Posts Tagged ‘faith’

Luke 12:22-34 — Today, we move on to Luke 12:22-34. We will spend a few days here….

There is a disease sweeping America. It is bigger than cancer. It is bigger than AIDS. It is bigger than heart disease. It is bigger than car accidents as killers. It is probably the leading cause of death in America, maybe the world, but no doctor can cure it even today with our might in medicine. All doctors can do is treat its symptoms with pills that make us forget this disease temporarily. What is you ask? I thought we knew all the major diseases that kill us. Is there something knew that popped up that we do not know about? My friends this disease is worry. No doctor can treat is root cause only its symptoms. It is a self-inflicted disease from which there seems to be no escape.

There is an old saying about some people that we know. It says, “They worry about what they are going to worry about tomorrow.” Although most of us are not that bad, we do worry about things all the time. Small children worry about who’s playing with their toys. Teenage girls worry about what the other girls have said about them. Teenage boys worry about whether they have a girlfriend or not. Grown ups escalate the worry elevator in that we worry about how we are going to pay the bills, how we are going to send our kids to college.William Marshall in his book, Eternity Shut in a Span, gives us a funny illustration on worry. He wrote, “For several years a woman had been having trouble getting to sleep at night because she feared burglars. One night her husband heard a noise in the house, so he went downstairs to investigate. When he got there, he did find a burglar. ‘Good evening,’ said the man of the house. ‘I am pleased to see you. Come upstairs and meet my wife. She has been waiting 10 years to meet you.'” It is a funny illustration, but it so true. We often miss the glory that is our lives for worrying. You name it. We worry about it. We obsess over details and miss the big picture.

Have ever thought about why we worry? It boils down to a lack of faith in God. When we worry, we take God off His throne and put ourselves there. Overcoming worry will require us to do three things.

First, we must pray. Worry is a possessive disease. When we worry, it means that we are holding back on something from God. If you obsess about your finances it means that you have not given them up to God. When we pray and I mean earnestly pray. Not some perfunctory dinner table prayer that has no investment of your soul. I am talking about going before your Father in heaven in prayer. Earnestly seeking His guidance requires us to earnestly pray to Him. When we hand our worries over to God, it is freeing to us. It opens our mind our soul to what God will say to us. Not some prayer while you are driving down the road in your. Laser focused prayer time where it’s just you and God. True prayer, when it’s just you and God, it is about submission to your Father in heaven. It is like crawling up in your earthly dad’s lap when you were a little kid and telling him about your fears. Romans 8:26-27 tells us, “n the same way the Spirit also helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; 27and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” When we earnestly sit down or kneel to pray, He understands the groaning of our soul. Give your worries to the Father in heaven. He is big enough and wise enough to handle what you throw at Him in prayer.

Second, we must gain perspective on our problems. Sometimes, it helps to write out what the problem is. Putting things on paper sometimes helps us put things into perspective. It helps us to identify sometimes what the real problem is. Once we do that, we can identify ways to fix it. As a writer myself, I know that sometimes the greatest ways God speaks to me is when I sit down to write. God speaks to us in these ways. When we just let something roll around in our mind and heart, the problem sometimes become bigger than it really is. If you are not big on writing, find a trusted friend and simply articulate to them what you are worrying about. A trusted friend can help you, like in writing, identify what the core problem is. Sometimes God speaks to us through the wise counsel of a trusted friend. It is then we can identify the issue and make a plan to correct the problem or solve the problem. Sometimes there will be multiple steps to solving a problem. For example, if you finances are in shambles, they are not going to be solved by a single step. It will require a multi-step process. Any long journey begins with the first step. However, keeping a problem bottled up inside you and attaching unreasonable emotions to them will escalate problems to physical health issues and even mental health issues. Gain perspective on your problems and allow God to speak to your through your pen your through your friend.

Third, and most importantly, we must trust God. We must trust that He is bigger than any problem that we have. We must let Him be on the throne. He is God after all, not us. When we worry, we usurp His power for ourselves. When we worry, we make ourselves God. When we worry, we belittle the Creator of the Universe. Certainly, God expects us not sit and do nothing and look skyward for manna from heaven. We must do our part when God makes it clear to us what we should do and we must go do it. If we are in debt over our heads, we must do what God tells us to do to get out of debt – there will be sacrifices to be made, struggles to be had when God tells us what to do to solve a problem. We must do our part. We must do the hard work and heavy lifting that is needed to solve some problems. However, what I am talking about is the basic trust that God will guide us. When we worry, it is as if we do not trust God. What I am talking about is having peace in our heart even in our darkest hours. Even when it seems that the world is falling down around us, we have the peace that passes all understanding. Sure, it is our nature to worry. Last year at this time I was going through a major crisis at work that almost cost me my job. I will admit. I am usually one of the calmest people around. I typically have this blind faith that God has my back. Some people usually say that I don’t worry enough. But in this crisis, I worried like you wouldn’t believe. I obsessed over it. I lost 10 lbs over it (I do not recommend this as a weight loss program…sad part is that I can report that I have gained all of it back). I forgot the premise that God is God and Mark is Mark. There is a God that is ruler over me and a God who I am in submission to. We must trust God. We must have child-like faith that He has our back. When we worry we take His job away from Him – the job of being the Almighty! In trusting God, we will find peace. In trusting God, we will find answers. In trusting God, we establish the proper relationship in our lives. God is King and we are His subjects. God is our Daddy and we are His children. Do you trust Him? Really trust Him to have your back? Do you trust Him with every area of your life? What are you holding back that you want to keep as your personal kingdom? What you worry about is the areas of life that you have not submitted before His throne. What is your worry province? Are you still leading a rebellion against God in some areas of your life? Give it all to Him. Trust Him with all areas of your life. Hold nothing back any longer.

Father help us to trust you in all areas of life. Help us to find the peace that passes all understanding when we finally give up the fight to keep our little kingdoms of worry. Help us to really start praying to you and not just lip service prayers. Help us to talk to you earnestly and openly about our struggles. Help us to identify why we worry and help us to find ways out of our troubles. Help to finally trust you as the Magnificent Father that you are. Help to realize that you are Creator and that You are bigger than any problem I face. Help us to crawl up in your lap daily with our troubled hearts. Amen.

Tomorrow, let’s visit seeking the kingdom of God first and all else will be added.

Luke 10:17-24 — Today, we move on to a new passage, Luke 10:17-24. We will spend a few days here as well.

Jesus spent a pretty extensive speech in the previous passage about what to expect and how to react to it when spreading the gospel message. Somewhere between Luke 10:1-16 and Luke 10:17-24, the seventy-two are sent out to prepare the way for Jesus. At Luke 10:17-24, the seventy-two return to Jesus. The disciples are excited. They had expelled demons by invoking Jesus’ name. They were on a spiritual high. They were pumped up.

You know this feeling. If you have ever participated in one of our church’s Thanksgiving Meal Giveaway, you know this feeling. You have participated in a Holy Spirit move.

You know this feeling. You have been witness to someone accepting Jesus Christ as their Savior.

You know this feeling. You have just witnessed the most amazing church service where people let loose and praise the Lord like it’s nobody’s business while at the same time you see that their country is one that suffers from desperate poverty.

You know this feeling. We, as Christ followers, have often seen the power of the Holy Spirit move through us, seen Him act in others and in situations around us, that inspire wonder and awe on our part. When this happens, we feel special. This is how the returning 72 felt. They were walking in the clouds. They felt they had been witness to the power of God and they reveled in the moment. Everything Jesus had promised had played out right before their eyes. As humans, though, we can easily mess things up. Pride can sneak in. We can sometimes take pride in the accomplishments that we see in the name of the Lord and begin to take credit for what happens as if it were something that we had done. Notice that the disciples said, “the demons obey US…” Notice that. The disciples are claiming that the demons are obeying them, rather than the Holy Spirit who is working through them.

Jesus handles this situation with His usual grace and charm. He wanted them to know that they should be excited to see what God can do. They should be excited that their faith allowed the Holy Spirit to work through them. He wanted them to know, “see this is what you can do when you have an all-in kind of faith, that totally sold out to me kind of faith”. Jesus wanted them to know that it is this kind of faith that can conquer anything. So, Jesus celebrated the victories with them. However, He also used the victory as time for additional teaching. He warned them about taking personal pride or credit for that which is of God. The demons were driven out by the Holy Spirit acting through the disciples not because of any special thing about the disciples. Their only qualification was their willingness to be sent. He warned them to remember, basically, to give credit where credit is due, to God. We are the vessels and not the contents. Our names are registered in heaven simply through accepting Jesus Christ as our Savior and being willingly submitted to Him and whatever He sends us to do. There’s an old saying that “Jesus does not call the qualified. He qualifies the called.” We must remember that any power that we have has been granted to us not anything that we are ourselves. God uses so many different kinds of people in so many different kinds of ways, there is no common thing that we can learn to acquire the power of God. It is something that He grants us when we are submitted to Him.

We can easily become prideful for the successes that we see in the name of the Lord. The church I call my home, LifeSong Church, in Lyman, SC has been extremely successful over these 7 years of its existence. It has grown from a handful of people meeting in Pastor Jeff’s living room to now where we have 700-800 people on our campus each weekend. It would be easy for us to take pride in that. But as Pastor Jeff tells us as the staff that the success of our church has nothing to do with him as lead pastor or any of us as staff. The growth of our church is, he says, a testament to the fact that the Holy Spirit knows what He is doing and not us. The only credit we should take is that we are willing and submitted to Him and earnestly wish to do His will. There is a reason that our church has grown so rapidly. It is the power of the Holy Spirit. That’s it. Yes, we are to work hard and be witnesses and develop systems and processes to make our jobs easier and our work more fruitful, but that is simply the window dressing for what the Holy Spirit does all on His own. Don’t get me wrong, we must have all of our systems and processes in place so that we can indeed not have to think about mundane things and can consciously participate in the Holy Spirit’s move among us. Our systems and processes should be so well oiled that we don’t have to think about our systems and processes – they just work. That is so we can be fully engaged and watch what the Holy Spirit does and assist in any way that He calls us. We cannot take credit for what He does but we can be there as He does it. Humble servants we must be and watch God in His Sovereignty work.

With the phenomenal growth of our church over the past 7 years, we can also easily take pride in the fact that “we get it and you don’t”. We can look at other churches in our area and see them struggling but yet we are growing and say we get it and you don’t. My church is better than your church. Sure, we can see that there is something special going on at LifeSong and be thankful that we happen to be at this place at this point in time with these people doing what God has called us to do at this place at this point in time, but it is not because we get it and you don’t. It is because God has chosen this church at this moment in time at this place with these people. Our only qualification is our willingness and our submission to the power of the Holy Spirit. What is happening at LifeSong is not about how cool our worship is, not about the cool names we give our ministries, not about how talented our leadership team is, not about how special we are as a team, but rather, about God Himself, about the power of the gospel message in its purest form. The only credit that we can take is being willing to serve Him, being willing to share the gospel in His Name, being willing to love as Jesus loved, being unpretentious about who can come to our church, remembering that we are all sinners in need of forgiveness. Humble servants we must be and watch God in His Sovereignty work.

Father, in heaven, I thank you for your providence in which you have guided and directed me to be at this church at this moment in time with these people doing the work that you have called us to do at this time in this place. Help me to always remember that you are the One who makes everything happen. I am just the vessel but you are the content. Help me to always remember that the credit for miracles that we see in the lives of people that cross our doors is not because we are the coolest church in the area or because we have the corner on the market of salvation, but rather it is because of the pure and simple power of you. It is because you through the Holy Spirit change people from the inside out not because of the snazzy building, or the cool music, and the awesome names of our ministries. It is you, Lord. It is you. Help me to remember that you are Lord and I am just your servant with a willing heart. Help me always to give the glory to you for you are the Sovereign Lord. Amen.

Luke 3:25-38 — Oh here we go again, you might say to yourself, when you read this passage. Another biblical genealogy. The Old Testament frequently gives us these genealogies. But, this time it’s in the New Testament. Why does Luke wait til three and half chapters into his book to give us this genealogy and why does he give it to us at all?

You know, as I do these daily devotionals as we walk through entire books of the Bible, before I write what’s on my heart, I typically do a little research just to make sure that what’s on my heart is true to the meaning of the passage that I am writing about. Usually, there is a wealth of research out there online to rely upon. However, today, I find very little on this passage. It is a genealogy after all. Even the most avid readers of the Bible will admit to skipping over genealogies in the Bible. Long lines of who begat who with names that are difficult to pronounce. We often either skip through the begatting and move on to the next passage that to us has some meat to it. However, this is the Word of God, and if you are walking through entire books of the Bible, like we do here, then you have to deal with the tough passages. That’s where we are today. This is the Word of God and we must deal with it. 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that all Scripture is God-breath and is useful for instruction. So, there is a point to these genealogies in the Bible and we must figure out what this genealogy in Luke 3 is teaching us.

First, it is interesting that the genealogy here is traced down through Jesus’ earthly mother, Mary. In a society that had a very low view of the legal status of women, it is almost radical that Luke would trace Jesus’ genealogy through his mother. Luke is admitting that Joseph was not the biological father of Jesus. Tracing his lineage through Joseph would be one of adoption rather than biology. However, the genealogy is biological through Mary. She physically gave birth to Jesus. As you see throughout Luke, he gives numerous mentions of women. As he researched his gospel, he found that Jesus himself elevated the stature of women and they played prominent roles in his ministry. Luke, as a physician, saw women as equals with men. To him, there was nothing in particular about men that gave them greater stature in the world. Thus, it is not surprising that Luke had the revolutionary idea of listing this genealogy as traced through Jesus’ mother rather than the normal way of tracing genealogies through fathers. To those who think that the Bible puts down women, just continue reading the gospel of Luke. Here, you will find that in Jesus’ ministry, women were important. They found more freedom and worth in the Jesus movement than in society in general. So, let no one tell you that Christianity oppresses women. They have played central roles in the faith from the beginning.

The second thing that is interesting here in this genealogy is the difference and similarities between it and the genealogy of Matthew 1. Matthew was writing for a mainly Jewish audience and his intent and purpose was to show the Jews that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. His genealogy’s purpose was to show Jesus’ Jewishness. He wanted to prove that Jesus was of royal descent and was fulfillment of the promises made to David. He need go no further then with his genealogy than back to David. Here, with Luke, you can see the difference. Luke traces Jesus’ genealogy to David and then goes on all the way back to Adam. Why did he do this? Luke wrote to a mainly non-Jewish Greek audience. The point in the genealogy is that Jesus was for everyone not just the Jews. He traced Jesus back to the first man — the one from whom all people were physically fathered. In this subtlety, Luke is allowing his readers to identify with Jesus not as someone from that highly religious and quirky people called the Jews but as everyman Jesus, everyday Jesus. Jesus is all inclusive. No one is excluded from His grace. The only requirement is that you have a pulse and believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who died for your sins. Grace knows no race. Grace knows no national origin. Grace knows no gender. Grace knows no ethnicity. Grace is available to all through Jesus Christ. It does not matter who you are or where you’re from, Jesus has enough grace for you. That’s what this genealogy does. It confirms the message that Jesus is for every man, woman, and child. He is not the exclusive realm of a certain few.

The final thing that this passage tells us is that Jesus was real. He had family roots here on earth. Reading this genealogy you find that Mary came from a long line of the “Who’s Who” from the Bible. This is the family into which Jesus was born. It means that He was real. He was a member of a family. He probably celebrated birthdays, weddings, and other family events. He also probably wept at funerals of members of His extended earthly family who had passed away. He existed in family life for 30 years before He began His ministry. He knows of family life. He knows of the human existence in a fallen world. We know that Jesus existed in history because of the extrabiblical references to his ministry. But, this genealogy tells us that Jesus was not only a real guy that made his mark on human history but we know that He was part of a family. He knows of human existence. He knows family. Thus, He knows you. God was careful to show these names of these people who are part of Jesus’ family as a reminder to us that everyone has a name and every name is important. Jesus knows you. Jesus knows your hurts, habits and hangups. Jesus knows what you are going through. He just wants you to come to Him and ask Him to be your Savior so that your name came be added to Jesus’ family genealogy. He wants you to have your name listed in His book of life. He wants you to be part of His family. He wants you to be co-heirs of the Father’s promises with Him. He wants you in His genealogy.

Father, thank you for sending Jesus into the world through the womb of Mary. Jesus understands the human existence. He was part of a human family. His genealogy proves that He had a human existence and that He knows of the dangers, toils, and snares of human life. This passage also tells me too that Jesus is not the exclusive club that some may make Him out to be, He is for everyone. His grace extends to all. Thank you Father for showing us through this simple often overlooked way, a genealogy. Thank you for showing us that women are just as important to you as men are. It also validates that Jesus is for everyone. His grace extends to all. Thank you Father for sending your Son to be grace for all. All we have to do is believe on His Name. Amen.

Luke 2:1-17 — This passage is powerful in its straighforward simplicity. On the surface, it speaks no powerful theological message directly, but when you take this passage apart it speaks loudly.

First, as we have discussed before, Jesus broke into the world in a real way. He is not some mythical figure. The Roman emperor was a real person at the head of a real empire. There had been some belief that Luke messed up the dates about when the census was taken but it has sense be proven true. Every couple of years there is a new discovery that verifies a fact in the Bible that had been previously held to be untrue. I read recently that oceanic archaeologists have found the remains of Egyptian armor at the bottom of the Red Sea that date to the time of the Exodus in the Bible. So, these facts add fire to my faith. The Bible is not just some fantasy, it is couched in history. The Jesus I believe in is a real man who actually existed. The fact that He is the Son of God is where my faith has to take me the last mile but the Christian faith is historical and based in real facts and events. You don’t have to lose your mind to be a Christ follower. There is a reasonableness to the faith. There comes faith to believe that Jesus was God in the flesh and that He willingly died on the cross for my sins. However, this faith of ours is so reasonable, there is not one person on earth that doubts Jesus’ existence – even atheists.

Second, we notice that Joseph and Mary did not have an easy road here. It seems that their life got harder with the need to return to their ancestral home. Slow arduous travel with a pregnant, tender teenage girl was not Joseph’s idea of a good time. They would have traveled slowly. It was not hopping in the car for them. This was a considerable task that some of us forget when we read the Christmas stories in the Bible. Although today, by modern roads, it about 70 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem. But back in the day without modern roads and accounting for the terrain between the two towns, it may have taken the up to 100 miles. Think about making that trip on foot or on a donkey with a pregnant teen almost at full-term. Sometimes we like to sanitize this story and make it seem that bam they got up made the journey. No sweat. I bet this was a considerable decision for the two. Even though they were bearing the Christ Child and both had displayed great faith in accepting their roles, their life did not necessarily get easier. In fact there life was pretty rough there at the beginning. They had to go to Bethlehem, a long arduous journey. They had to give birth in a cave meant for keeping animals at night. They had to escape to Egypt when Jesus was very young. They had to live their for several years. Not exactly what seems like our life getting better as a result of our acts of obedience to the Father. This reminds us that sometimes we will face hardship as believers even when we step out in faith. We must remember that God will allow events to happen to us to determine how dedicated we are to Him. Are you willing to do whatever it takes to do God’s will are will you wimp out when it is no longer convenient? Joseph would chuckle at our lack of faith. He became a world traveler because of his acts of obedience. Do you have the resolve to follow wherever Christ leads? Do I have what it takes when it comes down to it? Do I push through adversity or do I wimp out. If God can’t trust us with a little, He will not trust us with much.

The final thing that you see here is the contrasts between human authority and God’s authority. Jesus came into the world as a mere baby. He seems awful weak compared the human authority of the mighty Roman Empire. The Romans were in control of much of the known world at the time. Joseph and Mary controlled little. Jesus was a mere baby. Augustus Caesar was the ruler of much of the world. The contrast makes Jesus and Mary and Joseph seem like a speck on a flea on the biggest dog. However, Jesus changed the world. He changed the Roman Empire. How many people remember that Augustus Caesar was the first emperor of Rome – when Rome converted from a republic to an empire. How many people remember what Augustus said, thought, and felt. 2,000 years later people know what Jesus said felt and did. The number of people’s lives that Jesus has touched in the last 2,000 years is astounding. Augustus Caesar sounds kind of puny in comparison. The church lives on today. The Roman Empire is gone. The Roman emperors after Augustus tried to do things that assured their remembrance for generations. Do you remember any Roman emperor with the same emotion as you do when you remember Jesus. The humble baby is exalted. The proud empire is brought low. How this gives us hope. When we are down and out and thinking the world has crapped on us, we know that our faith is eternal, our circumstances are temporary. Things of this earth pass away, but Jesus is forever.

Father, Father, thank you for the obedience the faith of Joseph and Mary. They are inspirations to my faith. They were obedient to you in all circumstances. They suffered great hardships in making sure that the Christ Child was born where He was supposed to be born, that He survived into adulthood and began His ministry that changed the world forever. Help me to remember that doing your will is not always easy and convenient. Help me to remember that it may downright hard and excruciatingly difficult to do your will. Help me to remember that things of this life are temporary and that doing your will is of eternal benefit. Help me to know that choosing earthly convenience over doing your will is so very short sighted. Help me to remember that you offer eternity with you to those who are submitted to you and strive to do your will no matter the circumstance. Amen.

Luke 1:26-36 — It’s a miracle! Do you have the faith to believe it? There was an old George Michael dance tune where one of the lines in the song was “You gotta have faith, faith, faith.” This whole virgin birth thing requires just that—faith, faith, faith.

The birth of Jesus to a virgin is a plain out miracle of God. It is what separates the men from the boys, so to speak, when it comes to faith. Even those of us who are Christian do not talk about this enough. A few days ago, I wrote that our Christian faith is a reasonable faith and many of us can buy off on that. Jesus was a real dude who from extrabiblical sources we know for a fact that He existed. He is not some fictitious figure made up by a man-made religion. In the conclusion to that writing, the facts can lead us to be believe in Jesus as a real man who existed but it takes faith to get you the rest of the way to believe that He is indeed the Son of God. One of the things that requires faith is that He was born of a virgin. Like I said, we as Christians do not talk about this point enough. At Christmas time, we have nativity scenes and we think they are cute, but do we really believe this. Do you really? Do you think that maybe the church made it up to suit their theological constructions of Jesus as the man untouched by sin in any way? What if a person presses you on this subject? What are you going to say? It is written in the Bible but do you really believe it? Really? Deep down in your heart?

God’s announcements of the birth of a special child has met with skepticism even in the pages of the Bible itself. Sarah, Abraham’s wife, laughed when the angel told her that she was going to have a child. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, doubted when he was told that though he and Elizabeth were advanced in years that they would bear a special son who would be the clarion of the coming Messiah. However, the beauty of Mary is that she immediately submitted to the Lord. She said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (v. 36, NLT). Mary had no doubts. She met the angels announcement with humility, submission, and not a care for what was reasonable and understandable. She just knew that the Lord had spoken and she must accept it. Do you and I have that much faith? Do you believe that it true that Jesus was born of a virgin.

Luke, the writer of this gospel, was a physician. He was a doctor and knew full well how babies were conceived and born. It would have been just as hard for him to believe, maybe harder, that a child could be born to a virgin. However, he reports this information as fact. Science and history can only get us so far. We have to have faith on this one. Luke was a painstaking researcher who based his gospel on interviews with eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. He must have interviewed Mary herself about these events of the first two chapters of his gospel. As we know from research, this gospel was written as early as 55-60 AD. Many of the eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus were still alive. If they had felt he was fictionalizing his gospel, they would have cried foul. These were men and women of integrity after all. Further, all the manuscripts of Luke’s gospel that can be found from the earliest ones we have contain this sequence about the virgin birth. It is thus not some fiction made up by the church. We must grasp this story. We must wrestle with it. Can you really believe it?

It comes down to whether you think God is sovereign or not. If you cannot believe this fact, you then question His sovereignty. If we worship God as the Creator of the universe, then why can we not believe in the virgin birth. God created the universe out of nothing. He spoke it into existence. He was the Creator of the Big Bang or whatever you call it. The universe did not create itself. There had to be a Creator. Then why cannot the Creator of the universe be responsible for a child in the womb of a virgin. I have seen documentaries about the life of Jesus and listen to them try to theorize a logical explanation for the virgin birth according the physical laws of the universe as we know them. It is kind of laughable to listen to them talk about the possibility that Mary was unisex and other such theories. I chuckle. We are trying in limited human knowledge to explain this thing by theories and knowledge that we know. Sometimes, we just cannot explain God. God is the Sovereign Creator of the universe. It is after all His universe. He is the all powerful Creator. My God is that God. He is vast and His knowledge and His ability is unmatched. If I can’t believe in the virgin birth, it means I really don’t believe in God as the Ruler and Creator of the universe. If we judge the world simply by the knowledge that we have currently, then we are making man God instead of God being God. This one is a test of faith. The virgin birth is where you have to have faith. Yes, Jesus was a real man who walked the earth. But, there are things about Him that we must have faith about. The virgin birth. The Son of God thing. These are the things of faith. These are the things that non-believers scoff at cause they can’t make the last mile. We who have accepted Jesus Christ as the Son of God and as the Lord of our lives accept the things that we can verify about Jesus but we can make that last mile through faith. It is through faith that we believe that Jesus was born of a virgin. You gotta have faith, faith, faith.

Father, I thank you for being the Sovereign Lord of the universe who created all things out of nothingness. Father, I thank you for your Sovereignty. In your all powerful nature you sent Jesus, a part of the everlasting triune God, into the womb of a virgin to develop into a man that we know existed on earth. I have faith in this as fact through the presence of the Holy Spirit in my life as a believer. There are just somethings that we have to trust you on Lord. Sometimes we have to trust you as the Sovereign King. Sometimes we have to have faith. Thank you for making me like Mary herself who basically said that since God said that she believed it would come true. Thank you for allowing me to overcome my skepticism with trust in your Sovereignty. Father, help me to always trust you. Help me to know that whatever you say will come true without fail. Help to have THAT KIND of faith, the faith of a young girl who was about to become the mother of our Lord. May everything you have said, Lord, about me, come true. Gotta have faith, faith, faith.

Romans 15:14-22 — In this passage, Paul basically tells the church at Rome that he cannot come visit them because they are doing so well that he has more important things to do. He didn’t mean this as a slam but rather a compliment. Paul had more urgent matters to tend to — to preach the gospel where the name of Christ has never been heard. It has been heard in Rome and they were flourishing. Paul was needed elsewhere.

He is saying here that hey you’re doing OK so I don’t need to visit you just now. Paul needed to go where the challenge was greater and there was a greater need. He felt that the church at Rome was in good hands. He needed to be where there was nothing. He needed to build up churches where the gospel was unknown. By implication for us, it can be said that we need to know when our work is done and its time to leave. We need to know when God is leading us to something new, something urgent, and not be afraid to leave our cocoon.

This message kind of reminds you of when you know its time to leave your current job and seek a new one. There comes a time in most jobs where you feel like you have done all you can at this time and its time to move on. It’s time for a new challenge. For example, when Steve Spurrier was at University of Florida from 1990-2001, he had the world by the tail, he won 8 division titles, 5 conference titles, and 1 national championship. However, he left it all and took on a new challenge in the NFL and that eventually led him to the University of South Carolina. The new challenges were greater than the need to maintain excellence with the Florida Gators. He has done so much more meaningful work at USC than he could’ve ever done in maintaining the program at UF. We all have opportunities in life where it is necessary to leave a good situation where everything is known and everything is neat and tidy. Sometimes it is necessary to break out into the unknown and find the new challenge. Sometimes it is time to step into what God has been preparing us for.

For some that looks like a friend of mine. She has been a ER nurse for 14 years and is very good at it. She has no reason to leave. She could stay in the job and her employer would be happy as clams with that. She is good at what she does. However, she has been called by God to teach her skill to others and to minister to others through home health care. Paul could have visited Rome but He was called to do what God prepared him to do. This friend has been prepared for the next phase in God’s plan. She can do more for Christ by teaching a new crop of nurses how being a Christ follower makes her job a ministry and also to minister to others in home visits one on one in a way she could not in the ER. The ER was not wasted though. The intense nursing required in the ER has taught her much and it will be used in this new phase of God’s plan for her life.

For me and Elena, this idea looks like this. We love LifeSong Church with all our heart. If we had our way, we would never leave. We love this church and the way it touches the community and the world around us. We love serving there in the ways we serve. I help with the financial accounting and budget processes at the church (because of my secular work background). Elena and I work together as leaders in our church’s community outreach ministries. Elena carries most of the workload there and she loves it. We are leaders of our life group and being part of the Christ following growth that is happening there. All of our friends are at LifeSong. 90% of our friends are members of this church. We could stay there forever if we had our own way. It is known. It is safe. It is good. There would be no shame in staying there.

But, as you know, I feel called to be a pastor. It is been a thought always in my mind that we are called to be God’s servant in reclaiming a dying church, to re-awaken what has fallen asleep. We could stay here at LifeSong and be very happy and participate in doing many good things for the kingdom. Sometimes though God calls us to finish the preparation time and step into that which He has been preparing us for. We can’t miss the opportunity when it is time. Paul could not go to Rome because he had urgent work to do spreading the gospel in places where it had never been heard. He COULDN’T miss that opportunity that God laid on His heart. He knew Rome would be fine until a later visit. We must seize our God-ordained opportunities when they arise. We must seize the opportunities to serve the Lord in the way He has ordained for us. When we are called to do what God has called us to do, Elena and I must recognize the Spirit’s leading and go where He leads us. We must fight the urge to stay in the known, the comfortable, and trust that God will sustain in what is unknown, uncomfortable, but yet where God intends us. Our time in Livermore Alive Community Church in California was training for being at LifeSong back home in South Carolina. LifeSong is our training for what’s next in God’s plan for our lives. We must trust in Him to sustain us for what’s next and not be afraid to step into it. We must go wherever God calls us and wherever He needs us to serve. We can’t be afraid to leave what is established and working and is a well oiled machine to do the work of the Lord that needs doing.

Just like Paul, he could have gone to Rome and had a great visit there for several months or years but Rome was already flourishing. God called him not to the flourishing but to those who did not know Jesus. Sometimes, we as Christ followers are not called to serve what is already working well but to serve where we are really needed, where the trail has not been blazed, where souls need re-awakening, where dying churches need to meet Jesus again. We all have our safe places in life, but the real rewards come from when we take on new challenges. We can stay in the safe place and be fine, but sometimes God calls us to do the challenging, the difficult, and we may fail by human standards but the success comes in the obedience to God.

Father, I know that these lyrics belong to Hillsong, but I offer them as my prayer today. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger. Help me to trust that You will sustain us in whatever you lead us to do. Help me to never be afraid to leave my boat where everything is known and safe and step out into the waters of the unknown and keep my eyes on You following wherever you may lead us. We are willing. We have been preparing. We love you, Lord. Amen.

Romans 11:1-24 — Do you think it is easier for God to love when you’re good? Do you think some people’s behavior is so bad that God could not possibly save them? Is anybody too far gone?

Here is this passage, Paul understands that there was friction between the Gentile Christians and Jews to the point that Christians were being physically violent toward Jews. Paul is saying that, sure, the majority of Jews have rejected Jesus as the Messiah even though they were God’s chosen people. However, there were some, such as himself, the disciples of Jesus, and other first century Christian missionaries that were Jews. Does this make the majority of Jews excluded from ever accepting salvation. Paul reminds the Gentiles that they, too, once had hard hearts. As a result, they should not be persecuting their Jewish brothers. Everyone who comes to Christ was formerly a hard-hearted rebel against God. Salvation does not come by who we are. Once we are saved, it does not give us the right to condemn others who have not accepted Christ as their Savior. The only difference between a believer and a non-believer is grace through faith alone. We did not earn our salvation. There is no reason to boast. We came to the truth not because of who we are or what we do but rather through faith alone.

We are all adopted into the faith through grace. Jews chosen because of the faith of Abraham. The Jews did not become God’s favored people because they were faithful servants to the cause of the Father from the beginning. They became God’s people because God chose Abraham to be the father of many nations because of his faith. At that point in time, he had no special pedigree that signified that he was part of the chosen people. He was the start of it. He was the lineage. He is the one that the Jews say they descend from. Abraham was not the first man. So, for the lineage to start with him, it required an intervention. God intervened and chose Him. In God’s sovereignty, he saw the faith of one man and made him and his descendants His chosen ones. Abraham was adopted into God’s chosen family. It started right there. God designated. So, Jews and Gentiles alike, we are adopted into God’s family through His sovereign choice in recognition of our faith. You may come from a long line of Christians who have been fine upstanding people, but it is your own faith not your lineage that determines your membership among God’s people. Even Abraham was not part of God’s people until God’s choosing him and he was chosen to be the father of many nations through who they would be blessed because of his faith.

We are grafted in to God’s chosen people because of faith. You and I who are not Jews are grafted into God’s family through our faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior. We are made part of God’s family of chosen people. We are the new Israel (not the necessarily the modern political entity). We are made part of the heritage of God’s people. Israel is no longer a purely ethnic identify, though some still cling to that idea. The New Israel is the collection of believers, Jew and Gentile alike. It is our faith in Jesus Christ that grafts each one of us into the family of God. Not pedigree. Not wealth. Not family history. No checklists achieved. Grace is a gift freely given to those who believe. We are made part of the tree of Abraham by faith. It is Abraham’s faith that made him the beginning of God’s chosen people. That is the cool thing here. If Abraham himself was adopted into God’s family by faith then all who have faith are part of the family. No other special qualifications. No degrees need be earned beforehand. We do not have be descendants of Rick Warren or any great leader in the faith to become part of the family. We all come to membership in the family by faith alone.

So what does this tell us? This is the awesome news of our faith. This is the Good News. No one is too far gone that faith cannot graft them in. The only ones who are too far gone are the ones who die in their rebellion against God. Noboby and I mean nobody is too far away from God that they cannot become part of God’s family through faith. Faith in Jesus Christ as Your Savior is the only requirement my brothers and sisters. It was D.T. Niles who wrote, and often repeated by my pastor, that we Christians who share the gospel are simply one beggar telling another beggar where to find food. None of us is too far gone from God that He cannot redeem them through their faith in Jesus Christ. The reason is that our faith is very simple. We become saved through faith in Jesus Christ as our Savior alone. We believe. That’s the qualification. Our faith is based on adoption. Adoption is never based on what a kid does to deserve adoption. Adoption is based on love freely given. Abraham was adopted by faith. We are adopted by faith. We are in God’s family by faith. Nothing special. We are one-step removed from being where the non-believer is. Let no one tell you that you have done something so egregious that God cannot love you anymore. He can redeem anyone. Any beggar. We are all just beggars trying to find food. Come into the house. Find your food. Find your adoption into our family. It comes by one simple decision. Accept Jesus as your Savior! You are in! You are adopted! Praise the Lord that it is that simple!

Romans 10:5-21 — Let’s spend a couple days on this passage. Today, the message is that it is really simple actually!

Yesterday, we talked about the fact that when we leave it up to man, he will create religion. He will create checklists. He will make it about performance. He will make it complicated. Paul’s message here is that it really is quite simple.

In order to be saved by the law, one must live a perfect life without sinning one time ever. As far we can tell, there has only been one person who was flesh and bone that ever accomplished that. His name was Jesus. However, what about the rest of us? Why did God give us the law if He knew from the get-go that we would be unable to stand up under its weight? The reason that God gave it to us was to show us that we are guilty and in need of a Savior. The law was a foreshadowing of Christ. The sacrificial system that God instituted through Moses was to educate God’s people on the need for a Savior. It showed us that we need a way outside of ourselves to make us right with God. Jesus was the culmination of the OT sacrificial system. He was that which makes us right with God once and for all. No temporary sacrifices that atone us for a period of time. He was the permanent, once and for all sacrifice.

The old sacrificial system was complicated but Jesus’ coming to earth in the flesh makes it simple. Salvation, being made right with God, is as simple and as close as your heart and lips (which represent the mind). If we believe from the depths of our soul that Jesus is Lord and Savior and we confess with our mouth our belief in our mind that Jesus was raised from the dead, we will be saved. That’s it! No complicated pagan ceremonies of pleasing a man-made God. No keeping a checklist of things we have to be and do. No apprenticeship that must be served. No, it’s quite simple. Believe and speak. We must believe that Jesus is the one sent by God to die on the cross as the ultimate, final sacrifice for our sin-filled life that condemns us under the law. We must confess that He was indeed the Son of God by believing that He arose from the dead.

All other religions make things complicated. All other religions make it up to us to perform. Things that we must do to become one with the universe. Things we must do to achieve perfection. Things we must do to prove ourselves. Christianity is different. It is because Christianity, in its purest sense, is not a religion at all. It is about a relationship with the Father that we come to through simple faith in Jesus Christ. It is not complicated. We must learn that we are sinners incapable of earning our way to heaven. The law does that for us. We must learn that we need a Savior to intervene on our behalf. The law does that for us. We must learn that there’s not a thing we can do to keep ourselves from the hell that our dark souls deserve. The law does that for us. We cry out to the Messiah to save us from hell. Jesus does that for us. We must simply believe that Jesus is the one who died for us and our sins. We must simply believe that His death makes us right with God. God does this for us.

What a wacky religion that is? No black belts to earn over time. No complicated levels to attain? And guess what it is not something that we can use to segregate ourselves from others? Once you accept Jesus as your Savior, you have the same standing as a person who has been saved for 60 years. Once you accept Christ as your Savior you also can’t use it to say I’ve got it and you don’t. Being a Christ follower is available to anyone who will believe in their heart that Christ is Lord and who will confess with their mouth that they believe Jesus was raised from the dead. They are in the club once they have these beliefs. Not complicated. Simple. Jesus. Simple. Relationship not religion. Simple. Is it not true that the truth is simple and that lies are so complicated. All other religions are lies and are complicated. There is but one true way, there is but one truth, there is but one life. Jesus. Simple. Available to anyone who believes in their heart and mind that Jesus is Lord and that He was raised from the dead. Simple. Jesus.

Tomorrow, let’s revisit this passage one more time and talk about how this simple message must be shared since it is available to everyone who will believe!

Father, I have a simple prayer this morning. Thank you for pointing out through the law that I am a sinner in need of help from outside my efforts. Thank you for Jesus who is my Lord and Savior who was raised from the dead to demonstrate that He is indeed the Son of God. Thank you for His sacrifice that makes me right with you. Amen.

Romans 8:18-30 — Yesterday we talked about our present confidence that we have in the Lord. Today, we talk about our future glory. Paul tells us plain out that there will be suffering, but it is nothing compared to our future glory.

Man, this week, in what I call God’s synchronicity, He is driving home a point to me. In this synchronicity, He drives home a point to me in various different ways and from various different sources. The idea that He is making to me is that there is a price to be paid to be identified with Jesus and how far, how deeply, am I willing to take my faith. How far am I willing to follow. Am I content to sit back while there are billions of people who have not yet come to know Jesus? Do I have the faith of Christians in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia who are dying rather than denounce the name of Jesus. Yes, they are dying today in the 21st century for Christ. Do you have that kind of faith, Mark? How far are you willing to take this thing? God is speaking this synchronously to me – in the chapter of the book, Radical, that I am reading now (which, bam, is using Romans as the source for the discussion in the chapter), in mailing I have received about suffering Christians in Africa and the Middle East, and in my current passage under study, the Book of Romans.

Along with being heirs of God’s glory, Paul, in this passage, mentions suffering. What kinds of suffering are we willing to endure? For first century believers and for many around the world today that are Christ followers, there is economic and social prices to be paid for being Christian. Some face physical torture. Some face death. Even in countries where Christ is still tolerated or is encouraged, we must not become complacent. To live as Jesus did – serving others without expectation of payback, resisting the temptation to conform to the ways of the world, and heeding the call to call out what is evil and against God’s Word, and to love others so much that you are willing to die for them – exacts a price. How far are you willing to go? Being a Christian involves making small choices that separate us from the crowd and sometimes it involves making big ones. Are you content with your American dream lifestyle of me, me, me and gathering all the toys you can? Are you willing to chuck it all and follow where God leads you. Are you willing to say yes to Jesus? or do you say yes to the American dream of stuff, stuff and more stuff.

Comfort. cushiness. Complacency. Just because we go the most up to date current cool church with over the top service to the community and the latest Christian music doesn’t mean anything if we do not answer the call as Christians. If we just sit in a pew on Sunday and that’s the comfy Christian life we want, we are missing the point. It doesn’t matter that you attend a cutting edge church if you don’t heed God’s call, if you do not put your yes on the table. Are you willing to follow God’s call? It may involve selling your house and all your possessions and moving to Nigeria to help Christians being persecuted there? It might involve chucking it all and teaching in an inner city school? Christ did not promise us the American dream. He promised us suffering in His name. How far are you willing to take your faith? This is the question that I am struggling with now. The deeper you go with your faith, the more you are convicted of the inadequacy of it. Jesus went to the cross for us. How far are willing to go to make his name known?

Paul says what we suffer here is nothing compared to the glory that we will be rewarded with in Heaven. Do we really, really believe that? Christians in Nigeria believe it. Christians in Sudan believe it. Christians in Iraq believe it. Nothing that we go through here compares to the glory that we will receive in Heaven. Even dying in the name of Jesus is temporary pain compared to the glory of heaven. Even though we don’t often die in the name of Jesus here, we do still have our personal trials and tribulations, divorce, death of loved ones, job loss, and so on. We suffer in those ways here but the suffering we as humans endure is nothing compared to our future glory in heaven. Nothing we endure here is so nasty and ugly that it can trump our reward in Heaven as Christ followers. Many of us are so worrried out this life and being happy and content that we sell out our souls to chase after these worldly things. Paul says our future glory is what we should be chasing. All this, this is just temporary. Its seasonal fashion. Here today. Gone tomorrow. When we are chasing after Jesus, none of this temporary stuff matters. We have our eyes on the eternal prize. How far your faith? How much in love with this life are you? How deep are you willing to go? Are you all in?

Romans 8:1-17 — There is an old saying that says, “there are two kinds of people in the world, the haves and the have-nots!”

This saying usually is talking about material wealth. Those who have it and those who do not. In the context of today’s passage, Paul talks about the haves and the have-nots, too. However, Paul is talking about the Holy Spirit rather than the material wealth. Paul divides people into two categories. We are either those who are dominated by our sinful nature or those who are controlled by the Holy Spirit – the have-nots and the haves. All of us would be in the have-not, sinful nature-controlled category, if Jesus had not been sent by the Father to offer us a way out of the first category. Once we have said yes to Jesus, accepting Him as the Savior of our souls, we will want to follow Him because His ways bring life and peace. Daily, we must consciously choose to center our life around God. We use the Bible to discover God’s guidelines and then follow them. The popular bracelets of recent years that say “What would Jesus do?” remind us that we must choose to follow the ways of the Lord because it is our nature not to do so. We must consciously decide to ask this question daily, “What would Jesus do?” Through the Holy Spirit living in us we will know the answer to the question and we consciously and eagerly must do what the Spirit leads us to do.

Have you ever wondered if you were a “have”, one who has the the Holy Spirit living in them. This question goes to the very core of our faith and what it means to be a Christian. A Christ-follower is anyone who has the Spirit of God living in them. If you have sincerely trusted Christ for your salvation and acknowledged Him as Lord, then, the Holy Spirit lives inside you and as a result your are a Christ-follower. You can be assured that you have the Holy Spirit living inside you because of one thing. Jesus promised it to us. Since you now believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that eternal life comes through Him, you will begin as Christ directs through the presence of the Holy Spirit in us. Our old ways of luxuriating in our sin nature no longer appeals to us. When we commit sins now, it is not because we did not know. Sinning causes us inner struggle now where it did not before. The Holy Spirit has much work to do when He comes to live in us. He spends our lifetime perfecting us. Helping us to see sin for what it is. Sin separates us from God. Sin is destructive. We have the Holy Spirit living in us to be our Advisor, to point us to do the right thing, to be more Christ-like. He directs us to make choices to serve the Lord and to do His will. The Holy Spirit guides to pray and deepen our relationship with the Father. This is how we know we are a “have” – one who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.

Father, in Heaven, in your great wisdom as the Creator and Sustainer of all life, You send us the Holy Spirit at salvation to help us to make choices that please you. You send us the Holy Spirit to begin perfecting us and to help us repent of our sins. You send Him to clean us up and perfect us so that we may join you in Heaven at the end of our days. Thank you for the Holy Spirit, Father. The Spirit is how we know your presence in our lives. Help us to feel His presence in us. Help us to listen to Him. Help us to consciously choose the Holy Spirit’s ways over our base nature of sin. Help us to know you better through the Spirit. Help us to bring you glory through the Spirit living in us that guides us to be more like your Son progressively each day. To you, Father, is all the honor and the glory for loving us in this way by sending us the Spirit. Amen.