Posted in John, Mark, Matthew, Romans

Kingdom Abundance 

“For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance…” Matthew 13:12

To walk in the kingdom of God we have to change our thinking from lack to abundance and it’s not easy.  The disciples thought Jesus was referencing bread when he started teaching about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees. They immediately became afraid because they had forgotten to bring the left over bread with them. Jesus was frustrated by their assumption that He was concerned about the lack of bread.

“‘Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? Having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ ‘Twelve,’ they replied. ‘When I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’ They answered, ‘seven.’ He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’” (Mark 8:19-21)

They were supposed to change their thinking. God fully resources those who are giving their lives for Him. Did you notice that He didn’t even ask them about how many were fed, but only about the leftovers. God has more than enough. There is an abundance in the kingdom which is why we reign in this life “through the abundance of grace” (Romans 5:17), and why Jesus said He came to give “life abundantly.” (John 10:10) Not just enough for us, but leftovers for others.

If we don’t embrace the abundance of the kingdom, we will end up living in the fear of self preservation. When we do this, the kingdom can’t spread. We must give our lives away with abandon knowing that God will take care of us. In the words of Jesus: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:23-24)

Posted in 1Samuel, Ephesians, Galatians, Revelation, Romans

Understanding Authority

“All authority comes from God so the one who resists authority is resisting God.” Romans 13:1 

“We have been seated with Christ in heavenly places.” Ephesians 2:6

I fear that most American Christians don’t understand how God feels about positional authority. We tend to honor those who we feel are honorable while withholding honor from those we don’t think deserve it.

All authority has been instituted by God and therefore should be unconditionally honored. It doesn’t matter whether your dad is an alcoholic; if you learn to honor his position, God’s blessing for those who honor their parents will rest on you. David, the man after God’s own heart, refused to raise his hand “against the Lord’s anointed.” (1Samuel 24:6) Saul was demon oppressed at the time, so the anointing was not on the man, but on the position he held. (Notice, honoring authority does not mean remaining in a place of abuse as David fled when Saul started throwing spears at him.)

If we only honor authority that we feel is worthy, we will never take the place God has given us unless we feel worthy to take it. How often does that happen? The gospel isn’t about us being good enough, it’s about God’s grace and about a position He wants us to take in Christ. You have been made a child of God (Galatians 4:6), a priest of God (Revelation 1:6), and have been given the “the gift of righteousness,” so that you can “reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

We need to understand and honor positional authority, so we can honor the position God has given us in Christ. The late Reinhart Bonkhe didn’t begin to walk in the miraculous power of God until one day when God said, “My word in your mouth is just as powerful as My word in My mouth.”  Africa was never the same as unprecedented miracles led to millions of recorded salvations. 

I believe God and the world are waiting for each of us to take our position in Christ!

Posted in Hebrews, Joel, Proverbs, Romans

Maintaining a Soft Heart

“How blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble.” Proverbs 28:14

One definition of the fear of the Lord can be inferred by its opposite. If hardening your heart is how you express not fearing the Lord; then the true fear of the Lord must involve maintaining a soft, responsive heart. So how do we do this?

First by repentance. To stay soft we must be good at repenting. Joel 2:13 “Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.” God doesn’t want us to fall into trouble, so He wants us to really repent (our hearts) and not just appear to repent (our garments). A great definition for repentance is given in the verse before our text: “He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” (Proverbs 28:13)

Secondly by prompt obedience. Hebrews 3:7-8 says, “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion during the time of testing in the desert.” Every time God speaks to us we have the potential of becoming softer or harder. Purpose to obey Him no matter what, small or big, if He will make it clear to you that it is Him speaking. There are many voices speaking today: our own anxieties, demonic influences, false religious expectations; but also the sweet Spirit of God. Test what you are hearing and if it is the voice leading you toward “righteousness, peace, and joy” (Romans 14:17), obey without hesitation and reap the benefits of having a tender heart before God.

Posted in Galatians, Romans

Who’s in Charge?

“So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit.” Galatians 5:16-17

The last time I was in Honduras we worked with a family who was temporarily taking care of a two year old named Angel. Angel couldn’t talk yet, but he had no trouble communicating what he wanted to the three older girls in this family who watched over him. There was rarely a big scene over Angel because all he had to do was threaten displeasure and his desires would be instantly met. He ate what he wanted when he wanted it, and slept only when he was in the mood.

I started calling him, “Little Napoleon”, because he was a tyrant over these three girls. One image I clearly remember was Angel listening to music with an ear piece while walking around in circles (nothing on but his diaper) while one of the girls held the CD player and frantically tried to stay up with him so the ear piece wouldn’t come out.

There’s a “little Napoleon” that lives in you and me called the sin nature. It has endless desires and wants to be catered to constantly. It wants to be immediately gratified and complains if there is ever a delay in meeting its needs. The sin nature finds reading the bible, praying, fasting, or going to church boring, and much prefers the instant thrill of the media industry. It doesn’t forgive, but rather uses anger and pouting to get its own way. If the sin nature is denied its way in one thing, it immediately seeks to find comfort in any number of other ways without thought of what’s right and wrong, or of how it might affect those around. It doesn’t like to serve, but lives to be served.

Parents need to decide early that they are  in charge, and not their two year old. Have you given notice to your sin nature that it will not run your life? It will submit if you count yourself dead to its power through your identification with Christ’s death and then live by the Spirit through identifying with Christ’s resurrection. (Romans 6:1-14)

Posted in Genesis, Romans

No Fear

“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by Him we cry, ‘Abba, Father.’” Romans 8:15

God doesn’t want us to be afraid. Fear is a slave driver that steals joy, peace, and love from us each day and reduces the potential of our lives. Fear of sickness; fear of financial lack; fear of rejection; fear of the future; fear of getting old; etc, God wants to free us from the oppressive power of fear.

According to our text, the Holy Spirit was given so that we would have confidence that God is our Daddy (Abba) and that He will help us whenever we cry out to Him. As I have been studying Genesis I’ve noticed that the biggest issue all of the Patriarchs faced was fear. God came to each one of them at different times with the exact same message: “Do not be afraid.”

Abraham had just freed Lot from his captors but knew that the defeated armies would seek revenge on him. He was afraid. The Lord then spoke to him, “Do not be afraid, I am your shield.” (Genesis 15:1) Not just “a” shield; but “your” shield.

Isaac kept having wells stolen from him that were needed for survival. He finally dug a well that seemed safe, yet he was still afraid. God came and spoke, “Do not be afraid. I will bless you.” (Genesis 26:24) God wanted Isaac to have something more than present provision; He wanted him to be free from living in the fear of future lack.

Jacob was old and was afraid he couldn’t make the long trip to Egypt required by his circumstances. Once again, God spoke and said, “Do not be afraid… I will be with you.” (Genesis 46:3-4) He didn’t just want to get Jacob from point A to point B; God wanted Jacob to enjoy the trip without any fears. He wants the same for us.

He is our Defender, Provider, and Guide. No fear!

Posted in Hebrews, Mark, Psalms, Romans

Speaking from what God has Spoken

“For He Himself has said, ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,’ so that we confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What will man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5b-6

God wants you to know that He will never desert you or forsake you. People will come and go, even those who love us the most can’t be there all the time, but God is always with us. One of His covenant names is Jehovah Shammah, which means, “The Lord who is present.” Psalm 46:1 says: “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.”

Do you believe this? If you do then take the second step of faith and speak it with confidence. It is important that we speak what we believe.  To overcome our fears, we need to believe in our hearts God is with us, and confidently say with our mouths that He is our helper.

Romans 10:10 gives the importance of believing first in our hearts, but then also speaking with our mouths. “For with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation. Jesus gives the same principle of faith in Mark 11:23: “Truly I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says is going to happen, it will be granted him.”

Some have used this verse to teach “name it and claim it,” which has led to many abuses and caused many to throw out the baby (the importance of confession) with the bath water. But look closer at this verse and you will see that it’s not about confession first, but about believing in the heart first, and then speaking from the place of faith.

The only way you can ever believe with your heart is if God Himself has spoken to you first. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word (rhema) of Christ.” A rhema (the Greek for “word” used in this verse) is a specific word from God for a specific situation. After God has spoken into our hearts (about a specific mountain we are facing), we complete our faith by speaking with our mouths what God has said about our circumstances. That’s when mountains move!

Posted in Hebrews, Jeremiah, Romans

Seeking God 

“You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13

God tells us that if we will seek for Him with all our heart we’ll find Him, but there is a problem with this. Sin has so corrupted us that we are unable to wholeheartedly seek God without God’s help. “No one is righteous, no, not one… no one understands, no one seeks God.” (Romans 3:10-11)

It’s sad, but even though we are able to be wholehearted about football or shopping or even our version of religion or church, it is not in us to wholeheartedly seek God without the Holy Spirit first inviting and freeing us to do so. When He reveals our sin, we are able to wholeheartedly ask for forgiveness; when He shows us our emptiness, we are able to wholeheartedly ask for His fullness; and when He shows us the depth of our need, we are able to wholeheartedly ask for His help; but when left to ourselves we are apathetic toward God. Even when the Holy Spirit is helping us discern our dependence, we are able to harden our hearts instead of seeking God. (Hebrews 3:15) We do have a role to play.

The scripture quoted above from Jeremiah is in the context of the Jewish captivity in Babylon.  Is it any wonder that right before the verse quoted above, God assures them of His purpose for them, “For I know the plans that I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) The judgment they were going through was not because God didn’t love them, or because He was mean and didn’t want them to have prosperous lives. It was because they weren’t listening without these extreme measures. Even then, they had a choice, and so do we today. If everything is stripped from us we can either be offended with God, or allow our desperate situation help us to be wholehearted in our seeking of Him.

Jesus died on a cross so that we could find forgiveness, help in time of need, a sure promise for the future, and a living relationship with God right now. So let’s respond quickly to the Spirit’s promptings and make this relationship our greatest priority while trusting God’s goodness for everything else.

Posted in Lamentations, Romans

The God of Hope

“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope, the Lord’s mercies never cease, for His compassions never fail, they are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:21-23

The nation of Judah was in the midst of the worst trial of its history when Jeremiah penned these words. If he relied on outward circumstances he would have been tempted to despair, but instead he recalled to his mind the character of God. He preached to himself, “God is still love and He loves me; He is still merciful and wants to show me new mercies every single day; God is still faithful and has not abandoned me even when He’s not doing what I want Him to do as fast as I want Him to do it.” These truths, Jeremiah said, were his reason for hope.

What’s happening in your life today? In the nations there is fear of terrorism, recession, global warming, and a disillusionment with government and man’s ability to solve big problems. The secret to hope is getting our eyes off of people and circumstances, and putting them on the God who promises to be with us and to work “all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28) All things are not good, but when given to God, they can be worked for good and actually serve as aids to our growth.

We have hope because nothing can hurt us without God’s permission, and we know that if we trust God, we will always outlast our problems. God wants us to overflow with hope so that others will trust Him as well. “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13)

Posted in 2Corinthians, Mark, Matthew, Romans

Are You In Christ?

“Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” 2Corinthians 13:5

Are you in Christ and is Christ in you – for real? Christianity is not about being nice or about having a certain set of beliefs or rules. It is about the very life of God being inside of us igniting a lifestyle of faith, devotion, and love. How could someone fail the test the apostle Paul encourages us to take? I think there are two ways to fail:

  1.  You were never really converted to Christ in the first place. Jesus said, “Unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Faith takes us beyond our logic and reasoning, so to be saved you and I must embrace what Christ has done for us on the cross and trust our eternity to Him in childlike belief. When we respond to God’s drawing in that way, the Holy Spirit will bear witness in our spirit that we are the children of God. (Romans 8:16) It’s not that you will never have a doubt in your mind, but there will be a knowing deep inside that God has saved you by His grace. 
  2.  You were once saved but you have backslidden. All of us have ups and downs so I thank God that we don’t go in and out of grace because of our weakness and immaturity. However, the seed of salvation can be choked out by the fear of man, the inordinate desire for other things, the worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches. (See Mark 4:16-19) Can it be so choked out that the life of God that was once there is completely removed? I don’t know, but there are enough warnings about it that if you don’t need new life, you certainly need the life you had before resurrected. Repent and ask the Spirit to renew His work in you with childlike faith.

I think it is important to take this test from time to time in light of the fact that Jesus said that “many” would presume to be saved that won’t enter into heaven. (Matthew 7:21) But I also think that continually taking the test can lead to the paralysis of analysis. Check presumption, but don’t let the enemy get in and rob you of legitimate faith by accusing thoughts that undermine your confidence in God’s goodness toward us in Christ.

Posted in Luke, Mark, Romans

Wholehearted Love

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” Mark 12:39

Jesus told the experts of the law that this was the greatest commandment: to love God with everything in you. I don’t believe we can obey this command apart from the filling of the Holy Spirit. You can choose to worship God and you can choose to obey God and you can choose to say “no” to temptation; but you and I can’t choose to love God wholeheartedly; we need help. Here’s why: I can choose to worship, but I can’t make myself enjoy it, which is what is required if I’m going to be wholehearted. I can choose to obey, but I can’t force myself to be excited about it; and if I’m not impassioned, it’s not wholehearted. When a man is cheering for his favorite team to win, all of his emotions are invested because he wants them to win with all his heart. If it’s somebody else’s team and he’s asked to cheer for them, he might do it as a favor, but his heart isn’t really in it. You can’t make your heart be into something; that’s God’s part.

“The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5) True love begins with God, not with us. When the Holy Spirit is filling us He is able to tap our deep passions and desires and turn them toward God. It takes God to love God. We can choose to obey God and do what is right but Jesus is worthy of more than that! He is worthy of us being passionate about our obedience and wholehearted in whatever we are doing because we’re doing it for Him and with Him. For this we need to ask and keep asking to be filled with the Spirit. (Luke 11:13) We are His temple and we only operate rightly when we’re filled with Him.

Sometimes the problem is that our hearts have been damaged, or hurt so badly that we can’t do anything wholeheartedly any more. Jesus is anointed with the Spirit to mend broken hearts so they can regain the ability to love. (Isaiah 61:1) Once again, we can’t heal ourselves, but we can recognize our need and earnestly ask for His healing power to restore us. Ask Him to heal you so you can love yourself and others again; that’s good. But a greater prayer is that He would heal your heart completely so that you can give Jesus the kind of love He is worthy of.