Greater than John? Who, me?

downloadMatt 8:9,10 “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”  10 When Jesus heard it, He marveled, and said to those who followed, “Assuredly, I say to you, I have not found such great faith, not even in Israel!”

Faith.  God’s love language.  If you desire to please God remember that Jesus didn’t marvel all that often over any particular accomplishment of men, except, of course, in this one case of a Roman soldier.  Jesus called his faith “great”.  The rest of us probably fall into the same category as the multitude Jesus preached to in His sermon on the mount.  “Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?” Matthew 6: 30.  O you of little faith.  That’s most of us!

Even the great Apostle, Peter, had issues now-and-then with little faith, as when he actually walked by faith, at least for a moment.  The fact that he was walking on water may have something to do with the literal sinking of his faith. “And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”  Matthew 14: 31.

Do some have more faith than others?  Absolutely.  Paul tells us that faith is given to us by measure.  “For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith.” Romans 12:3

One prophet stands out above all the other prophets.  Was it Moses, who had enough faith to part waves and endure 40 years in the desert with a bunch of whiney ninnies?  Perhaps Elijah, who had enough faith to call down fire from heaven, as did Elisha.  But Jesus says of John “Assuredly, I say to you, among those born of women there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist.”  Matthew 11:11.

At this point you may be wondering…

Is there a secret to having great faith?  You could think to yourself, “I’m a nobody.  I’m the least of the least.”  Perhaps you are like Gideon who, when commanded to go in strength to destroy the enemies of Israel, said of himself, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel?  Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.”  Judges 6:15.

But did you know that you can have a faith that exceeds that of Moses, Elijah, Elisha and even John the Baptist?  Who, me?  Yes you.  No way!  Yes, way!  True, Jesus spoke highly of John the Baptist, saying “there has not risen one greater than John the Baptist,” but He went on to say, “But he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.”

“Wait, that’s me!”  You shout.  “I am the least in the kingdom, at least one of the least.  But how can any of us have a faith greater than John the Baptist?  How can I, the least of saints, possess great faith? How can it be said of me that my faith might exceed that of the prophets?”  It all depends upon who or what you are placing your faith in.  If I have a greater gift of faith than others I might be inclined to think too highly of my faith.  I might be further inclined to exhort others to just, “have more faith, like me!”  I might be inclined to spiritual pride.  Unfortunately, many endowed with great faith, must battle pride, and since God resists the proud, well, good luck with that.

The disciples wanted that great faith.  In Luke 17:5 we see them say to Jesus, “increase our faith.”  But Jesus responds, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be pulled up by the roots and be planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.”  Huh?  Wait.  Little faith can rip out a tree and plant it in the sea?  Wait… what?

What’s the bottom line?

Okay, here is the gist.  Jesus is trying to tell them that the faith they desire is already within their grasp.  If my faith is little I am in the best possible position to put all of my hope, not in my little faith, but in His great faithfulness!  We should not desire the great faith that some seem to possess, but the little faith that can rip our troubles and obstacles out by the roots and plant them in the sea.  If I have great faith (like Peter thought he possessed), my focus will be my exercise of faith, and eventually I will sink.  But if my faith is only in God and in His faithfulness, then anything is possible.

Is there is catch?   Yes, there is.  This “little faith” comes by knowing God’s word.  “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”  Romans 10:17.

If I am abiding and believing in His word, in time I will understand my place in God’s creation.  Over time I will decrease, but He will increase in me.  Through scripture interacting with personal experience (not just head knowledge) I will discover that I am nothing, possess nothing and can do nothing apart from Him.  My focus will increasingly be on Him rather than on me.  My fleshly thinking, especially when considering spiritual truths, must be skewered, eviscerated, mangled and murdered.  In the process I may be humbled, humiliated even.  I must work out my salvation with fear and trembling, but always believing that God is at work in me causing me to will and to do His good pleasure.  (Phil 2:13).

But what if I get discouraged in the long wait for this sort of faith to distill down into my spiritual innards? Take heart.  If you asked that sort of question you probably already have the little, humble faith it takes to put your trust entirely in His faithfulness.  If you are already aware of your weakness and limitations you are ready to begin focusing on the unlimited power, love, grace and favor of God towards those who put all of their hope in Him! Praise the Lord!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Tough Choices

ToughChoices1-1We all have those moments when we are faced with a tough choice. If I choose strict obedience to what God’s word speaks to my heart then I may hurt somebody that I am commanded to love. If I disobey God’s directive then I will defile my own conscience and be in fear of consequences.

While fleeing Saul, exhausted and famished, King David and his men ate showbread from the tabernacle. This was forbidden by God’s command! A wicked servant of Saul, a man named Doeg (looks like dog), not only told Saul but then executed 85 priests of God at the bidding of Saul. The whole sad story is recorded in 1 Samuel, chapters 21 and 22.

“See,” says our defiled conscience, “David’s disobedience led to the death of 85 innocent men.” And so it goes with our conscience. Some situations demand a flexibility that stretches the limit of human reason. Yes, David and Ahimelech the Priest conspired together to break a law of God. In fact, David only asked for food, but it was Ahimelech who suggested the showbread. Still, David knew the rules. It is interesting that Ahimelech means, “my brother is King.” In that moment David was not a king but a fleeing servant. Nevertheless, Ahimelech regarded him as a brother and treated his need as paramount.

My brother is king. How I struggle with this concept. Do I treat my brothers and sisters as Kings and Queens? Are their needs urgent to me? Would I be willing to help a brother, a sister, or even a stranger at the risk of consequences to myself? Where do I draw the line? God’s word says to love my neighbor as myself and even esteem him better than myself. But what if obeying this law of God brings me in conflict with some other law of God, like obedience to government or prohibitions against the appearance of evil?

For example, would God ever expect me to help an illegal immigrant without turning him in? Would God ever tell me to go into a bar? Would God expect me to attend a meeting with religious heretics for the sake of a brother or sister? Would he require me to trespass at an abortion clinic to save a child? How far should I go to relate to or retrieve an unbelieving spouse?

Oh, there are many among us who would claim that the answers are simple. But I think not. I believe some situations require wisdom beyond our grasp. Otherwise we would be filled with the same spiritual conceit Jesus railed against more than any other sin.

Remember Naaman, the Syrian general who, after being healed of leprosy had to return to his pagan king. This is what he said to Elisha as he contemplated his return to Syria. “Yet in this thing may the LORD pardon your servant: when my master goes into the temple of Rimmon to worship there, and he leans on my hand, and I bow down in the temple of Rimmon—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the LORD please pardon your servant in this thing.” 2 Kings 5:18

And this is Elisha’s response in verse 19. “Then he [Elisha} said to him [Naaman], ‘Go in peace…’”

And what did Jesus say regarding Ahimelech and David’s transgression?

“But He [Jesus] said to them [Pharisees], ‘Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, he and those who were with him: how he entered the house of God and ate the showbread which was not lawful for him to eat, nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests? Or have you not read in the law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple profane the Sabbath, and are blameless? Yet I say to you that in this place there is One greater than the temple. But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:3-8.

May God silence the voice of the adversary, who would use your own conscience as a weapon of self-condemnation rather than a tool or a compass for direction. And may God grant you the supernatural wisdom it requires to love your neighbor so recklessly that it stretches the boundaries of propriety.

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Now I am Jericho

0 jericho“Therefore the curse has devoured the earth,
And those who dwell in it are desolate.
Therefore the inhabitants of the earth are burned,
And few men are left.”   Isaiah 24:6

I was cursed because of sin but God (El or Eloheim) sent His firstborn, Jesus, to die in my place.  Though I was cursed, I live, and God’s fragrance, His Holy Spirit, wafts through my life.

Once there was a cursed City, Jericho, torn down for her sins and cursed by Joshua who declared, “Cursed be the man before the LORD who rises up and builds this city Jericho; he shall lay its foundation with his firstborn, and with his youngest he shall set up its gates.”  Josh 6:26.

Approximately 600 years later (between 874 and 853 BC) this prophecy came true literally, during the reign of Ahab, through a man known as Hiel.  Hiel was from Bethlehem and his name means God lives.   Hiel lost his firstborn and youngest sons in the construction of Jericho (1 Kings 16:34), according to Joshua’s prophecy.

Jericho is a significant city, mentioned 64 times in the Bible, even more than Bethlehem, the birthplace of our Savior.  Jesus taught there and did several miracles, and it was there in Jericho that Zacchaeus, a chief tax collector (and therefore, by Jewish reckoning, a chief sinner) was converted.  In the case of Zacchaeus we get a direct view of the transforming power of the gospel as he gave half his goods to the poor and restored four fold to any he had defrauded.

Jericho (Ἰεριχώ) means, “Place of fragrance.”

So, I was cursed because of sin, like Jericho was under a curse, but God, as represented by Hiel (God lives) sacrificed His firstborn Son, Jesus, as represented by Hiel’s firstborn and youngest sons dying upon the rebuilding of Jericho.   Just as Hiel was from Bethlehem, so the Father sent the Holy Spirit to Mary, who gave birth in Bethlehem.

Jericho was reborn as a city and figured prominently in Jewish history.  Similarly, even though I was cursed I am born again.  Just like Jericho’s meaning, “place of fragrance,” now the fragrance of Christ, through His Holy Spirit, wafts through my life.  “For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.”  2 Corinthians 2:15

I once was lost.  My walls were torn down like Jericho.  But God sent His firstborn to suffer and die a cruel death for me.  I was like a worthless city, hopelessly lost but Halleluiah, Hiel! (God lives!)  Now I am Jericho (place of fragrance) and now I am Zacchaeus.

Guess what Zacchaeus means?  (You have a computer.  Look it up, lol)

Probably without realizing it, Joshua’s prophecy about Jericho extends all the way to you and I today!  Okay, I’ll save you a few nano seconds.  Zacchaeus means “pure”.

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Mixed company

Why were Jews forbidden to mix differing types of material (for ex., wool and cotton) as in Deut 22:11?

Unbelievers claim that this law is arbitrary and useless.  When Christians fail to obey this law they are picking and choosing which laws to obey or disobey.  Christians often come up with practical reasons such as the fact that polyester had not yet been invented—cotton and polyester are compatible blends now but then polyester did not exist.  (But aren’t God’s commands timeless?)  Another response has been that if you blend two types of materials they shrink differently and can easily tear.  Really?  So God had to come up with a commandment in His mighty word just so that Israelites didn’t waste too much time remaking their clothing?  Couldn’t they figure that one out on their own?  And besides, is this even true for every combination of materials?  Jews have their own explanations.  They are quite interesting and usually such explanations date back centuries.  Some date back to Cain and Able in the garden offering differing sacrifices, arguments that would make Gentile heads spin.

The two passages in Deuteronomy and Judges regarding mixing things go like this:

Deut 22:9-11  You shall not sow your vineyard with different kinds of seed, lest the yield of the seed which you have sown and the fruit of your vineyard be defiled.  You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together. You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.

Lev 19:19  You shall keep My statutes. You shall not let your livestock breed with another kind. You shall not sow your field with mixed seed. Nor shall a garment of mixed linen and wool come upon you.

I studied Christian commentaries and every commentator had a different comment trying to explain these passages.  The categories are:

1) Practical considerations (for example a donkey and an ox cannot be yoked together because the ox is stronger and they will pull against one another.  But this begs the question.  Why did God have to inaugurate a law against such things?  Couldn’t they learn from experience?  To disobey such commands had natural consequences, but to disobey any of God’s commandments also invited God’s wrath.   Why place such gravity upon simple matters that could be learned through trial and error and at worst merely waste a little time and a few resources?)

2) A visual reminder to avoid pagan practices (too many to mention here).  There is validity to many of these explanations.

3) Spiritual explanations.  (For example, Dr. Jay Vernon Mcgee says that to forbid mixing things was a practical, visual demonstration for Jews to avoid mixing truth with error).

Okay, so here is my contribution.  God separated the Jews from the nations and chose them for specific tasks.  He set them apart and loved them, not because they were better or more obedient, but as a demonstration of His grace and mercy, ultimately expressed through His beloved Son.  The Jews were to be holy, separate, though their fleshly nature cried out to be like other nations, to intermarry with them, adopt their gods and customs.  They even sought a king because they wanted to be like the surrounding nations and have somebody rule over them besides their invisible God.

These laws of separation are visual reminders to Israel to be separate from the nations.  Wool is not better than cotton; it is just different.  Mules are not better than oxen; they should just do different tasks.  Corn is not superior to wheat; they both have their purposes.  Jews were commanded NOT to intermarry with Gentiles.  God set His people apart, not because they were better but to demonstrate His nature, His purposes, His pleasure and glory, to bring many sons and daughters into His kingdom.  He also had a specific Person in mind with a particular DNA.  Jesus!

But God allowed the genetic line of Judah, through which Jesus received His DNA, to be contaminated by gentile blood!  (Ruth, the Moabitetess, Rahab the harlot).  Furthermore, some of His ancestors were adulterers (see Judah and Tamar, David and Bathsheba).  Did God break His own command by allowing this DNA mixture with sinners and Gentiles?  No!  He set up the commandment for a great purpose!  Just as the law is our schoolmaster to bring us to the grace that is in Christ, so also the commandment not to mix is resolved in the person of Christ.  It is by grace that we are saved, not by keeping the letter of the law!

The commandment not to mix materials and animals was a visual illustration for Jews not to mix with the world, to preserve themselves from pagan rituals and practices and to preserve the Holy messianic line.  May we also as Christians today remember that we too have been set apart from the world for God’s purposes.  We are not to deliberately marry an unbeliever; we are to refrain from pagan and worldly practices that bring harm to men’s souls.

But we must also remember that the Jews failed and so have we.  Hence the need of our Savior to die a bloody death to pay the penalty for our sin, our mixing with the world’s seed, the garment of our soul intertwined with both a carnal and a spiritual nature, even as Christ Himself was fully man and fully God.

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No Bad Days?

waveIn the art of suffering we say, “No bad days” as a confession of faith that no matter how much pain or suffering we endure, God has a good end in mind.  He will restore, heal and renew those so afflicted.

“But you do not know what I’ve endured,” someone may claim.    I might respond, “You are right, and if I had to endure your suffering without God’s intervention I would undoubtedly fall to Earth in a heap of ruination and self-pity.”

Jesus had a couple of rough days.  He was arrested on false charges with false witnesses accusing.  He was punched and pushed about, humiliated and misrepresented.  He was mocked and jeered at by malicious and depraved men.  They smashed down a crown of spear-tipped thorns on his head that bit into his scalp like angry bees.  They whipped him with a scourge containing bits of metal and glass that clung to his back then ripped out chunks of flesh.

Jesus was not having a good day.  He might have said, “Lord, this is NOT fair.  Haven’t I obeyed You fully?  Why have you allowed all these circumstances to conspire against me?”

Carry Your cross, Jesus, in Your weakened state.  Fall to the dust and feel the wooden weight come crashing down upon you.  Feel the lashes of the muscular, cruel Romans while the women about you howl for mercy.

They slammed a spike just above His palm to pin Him to the cross.  After the first one how did He anticipate the second?

And with just one mighty nail to hold both feet they raised the cross and slammed it into a hole sufficient to hold His weight, which jolted to a sudden stop, all the pressure against His ruptured wrists and ankles.

At some point the weight of the sins of the entire world fell upon Him, the holiest man that ever breathed air.  It isn’t fair.  But Christ, for joy anticipated, endured the cross and in the end, suffered no loss.  No loss.  Losing all He lost nothing at all.  He gained…glory, fame, everlasting fortune, eternal family, exquisite bliss and triumph over every enemy.

Those who misrepresented Him would now be proven wrong; those who persecuted Him would be punished; His poverty became riches; His wounds a source of healing; His spilled blood an eternal fountain; His crushed flesh our sanctification; the injustice of His suffering our undeserved, unmerited, justification and His separation from the Father, our reconciliation.

Having a bad day?  Think again.  If we belong to Him, He causes all things to work together for our good, especially the bad stuff (even if it’s your fault).

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A Leading Question

Question Which Direction-resized-600Proverbs 3:5,6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
6 In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths.

“Brother, please pray for me for direction.” How many times have I heard this prayer request? We all want to know how to receive guidance from God. Lord direct my paths!

How does God direct us? I confess I have used this verse in the past to claim and even teach that God directs us by means of our circumstances. ‘In all your circumstances acknowledge Him’? Yes, God is sovereign in our circumstances, but are we truly capable of understanding just how this is accomplished? Are we able to properly interpret the meaning or significance of this or that happening?

Proverbs 20:24 “A man’s steps are of the LORD; how then can a man understand his own way?”

Over the years I have discovered that my attempts to interpret circumstances have often led to more trouble. Too many times I looked at “coincidences” as confirmation.

For example, two friends of mine once recommended me to do a back yard renovation for a friend of theirs. Neither of my friends realized that the other had made such a recommendation. My friends, my new customer and I were all Christians. I prayed with the customer and felt peace about pursuing the job. Two Christians who did not know each other randomly recommending me for a job when the county I live is full of contractors more qualified than I do so such a job? All of us Christians who loved the Lord? It all just seemed right.

The job went sour right from the beginning. Through an amazing series of mishaps and misunderstandings I ended up owing my customer $11,000.00! As of the writing of this blog I am half way through paying off this debt. I learned many things because of this incident for which I praise God continually. One of the greatest things I learned was this:

Coincidental confirmations and peaceful feelings are inferior and potentially disastrous indicators of God’s will!

Was God directing? Yes. Did I understand what He was doing or where He was taking me? Not at all.

Do you trust ABC, NBC or CNN to report the news in an unbiased manner? No? Trust your feelings even less! Are you allowing circumstances to dictate your next decision? There is a better way.

Feelings are a blessing, but only in the context of God’s will. Circumstances are the tools by which God grows our faith, but are merely pieces in a million piece puzzle that we will never figure out until He puts it all together.

Now let’s look at Proverbs 3:5,6 in context, by beginning with verse 1.

“My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands; for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.

Let not mercy and truth forsake you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart, and so find favor and high esteem in the sight of God and man.

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”

Chapters 2, 3 and 4 of Proverbs all begin with an admonition to keep the words, instructions, laws, commands, and doctrine of God.

To acknowledge God in all our ways we are not acknowledging circumstances as our guides but the truth of God’s word in our circumstances.

What could I have acknowledged in my failed job? God’s truth! Here are just two, though there are many others. Psalm 138:8 “The LORD will perfect that which concerns me” and Romans 8:28 “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.”

For every feeling and for every circumstance there is a promise from God that covers it. As Peter declared in 2 Peter 3,4, “as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature…”

When we know God, He, through His power and promises, gives us everything we need that has to do with our daily lives or our service to Him.

We need to settle this in our hearts once and for all. I am yelling at myself right now. “Stop being led about and deceived by your feelings! Your feelings are tied to your flesh and your flesh wants to lead you into lustful cravings.”

Feelings are only a blessing in the context of God’s revealed will.

And how about this (I shout to myself): “Do not be lead by coincidences and circumstances, but while you are in them, acknowledge the truths of God’s word that apply and reject any other conclusion.”

Circumstances are God’s tools for growing our faith. They are opportunities to learn to trust God’s promises.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 310 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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