IT WAS GOD THAT DID IT

I suspect there are multitudes of times in life when God gets the blame or credit for things that he didn’t do.  It has always amazed me when people refer to a tornado or earthquake as an act of God.  But there is no doubt that God does do lots of things in this life for which he doesn’t get the credit.

In the Book of Genesis one of the longest stories it tells is of the life of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob.  He was the first son that Jacob fathered with Rachel the wife he loved dearly and for whom he served her father for fourteen years.  Because of jealousy for Joseph, due to Jacob’s favoritism for him and due to Joseph’s dreams that he told with glee to his brothers that pictured them bowing down before him as his servants, they sold him as a boy of seventeen as a slave to a band of Midianite traders.  They sold him to a Egyptian soldier named Potiphar. He did well as a servant for Potiphar, but Potiphar’s wife developed a crush on him and tried to get him to have sex with her.  When he refused and ran away from her she made up a story accusing him of attempting to rape her that led to Joseph spending somewhere between ten and twelve years in an Egyptian prison.  Even as a prisoner he gained the trust of the jailer who put him over the other prisoners.  There he interpreted the dreams of two servants of the Pharaoh and asked the one who was to be released to remember him to Pharaoh, but the man forgot him.  Two more years passed before Pharaoh had two dreams that no one could interpret, then the servant remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about him.  He was brought from prison and interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh to tell him that God was revealing to him his plans to send seven years of plenty on the land, followed by seven years of famine.  The years of famine would be so horrible that they wouldn’t remember the years of plenty.  Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph and his wisdom that he put him in charge of gathering grain for the seven years of plenty so they would be prepared for the seven years of famine.

Joseph became the second most powerful man in Egypt.  When the famine came it was all over the world and not just in Egypt.  Jacob’s family were without the food they needed so Jacob sent ten of Joseph’s brothers to buy grain in Egypt.  Only Benjamin, Joseph’s younger brother stayed home with Jacob and the rest of the family.  When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him.  Through lots of turns and twist Joseph ultimately revealed himself to his brothers and they were deeply worried about what he would do with them because of what they had done to him as a boy.  Listen to Joseph’s message to his brothers, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.  And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.  For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest.  And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.  So it was not you who sent me here, but God.  He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.  Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt.  Come down to me; do not tarry” (Genesis 45:4-9).

Later, after they had been in Egypt for several years, Jacob died and those brothers were again deeply afraid that with Jacob’s death Joseph would seek revenge against them for what they did to him.  He had to reassure them once more that it wasn’t just some human action, but that God was the one at work that led to them selling him into Egypt so that he might save their lives and the lives of multitudes of other people.

Think about this whole thing.  Joseph was 17 when sold by his brothers.  He was 30 when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream.  He was also 30 when he was put in charge of the nation’s food supply and gathering the grain to save the multitudes when the famine came.  It was after the 7 years of plenty and 2 more years of famine when the brothers first arrived in Egypt to purchase grain.  So Joseph was 39 when they first arrived.  We aren’t told how much time passed between the first time they came to Egypt and the second time when they brought Benjamin with them but I would suppose at least six months to a year later when he revealed himself to them and had Jacob and the whole family of 70 people brought down to Egypt.  Jacob was 130 years old when he came down to Egypt.  Jacob lived in Egypt for 17 years before dying at 147.  So at Jacob’s death Joseph was 57 years old.  It had been 40 years since the time when his brothers sold him into Egypt.  Yet, they were still haunted by what they did and couldn’t forgive themselves for their actions.

The huge point that stands out in this whole series of events is the reality of God’s plans and God’s actions among people.  Because God wanted to save the people from a famine that would take place 20 years later he led the brothers to sell him into Egypt.  From their point of view it was all about their jealousy toward their brother.  But God had a plan in mind and brought it about, even though it involved horrible actions by these brothers toward their brother.  We tend to think of things that may happen today or tomorrow or perhaps a year or two from now.  God’s mind is capable of looking far down the line to see what will happen and to raise up the one who can be the savior for the people when tragedy occurs.  Neither the brothers, their father, the Pharaoh, or the people of Egypt could have seen God’s hand in what was happening.  One has to wonder when it occurred to Joseph that God was working to bring about something special through him.  I sincerely doubt it was while he was at Potiphar’s house or even while he was in prison for all those years.  It could have been during the years of plenty when he was gathering the supplies for the future he knew was coming.  But I suspect he only realized it was God that was moving and controlling the actions after the famine arose and perhaps after he saw his brothers bow before him seeking food.

One powerful lesson that should rise to the top is that in the toughest times of life, it may be that God is behind what is going on to prepare us for something ahead.  He needed Joseph to be ready to save the lives of his own family and of multitudes of people in Egypt and around the known world.  He couldn’t do that as a spoiled young man walking around in his coat of many colors.  He prepared him for the job with service, with disappointment, with prison and being forgotten by ones he loved.  The next time we are going through tough times, let’s remember that it may be the hand of God preparing us for a bigger job than we can now imagine but to get us ready means putting us through some tough times so we can do the job when it arrives.

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IT IS ASTONISHING

There are all kinds of things going on in our world that are absolutely astonishing.  Many of the things said by the different political candidates astonish me.  You have to wonder where their advisors were when they came up with some of the things that are said.  But I want to notice a occasion when Paul was astonished.  In Galatians 1:6 “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel.”

It hadn’t been long ago that Paul and Barnabas had traveled to the area of Galatia preaching Jesus to the people.  Gentiles who had no knowledge of God had turned from the idolatrous way of life they had lived to give their lives to Jesus who had given himself on the cross to die so their sins and ours could be forgiven.  He came, Paul said, to rescue us from this present evil world.  The message they had heard was easily described as “The Gospel or good news.”  It was a means of being saved from all sins through the blood of Jesus as one believed in Jesus as God’s son and committed their lives to him.  But, after Paul and Barnabas left the area and travelled back to Antioch the news came that teachers had come to the area of Galatia telling these new Christians that if they really wanted to be pleasing to God it wasn’t enough just to believe in Jesus and be committed to him, they also needed to obey the law and be circumcised.  In essence the message to them was that to be really right with God they needed to become Jews also.

Here’s the thing about all of that.  It isn’t just something that happened 2,000 years ago and never has happened again.  The problem is that it goes on all the time, that those who follow Christ are too often being told that it just isn’t enough to follow Christ through faith and live a life of freedom in him.  Instead there are always things that someone comes us that we must do beyond what the gospel of Christ teaches if we really want to be right with God.  Their deal was being circumcised, obeying the different food laws of the Old Testament and observing the different days that were part of that law.  The picture that had been painted to them was that they had made a start but to go all the way for God they had to take these extra steps.  Paul’s reaction as the apostle of Christ who had received his message of gospel directly from Jesus by revelation, was that your following these extra rules that are being put upon you, are departing from Jesus Christ.  He called you by his grace and now you are trying to be justified by law.  It just blew his mind that anyone would turn from the freedom in Christ to take on such regulations and going back under the law that had as it’s primary purpose to bring us to Christ and after Christ has come we are no longer under that law.  By the law no one can be justified in Christ.

Now please understand, it isn’t just that one can’t be saved by keeping those particular laws.  If there had been a law by which one could be saved there would have been no reason for Jesus to come into the world and take upon himself human flesh, to go through the same temptations we go through and then to die the cruel death on the cross for us to be saved.  No such law existed then nor does one exist now or will there ever be such a law.  Salvation is only possible through the grace of a loving and merciful God who longed for our salvation so much he was willing to pay the price for our redemption on the cross.

How serious is it for people to just add on a few regulations that a person must follow that really isn’t part of the gospel of Christ?  So serious that Paul would say that if one preached or received any gospel besides the one he preached to them let them be accursed.  It meant that one left Christ behind and that they fell from grace according to chapter 5:1-4.  Too often we aren’t satisfied with helping a person or group of people become Christians.  We want them to be “American Christians.”  Or it may be that we want them to be Christians of the same race or background as us.  Too often we take the cultural things that have been true of us where we live and try to bind them on other cultures so that they look like us more than they look like Jesus.  Paul pleaded with these Galatian Christians to stand in freedom and not allow others to press upon them rules that God hadn’t given.  John would later write, “Whoever goes on and does not abide in the teachings of Christ, does not have God.  He that abides in the teachings of Christ has both the Father and the Son.” (2 John 9)

Freedom, even in Christ, is difficult to live with.  You’ve heard the saying that “good fences make for good neighbors.”  In growing up who in the world would have thought about putting a fence around their yard to keep the neighborhood children from coming into their yard.  We ran and played without thought of whose house or whose property it might be.  We had freedom.  But now we want fences, boundaries, signs and “keep off the grass.” Even spiritually it is tough to simply allow people the freedom in Christ to through faith follow Him and grow more like him all the time.  We want to put up fences to keep out all who disagree with us on the slightest things.  In doing such we astonish the Lord and we depart from Jesus.  God help us!

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ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS

There is a bucket full of heat on the topic of illegal immigration in this country right now, but I’m not certain there is a thimble full of light being shed on the topic.  Does the Bible tell us anything on this subject that we should consider?  Is it simply a political issue that we should trust Congress to take care of or even the next president to handle?  First, let me be clear that I don’t care whether you support building a wall along the border or simply opening the borders for anyone to come through at will it is still important to raise the question of what God says on it.  What I do want to see is that God has somethings to say on the topic that ought to be brought into the consideration.  There is no question that a country has a right to borders, their own language and their own laws that one entering is obligated to follow.

But it is absolutely true that we are a nation filled with people who have immigrated from other countries and we have multitudes of people who were brought here by parents or other family, some illegally, but they have been here all their lives.  Sometimes families were brought here during times of crises in their own countries and were brought to this country as an act of benevolence.  Too often after the crisis is past, the ones who were brought here have no desire to return to their homeland and if years have passed, their children see themselves as part of this country rather than the nation from which they came.  Many came to work for someone but the job has now passed and they are still here but not accepted into the society.  So, where is a Christian supposed to land on all these topics.  And is there a difference between the one who came in legally but stayed after their visa had run out and the one who came into the country in the darkness and constantly hides in the shadows to keep from be deported back to their home country?

There is no question that people on all sides of the issue believe they are conducting themselves as Christians who imitate Jesus in their actions.  One thing stands out to anyone who has spent any time reading the Old Testament and that is that God called on his people to treat the aliens in the land right.  He always placed the welfare of the alien right alongside his concern for the orphan and the widow.  Think about some things that Jesus said with regard to how we treat others of all sorts.  He said the second greatest command is to “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  James called this the royal law and applied it to how Christians treat the poor who come into their assembly.  Jesus illustrated the point by telling the story of how a man fell among thieves who robbed him, beat him and left him for dead.  While the priest and Levite came by, they passed by on the other side of the road.  It was a Samaritan who came by and saw the man, had compassion on him and cared for his wounds.  He took him to an inn and cared for him there, even paying the inn-keeper to take care of him when he had to leave.  Jesus said he was the one who was neighbor to the man who fell among the thieves.  So, if the illegal immigrant is a neighbor and I’m to love my neighbor as myself, tell me how I’m to treat him.

Add to that Jesus statement that we are to “Love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you, do good to those who despitefully use you and persecute you so that you may be the sons of your Father in heaven.” He identified with the least of these in Matthew 25 and said that when we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the sick or those in prison, give drink to the thirsty, and take in the stranger that we ministered to him.  “Inasmuch as you did it unto one of the least of these my brothers, you did it unto me.”

At the same time, Paul challenged Christians to obey the rulers of the land and said they didn’t bear the sword in vain.  Unless the laws of the land somehow violate the law of God my place as a child of the Lord is to obey that law.  So, while I’m to be one that loves and cares for the stranger and treats them with respect, that doesn’t mean that I’m to sanction the violating of the law or even encourage people in their disobedience.  Care must be taken as a child of God to be the caring one for anyone who comes our way, I must not become one who is disobedient to the law by encouraging more disobedience to the law.  Remember too, the nation isn’t a church.  It is a government with laws that should be obeyed and if disobeyed that government has the right to punish those who disobeyed.  As a Christian I’m obligated to treat everyone with with love, kindness and respect.  But that doesn’t mean that I have the right to encourage people to disobey the laws of the land when they are just laws.

One thing that stands out for the Christian is that every action toward the immigrant whether legal or illegal should be with view to trying to win that person to Jesus Christ.  Every person that comes into the country ought to be seen as a prospect for Christ and an opportunity to be evangelistic and strive to teach the person about Christ.  As a nation I wish we could find the way to be benevolent and accepting of that one who has been in this country for years, obeying the laws, and striving to do the right thing in life, while not destroying the very borders that make us a nation.  I realize that it is extremely difficult because if you offer amnesty to the ones who have been in the country for a long time illegally, you do encourage those who want to come here anyway to follow the same plan with hopes to being recognized as citizens in the future.  But I know for certain that nothing gives the Christian the right to do anything that isn’t done in love and respect for the other person and in an effort to be salt and light to lead them to God.

Will we ever as a nation reach any kind of compromise that will be acceptable to all sides, benevolent toward the immigrant and uphold the laws and borders of the nation?  I don’t know.  It really seems to me that we move further from any such noble goal all the time.  But whatever the country does, I must make certain that as a Christian I do what God calls me to do personally in how I treat the stranger in the land.

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COUNT IT, WHAT?

How do you react when you face various kinds of trials or difficulties in life?  It probably depends somewhat on what the trial is or even on how we are feeling at the time and whether or not we have recently gone through other trials.  Under good circumstances we can handle lots of problems or challenges effectively and not have them slow us down in our service to God at all.  Strangely, at other times when we are just beginning to pull out of some other, major problem it is much more difficult to react to trials in a positive way.  But, it is what was said by James, the Lord’s brother and elder of the church in Jerusalem that is so difficult to grasp on this topic.  In James 1:1 he identified himself as “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  Then in verses 2 – 4, “Count it all joy, by brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.  And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

If there was ever a statement in Scripture that was counter-intuitive this is it.  Think for a moment.  What is your natural reaction in times of trials?  What if you have several different kinds of trail all over a short period of time?  We might react by complaining about it and saying, “Why me?”  We might get on Facebook and tell the whole world what all is going wrong in our lives and plead with all the prayer warriors to get involved in praying for you in the trials.  We might seek out a good Christian counselor to talk about what is going on and seek advise on how to deal with these trials in life.  But, how many of us when the times of trial comes, first of all, “Count it all joy?”  I doubt that is the first, second or third reaction that we most often have to trials in life.  Often we go into shock at the very thought that a person who is devoted to God, as we are, would go through such times of trials.

One of the few times in the Bible we observe people having such a reaction is in The Book of Acts when persecution first started coming against the first century church.  The church of Jerusalem was at the brunt of this early persecution.  The first instances took place when Peter and John came down to the temple at the hour of prayer and found a man laying at the gate begging for help.  He had been coming to that same doors to beg for years and when he saw Peter and John he thought they would give him money.  Peter told him that they didn’t have any silver or gold but in the name of Jesus he was to rise, take up his pallet and walk.  Peter reached down to lift him up and the man began to leap and dance and praised God because he had been sick for a long time and had now been healed. He was joyful because his status as an invalid had changed.  He was ready to lay aside the pallet and to walk, dance and run as the new commitment to the Lord.  Now the religious leaders didn’t have the same kind of reaction as him.  Peter and John were arrested and brought before the Sanhedrin for trial.  Peter tried to explain to them that as this great work for God had been done, that the Lord had worked to please him and heal the man and give him new life.  He later explained to them that it was God who made him lay his hands on the man and heal him and give him new life in him.  Peter and John were beaten and warned not to preach or teach any more in that name, knowing that it would be seen as a crime against the state.  After they had beaten Peter and John they released them and then went out to find the brethren and explained how God had counted them worthy to suffer for him.  He led them in praise that they had been counted worthy to suffer in the name of Jesus and pleaded with him to learn to pray for God to give them all boldness to preach in this same city the good news of Jesus.  They rejoiced believing in God and trusting that he would do what he had promised if they were faithful to him.

So, the command James gave us on how to handle difficult trials that we face stand out as different from what everyone felt we should do.  Why does God have James to tell us that the way we should handle trying times is to rejoice?  It isn’t that he wants us to be weird.  It is because of the blessings that come from trials in our life.  When everything is going easy and smooth we tend to feel that we are doing great and there is no need to change anything in our lives.  In times of trials, troubles and stress we tend to look for what might be wrong in us and what we need to change.  Notice he said, “Count it all joy…FOR you know that the testing of your faith, produces steadfastness.”  Most of the things in life that are worth anything demand some effort to have the good result.  For example, hard work may not be all that much fun but getting paid at the end of the week or month is fun.  Imagine the amount of work that is required by the farmer or rancher to produce the food that we eat at each meal.  It is hard work, but the reward is great.  Everything in life that is worth anything requires a great amount of effort to produce the good.  Marriage is one of the greatest blessings God ever gave to mankind.  God was the one who declared it wasn’t good for a man to be alone.  So he made the woman and brought her to the man as a “Helper suitable for him.”  But, to have a great marriage that brings us wonderful blessings requires a tremendous amount of work.  The person who thinks that it will simply fall into place and everyone live happily ever after has been reading too many romance novels and is out of touch with real life.

Trials should be counted as joy because it is the trials, the testing of our faith that produces steadfastness.  Other translations of this verse have “Perseverance” or “Patience.”  It is the ability to hold on, to stick to it when the going gets rough.  Football season is upon us and I enjoy watching a great football game.  But imagine the player that goes out to practice with the team.  After the first week of practice he comes to the coach to say, “I quit.  I thought this was supposed to be fun.  It is nothing but sweat, work, learn, and correcting of mistakes.  I’m tired of all the weight lifting and running.  I just wanted to play and run the ball in front of the crowds.  Why in the world would anyone go through all this to win a game?”  Imagine the coach trying to explain to the boy that the joy comes if one hangs in there and endures the practices, getting better all the time.  Imagine him saying unless you grow and get stronger you would get hurt in the game and you wouldn’t have the stamina to keep playing after the first quarter.  Do you think the boy would be convinced?  If he had been taught his whole life that everything should come easy to him then probably not.  Great blessings always follow great effort and great endurance.

Trials + endurance = blessings from God.  Steadfastness or perseverance won’t have its full effect until we continue to work, serve and grow through and in the midst of the difficult times.  Then they produce the great benefit of our becoming perfect and complete, lacking nothing.  Notice that it is the one who endures who becomes.  The quitter doesn’t become anything but a quitter and a loser.  We become the full grown, mature and complete person by endurance.

Notice that the next phrase in the letter of James is, “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach.”  Too often this verse has been pulled from its context and used on wisdom of all sorts.  The point was that the one who lacked the wisdom to see that blessings only come as we endure the trials of life should ask God for wisdom and he will give it to us.  We only grow strong in life, physically or spiritually by work, endurance and continuing to do that which is a huge challenge for us to do.

So, when you go through great trials, count it all joy because the trials produce good things if we endure and hold on to the Lord through them all.

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KINGDOM LIVING

Think of all the stories of that Jesus told to help people have a clearer grasp of what it meant to live for God in the world.  He used the most common events of the daily life of the people to whom he spoke to illustrate the points he wanted us to get.  He talked about sowing seed and the harvest that resulted.  He told of a vine and its branches and bearing fruit in him. He talked about mustard seed and leaven that was hidden in the meal of the cook.  He described treasures both hidden in a field and valuable pearls that a man was searching for.  Most of Jesus stories had one thing in common.  Most were linked to the kingdom of God or of Christ.  He would often say, “The kingdom of God is like.”  Even when he didn’t mention the kingdom it was very much a part of the whole context of his discussion.  In the single greatest sermon ever preached by anyone, known to us as the “Sermon on the Mount” Jesus followed the theme of the kingdom of heaven from the beginning to the end.  He started the sermon by listing the beatitudes and in giving the blessings he started and finished with the kingdom.  “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” and Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

I’ve often wondered what came to the minds of the people when they heard his lessons on the kingdom.  Their lives had been spent under the rule of different kingdoms.  Israel had known both very good kings and some of the worst imaginable.  At the time Jesus spoke they were both dealing with King Herod’s sons who reigned over different areas around them and with the Roman Emperor who was more often than not a horrible person.  So what entered their mind when they heard Jesus speak of the kingdom of heaven or kingdom of God?  Perhaps their minds went back to the glory days when David and Solomon were kings in Israel with the nation on the grow and with God’s blessings on them as a whole.  Probably most of them kept on with the thoughts that if Jesus were the real Messiah he would set up the kingdom of Israel again and reign like David over the people.  But, if they did, you have to wonder what they thought of so many of Jesus stories about the kingdom or even his discussion of the kingdom in the Sermon on the Mount.  A kingdom that blesses the poor in spirit or those persecuted for righteousness didn’t fit the mental picture they had drawn up for the coming kingdom the Messiah would set up.

In Matthew 6, the middle chapter of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus concluded the chapter with the command, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you.  Do not worry about tomorrow for tomorrow will worry about itself.  Each day has enough evil of its own to deal with.”  But notice what had been discussed in this chapter.  He had focused first on the motive of our righteousness.  Don’t do your righteousness before people to be seen by them but do them in secret and the Father who sees in secret will reward you.  He illustrated the point by discussion of prayer, giving and fasting.  In the prayer discussion he gave them the model prayer saying to pray like this.  In that prayer the first plea for the Father was “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  In this Jesus gave a clear grasp of what kingdom living is all about.  When God’s kingdom is dominant in our lives we do God’s will.  It would be totally out of place for me to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven when I’m not doing anything to carry out God’s will in my own life.  I suspect the way we should pray this prayer is “Your kingdom come.  Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven and Lord start with me.”

In that command to seek first above everything else God’s kingdom and righteousness it is vital to see the tie between kingdom and righteousness.  If I seek God’s kingdom above all else it will certainly lead to me striving to be right with the Lord in everything I do.  Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were my servants would fight but my kingdom is not from here.”  God’s kingdom isn’t some physical, earthly kingdom to be set up in Jerusalem to have Jesus reign on this earth for 1,000 years.  It is a spiritual kingdom and Christ when raised from the dead was seated at God’s right hand on David’s throne and has been reigning as king over his kingdom ever since (Acts 2:29-40).

Kingdom living means that Christ is our king.  It means we have a heart set on doing the Lord’s will and following His guide all the time.  It means that we yield to the lead of the Holy Spirit in us.  It involves the strongest efforts to please God, not to try to please all the people around us.  If we are pleasing all the people, it is clearly the case that we aren’t pleasing the Lord and His rule isn’t dominant in our lives.  Kingdom living means that we aren’t spending our time worrying about what all may happen in this world.  It amazes me that Jesus discussion was on worrying when he told us to seek his kingdom first and all the things that we normally worry about will be taken care of by the Lord.  He challenged us not to worry about what we would eat, what we would wear or where we would live.  He said not to lay up our treasures on this earth but to lay them up in heaven where they can’t be destroyed by the affairs of this life.  If there has ever been a time when people who follow Christ spent more time worrying about what is going on in the world than they do today, I would hate to have seen it.  How can we keep from worrying about our country, about the morals of our nation, about poverty and crime in the world and about the lack of spiritual growth among even God’s people?  Jesus gave the answer.  Instead of worrying ourselves to death when it won’t do even a little bit of good, seek the kingdom of the Lord and his righteousness.  God can handle the world and its future.  Live for today.  It is all we can handle anyway.  So live as kingdom people and let Christ be the king of our lives all the time.  It will change us and the world around us when we do.

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CHRISTIANS AND POLITICS

Like so many of you, I will be thrilled when this political season is over.  I’m already worn out with all the attack ads, the speeches that are much more about what an awful, unfit person the other candidate is, instead of what the speaker stands for.  I’m also weary of all the followers of Christ who are pronouncing doom and gloom on the country due to the ineptness of the presidential candidates.  It all reminds me of a strange Book of the Bible written about 800 years before Christ came into the world as a man.  It is the Book of Hosea.  Hosea was written during the period shortly before the Assyrian army came into the Northern Kingdom of Israel and captured the people, and destroyed the nation.  Hosea was sent with the mission of trying to alert the Nation of what was coming and striving to call them to repentance and submission to God instead of doing things their own way.  In Hosea the people of both Israel and Judah have had a time of prosperity.  They have expanded their borders back to what they were when the kingdoms were united under David and Solomon.

Hosea is sent to challenge the people for three major sins going on among them that seem to be very relevant for our own time.  They were trying to worship God along with worshiping different idols and thought God should be pleased since they continued to offer their sacrifices and observe the different feast days Moses commanded them to keep.  They were deeply involved in immoral behavior.  And they were giving the political leaders credit for the blessings that had come from God on them as a nation.  It doesn’t take much imagination to realize we face the same three problems in our own day.

Far too often people are trying to mix their faith and service to God with all kinds of religious ideas and concepts that have no relation to God or the Bible. How often do you hear someone who is a follower of Christ talk about what happened to them or someone else as being “Karma” which is a Hindu concept and certainly never taught in the Bible.  I’ve heard at a Christian’s funeral recently the preacher say that the were sure the person had gone to heaven because on a balance they did more good in their life than bad or evil.  That is a Muslim teaching and certainly has no basis in Scripture.  What the Bible teaches is that we all have sin in our life and that only through our faith and obedience to the Lord can our sins be forgiven so that we might be saved.  Salvation is based on God’s grace and never on what we deserve or on our doing more good than bad on a balance.  When we try to mix together other teachings with what Jesus said and make others Lord along with him we lose Jesus in the process.  He isn’t A WAY, A TRUTH AND A LIFE.  He is THE WAY, THE TRUTH AND THE LIFE.  There is only room for one Lord and Savior in our life and that is Jesus or we are lost.  Peter declared in Acts 4:12 “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

The problems we face with immorality are as obvious as anything can be.  Between pornography, hooking up, shacking up and every other form of pretending we are husband and wife in a covenant of one flesh and a media that promotes such a lifestyle, the immoral and perverted is made to look like the normal.

But notice closely the third thing that was a problem for Israel.  They were so carried away with their human rulers or politicians that they gave them  credit for whatever good or whatever blessing came into their life.  If their crops were good they either praised some idol or credited the king for all going well.  When they won a battle against some enemy instead of thanking God for it, they praised the king.  When the king became ill they panicked at the thought the next ruler might not be so effective for them.  God’s message through Hosea was that he was the one who raised up their rulers and he was the one who took them out.  He had Hosea to plead with them to see that it was God that caused their crops to be bountiful, not some human leader or some idol they might worship.  He pointed to God’s amazing love for the nation of Israel and how he was to them their husband and they were his wife but they were rejecting Him and going after other lovers.

Now I will certainly admit that the potential President’s that are before us leave a lot to be desired.  But, whether we rise or fall as a nation depends on far more than just who sits in the White House and what party they represent.  If we persist to live immoral, ungodly lives and to try to mix every other kind of religion with our faith and worship to God it won’t matter who is elected President.  When the moral fiber of a nation is lost the nation’s fall isn’t far behind.  When the leaders put themselves in the place of God it is never long before God will demonstrate who is really in charge.

But there is something we can all do that I believe will make a huge difference.  We can obey God and actually, regularly, faithfully pray for the leaders of the nation.  We can give glory to God for the blessings of life.  We can give total loyalty to the one God and not try to blend together all kinds of notions that leads to a mixed up mess and rejection from God.  We can refuse to excuse the sins in our own life and in the world around us.  We can live totally dedicated lives for the Lord and be ones that show love, compassion and care for those who are hurting, disabled or unable to function on their own.  Instead of thinking the solution to every problem lies with the government we can realize that the solution to many problems come only from God and that God uses us to make a difference for good.  We can refuse to justify sin no matter who may be supporting it.  Too often in life our moral standards are based on what is done by the ones we love and respect.  We need more of the heart of John the Baptist who stood up to King Herod to tell him he was sinning and that he didn’t have the right to take his brother’s wife and have her as his wife instead.  It would have been easy to compromise when he was called before the king to give account for what he had said.  But his heart was that sin is sin no matter who is doing it.  Now please understand recognizing that a thing is wrong and taking our stand against it is never justification for being rude or uncaring toward the person involved in the sinful action.  Jesus loved sinners and so must we if we are to follow him.  He didn’t justify or pretend their actions weren’t wrong.  But he loved them and offered them forgiveness and new life even though they were guilty of sin.  We should do the same.

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TO BE ONE

I wonder what it would have been like to hear Jesus pray.  We don’t have many of Jesus prayers recorded in the Bible.  By far the longest of his prayers recorded is in John 17.  It was part of a lengthy section of John that took place on the last night before Jesus was crucified.  The evening began with Jesus meeting to partake of the Passover meal with the twelve and the amazing event of his laying aside his outer garments to take a towel and wrap it around his waist and fill a basin with water to wash the disciples feet.  When Judas left to go and carry out his betrayal of Jesus, the Lord gave them the new commandment to love each other in the same way he loved us and declared that it was by such love that others would know we are really disciples of his.  He both told of how the disciples would all forsake him and Peter would deny him but then reassured them not to be troubled that he was going to prepare a place for all those who would come to God through him.  He promised the Holy Spirit to come and abide with them and us.  He compared his relationship with his disciples to being like a vine and its branches and challenged us to bear much fruit for him.  He explained that it was better for him to go away so the Holy Spirit could come and convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgment to come.

Then, He prayed and the prayer fills John 17.  “Father, the hour has come.  Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.  Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.  I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do.  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.”  That is the opening of this amazing prayer.  All through the gospel of John we have heard Jesus say, “My hour has not yet come.”  Now he declared the hour had come.  His whole life had moved toward this time when he would take on him the sins of the world and obediently go to the cross to pay the penalty for our sins and make forgiveness possible for all people.  He had fulfilled God’s plan and was ready to glorify the Father and the Father glorified him.  He would then be raised from the dead and go back to share the glory with the Father that they had shared before the world ever began.  He noted that eternal life was had by knowing the Father and the Son, Jesus.

He then began a lengthy segment of prayer for the apostles who were left.  Judas had left to fulfill Satan’s mission of betraying Jesus.  But Jesus prayed for the eleven.  He prayed for their sanctification, their protection and deliverance.  He prayed that God wouldn’t take them out of the world but would keep the world from getting into them.  He prayed that they might have the full measure of Joy within them.

It is the next section of the prayer that I want to focus on particularly today.  It begins in verse 20 of John 17.  “My prayer is not for them alone.  I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, THAT ALL OF THEM MAY BE ONE, FATHER, JUST AS YOU ARE IN ME AND I AM IN YOU.  MAY THEY ALSO BE IN US SO THAT THE WORLD MAY BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE SENT ME.  I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity.  Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.”  It is amazing to think of Jesus just a few hours before he would go to the cross to die for us, praying for us.  His prayer for all of us who would believe in him was simple and powerful.  He prayed that all who believed in him would be one just as He and the Father are one.  What makes this so phenomenal is that even when the disciples were only eleven men it was difficult for them to get along with each other.  But he prayed for all disciples through all the ages to come to be one.  He wanted his followers to have unity.  But why does it really matter whether or not the followers of Jesus are one?  Notice his answer.  It is so that the world may believe that You have sent me.  The openness of the world to the gospel of Christ is tied to how well those who follow him can get along with each other.

How well has his prayer been answered?  His followers have had a tough time with oneness.  Even those who tend to agree on doctrinal matters still have difficulty getting along with each other.  Sometimes our guilt for not being united with other disciples leads to us accusing others of being wrong on some doctrinal issue to justify our inability to get along with them.  Rather than admit we just can’t get along with people we will accuse them of being off on some teaching.  It would be refreshing sometimes to just have someone say that they knew the other place where they were before all taught the same thing we do, but I just couldn’t get along well with some of the people so I decided to go worship somewhere else instead of causing problems there.

Jesus would go on to pray that his disciples might come to be with him in heaven.  But I want to think more about this oneness thing.  Did he expect us to all agree with each other on every thing?  Obviously not, since in Romans 14 he described differences that might be there between brethren but challenged us not to judge each other and to bear with the weak instead of breaking fellowship over our differences.  When it comes to our loyalty to Christ it must be complete.  We can’t go off following different people like the church at Corinth had done.  Jesus is the one Lord and Savior of all people.  So there must be fundamental teachings on which we will together stand and preach God’s message.  But it doesn’t mean that everyone must see every thing in exactly the same way to be right with God.  There can never be unity among the followers of Jesus as long as many are determined that they will not even consider another person as a brother or sister in Christ who doesn’t see everything the same way they do.  Good, godly people don’t always see things the same way.  But love and unity aren’t built on always agreeing.  Consider the marriage relationship.  We are to become one flesh before God.  But if both husband and wife always agree on everything, someone has stopped thinking and given that right totally to the other person.  At least part of the reason God said we are to “Submit to one another in the fear of God” is because we won’t always agree.  But we can still love and support the other partner even when we think they are mistaken on some point.

One of the amazing things on this topic is that in Romans 14 where he talked about our not seeing everything the same way he said, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.  LET US THEREFORE MAKE EVERY EFFORT TO DO WHAT LEADS TO PEACE AND MUTUAL EDIFICATION.” (Romans 14:17-19)

If Jesus thought unity was so important that he prayed about it diligently on the night of his betrayal, shouldn’t we be praying for such unity also?  If he worked to have such unity, shouldn’t we do the same?  If he was willing to submit his will to the Father’s will even when it meant going to the cross for us, shouldn’t we be willing to submit to others on things we may not see the same way they do in order to have unity in the body?  It is worth thinking about.

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