Thursday, January 31, 2008

Is Obedience First Or Faith?

Years ago somebody posed a question that baffled many. What came first the chicken or the eggs? Of course, to those who do not believe in Biblical account of creation, it poses a dilemma since the one comes from the other. This creates a never ending cycle that cannot be stopped, much less started. For those of us who believe that the account of Genesis is real and true, we know the chicken came first. Similarly we can ask: “What comes first: obedience or faith?” The Bible again answers that for us.

Obey in the Greek is hupakouo, a complex word of made of two terms hupo – which means by or from - and akouo – which from which we derive the English word acoustics. To obey means to listen. In this sense faith comes from obedience for we read in Romans 10: 17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Now, Hearing of course is one of the traditional five senses. It is the ability to perceive sound by detecting vibrations via an organ such as the ear. The issue is that the sounds have meaning. In the case of humans, sounds may form words, which also have meaning. So, hearing partly becomes the ability to hear words and understand their meaning.

When we hear God’s Word we respond by either believing it or we do not. When we choose to believe it, it is faith. There is no need to touch, see, smell, or taste. There is no need to understand completely what God is telling us. The issue is: do you believe what you are told?

Mary the mother of Jesus is a perfect example. When Mary – the mother of Jesus – was told about the virginal conception: “And, behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS,” Luke 1: 31. What the angel posed was difficult for Mary to grasp. She wanted to understand more. She asked “the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man?” Luke 1:34.

Knowing what we know today, we would have asked the angel more questions, “Is the Holy Spirit going to divinely inseminate the embryo in me or is He going to actually impregnate me? Will He have my genes also?” The angel did not answer this question directly. His answer was, “The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee: therefore also that holy thing which shall be born of thee shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1: 35.) And He added the fact that her older cousin Elisabeth – who was barren - was pregnant. The angel finished his discourse by saying, “for with God nothing shall be impossible.”

Mary probably thought that certainly if God could do that which was impossible to men, open Elisabeth’s womb – a married barren woman - He could do even the more impossible. She believed that it would not be impossible to God to do as the Angel said with a woman that has never been with a man. Mary heard the words of the angel and chose to believe them. She replied, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word” Luke 1:38.

When Mary Magdalene sat at the feet of Jesus she was obeying – she was hearing and listening. Martha on the contrary was just doing. The woman at the well obeyed Jesus. She heard the words of Jesus and went back in the town to tell others. That was an act of faith.

Do you lack faith? It says in Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him…”

Mary Magdalene sat at the feet of Jesus to hear every Word He said. Martha worked around the house worried and troubled. James says in his epistle that he shows his faith by his work (James 2:18). Mary’s sitting at the feet of Jesus was a work of Faith. Martha’s busy work was not of faith, therefore it was sin “for whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Jesus adds to Martha, “But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10: 42). From these words we could conclude that Mary pleased Jesus but was disappointed with Martha. Why was Jesus pleased with Mary? Because, she had faith that came from hearing, and hearing by the Word of God made flesh. Unlike Martha, Mary chose the good part. Martha displeased Christ because of her lack of faith.

How about you? Are you choosing the good part? Are you hearing the Word of God? Are you sitting at the feet of Jesus? If you are not, maybe it is time you stop and sit at the feet of Jesus and hear what he has to say.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Make No Promises, Just Believe

Every year many make New Year resolutions. A New Year's Resolution is a commitment that an individual makes to a project or a habit, often a lifestyle change that is generally interpreted as advantageous. The change can be either to start, increase or decrease something or stop doing it altogether. Some are socio-centric in nature and other self centered, examples include resolutions to donate to the poor more often, to become more assertive, or to become more economically or environmentally responsible, and losing weight or becoming more fit. The name comes from the fact that these commitments normally go into effect on New Year's Day and remain until fulfilled or abandoned.

In essence there are promises or vows that we make that for the most are never fulfilled or kept. Like most other promises we make, New Year’s resolutions are broken. We make promises to never leave something or someone when it is only a matter of time that we will. We make vows to commit wholeheartedly to something, and if we ever do, it is not completely. We take oaths we never keep. How many make marriage vows to their spouse only to end up in divorce. Politicians plead for votes by making promises they have no intentions of keeping. Marketers and Salespersons make promises only to get a sale. We promise a friend we will be there not realizing we had promised another one to meet him or her at the same time.

As we see in the Bible, making promises and vows that one is either incapable or has no intention of keeping is not new. Consider the scribe in Matthew 8:19-20,

Matthew 8:19 And a certain scribe came, and said unto him, Master, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest.
Matthew 8:20 And Jesus saith unto him, The foxes have holes, and the birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head.

Jesus’ reply reveals that this man was either not sincere or had not considered the cost of his vow of faithfulness. Are you willing to make sacrifices by leaving all your conveniences? The Son of Man had none. Are you willing to let go of your position and the privileges it offers? The Son of man did.

Consider Peter when he vowed to stay with Jesus even if the rest abandoned Him, “Lord, I am ready to go with thee, both into prison, and to death” (Luke 22:33). At first Peter was willing to go the distance. We read in John 18:10,

John 18:10 Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest's servant, and cut off his right ear. The servant's name was Malchus.

But, Peter misunderstood Christ. Peter was willing to die as long as it was fighting. He still had to learn the meaning of the cup that Christ had to drink. After this Peter denied Christ three times, even after Christ warned Peter he would.

In Luke 14 Christ says a parable of a man who was hosting a great supper. He had invited many would be guests – a chosen few. While the Bible does not say they had accepted, it could be understood this way because when all things were ready they were asked to come. They seemed to promise to be there but, at the hour of truth they all had excuses to not keep their promises,

Luke 14:18 And they all with one consent began to make excuse. The first said unto him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must needs go and see it: I pray thee have me excused.
Luke 14:19 And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to prove them: I pray thee have me excused.
Luke 14:20 And another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.

A similar parable in Matthew 22 said that those invited, “made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise…” (Matthew 22: 5). The Host-King was displeased with those who broke their promises and vows. So, He invited everyone else to his event – those who the few had despised. These made no promises, they just showed up. This means that they believed the servants when they said that the Host- King was indeed inviting them. This was all that was required. The Host King said to them, “Put on the wedding garment, and show up. I will receive you and not cast you away.” The Host-King kept His promise.

This invitation and promise is to us. Do we believe He is inviting us, and that if we let Him put on us His robe of righteousness He will not cast us out? He is not asking us to promise to be there. He is asking us to believe that we are invited. And, as long as we believe His invitation and promise to us, we are allowing Him to dress us with His Robe. That’s all that is required.

Friday, January 18, 2008

God Is Searching For Willing Hearts

Many people answered the call to the singing competition. People of all walks of life came to compete, however most of them were younger and attractive. Almost at the end, a middle age man walked in. He was short, heavy set, and average looking. The man was also soft spoken and he did not look straight at the judges when he spoke. You could tell by the looks their faces the judges’ did not seem impressed. It was as if they were thinking, “One more guy that thinks he can sing.” The main judge said to the man, “OK, start when ever you are ready.” However, the tone of his voice said, “Let’s get it over with.” The music of the aria “Nessun Dorma” started; one judge slouched in his seat, the other one yawned, and the third judge started doodling. Out of the gentleman’s mouth came out one of the most beautiful operatic voice ever heard. The slouched judge immediately straightened up, the one that yawned now seemed awoke, and the doodling one, put his pencil down and looked straight at the singer. The judges, who were known for their mean sarcastic remarks, could not praise this gentleman more. They had counted him off because of his looks, but when what was on the inside came out they realized that you should never “judge a book by its cover.”

The prophet Samuel had a similar experience. When God rejected Saul as King, God instructed Samuel to anoint Saul’s replacement. God gave specific instructions to Samuel to go to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem of Judah. Once there God would tell Samuel which of Jesse’s sons would be King. Samuel seemed impressed with all of them, especially the oldest one, however God said to Samuel about him, “…Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for the LORD seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Samuel prayed about all seven of Jesse’s sons that were present, but the Lord did not choose any of them.

Samuel was perplexed. We read in verse 11 what follows,

1 Samuel 16:11 And Samuel said unto Jesse, Are here all thy children? And he said, There remaineth yet the youngest, and, behold, he keepeth the sheep. And Samuel said unto Jesse, Send and fetch him: for we will not sit down till he come hither.
1 Samuel 16:12 And he sent, and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and withal of a beautiful countenance, and goodly to look to. And the LORD said, Arise, anoint him: for this is he.
1 Samuel 16:13 Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the LORD came upon David from that day forward. So Samuel rose up, and went to Ramah.

God chose who, to human eyes, was most unlikely to be king. While Saul rebelled against God, David submitted himself to God. While Saul refused to trust and depend on God, David lived a life of trust and dependence on God. David was chosen because he was willing to listen and heed God’s word.

Christ also used these criteria – willingness to listen and heed - to choose His disciples. He chose as His disciples outcasts of society, simple uneducated men, and others who were considered accursed and beyond the grace of God. But, unlike men, God looked at their heart. He chose men who would be willing to listen and heed His word. God chose men who were willing to live trusting and depending on Him entirely.

However the disciples were not called at the exclusion of others. When the disciples became apostles, God use them to call others themselves. Paul writes in Romans 8: 29 – 30,

Romans 8:29 For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren.
Romans 8:30 Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.

We all know God foreknew all of us, in fact the whole world. This means the whole world is predestinated for Salvation, which means He called the whole world, which means He justified the whole world. However, only those who accept the call will accept the justification, therefore only they will be glorified. Will you accept the call?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Gradually Learning To Be Like Christ

In the Movie “Karate Kid” an adolescent enlists an older Japanese man, Mr. Miyagi, to teach him martial arts. The old man has the teenager paint, clean, scrub, and rub all over his house, garden, and cars. The old man wanted him to do these things while doing certain movements. The young man thought the old man was taking advantage of him and was wasting his time with eccentric methods. Finally, he confronted Mr. Miyagi saying, “I want you to teach me to fight. So far I have been your servant painting, cleaning, and scrubbing.” The old man pulled the teenager toward him. Mr. Miyagi moved his arms and as he moved them he told him that they were blocking techniques. “Now, I will throw punches at you, and you block me.” The young man blocked all the punches of Mr. Miyagi with the movements he learned painting, cleaning and scrubbing. When the teenager walked in the old man’s house he knew nothing of martial arts. Gradually, and unbeknownst to him, he learned all the movements needed to be a successful fighter.

In principle, the Christian walk is similar. When the disciples met Christ they knew nothing of Christian way. Their understanding of religion was perverted by the tradition of the religious leaders of their time. Even though many left all of their professional lives behind, they still held on to their beliefs of individual and national superiority. Christ met them where they were. For 3½ years Christ taught them lessons that took them years to understand.

Christ did not take them any farther then they could at the moment go. He said to them in John 16: 12 “I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.” Because, of this He required at that moment no more than what they could handle. But, as their belief increased, so did their understanding of how God works. They began to trust and depend on God. And as this increased so did their willingness to sacrifice for the His sake.

Talking about Christ and the church as a body Paul alludes to the importance of growing spiritually. He says in Ephesians 4: 8, 12-14

Ephesians 4: 8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
Ephesians 4: 12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:
Ephesians 4: 13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:
Ephesians 4: 14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive;

These spiritual gifts are given so that we may grow and help others grow into the likeness of Christ. How does one grow into the likeness of Christ? As John the Baptist did, “He must increase, but I must decrease.” Saul of Tarsus, a driven and assertive man, had to humble himself to become Paul (literally the little one). He learned to yield to the Holy Spirit instead of his passion and zeal. So much Paul decreased that he said, “I die, daily.” Indeed Paul says that to him “to live is Christ and to die is gain” Philippians 1: 21. Paul had to learn to learn to do this. Years of daily submitting to the Holy Spirit and learning he could trust and depend on Him, led Paul to this conclusion. Paul learned to trust the Christ in him; the Christ that strengthened him to do all things (Phil 4:13).

As it was with Paul, so it is with us. Christ is trying to teach us to trust Him in all things at all times. He does this starting at the level where we are and gradually increasing our trust in Him so that one day we can say as Paul, “I die every day, because to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Submission To God Eventually Shows

War is all around us. History seems to be the story of how wars started and ended. In our day it seems you can’t watch the news without hearing about war. You may know someone who has been in war. You may have lost someone in a war o know someone that has. When we consider such sacrifice we ask ourselves, is it worth it? But, is the option of surrendering worthy? How does surrender make us react?

For some, surrender is worse than death, as history shows. Our quarterly tells this story as an example,

In A.D. 70, Lucius Flavius Silva marched the Roman Tenth Legion into the Judean Desert. His orders: Quell the Sicarii—the last Jews resistant to Rome. General Silva laid a long, fierce siege to the Sicarii stronghold of Masada, his message ominously clear. None would escape alive. When the Tenth Legion stepped into the fortress, they heard only silence. They shouted to their enemies to show themselves. Two women climbed out of a cistern and told a gruesome tale. Ten men had been chosen by lot to murder everyone in the fortress. Of the ten, one was chosen to slay the other nine, set fire to the palace, and then kill himself. The Romans listened in disbelief. But when they found the 953 dead bodies, they couldn’t exult. The fortress’s well-stocked storehouses sent a clear message. The Sicarii had not killed themselves because they were starving and wanted to avoid the shame of eating their children. They killed themselves to avoid being taken as prisoners. The Romans could only marvel at the courage of their enemies who would rather die than surrender.

In other words, the Jews of Masada killed themselves so they would not have to surrender to the Roman forces. Although some considered this suicidal move as courageous, I think it was a result of unbelief. How far from God can you be to kill yourself? How much driven by pride do you have to be to die before humiliating yourself? The real reason these people killed themselves was because they refused to surrender to God. Unknowingly, they viewed God as their enemy. According to them, God would not allow them to be subjugated to a pagan people.

But, God showed His love toward them by sending His Son to die for them (John 3:16; Acts 2:22-23). Even when they crucified His Son, God still reached out for them. The Jews responded by killing Stephen (Acts 7:59). And, even when they were rejected as a nation, God still was willing to accept them as individuals; many accepted but others did not.

Their refusal to surrender to the Romans reminds me of the Jews in the time of impending Babylonian captivity. Through Jeremiah God in essence said to them, “Surrender and it will be well for you.” We read in Jeremiah 29:4, 20

Jeremiah 29:4 Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel, unto all that are carried away captives, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem unto Babylon;
Jeremiah 29:20 Hear ye therefore the word of the LORD, all ye of the captivity, whom I have sent from Jerusalem to Babylon:

God tells them the captivity is from Him, but they refused to listen to Jeremiah. Simply put, as their Masada counterpart, they could not see how God could allow them to surrender to a pagan heathen power. So much they hated the message of the Lord that they imprisoned Jeremiah. They refuse to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar’s army, refusing to accept that they were rebelling against God. Because of this they suffered the consequences of their rebellion. Many died unnecessarily. The King of Judah saw his son killed, just before his eyes were put out (Jeremiah 39:1-7).

Both cases show that these Jews were not disciples of God. They may have called God their Master, but in reality He was not. A disciple submits to His Master; just as Daniel and his friends submitted to God, and it went well for them. The same goes for the apostles; they submitted to Christ and it went well for them. You may focus on their earthly deaths; however remember they will live eternally. They believed, trusted and depended on God and His word. So, they willingly submitted to His will.

James says it clearly and simply. Failure to submit to God shows off eventually. Let us read James 4: 1-7.

James 4: 1 From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?
James 4: 2 Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.
James 4: 3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.
James 4: 4 Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.
James 4: 5 Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?
James 4: 6 But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.
James 4: 7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

Paul says of these adulterer’s and adulteresses, “For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God” Romans 10:3. Those who submit to God’s righteousness – which is in and is Christ Jesus – are able to resist the devil and conquer temptation. These are true disciples. However, submitting to God requires a choice. Are you willing to make that choice today?