Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Abundance with Obedience

Where have you missed God's abundance because you were hesitant to obey?
Where has a lack of faith cost you blessing from God?

These aren't easy or pleasant questions. They're hard. I've been wrestling with them for a while now, and I'm not sure I like what my answers are. But, when I take time to reflect on them and talk to God about them, I see some things that relate. And I think it's a pretty safe guess you probably could as well. This isn't limited to just big things. It applies just, or maybe more, to the little things.

I was challenged by these questions when I was Luke 5:1-11 recently. This is the passage where Jesus calls Simon (Peter), Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples. Jesus uses Simon's boat to teach the crowds. After He has finished teaching, He tells Simon to take the boat out to deep waters to catch some fish.

Verse 5 records Simon's response: "Simon answered: Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets."

The result is a large catch of fish - so large they have to ask friends to come and help. And both boats start sinking with the size of the catch. In that moment Simon Peter realizes Who this Person in His boat is.

When Jesus told Peter to go out to deep waters and out down his nets, Peter didn't yet know who Jesus was. He may have heard some of Jesus' teaching and seen some miracles, but Peter didn't yet have a revelation of Jesus as the Messiah.

To me, this makes Peter's response in Luke 5:5 all the more powerful. After a long and unsuccessful night of fishing, Peter heads out and puts his nets down again. He didn't know what Jesus was about to do. He responded in obedience and faith. He took Jesus at His word before he knew exactly who this Man was.

Simon's faith and obedience saw an immediate result. He caught more fish then he could handle. More than could be handled, even when he had his friends come to help.

The result of Simon's obedience and faith without knowing was an abundant blessing from God. The abundance came after the step of obedience, not before and not with a word about what would come. Simon obeyed and then he saw the result.

It was as I realized this that I was struck by the questions I asked at the start. It's not about doing something with knowledge of how it will work out or a promise of what is to come. It's about obeying and stepping out in faith first. After we take that step, we see and experience the abundant blessing of God that comes.

Where have I missed God's abundance because I was hesitant to obey?
Where has my lack of faith cost me blessing from God?

I'm still wrestling with these questions myself. Maybe you need to take some time to wrestle with them yourself.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Only Way to Avoid Being Deceived

How do we avoid being deceived?

In my last post, I wrote about the importance of not being deceived, especially when it comes to where temptation comes from. That post led to the question I opened this post with: How do we avoid being deceived?

How do we come to realize when our enemy is trying to deceive us?

How do we become more aware of his schemes before we fall for them?

These questions led me to a familiar and important passage. Luke 4:1-13 is the account of Jesus being tempted in the wilderness. Jesus models in these verses what is important in defeating the deceptions of our enemy.

The devil came to Jesus at a time of weakness, when Jesus would have been more susceptible to deceptions or, at least, when the devil thought He would be. The devil tempted Jesus in two ways: 1) he tried to use Scripture in a way that wasn't quite right, and 2) he offered Jesus what would seem to be good things, but in the end would give the devil license in His life. These are two tactics the devil uses in us too.

Jesus countered all of this with the truth of Scripture. He knew what Scripture actually said, so He wasn't caught by the almost right, but slightly off quotes from the devil. Jesus defeated to the devil in this situation with the truth of Scripture.

This is so important for us too. Our enemy isn't going to use something that's really out there to try to get us. He's going to look for ways he can use something that seems really close to the truth, but is just wrong enough to get us off course if we fall for it. And, it we don't know Scripture, if we don't know the truth intimately, we'll be far more likely to fall for the devil's deceptions.

The only way we can avoid falling for the deceptions is to know the truth well. Just as Jesus know what Scripture actually said well enough to spot the places where the devil was twisting it, we need to as well. We need to know the truth so well, we can see when something is eve just a little bit off.

This the only way we can avoid being deceived.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Have you Been Deceived?

Have you been deceived?
Have you been pulled off course by what you believed about temptation and the work of the enemy in our lives?

I've been reading in James the last few weeks and I was struck by something I think I've often missed because of how our English Bibles separate verses and paragraphs.

In James 1:13-18, James goes from talking about temptation to talking about God being the One who gives good gifts and is never changing. In the middle of this passage, there is a key verse that somehow links these two seemingly different things.

James 1:16 says, "Don't be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters."

Because these words are the start of a paragraph about God' good gifts and His being not changing, I have always put verse 16 solely with these words in my thoughts. The visual of being in the same paragraph meant that's how I read it.

But, when I was reading recently, I found that I read the verses before and paused after reading verse 16. When I read it this way, I saw a link of verse 16 with the verses beforehand; a link I think we can easily miss. At least, I often do.

James 1:13-16 says:
"When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desires and enticed. Them, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown gives birth to death.
Do not be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters."
I asked you the questions I began this post with, not to make you feel bad, but to help you see my point. I'm going to guess that everyone reading this could answer yes. All the varying degrees and at various times. But, I think I'm pretty safe to say we've all be deceived at some point - especially about temptation and sin. After all, our enemy is a master of deception and wants nothing more than for us to be deceived, because it gives him control in our lives.

These verses in James highlight an area where being deceived is especially dangerous. If Satan can get us to believe that God is tempting us, he has a lot of influence in our lives. When it comes to temptation, it is vital that we know and understand the truth, so we don't fall to the enemy's schemes.

God may allow the temptation, but He is never the one tempting us. And He always provides a way out when it does come, so we can stand (1 Corinthians 10:13). If we don;t know this truth, we won't be able to stand on it, and we'll fall for the enemy's schemes every time.

The reality is, we often imply or outright say that our temptation is from God and this is not true. These words in James 1:13-16 make it pretty clear that God does not tempt us. When Scripture speaks of someone facing temptation, it always says the temptation was by Satan (Matthew 4:1).

Temptation always comes from our evil desires, the fallen humanity in us, and Satan will use that to grab hold of us and deceive us. Satan will use whatever he can frond to play on those desires and get us to give in to sin.

We cannot be deceived in this area. Temptation is not from God.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Prince of Peace

Crisp, cool air. Clear, blue skies.

A world covered in white reflecting the brilliant sun.

Snow falling over the tops of my boots with every step, as I sank into the soft, fluffy snow.

The noise of traffic on the road nearby muffled by these depths of snow. Snowplow blades scraping on the road, the only noise carrying to where I am.

There's something about the snow that makes this crazy world we live in seem more peaceful. It forces us to slow down. It creates silence where there's usually noise.

It may be past Christmas now. We've had the day where we celebrate the birth of the Messiah. But that is where my thoughts are drawn again as I walk.

Jesus was called the Prince of Peace in Isaiah 9:6 where His birth is prophesied. In a world where peace often seems elusive - both globally and in our individual lives - it seems fitting to me that we celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace at this time of year. For a brief time, there seems to be a way to escape the craziness and find some peace.

The snow has reminded me of that. And I'm encouraged to look for ways to experience the Prince of Peace in the midst of the craziness that life often is.

Monday, December 25, 2017

Why is Christmas so Important?

This year has been a bit harder than usual for me to get into the "Christmas spirit." I know it's not about a feeling or anything like that. But it's seemed like I was just doing all the things I usually do at Christmas and they were just things to check off my list - just going through the motions. Almost like I was just tired of doing the same thing every year.

Something was missing. And even my niece's excitement, or her rearranging my nativity set so that everyone is worshiping baby Jesus, "because that's what Christmas is about, auntie," wasn't helping me. To be honest I was tired of it all, and in the midst of my tiredness, I was missing why we were doing this thing.

Then I went to church on Dec 23 - not a Christmas Eve service yet, our regular weekend services. Except it wasn't - at least not for me. Something clicked as we sang the familiar songs, as I listened to the message, as we took communion together. The rest of the story doesn't happen without Christmas.

Sure, God could have found a different way to start His rescue story. But, He didn't. He chose to send His Son to earth to live and die for us. So, the cross and the resurrection started here. The story begins at Christmas with a baby in a manger.

At our Christmas Eve service, I was struck by the words of these familiar songs. We sing them every year, and I know I often have without realizing how they point to the mission of rescue Jesus was on for His life on earth. They speak of the freedom He was coming to bring. Of the healing He is bringing. They speak of the hope that was held in the birth of this child.

And so I'm reminded again of the importance of what we celebrate today. Christmas was the start of God's rescue plan for His creation. We often and easily see the cross and the resurrection as God's rescue plan, but Christmas was where the plan was launched. The birth of the Savior as a baby.