Tuesday, June 30, 2015

"Who Is God?", Part I: God Is Love

Focus passage: 1 John 4:7-21

As a pastor, one of the most popular questions I get asked is,

“Who is God?”

There is great confusion about who God is. One of the Bible’s answers is that God is Love!

“We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.”- 1 John 4:16

God’s nature is filled with love so that His words and actions define love. Our world twists the truth and makes love “a god” in order to feel better about themselves. Yet, “love is not manufactured by men. God IS real love.

In reading today’s focus verse: 1 John 4:7-21, we see what God says about Himself.

  • God wants you to experience what real love is (v.7). 
    When you were baptized, God took you into His family and offered you a whole new way of living. He gave you a life that is filled with real love from Him and others. This starts with your parents and continues with other Christians around the world. God wants you to know what it is like to feel loved every day.

  • God’s love begins at the cross. (v.9.)
    God loves us so much that He makes sacrifices for us like the sacrifice Jesus made by dying on the cross. It is love because there are no strings attached. God loved his people through the good and the bad. People are free to live in this love or ignore it. Of course, people who ignore God will miss a lot of blessings and have to go through their struggles without God as a friend.
  • God desires for us to experience His love in every moment. (v. 13).
God’s words to us that He loves us are not satisfactory enough. He has chosen to prove that love. He wants to walk with us daily as our companion, helper, and guide. This love is an experience that envelops our existence. It transforms our attitudes and perceptions on life.

  • God’s love is a privilege that changes our lives (v. 16).
    The ancient Jews felt the love and protection of their God. Just like them, He makes us feel safe and secure. We can hold onto Him and be confident that He’ll never let go.

Since our God is love, it reminds us that our God is different. We can respect Him because of all that He has done and will continue to do for us.

“God IS and always will be the personification of Love.”

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Dreams and Destinies

Dan. 2:24-47

The world is a mess. Politicians in Washington fight for their own kingdoms and struggle to get along. Wars seem to pop up on every continent and flash into our homes on the television every night. More people seem to be hungry and on the edge than ever before. You wonder if the world will ever get better and what we can do about it. Part of the problem is that so much of the world is built on a false foundation. We think that man can use the resources at hand and build a better world. If we can just get a better corn seed, we can conquer hunger. If we use the internet the right way, the world will be one. Problem is that man is imperfect and finite. Only God is boundless and forever. Our problems often come because we are looking the wrong way to solve our problems.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Expect God to do something

Never Alone Again

He wants you to know Him deeply.

Weeks had gone by and daily Bible study and prayer had become part of Sandy’s life. Reading the bible was her “down time” at night and it relaxed her after a long day at work or a tough ballet or tap class. She began to need her daily time with God and found that she found it harder to sleep or to function the next day if she had to skip her “God time”. She was surprised how much she understood as she read the gospels and how often other voices told her things contrary to what the bible taught. Did God really want her to know Him and His ways? Could she continue to thrive the way she had started to do while reading Bible? Were there any secrets that God wanted to keep from her? Many people feel like the Bible is too hard to understand. The truth is that God wants us to know Him intimately so that we know what is true and what is not. Read John 10:1-18 and learn how close we can become to God.

Jesus’ people come to know the Good Shepherd’s voice. Just as a child can pick up his mother’s voice in a crowded room, a Christian can grow in their faith so that they recognize Jesus’ voice among the many voices that try to guide him or her in their lives. We listen to the Lord and follow His advice rather than listening to all the other voices in the media and among our friends. We want Jesus’ advice and solutions because, like a loving parent, He wants us to thrive and will give us the guidance that brings us long term joy. His voice becomes special to us as we spend time listening to His word and praying on a regular basis. The bible becomes our guidebook in life and helps us weigh the opinions that we receive from others. Like a child, we enjoy the time with our heavenly Father and learn to trust what He says.

The sheep in John 10 know that the shepherd cares. He will never abandon them and will stand between them and danger. Others might abandon them, but the shepherd will always be there. As they stay near Him, they find safety and food. It is the love of Jesus that makes us want to be near Him. He did lay down His life for us on the cross so that we might have eternal life. He is always with us even when we feel alone or abandoned. We listen for His voice because it is the voice of protection and provision. Others may try to lure us away from Jesus, but we know that we are better off with Him. We have seen how His ways work out better in our lives than any other counsel. He is a friend we can count on and a friend we can trust throughout our whole life.

Thursday morning was dragging on for Sandy at the diner when she noticed a wallet left behind in one of the booths. She picked up the wallet and noticed a lot of cash and felt the temptation to take part of it. She also noticed the driver’s license photo and saw that it was one of her regulars who worked just down the street. A little voice told her what to do. She asked her boss for permission to leave and return the wallet. The customer hadn’t even noticed he was missing it, but thanked her profusely for taking the time to return the wallet. As she walked back to the diner, she was glad that she had listened to Jesus. He always knew what to do. His sheep know His voice and listen to it. They trust Jesus and want to follow Him because He alone will bring them long term happiness. A faith may start out small, but it can grow to be a relationship that will touch every part of our life with Jesus’ love and guidance. Is God’s love the only benefit we receive as Christians? Join Sandy next week in the blog “Welcome to the family!” to find out.             

Ponder the answers to these questions.

  • What was the greatest friendship you have ever had? What made that friendship special?
  • Jesus is eager for a deep friendship with you. Are you willing to take the time to be with him so that friendship can blossom?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Failure begins with We

After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, "Why couldn't we drive it out?" He replied, "This kind can come out only by prayer." Mark 9:28-29

Joe began the men’s club meeting with a sigh. Only three people had shown up again. What was the use of even trying to hold the meeting? There weren’t enough people to get anything done. He remembered just a few years ago when the group numbered twenty each month. Now look at it. Some had suggested that the whole group disband, but Joe enjoyed the fellowship with the few who still came. This was a good group of men. There just weren’t many of them. What should they do to make it better? Why can’t we succeed like we did before?

Not that long ago, the disciples had gone out and cast out demons and healed the sick. Jesus was up on the mountain with Peter, James and John and so they thought it would be a simple matter to cast this demon out like they had done before. Yet when they tried, it failed. By the time Jesus got to them, the disciples were overwhelmed. One can picture the disciples discussing what to do next, the father screaming at them to do something as his son is out of control thrashing back and forth, and the teachers of the law mocking the disciples and telling them what to do. There question to Jesus is simple, "Why couldn't we drive it out?"

I am sure that many of you have been overwhelmed too. America is a place that of the busy and the broken. The margins in life are gone. You may be busy with a job that makes you travel or has a big project. It might be kids activities or caring for a family member. There just doesn’t seem to be enough time. You may be broken and struggling with health issues or with relationships that just don’t work. You may have had it up to here with your job and wonder if you can go on another day. You feel like life is shattered and lying on the floor. It feels like the “demons” in your life are getting the best of you. Our first question is often “What are we going to do?”

Sadly, that is the wrong question. So what should we do when we find ourselves beset by demons? The turning point for the father was when he heard the power and promise of Jesus in His voice and the Father believed. It was a weak faith, surely, but he turned to Jesus and asked for help. We need to believe in the Lord and not in ourselves. It is not the size of your faith, but who we have faith in that makes the difference. Second, the way to connect with Jesus and his power is by prayer. The disciples had not looked up to the heavens. They had not asked God to heal this man in prayer. Prayer is the avenue to faith and to believing. Prayer brings the problem to the Lord and asks for his help.

Joe began to cry and then he began to pray. He prayed for the men’s group and the group made a concerted effort to pray for the Holy Spirit to touch the hearts of people who were missing and for friends who were going through difficult times. As they invited people to the men’s club, God began to do miracles and the group slowly grew. It was all a matter of what “He” could do and not what “We” can do.  

  • Where are you struggling right now? Have you given that problem to the Lord or are you trying to fix it yourself? What could God do that you can not do with your problem?

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Faith in a tough culture

Daniel 1:1-21

Russia invades America in 2025. The brightest kids from rich and influential families are taken as prisoners back to Russia to be educated and indoctrinated. Parents are powerless to do anything about it. It sounds impossible, but it is the beginning of the book of Daniel. Daniel and other teenagers from royal and wealthy families are torn from their families and taken to Babylon. They have to learn how to keep their faith in a godless culture. Our children face many of the same problems. Being a Christian in most schools is not cool. Our kids are thrust into a culture of swearing, music that glorifies sex, and selfish behavior. Daniel can teach all of us a lot about how to survive and thrive in such a culture.

It was an honor to be trained as an officer in the king’s palace, but it was also indoctrination into Babylonian ways. They were to speak Babylonian and would have Babylonian names. “They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king's service.” (v.5)  No where does it say that they staged any protest or refused to learn the culture. The text intimates that they learned well (v.19) for they became the top of the class. To be useful to the Lord, they needed to understand the culture. They needed to be among the Babylonians and become Babylonian if they were to minister to people in this foreign land. They had been given an honor and they would use it for the Lord.

Daniel and his friends did find places, however, where the culture went against their faith in God. The first had to do with the Babylonian food and the food laws of the Bible. “But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way.” (v.8) Later, Daniel and his friends would refuse to worship idols or treat kings as gods. They gladly learned the culture of Babylon, but refused to go against God’s clear will. They knew that God had a reason for His laws and that the Bible’s laws were designed to protect them. They never screamed about it and never demanded that Babylonians live like Jews. They just quietly set a course to follow the Lord.

Daniel sought to courteously teach others that God’s ways were the best. He proposed a test to show that God’s food laws brought health and vitality. “Please test your servants for ten days: Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink.  Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food,” (v.12) His test was gracious. He did not expect the Babylonians to understand the Jewish ways or become Jews. He was courteous to those in authority and was willing to accept the consequences if the test showed God’s ways were not better. He could do so because he was confident that the Lord knew what He was doing. The test was a way to show God’s wisdom was greater than the wisdom of the world.

Daniel and his friends walked a fine line. Our kids do so as well. They need to learn all that they can from school. They need to excel at their classes so that they can serve others and have the influence that comes from knowing science, math and literature. They need to be part of the culture, but hold on to their faith. Many kids today wander through school with no morals or direction. Christian children have been given a moral compass that will help them to succeed in life. They will be the people that employers desire. Their honesty, trustworthiness, and hard work will make them valuable. As Christians who live in the culture, but do not give in to it, our children can excel in the world.

Such children will impact their world for the Lord. The last verse shows us a lot about Daniel’s lifespan and influence. “And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus” (v.21) Daniel would have a 70 year span of service for four kings in several nations. Each of those kings would learn about the true God from Daniel in a powerful way. We and our children have to be part of the world if we are going to impact it. We have to work among people if they are going to listen to our Jesus. Our struggle is to live in the world and keep our faith intact. If we can do that, we will have a tremendous advantage because we have the character and values of our Lord and can show our beloved Lord to those around us.

  • Where do you face pressure to conform to the world? What ways could you use to show that the Lord’s ways are better to those around you?