him, He is jealous of our worship. I am not a “jealous man” because I can trust my wife, but if my wife were to start giving her affections to another man…watch out.

All throughout the Bible, God refers to us as His bride, Paul said in his second letter to the Corinthian Church, 2 Corinthians 11:2 “For I am jealous for you with the jealousy of God himself. I promised you as a pure bride to one husband—Christ.” If you are a Christ follower, you are the bride of Christ, and he is jealous of our praise, our affection, and our worship.

There is a great worship song. I first heard it performed by David Crowder, but it was written by John Mark McMillan. This song is called, “How He Loves”, and it says:

And He is jealous for me,
Love’s like a hurricane, I am a tree,
Bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.
When all of a sudden
I am unaware of these afflictions eclipsed by glory.
And I realize just how beautiful You are,
And how great Your affections are for me.

He loves us so much, that He gave His only Son to die on the cross for us. Think about this for a minute. First, Christ left Heaven to come to earth as a man, that alone was a huge sacrifice. But, then He lived a life, literally as a homeless man, and ministered to people, many of which rejected everything He said. After that, He was beaten beyond recognition and hung on a cross to die. His body was then buried in a borrowed tomb, then on the third day, He overcame death and the grave by rising from the dead. He did that for you and me, so we must praise Him.

In Deuteronomy 5:9 God told the Israelites, “You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me.” Many of you may be thinking, but I don’t worship other gods like they did back then. Don’t you? We often think of other gods being Buddha or some other idol, but what about money, or your career, or your house, car, or other worldly possessions? Do we spend more time with God than we do with our homes, or cars, or friends, or jobs, or even our TVs? The truth is that we all have things that we put before God, and He is jealous of them. He deserves our attention, and He demands our attention.

We’ve all heard people say, “It’s not about religion, it’s about a relationship.” Sometimes those clichés lose their punch, but it is so true. God does not want religion, He does not care about organ music, or stained-glass windows, or any of that garbage, all He cares about is a relationship with His Church…His Bride.

I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating. Every time that religion is mentioned in the New Testament, except for one verse, it is mentioned in a negative light. The people that Jesus had problems with were the religious people, not the “sinners”, and Paul kept talking about how he left the religion of his fathers to follow Christ. The one time that religion is mentioned in a positive light is in James 1:27, where it says, “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” So, what God sees as pure religion is helping widows and orphans, and keeping yourself pure. That’s it! Pure religion is glorifying God!

God’s love for us is unspeakable. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is the last verse in the book of John. The whole book is talking about all that Jesus did for us out of His love for us. It talks about His baptism at the beginning of His ministry, it talks about His ministry and how He was rejected by the religious people. In chapter 17 it recounts His prayer for us just before He went to the cross. It goes on to talk about His betrayal and crucifixion, His resurrection and ascent to heaven, and then it ends by saying, John 21:25 “Jesus also did many other things. If they were all written down, I suppose the whole world could not contain the books that would be written.” Stop for just a minute and think about what this verse is saying. Look around at the room you are in and think about how many books it would take to fill that room. My office is small, about 12’X12’ with 8’ ceilings, so it’s about 1,152 cubic feet. That means that, if each book was about 1 cubic foot, it would take almost 1,200 books to fill this little office. But, to write down all the things that Jesus did for us out of love, the world couldn’t contain the books…wow! What a humbling thought! He loves me that much.

Let’s all, purpose in our hearts to love God as much as He loved us. I won’t write it all here, but stop for a minute and read 1 John chapter 4, starting at verse 7, and fall in love with God. You may think you already love God, and you probably do, but do you love Him like He loves you? Probably not, I know I don’t.

Names of God – El Elyon

King
Photo by Michelle Pearson

Names of God – El Elyon

The Most High God! In Old Testament times, as it still is today, people had many gods. But, most of the pagans recognized that the God of the Hebrews was more powerful than their gods, they feared the God of the Hebrews, because He is the Most High God. In fact, even Satan himself recognized this fact. Isaiah recounts Satan’s fall from Heaven, and in Isaiah chapter 14 Satan gives 5 “I Will” statements, the last of which is, Isaiah 14:14 “I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.” You see…even Satan himself had to admit that God is the El Elyon…the God Most High.

We find the first reference to this in Genesis 14:18-20, 18 And Melchizedek, the king of Salem and a priest of God Most High, brought Abram some bread and wine. 19 Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing: ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who has defeated your enemies for you.’” Many scholars believe Melchizedek to be an early appearance of Christ, and I agree. You see, Melchizedek is only mentioned after this in Psalm 110, where God the Father is speaking to God the Son and says, Psalm 110:4 “The Lord has taken an oath and will not break his vow: ‘You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek.’”

The only other time we see him mentioned is in Hebrews chapter 7, where the writer goes into more detail on Melchizedek. First, we see in verse 2 that his name means “King of Justice”, and he is the King of Salem. Salem, or Shalom, means peace, so he is the King of Peace. The writer goes on to say, in verse 3, “There is no record of his father or mother or any of his ancestors—no beginning or end to his life. He remains a priest forever, resembling the Son of God.” And it goes on to talk about how Melchizedek was greater than Abraham.

So, what does it all mean? Okay, so He’s the Most High God, what does that mean to me? I could take you through the Bible and show you in Daniel 4 where King Nebuchadnezzar met El Elyon, or in Numbers 24 where Balaam met El Elyon, but we need to know just what that means to us. What this all means, is that, no matter what happens, He is in control. Look at Jeremiah 29:11-13, 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. 12 In those days when you pray, I will listen. 13 If you look for me wholeheartedly, you will find me.” The Most High God has a plan for my life! That’s amazing!

Allow me to give an example from my own life. This isn’t an easy task because there are so many that I had to sit here and decide which one to share. You see, from the day I proposed marriage to Michelle, on Christmas Eve 1983, we decided to follow God no matter what that meant. On our wedding announcement was Psalm 48:14, “For that is what God is like. He is our God forever and ever, and he will guide us until we die”, the song we often sang was a song by Dr. David Livingston called, “Lord Send Me Anywhere”…and He did. Michelle and I have moved more times than I can count and have lived in 7 different states and it was all because El Elyon had control of our lives and we trusted Him. Years ago, there was a popular bumper sticker that read, “God is my co-pilot.” The problem is that isn’t good enough. God must be your pilot…you are nothing more than a passenger along for the ride.

This particular time happened in January of 2007. Our youngest son, Caleb, had expressed interest in acting, so Michelle had entered him in an acting competition the previous summer and he was accepted to go to their competition in Orlando, FL, we were living in Ohio at the time. So, we made that our family vacation and took him to Orlando. While we were there one of the judges, a Hollywood agent, signed Caleb on the spot and told us that we needed to get him out to LA. On the way back to Ohio, we prayed about it. We told the Lord that, if He wanted us in LA, then He needed to make it very clear. At that time, I was serving as a youth pastor in a small church that couldn’t pay me, so I had a management job at an insurance claim office. When we got home from vacation, my first day back to work I was called into the boss’s office. He informed me that my position didn’t exist anymore, handed me a severance check, and showed me to the door.

Some of you are probably thinking, “does God really send people to LA?” I know that’s what my father-in-law asked. Here’s the thing though, as a direct result of us moving to LA in 2007, Caleb now owns a movie and TV production company. He doesn’t make “Christian films”, he just makes films with good messages and uses his business to witness to actors, directors, grips, and anyone he can on set. Caleb believes that, if he can be a conduit for God to change Hollywood, they can change the world.

You see, God had a plan for us, He had a plan for Caleb, and He has a plan for you. He truly is the Most High God. He is orchestrating all of this and He already knows the outcome. Isaiah 46:10, “Declaring the end from the beginning, And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’;” Remember, He is the Alpha and the Omega…the beginning and the end, The Most High God.

Names of God – Jehovah Mekoddishkem

King
Photo by Michelle Pearson

Names of God – Jehovah Mekoddishkem

This name of God is only found twice in the entire Bible, and they are both in Exodus chapter 31. This name means The Lord Who Sanctifies You, or The Lord Who Makes You Holy. But, like some of the other names we have looked at, although it only appears twice as a name of God, it is illustrated throughout Scripture.

So, what does it mean to be sanctified, or holy? I mean, we hear these words a lot, especially holy. We hear about how God is holy, the Holy Bible and, of course, songs like Holy, Holy, Holy. But, did you know that you are supposed to be holy just like God is holy? So, what does that look like? The Hebrew word for sanctify or holy is Qadash and it means, to be set apart. We, as Christ-followers, are called to be set apart. The apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:15-16, 15 But now you must be holy in everything you do, just as God who chose you is holy. 16 For the Scriptures say, “You must be holy because I am holy.” Notice he says, “For the Scriptures say,” he is quoting Old Testament Scripture here; specifically Leviticus 11:44-45, 19:2, and 20:7. Then, he goes on, just a little later in the same letter to say, 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are not like that, for you are a chosen people. You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” Let’s look at what this verse is saying. First, he says we are a chosen people. I’ve said it before. The Bible often refers to us as being adopted, and that means we were chosen. We weren’t thrust upon God, we weren’t an accident…He chose us! The next thing it says is that we are royal priests. David Guzik had this to say about that phrase, “The offices of royalty and priesthood were jealously separated in Israel, but Jesus, who is our King and Priest, has brought them together for His people.” So, in Christ, we are both royalty, and priests. After that he says that we are a holy, or a set apart, nation. As believers, we must be set apart from the world. Romans 12:2 says, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” See what it says? “Let God transform you…by changing the way you think.” Don’t be like the world, be transformed, be a holy nation! But Peter wasn’t finished there, he went on to say that we are to be God’s very own possession. The KJV says, “a peculiar people”. So, don’t be like the world…be peculiar, be set apart, be God’s very own possession. Peter ends that verse by saying, as a result of being these things, we can show others the goodness of God, because He has called us out of the darkness they are in and into His perfect light.

How do we do this? How can we be set apart? Well, the first thing we need must do is, we must die to ourselves. Romans 8:13 says, “For if you live by its dictates, you will die. But if through the power of the Spirit you put to death the deeds of your sinful nature, you will live.” Singer-songwriter, Joshua S. Porter of the band, Showbread, changed his name to Josh Dies to remind himself that he must die to himself daily. That’s what we must do, not change our names, but remind ourselves that we are nothing without Christ, and die to our sinful nature.

Once we are holy and set apart, and in His perfect light, we must show the world that light. In Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, He said this, Matthew 5:14-16 14 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15 No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house.16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.” We are the light of the world! So many people today that claim the name of Christ think they are the judges of the world, and that their job is to stand on a street corner and hold signs to condemn people of their sins. News Flash, sinners will sin! It’s not our job to point that out, it’s our job to be a light. Once we have shined God’s light, His light will expose their sins. Look at the Parable of the Great Feast in Luke 14. After he was rejected by the first people he invited, he sent his servants out to bring in the homeless and outcasts. Read that account carefully, did he say to clean them up and then bring them in? No, he said, 21 “The servant returned and told his master what they had said. His master was furious and said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ 22 After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘There is still room for more.’ 23 So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. 24 For none of those I first invited will get even the smallest taste of my banquet.’”

So, keep in mind that our job is to be holy like He is holy and to be salt and light to the world. Earnest Humphries, the pastor I grew up under, used to always say, “Your life may be the only Bible that some will ever open.” If you proclaim the name of Christ, the world will be watching. So stop judging and start shining!

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