Friday, February 24, 2012

What Are You Looking At?

Everywhere we look in today’s world we see monuments to man’s ingenuity, creativity, and lusts: skyscrapers; cars and planes; billboards and screens flashing seductive images; logos symbolizing corporate power and wealth. In some cities these all but crowd out the evidence of God’s wondrous creation – majestic landscapes, beautiful flowers and trees, and amazing animals (John 1:3). Many deny or tend to forget that we too are God’s creation, fearfully and wonderfully made (Psalm 139:14).

Whatever idols we have fashioned to indulge our eyes, these are only possible through the gifts of intelligence, artistry, and resources God has entrusted to us (James 1:17). How sad that many pervert these gifts to mock Him rather than to glorify Him, and that many feast their eyes on images of the world’s darkness rather than His light. Yet what we look at affects who and what we are.

Luke 11:34 The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.

God’s Word gives us clear warnings about what not to look at -- we should “set no wicked thing before [our] eyes” (Psalm 101:3). We should not look back at the attractions and preoccupations of our lives before we were saved (Luke 9:62; Genesis 19:26).

The Bible is full of examples where the “lust of the eyes” (1 John 2:16) has led to sin, including Eve beholding the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:6) and David spying on Bathsheba washing herself (2 Samuel 11:2).

Jesus warned so sternly of this danger that He said:

Mark 9:47 And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. (see also Matthew 5:29; 18:9).

As always, God exchanges His good gifts for our sinful desires, so He indicates what we should be looking at instead, and the blessings that will result.

In Exodus, the laver (washbasin) of brass, an important piece of furniture of the tabernacle, was made of looking glasses (mirrors) donated by the women coming to worship (Exodus 38:8). Although their custom had been to bring their personal mirror with them to the temple to check on their appearance, they surrendered them so that God’s house would be glorified. What a great reminder to spend less time primping in the mirror and more time worshipping God!

As we turn away from sinful and evil images, here is what God says we should look at instead:

--The beauty of God’s creation, which reflects His glory (Psalm 19:1).

--The Godly example set by our spiritual mentors, teachers and pastors (Psalm 101:6).

--The fields of unsaved souls ripe for harvest (John 4:35), considering how we can “open their eyes, and… turn them from darkness to light” (Acts 26:18).

--Jesus Christ, Lamb of God (John 1:36), the author and finisher of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), Who gives us life and light (2 Corinthians 4: 3-6; Numbers 21:8).

--His Word, which is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path (Psalm 119:105).

--The heavens, which remind us that He is waiting to receive us (Acts 7:55) and that He is coming back to meet us in the air (Luke 21:28; Philippians 3:20; Titus 2:13).

As we shift our focus from the world to heavenly things, we will be transformed by the renewing of our mind (Romans 12:2), which will be kept in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3). Look up and live!

Friday, February 17, 2012

Have Faith!

Everyone has faith in something. Atheists – even those on the portly side – sit in chairs every day without doubting that the chair will support their weight, even if they’ve never encountered that particular chair before. Every airplane passenger takes a giant leap of faith as they cross the threshold from solid ground into that relatively small, pressurized space soon to be hurtling through the skies at great speed, controlled by a pilot they have never met before.

Hebrews 11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Yet faith alone is not enough – the object of our faith is crucial. Why does faith in God elude so many people? The evidence of the Creator is all around us in the amazingly intricate way our bodies, and all of nature’s wonders, are designed (Hebrews 11:3). Our minds correctly tell us that something does not come from nothing and that beauty, function, order and intelligence do not arise by chance (Psalm 53:1).

If we come across a book of poetry, it would be nonsensical to assume that the ink molecules randomly aligned themselves on the page to form meaningful symbols, and that chance caused the letters to link together in vocabulary words, and that over time, those words happened to assemble into verses of great beauty, emotion and meaning.

Even those who come to the common-sense conclusion that there must be an Intelligent Designer may not accept saving faith in Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord, Son of God, and God Himself (Luke 4:34; John 1:1). But the Bible, God’s Word, plainly tells us that faith in Jesus as Savior is the only way to eternal life (John 3:16;14:6).

Why doubt the Bible? It is internally consistent despite authorship by about 40 men of diverse backgrounds over a span of about 1500 years. It is historically and scientifically accurate, and advances in these fields corroborate facts and principles recorded in God’s Word thousands of years ago. So many Bible prophecies have been already been accurately fulfilled that the odds are astronomically against this happening by chance.

God has made it easy to believe in Him because His creation testifies of His greatness (Psalm 19:1), and because His Word spells out for us His amazing creation and plan of salvation through faith in His Son (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15). He even designed us with a conscience to warn us when we are doing wrong (John 8:9). Without God, the concepts of right and wrong make no sense, because value judgments would merely be a matter of personal preference rather than reflecting God’s absolute standard. Yet most sane individuals in all cultures inherently realize that stealing, murder and other sins are wrong.

The Bible says we are all sinners (Romans 3:23), which most of us will admit if we examine ourselves honestly (1 John 1:8). God is holy and just (Leviticus 19:2; Deuteronomy 32:4 Revelation 4:8), and therefore sinners are doomed to pay the punishment – eternity in hell – for breaking His laws (Psalm 9:17; Matthew 5:22; 10:28). Yet God loves us so much that He sent His only Son as a perfect, sinless sacrifice to die on the cross to pay the debt we owe. His Son rose from the dead that all who have faith in His death for our sins, His burial and His resurrection will have eternal life in His presence (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15).

Even a child can understand that he is a sinner and that God’s Son, Who had no sin, took the punishment for us so we can go free. In fact, we need a simple, childlike faith, free of intellectual objections and pride, to accept God’s plan of salvation and to trust in Him alone (Matthew 18:3-4). Salvation is a free gift of God’s grace through our faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). There is nothing we can do to earn it, which is why pride and self-reliance keep so many from salvation (Matthew 19: 23-24).

Why should we have Bible-based faith in Jesus Christ as the only way to heaven? Because without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). We can have an intellectual knowledge of Bible verses, attend church and tithe regularly, and even take part in religious ceremonies such as baptism and communion, and yet never have a relationship with Jesus as our personal Savior (Matthew 15:8). Church members who call themselves Christians yet lack a childlike faith in Him will be doomed to eternity in hell rather than receiving eternal joy and peace in His presence (Matthew 7:21-23).

Once we are saved, faith will give us patience (James 1:3) as we wait for answers to prayer, trusting in His perfect timing (Isaiah 40:31). Faith allows us to work tirelessly for Him, even though we may not see the fruit of our labor until we hear Him say: Well done, though good and faithful servant (Matthew 25:21).

Faith will bring us peace through trials (Philippians 4:7), as we trust that God is working all things together for our good (Romans 8:28). Faith will even bring us victory over death, as we know that we will be reunited with our loved ones in Christ who have gone home to Him (1 Corinthians 15:54-55).

If you haven't already done so, put your faith in Jesus Christ today!

Friday, February 10, 2012

First or Last?

The world today is obsessed with being first, and if you’re not Number One, the world says you need to try harder. They say winning isn’t everything; it is the only thing. The need for domination in every aspect of life is so extreme, and the perceived consequences of not being first are so great, that some schools have even done away with announcing a valedictorian, for fear of wounding the self-esteem of the remaining students who were unable to achieve this honor.

But the Bible teaches a totally different perspective. Our need to be first at any cost is based on a misplaced pride in our own strength, talents, and accomplishments (Isaiah 2:10-12; Luke 18:9-14). Yet our own righteousness and good works are no better than filthy rags because they are marred by sin (Isaiah 64:6). In God’s eyes, our only merit is based on the righteousness of His Son, and the completed work He did on the cross to pay the debt for all our sins, past, present and future (Romans 3:22; 4:5; 5:17-18; 6:18).

God, and God alone, places us first when we deserve to be last. We are wretched sinners, and before we trust in the death, burial and resurrection of Christ as the only way to Heaven (1 Corinthians 15; John 14:6), we are doomed to spend eternity in hell. After we trust Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become children of God, joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:14-17), and even His ambassadors (2 Corinthians 5:20) designated to spread His Good News on earth and to rule and reign with Him in Heaven (Matthew 25:21). We can do nothing without Him (John 15:5), but with Him, all things are possible (Matthew 19:26).

When we are saved, one of the many burdens God takes from us and exchanges with His blessings is our pride, which He exchanges for His humility and servant’s heart (Philippians 2:5-7; Mark 10:45). The more we humble ourselves to serve others in this life, the greater will be our reward in Heaven (Matthew 23: 10-12; Luke 14: 7-11).

All believers in Jesus Christ as Lord will enter into the kingdom of Heaven and spend eternity with Him, regardless of whether we were saved moments before death, like the thief on the cross who had no time to do good works for Him or even to be baptized (Luke 23:40-43), or whether we were born into a Christian home, were saved as a child, and consecrated our life to Him, like Timothy (2 Timothy 1:1-5). As Jesus explained in the parable of the workers, each got the same wages regardless of whether he joined the workforce first or last, early in the day or late (Matthew 20: 1-16).

Once we become a child of God, we no longer have to worry about our ranking or status because we will always be first in His eyes. How can each of us be first? Because He loves us each of us infinitely, so no comparisons are possible. He loved each of us so much that He gave His only Son to die for “whosoever” – any one of us who trusts Him -- to give us eternal life (John 3:16).

As I have heard Andy Stanley preach, “God can’t possibly love you any more than He already does, and He can’t possibly love you any less.” Although the believer will be motivated by that love to do good works for Him, we don’t have to do good works to earn more of His love because He already loves us infinitely (Ephesians 2:8-9). No matter how dark our past has been, and no matter how many times we fall short of His commandments, we can’t lose any of His love because that love is infinite (Romans 8:38-39).

Praise God that He is the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End (Revelation 22:13). Our existence is justified only through and by Him (Acts 17:28). If we put our own pride last and surrender completely to His will, He will exalt us beyond measure (Luke 18:9-14; 1 Peter 5:5-6), and in glory we will be like Him (Romans 8:18,30).

Friday, February 3, 2012

Fight or Flight?

Did you know God prepared your body -- and your spirit -- to overcome trouble by fight or flight? In medical terms, the sympathetic nervous system is that part of the involuntary nervous system, beyond our voluntary control, that helps us get out of trouble. It’s sometimes called the “Fight or Flight” response because it’s designed to help us fight – i.e. to resist an attacker, or to take flight. – i.e. to run away if we sense that the enemy is too powerful and that we’d be better off escaping than trying to fight back.

Whether our best response to trouble is to fight or to flee, God designed our bodies to be able to respond physically to either challenge – and a brilliant design it is! (Psalm 139:14)

But as Christians, our main battles are not in the physical realm, but in the spiritual (Ephesians 6:12). Just as God designed us with a built-in mechanism to protect our physical body from attack, He also gave us a spiritual “fight or flight” mechanism to help us resist spiritual attack, as explained in His Word.

The three enemies of our spirit are the devil, the flesh, and the world. The Bible tells us to fight or resist the devil (James 4:6-8; 1 Peter 5:6-9), to flee temptation that would cause us to yield to our fleshly desires (1 Corinthians 10:1-14; James 4:4), and to separate ourselves from the world, loving God instead of worldly pleasures and powers (1 John 2:15-17; Ephesians 2:1-9).

Although we must resist, or fight against, the devil, we must flee temptation. Specific evils the Bible warns us to flee from are fornication (1 Corinthians 6:18), idolatry (1 Corinthians 10:14), greed or love of money (1 Timothy 6:10), and envy and arguments (1 Timothy 6:4-5).

The Bible has numerous examples of people who gave in to these evils rather than fleeing from them, with disastrous results. Nonetheless, we can thank God that these are recorded in His Word, both as a warning to us and as a reassurance that we are not alone in facing these struggles. Temptation in general, and these specific temptations, are common to the fallen human condition because of our sin nature. But God promises us an escape from every temptation:

1 Corinthians 10:13 There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.

Paul often uses the metaphor of the Christian life being like a fight or warfare of the soldier going into battle (1 Timothy 6:12; 2 Timothy 4:7), as in the hymn “Onward Christian soldiers.” Our sin nature is still a force we must do battle with even after we are saved. That sinful spirit is still there, creating lust, which causes us to want more than we need and should have. In turn, that lust causes us to envy those who we think have more than we do, which leads to fighting and war (James 4: 5-6). Only by the grace of God, Who indwelled us with His Holy Spirit when we were saved, can we restrain our sin nature and break this vicious circle.

Resisting the devil involves drawing close to God and humbly recognizing that in our own "strength" we are nothing, but that He has already won the battle for us (1 Samuel 17:47; Jeremiah 17:5-8; Psalm 44, 4-8; Psalm 55: 22).

Satan tries to attack us through the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (Genesis 3:6). If we have pride in and confidence in our own flesh, that pride is misplaced and foolish, and we are bound to fail because God will only make His power available to us when we yield to Him completely and humbly (Ephesians 6:10:10; 1 John 4:4)

To resist the devil, we must also put on the whole defensive armor of God (Ephesians 6:10-18) and use the sword of the Lord -- His Holy Word -- to fight the devil and watch him flee! (Matthew. 4:5-11; James 2:19; 1 John 4:4). The secret to successful combat with Satan and his minions is to grab hold of God and refuse to let Him go! If we seek God in earnest, fervent prayer, He will bless us richly!

Prayer is the safest method of replying to words of hatred. The Psalmist prayed in no cold-hearted manner, he gave himself to the exercise—threw his whole soul and heart into it—straining every sinew and muscle, as Jacob did when wrestling with the angel. Thus, and thus only, shall any of us speed at the throne of grace. Charles Spurgeon: Evening by Evening, January 15.

Praise God that He provides us with an escape from every temptation and with armor to withstand every one of Satan’s attacks! May we realize that the battle is the Lord’s, and put our trust in Him alone!