Monday, February 28, 2011

The Unchangeables Part 7

Well, we have been in a series called "The Unchangeables," and, although we have only begun to scratch the surface of the unchanging principles in the Bible, this post will be the last in this series. We have already discussed six unchangeables that can help us navigate through and find true security in an ever changing world. Just as a quick review, here are the first six unchangeables:

1. The Lords plans for us are good plans.
2. The Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy.
3. God is a God of unity.
4. Sin is wrong and it leads to death.
5. It is more blessed to give than to receive.
6. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life.

In this post we will discuss the seventh unchangeable. Like the first six, I think this one is also very important for us to understand as we live in these uncertain times. The seventh unchangeable is from the first part of I Corinthians 13:8: love never fails. Those amazing words read just about the same in most of the more common versions of the Bible, but the Amplified version sheds some extra light on this important, unchanging principle:

Love never fails [never fades out or becomes obsolete or comes to an end].

In this constantly changing world, there is very little that doesn't fade, become obsolete or have an expiration date. The nicest clothes will eventually fade, the fastest, best equipped computer will become obsolete and even the finest foods will expire. The majestic mountains will erode, concrete will crumble and the strongest steel will rust. There is nothing in our natural realm that is capable of lasting forever. All that is natural will at some point fail. Love, however, is not natural. Its origin is not in this realm- love originated in the very heart and nature of God. Love can never fail. Even with time it will never fade. That will never change. As ideas change, nations rise and fall and technology continues to evolve, love will never become obsolete or any less effective. Love will never end.

As we discuss love, it is important to bear in mind that there are many different forms of love. The Bible talks about several different forms, and these are also obvious in life. There is love that exists between friends, and different from that is a romantic love that a man has for his wife. Nearly everybody loves ice cream and some people even love cats. In John 15:15 Jesus told His disciples that the greatest love is the love that would cause a man to lay down his life for his friends. This self-sacrificial love is the kind of love that God has for us, and it was demonstrated when Jesus laid His life down for us. It is this kind of love that will never fail, and it is the love that the Lord wants to work into us to have toward each other. I can love my wife with a romantic love and even as my best friend, but loving her with a self-sacrificial love is something different, and something greater. This kind of love doesn't come easy, but once it is developed in a person's heart, it will never fail.

This kind of love is slow to anger, quick to show mercy and is patient with the short-comings and weaknesses of others. We can all look at our own lives and see countless examples of the Lord's patience with our weaknesses. I remember a time recently when my daughter, Ava, was sick for about two weeks. She had a fever and noticeably felt crummy. She just wanted to lay around and didn't have much of an appetite. Nicole and I felt horrible for her. Because she felt so badly, she whined quite a bit, forgot most of her manners and did quite a few things we wouldn't normally allow. We quickly realized that we needed to give her extra grace during that time because she was sick. The principle applies in our relationships with one another. All of us have areas in our lives that are unhealthy. We don't always realize this and we may not recognize these areas, but they cause us to do certain things that we should not do.

Many people are not completely healthy emotionally and, as a result, they behave in ways that are not always healthy. Some people are not healthy spiritually or even mentally. We need to keep that fact in proper perspective and bear in mind that those around us may need extra grace at times. I Peter 4:8 tells us:

Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins (NLT, emphasis mine).

Rick Joyner has often commented that "love covers, not covers up." Covering those around us does not mean that we condone or excuse their behavior, but it means that we extend mercy and love. This is the love the Lord shows us, and as we mature spiritually, it will be the same love we show one another. This love is self sacrificial, it covers a multitude of sins and it never fails. Love is:

patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful and endures through every circumstance ... Three things will last forever - faith, hope, and love - and the greatest of these is love (I Corinthians 13:4-7, 13, NLT).

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Unchangeables Part 6

As many of you know, we are in a series entitled "The Unchangeables." We have already discussed five very important unchangeables, and we have a couple of more to go. We live in a world that is constantly changing, and right now these changes are taking place very quickly. The only thing that is steady and unchanging is the word of the Lord, and tonight we will briefly examine our sixth unchangeable, which are words that Jesus used about Himself. In John 14:6 He said that He was the Way, the Truth and the Life, and no one can come to the Father but by Him.

Many of us are familiar with this verse and have heard or read it many times. However, I wonder if we understand what He was really saying. If we were to put these words into modern, 21st Century English, it might sound something like this:

I and I alone am the Way, the Truth and the Life. Nobody else is - just me. In spite of what anybody else might say, the only way to get to the Father is to come through me.

Jesus was making quite a claim with these words. He set Himself apart from everyone else. There have been many inspirational figures in history. Many of them have had great insight and wisdom. Others have had the ability to motivate large numbers of people and have even changed the course of history. There have been some larger than life people, but Jesus separated Himself from all of them. He said that He was the only Way to get to God. That flies in the face of so much that is generally accepted today: "How can there be just one way? What gives anyone the right to tell me which way to go?" Do those kind of ideas sound familiar? We hear them all the time. Even though this may be a common mentality today, and trends and ideas change on a regular basis, Who Jesus is has not changed.

Jesus is the only way to the Father. That will never change. When the Lord created this earth and all of us, He intended for us to live with Him in a close, personal relationship. He loves us and wants us to be with Him. This is how it was with Him and the first man and woman, until they disobeyed Him and introduced sin and death into the world. That sin divided us from the Lord, and Jesus came to reunite us. By His life, death and resurrection, He made it possible for the gap between us and our Heavenly Father to be closed. Of everyone in history, only Jesus has done this.

We are alive in a time when the enemy is trying extremely hard to convince us otherwise. He has introduced such ideas as:"When it comes to knowing the Lord, all roads lead to the same place. You can find Him in whatever way suits you the best. You can find him in Islam, Hinduism, Buddism or even through just plain old being good - after all, you are as good as the next guy." All of these ideas are carefully crafted deceptions designed by the enemy to keep us from truly being restored to the life our Father intended for us. It has become socially unacceptable to tell someone else that their way isn't the right way. In our modern society, Jesus Himself might not be very popular, because He said that He was the only Way.

Many that aren't interested in committing to Jesus fully, but know they can't just dismiss Him, have categorized Him as a good teacher, or even a prophet who had some good things to say. They say he was a great philanthropist who did a lot of good and had some great insights into how we should all live. These are also carefully crafted deceptions. Either we accept Jesus for Who He said He was, or we have to write Him off completely. There is no middle ground. C.S. Lewis might have said it best in his book Mere Christianity: "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic - on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg - or else he would be the Devil of Hell."

All of this being the case, we all have a decision to make. Who is Jesus? Who is He to you? He hasn't left room for us to just hold Him in high regard. He has plainly told us that He is the Way, the Truth and the Life. He is the only way to the Father, and all the others that make a similar claim are either lying or mistaken, at best. What it all boils down to is that God loves us immensely. He created us to be in His family, and He wants a relationship with us more than anything else. Apart from Jesus, we can never be in that relationship. However, with Him, we can close the gap between us and the Lord and live with Him in an intimate relationship. Jesus is the only Way for this to happen. That is unchangeable.

I mentioned earlier that disobedience to the Lord introduced sin into the world. The result of this sin is death. Everyone that has been born since the first man and woman has been born with a sinful nature. This nature separates us from the Lord and nothing but a relationship with Jesus will close that gap. If you are reading this and if that gap in your life hasn't been closed, it can be right now. There is nothing you can do in your own power to close it - as we have discussed, Jesus is the only One who can. Through His life, death and resurrection, He paid the price that we owed because of our sinful nature. If we acknowledge this and ask Jesus to take away our sinful nature, He will do that and reconcile us with our Heavenly Father. You can do it now, and it's simple. Just ask Him and He will show you the Way to the Father, reveal to you His truth and you will experience His life!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Unchangeables Part 5

If you have been keeping up with my most recent posts, you know we are in the middle of a series called "The Unchangeables." We have already examined the first four, and with part five we will begin to wind this series up. All of these unchangeables are very important, and number five is no exception: it is more blessed to give than to receive.

As followers of Jesus, our calling and purpose can be simply defined as knowing the Lord, becoming like Him and doing the works that He did. Among these works is giving. It is fundamentally a part of the Lord's nature, and Jesus was a very generous Giver during His earthly ministry. He gave of His time, His resources and, ultimately, He gave His life. Probably the most common verse in modern history, John 3:16, sums up the gospel and identifies the Lord as a Giver:

"For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life" (NLT, emphasis mine).

These words are the best news in human history, and eternal life is available to all of us because the Lord gave. Just as he gave, we are called to do the same. However, giving is not just part of our calling, it is one of the greatest privileges of the Christian life. But why is giving so important, and why did Jesus Himself say that it is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:35 b, NASB)?

The third "unchangeable" we discussed is that God is a God of unity. This doesn't just mean that we all get along or that we all have a common goal. It also means that we need each other. The Lord created me to need you and you to need me. Giving is a crucial element in our relationship with one another. There will be times when I will have an abundance and will be able to share with you. Other times I might be in need and someone else will be able to help me. There will even be times when I am in need and am still able to help someone else. The Lord will always look after us, and often times He uses us to help each other.

Jesus had much to say to His disciples about how they treated others. He told them that whatever they did to someone else, even to someone who was held in the lowest regard, is what they did to Him. The manner they chose to treat someone else was the manner they were treating Him (see Matthew 25:40). The apostle Paul admonished the Philippian church:

"Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too" (Philippians 2:4, NLT).

One of the primary ways we do this is by giving. When we give to others, we are really giving to Jesus and we are selflessly looking out for another's interests. However, giving is also much more than that. Giving is an expression of faith in the Lord. When we clutch what we have, we are placing our trust in what we have and in what we can see. We are trusting in our own natural resources and abilities to provide for us. When we give of what we have, we are placing our trust in the Lord. We cannot always see and understand what He is doing, but by giving we are openly expressing our trust in Him. We are choosing to place our faith and trust in His goodness and plans for us, although they may not be apparent to us in the natural.

Things in this world are constantly changing, and our natural tendency is to cling to what makes us feel secure. Right now, all across the world, many people are experiencing a great deal of economic pressure. Markets are suffering, jobs are scarce and many are looking for whatever will bring them security. However, there is nothing in this world that can truly provide lasting security - not governments, not positions or associations and not even money. True security only comes from the Lord and the manifestation of His kingdom in our lives. That will never change, and giving is a key principle to help us align ourselves with His kingdom.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The "Unchangeables" Part 4

If you guys have been following some of my previous posts, welcome back. If you are joining me for the first time, we are in the middle of a series called 'The Unchangeables." We have already examined three unchangeables, and in this post we are going to take a brief look at # 4. The fourth unchangeable should be an obvious one, but it is one that seems to be becoming increasingly in question. The fourth unchangeable is that sin is wrong and it leads to death.

We live in a time when it has become extremely unpopular to say that anything is wrong. From a young age our children are being taught that there is no right and wrong. "Everybody should be free to do whatever they want to do, and who are we to judge, right? You can't tell me what to do - it's my business. After all, if I am not hurting anyone else, then it's OK!" That kind of thinking is becoming so prevalent in our society that anyone who stands for righteousness and holiness is often labeled unreasonable and legalistic. This is true even parts of the church.

Legalism is a dangerous extreme, and we should carefully guard ourselves against it. This is especially true when it is not hard to see the growing lawlessness around us. We must keep in perspective that as we move closer and closer to the end of this age, the lawlessness will increase and the many people's love will grow cold (see Matthew 24:12). The answer to this is not to resort to rules and religious bondage, but to pursue a living relationship with the Lord.

Benjamin Franklin once remarked that "sin is not harmful because it is forbidden, it is forbidden because it is harmful." The very purpose for which we were created is a relationship with the Lord. He is the Source of true life, but sin brings death. Sin divides us from Him, and that is why it is harmful to us. The further from the Lord sin pushes us, the more death is released. The enemy understands this, and that's why he is working so hard to blur the lines between what is acceptable to the Lord and what will actually divide us from Him. As we are connected with the Lord, we become increasingly alive spiritually, but the further we wander away from Him, the more we will die spiritually.

I don't like to give the enemy any more credit than he is due, but at the same time, it is important that we don't allow ourselves to become ignorant or indifferent to how he operates. He knows that if we are pursuing the Lord, we are not going to turn away from Him all at once. The devil is content to distract and divide us from the Lord a little by little through a gradual process. Most of us would never take ten steps away from the Lord in a single movement, but if we do not stay on our guard, we can easily take a series of small steps over time.

This is how compromise works. The enemy will convince us to take a small step away from the Lord, and once we become comfortable in that place, he will coax us one step more. As this happens, our perception changes and we begin to feel that everything is OK. We will eventually become comfortable, no matter how many little steps we have taken, and the enemy will introduce more and more sin into our lives. Before we know it, we are much further from the Lord than we ever thought we would be. Many that are lawless haven't always been that way. They were once dedicated followers of the Lord who allowed a minor deviation from their walk with Him to go uncorrected. Over time it led them further and further away from Him, and they were becoming more and more unaware of it. We can see this painfully illustrated in the case of the Laodicean church in Revelation 3:14-22.

In this passage, Jesus explained to the Laodiceans that they had wandered so far from Him that they can no longer accurately discern their own condition. He told them that they had become "lukewarm" and were neither hot nor cold. They thought they had become rich and didn't need anything, when in fact, they were poor, wretched, blind, naked and miserable. This is the result of compromise, and it is all too often the case with many today. Our society, and many of our churches, are full of spiritually lukewarm people. This is one of the primary reasons sin has become so hard to identify.

Lukewarmness is a constant temperature, and it can be deceptive because it does take some heat to be warm. We all agree that we should never murder anyone or rob a bank. Thankfully, most of us haven't compromised to that point! However, it has become increasingly hard to raise standards in other areas. It is still a sin to look at pornography, but how many have compromised to the point that this has become commonplace. It is still a sin to engage in sexual activity outside of marriage, but anyone who maintains that expectation is thought to be unreasonable in this modern age. Again, we have to understand that these acts, and others like them, aren't harmful because they are forbidden - they are forbidden because they are harmful. The Lord knows that these actions will separate us from Him and release death.

In conclusion, let me reiterate that the answer to the growing lawlessness and compromise is not religious rules and regulations. The solution is a relationship with the Lord. Sin is not just breaking some rule - it is an act that separates us from Him and begins to kill us spiritually. This will never change. It may even lead to our death naturally. What is the fruit of what we are doing? Are we having to constantly convince ourselves that it's OK? Does doing it mean we have to suppress the Lord's gentle conviction in our hearts? Is what we're doing in violation to the teaching of the Bible? If so, we need to stop and turn around! If we are going to be the individuals and the generation the Lord intends for us to be, we have to recognize sin as sin and turn away from it. The world needs life, and it is desperate need of people to be the salt and light Jesus has called us to be. We can only do this as we walk with Him and represent Him to the world. Let us press on closer to Him, and let's be that people.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The "Unchangeables" Part 3

If you guys have been following some of my recent posts, you know that we are in the middle of a series I have titled "The Unchangeables." We have already examined two unchangeables, and it is important for us to understand these as we pursue the Lord in the midst of an ever changing world. In this post I want to discuss another very important, unchanging principle. The third unchangeable is: God is a God of unity.

This unchangeable sounds simple enough, right? Most of us are familiar with Psalm 133:1:

How good and how pleasant it is when brothers dwell together in unity.

Don't you love it when people aren't fighting. It's great when everyone can live together and get along with each other. However, as simple as this sounds, and as much as we would love for it to always be that way, it must be pretty hard to achieve because it seems to be extremely rare to find a place where it's actually happening! Why is that? More people than not would rather get along with their families and neighbors, so why is that so few truly do? Let's see if we can gain some insight into this simple, but elusive, place of unity.

As a father of two young girls, I am beginning to learn a thing or two about unity. When Ali, my younger daughter, was born, it took Ava some time to adjust to having another baby in the house. She had all the attention to herself for almost two years, so it was a little bit of a process before she was really happy to have Ali around. After a few months, though, she was finally ready to welcome Ali to the family. There are some days now when I go get Ava up in the morning, and the first thing she says is: "Ali . . . play Ali." It has been an awesome thing to be able to witness as they have become buddies, and one of my favorite things is to sit back and watch my two girls play together.

I'm sure I will grow to really cherish these times, particularly as the girls get older and there is more to life than Baby Einstein and Veggie Tales. :) I can remember the scene from The Cosby Show when Denise and Vanessa get into a physical fight and Cliff runs in to break it up and he gets knocked across the room! That may very well be me one day. :) So, as the girls grow, how do I maintain unity in the house? On the same note, how do we achieve unity throughout the Lord's body and the world? I certainly don't claim to have all the answers, or even most of the answers, but I do feel like I have some. Maybe the best way to understand unity and how to achieve it is to dispel one of the primary misunderstandings that commonly surrounds unity.

As my girls grow, it is important to me that Nicole and I create a home and an environment where it is safe for them to be themselves. Obviously we have to help point them in the right direction and provide discipline along the way, but we do not want to squelch who they are as individuals. This is a challenge already, but it is crucial that Ava grows up to be Ava and Ali grows up to be Ali. They are both my daughters, but they are not always going to look the same, think the same or approach situations with the same perspective. This will create disagreements, but it does not necessarily have to create disunity. One of the worst things I could do is to try to make them both the exact same to avoid disagreements. We cannot make the mistake of confusing unity with uniformity. The church at large has a number of camps with very different emphases and areas of focus. We all claim to want unity, but what most of us mean is that we want everyone else to unify around our ideas.

I think one key to achieving unity in a family, including the family of God, is to understand that we are different, and we are supposed to be different. However, we are all on the same team. On a sports team, everyone has a different role, and they will never win a game if they all try to do the exact same thing. My girls need to grow to understand that they are both very different, and that's OK. They will at times disagree, but they are going to have to learn to prefer the other one, accept the fact that they can't always have it their way and be sincerely happy for the other when she succeeds. How much more unified would the church be if we determined to do the same? I wonder how many of the disagreements might also work themselves out if we all agreed to work together toward the common goal of glorifying the Lord, and not so much our own ideas and opinions?

When the Lord created us, He never intended for any of us to be able to do it all by ourselves. We were intended to need each other. There are things you can do better than I can. There are areas where I may have experience where you don't yet. There are areas where the Baptist denomination is doing really well, and probably better than many Charismatics. There are some truths that the Pentecostals understand that the Methodists and Catholics might need to hear. We all have something we can glean from someone else's field, and we can never have the entire picture unless each camp brings their piece to the table. I love it when my kids get along, and I know the Lord loves it when His kids get along. Ava can never be Ali, Ali can never be Ava, but my family can never be the same without both of them! The Baptists aren't meant to be the Pentecostals and the Charismatics aren't meant to be just like the Episcopalians, but together we are all meant to be the Lord's family.

I know this post has been longer than most of my previous ones, but I think it is important that we take the time to understand what we have discussed here. As I close this post, I want to leave you with a free bonus feature. Get ready to laugh and be challenged by the video you'll find by following the link below:

Friday, February 4, 2011

The "Unchangeables" Part 2

In my last post I began a series called "The Unchangeables." As you are all well aware, we live in a world of shifting sand, and there is very little that seems to stay the same for very long. I mentioned in the last post that I have seen things change quickly that I never thought would change at all. With all this being the case, what can we hold on to that is sure and unchangeable? This is no easy question, but I believe the answer is simple: the word of the Lord. His word, and His words, are not only timely, but they are also timeless. King David told the Lord that His words were a lamp to his feet and a light to his path (see Psalm 119:105). As we navigate through a world of uncertainty, the Lord's words are meant to guide us and direct us.

We have already discussed the first unchangeable, which is found in Jeremiah 29:11. In this verse the Lord tells us that His plans for us are good plans, intended to prosper us, not to harm us, and to give us a future and a hope. His good plans for us and His heart toward us is the first unchangeable. This brings us to the second unchangeable: the Kingdom of God is righteousness, peace and joy. Those words are taken directly from Romans 14:17.

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He told people to change their spiritual direction and get their hearts right with the Lord because the Kingdom was at hand (see Matthew 4:17). Jesus didn't come to make us better people, instead He came to transform us into citizens of His kingdom. What exactly does that mean? When a person meets the Lord and He becomes their Savior and Lord, they enter into eternal life. Our eternal life does not begin when we die - it begins as soon as we meet the Lord. We will be with Him in heaven one day, but He intends for us to live in His kingdom right now. What does this kingdom look like?

We will spend the rest of our natural lives and then all of eternity fully learning the answer to that question. However, we do know that His kingdom is righteousness, peace and joy. A friend of mine was once approached by a friend of his with an idea. I don't know the particulars of this idea, but the gentleman was trying feverishly to convince my friend that it was the right thing to do. He was very insistent and didn't want to take no for an answer. My friend didn't know why, but this idea just did not sit right with him. It gave him a very unsettled and heavy feeling, so he responded to his friend: "You know, the kingdom is righteousness, peace and joy, and this idea doesn't give me any one of those things. That being that case, I have to pass." My friend was later telling me this story, and I was really struck by the wisdom in his answer. How many times have I ignored the initial lack of righteousness, peace and joy in a situation and then looked back later with much regret?

It is important to understand that the presence of peace does not necessarily mean a lack of conflict. The Lord will at times lead us into such seasons, but in the midst of conflict, or war - even in the shadow of death itself, His peace will guard our hearts. On the same note, the presence of sadness or a lack of comfort doesn't necessarily mean that we can't experience joy. The Lord will at times lead us into places that are uncomfortable, and sadness in this life is unavoidable, but His joy will be our strength during those times. We experience a true lack of peace and joy when our focus shifts from Him to ourselves. When we begin to trust in our own strength or resources, we begin to strive, and that will rob us of His supernatural peace and joy. We can only experience these, along with true righteousness, as we abide in Him and look to Him for the solution to our problems and for direction in our lives.

There is much more that could be said about these awesome characteristics of the Lord's kingdom, but even this basic explanation helps us to understand what He intends for us. How often do we short-change ourselves! Our lives are full of decisions. It is not always easy to recognize the best choice, but we can be sure the Lord's best for us will always bear the fruit of righteousness, peace and joy in our lives. If we are not seeing this fruit, it is most likely an indication that we have gotten off track somewhere. What is the fruit of some of our relationships? What is the fruit of our personal habits? What is the fruit of how we choose to spend our free time? If it is not righteousness, peace and joy, then we are short-changing ourselves and settling for less than His best for us. Let us determine to never settle and conduct ourselves as proud citizens of His kingdom.