Friday, April 17, 2015

His Joy Is Our Strength

     One of the greatest needs we all have is to experience joy in our lives.  Too often, I believe people equate joy with happiness, but there is a difference between the two.  Happiness is a momentary emotion that can come and go.  Joy, however, is a deep abiding confidence that God will see us through whatever storms we may face.  I have mentioned it before in my writing but it bears repeating.  I used to have a little sticker that said:  "Joy is not the absence of sorrow but the presence of God."  I like that definition because we face a life here in a broken world that is difficult to walk through.  There are disappointments and losses as we journey each day, but as Nehemiah says:  "For the joy of the Lord is your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10b).  Why did he say this?
     Nehemiah was used of God to bring the people back to Jerusalem out of captivity to rebuild the walls of the city.  When the work was done after much opposition to this endeavor, the Lord called upon Nehemiah the Governor and Ezra the priest to set aside a holy day in which the Law would be read to the people.  As the people listened they wept because they saw how they had disobeyed the Lord.  Their repentance was genuine, and when the reading was completed, Nehemiah sent them out to eat and drink and celebrate their new found relationship with the Living God.  This is why he told them that the joy of the Lord is their strength.  True repentance leads to joy that enables us to face whatever life throws our way.
Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
     Even our Lord Jesus Christ knew this kind of joy that enabled Him to face death on the cross for our salvation.  Hebrews 12:1-2 says:  "1Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God."  We must fix our eyes on Jesus just as He fixed His eyes on the goal of our salvation through the cross.  Our Lord was able to endure the agony of flogging and death by crucifixion because His eyes were set on the goal of finishing His work and sitting down at the right hand of God the Father.  This joy gave Him strength.  When we focus on the Lord rather than our circumstances, we are doing the same thing.
     Honestly, I do not know how in the world I could have ever faced some of the heartaches that life has brought me without God's inner joy which has helped me through it all.  Losing my mother after a ten year battle with Alzheimer's, losing my father to a rare brain disease much before his time and then, losing our first born grandson suddenly two years ago are not easy things to face.  Yet, God's joy has undergirded me with strength.  I do not know how anyone can face the hardship and pain of loss without Jesus Christ.
     Jesus Christ made known to His disciples what He was passing on to them in John 15:11:  "These things have I spoken to you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."  This same joy is what we find as we open the pages of the Bible.  Reading the Word fills us with a joy and peace that the world cannot know outside of Christ.
     Like the people of Israel after hearing the Word of God went out to rejoice in His strength, so we also can do the same thing when we put Christ first.  Psalm 30:5 tells us:  "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning."  Let us trust in God whose joy can walk us through the deepest valley and over the highest mountain top.  Selah!

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Better Than I Deserve

     We all pick up phrases that we have heard during our lifetime.  Some are very familiar like:  "God willing and the creek don't rise"; "that is a piece of cake"; "this cost me an arm and a leg" or "don't cry over spilled milk".  Most of them are just a manner of speaking or expression; however, one phrase which my husband has adopted has a lot of meaning behind it.  When greeted by someone and asked how he is doing, my husband replies "I am better than I deserve."  Now, he did not originate this phrase but picked it up from a brother in Christ who often replied in this manner.  Who began saying this I cannot tell you, but it does make people stop and think.  Some will ask why he said that which, then, gives him the opportunity to share some good news with these people about his salvation in Jesus Christ.  Based on Scripture (Romans 3:23 and Romans 6:23), we all deserve eternal punishment for sinning against a holy God.  Yet, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins, we have been saved, delivered, bought with a price and redeemed both from sin and death.  This is why we are "better than we deserve".  Paul knew this as he faced some very difficult situations.
     During one of his many imprisonments for preaching the Gospel, Paul wrote to the Philippians these words:  "I want you to know brothers that what has happened to me has really served to advance the Gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.  And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear" (Philippians 1:12-14).  Now Paul has just put a very positive outlook on something which might be considered a hard place to be.  He is not saying, "I don't deserve this" but in effect, he is saying "I am better than I deserve".  Plus he points out all the good that has come as a result of his circumstances.
     Later in the same letter, Paul gives us the key to his ability to see the how God is working all things together for our good.  In Philippians 4:11-13, Paul declares that he has learned to be content in whatever situation he finds himself.  Then, he boldly states:  "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Phil. 4:13).  Indeed, Paul is better than he deserves isn't he?  After all, he persecuted Christians and ordered them put to death.  But God in His mercy and for His glory, awakened Paul to life in Christ.  Therefore, no matter what man attempted to do to Paul he was able to see God's almighty hand behind every circumstance.
     There are times when we face life's battles, and we might feel as though we are losing at every turn.  Family conflict, business problems, financial hardships or health problems can make us only look at the negative side of things.  Ah, but the Bible tells us that we are more than conquerors in Christ because He has overcome this world.  He has fought the good fight for us, and now we can say with Paul, we are "better than we deserve".  The Apostle Paul also wrote in his letter to the Corinthians these words of encouragement:  "17For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, 18while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal."  We must remember to keep this perspective because the earth is not our home.  We are citizens of heaven.
     God will use the trials and setbacks of life to help us grow in His grace and to reach out to others with the Good News of salvation.  Let us keep in mind that all things do work together for good for those that love the Lord.  Selah!

Thursday, April 9, 2015

The First and Greatest Commandment

     The other day on Facebook, my dear daughter in law posted a wonderful reminder to us of what Jesus spoke in the Word.  He was confronted by the Pharisees and one of them, a lawyer (expert in the Law of God), asked Him this:  "Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?' And He said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it.  You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets'" (Matthew 22:36-40).  Jesus summarized in this statement the intent of "The Ten Commandments".  We are to love God first and foremost with all of our being and secondly, we are to love our neighbor in the
Rilyn and Bennett loving one another
same way we want to be loved.  The first four commandments deal with our relationship to God and the last six deal with our responsibility to one another.  This forms the moral foundation and character for the believer and for society.  It is an impossible task to do this without the help of the Holy Spirit. So what are the implications of this statement?
     As I was considering this the other day, an example came to my mind through a very ordinary activity.  I was peeling potatoes for dinner when I accidentally nicked my finger.  It  did not bleed so I paid no attention to it until I added a pinch of salt to my recipe.  Then, the nick in my finger screamed for mercy as the salt entered the wound.  It burned!  If I had forgotten about my cut, I remembered it then.  In the same way, Jesus calls us to be salt and light in our world, society and culture (Matthew 5:13-16, The Sermon on the Mount to believers).  Salt is a preservative and a flavor enhancer.  It kills bacteria harmful to the human body.  So when our mothers told us to gargle with salt water for a sore throat, they were right!  However, when we act as salt in our society, there may come occasions when the Lord, whom we represent, will bring a sense of conviction to those caught in sin.  This is similar to having salt go into a cut.
      Presently our society is dealing with many issues that fly in the face of God and His Word.  One in particular, Gay marriage, is a predominant concern for some.  If we are to love God with all our heart and mind and soul, then how do we respond to this as a believer?  First, we must turn to God's Word and see what the Lord says.  In Leviticus 18:22, the Lord says:  "You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination."  Then in the New Testament, Paul writes in I Corinthians 6:9-10:  "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. "  Other verses pertaining to this sin include:  Romans 1:26-28; Leviticus 20:13; Jude 1:7 to name a few.  We know that God's design for marriage from the beginning of all creation was one man and one woman (Genesis 2: 18-25).   We also know that God hates sin and calls upon us to be holy as He is holy.  Psalm 97:10 reads:  "Hate evil, you who love the LORD, Who preserves the souls of His godly ones; He delivers them from the hand of the wicked."  When we, as believers, consider what God says about sin and this act in particular, how can we approve what God calls an abomination?  Yet, today, there are some churches who condone this and applaud it saying "This is how we love our neighbor as ourself."
     Dear Ones, if we love our neighbor as ourself, then we will show them the truth of God's Word by living it out in front them and confronting sin when we find it.  Hating the sin is far different from hating the sinner.  We are all sinners (Romans 3:23) as the Bible tells us.  God sent His Son to die for our sins because of His great love for us (John 3:16).  However, when we become a believer, we are not to continue in our sin or condone the sin of others.  We are to be holy as God is holy and live according to His Laws.  Jesus never came to abolish the moral Laws of God as given in The Ten Commandments.  He came to fulfill the Law by making a way for sinful man to come to God through Him.  Paul said it well in his letter to the Romans 6:1-4:  "What shall we say then?  Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?  By no means!  How can we who died to sin still live in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?  We are buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life."
     Unfortunately, our society is not just calling for Gay marriage to take place.  The culture in which we live also wants us to accept it, respect it and praise it as being a normal part of our society.  This is where the Christian has to act as salt.  If we love God with all our heart, soul and mind, we must think as He thinks about sin as revealed in His Word which is truth.  We must obey God rather than caving to the pressure of society.  Sinners want society to approve of their sins and say it's okay, but God calls us to a different walk which will always put us at odds with this world because this is not our home.  We are citizens of heaven.
      What about loving our neighbors?  We are to love them where they are at, but also, not leave them there.  We must tell them the truth of God's Word and share the wonderful news of redemption through Christ.  The results are in God's hands.  We cannot change others for only the Holy Spirit can do that, but if we love others, we will want them to know about the Savior.  It is far more loving to tell our neighbor the truth then to condone a life without Christ at the center.
      Do we love God?  Then, we must obey Him and love what He loves and hate what He hates.  We must be transformed into a new life ourselves and then reach out to our neighbors to share this news with them.  We must remember that Jesus called us to be salt and light in this world.  We may sting like salt in a wound when we share the truth, but salt is meant to kill bacteria and preserve things.  If we lose our saltiness in an effort to go along with society, we may end up like this:  "...but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?  It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet" (Matthew 5:13b,c).  Compromise with the world and its ideas means losing our saltiness.  Believers let us love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind and our neighbors as ourselves not giving in to the way of this world.  Selah!