Monday, September 4, 2017

Standing on the Promises, a Measure of Success

One of the myriad lessons to learn from the Bible is that God does not measure success the same way that mortals do.

Take, for example, the life of Jeremiah. He is remembered as "the Weeping Prophet". He served the Lord faithfully. He did exactly as God commanded him. He preached the Word so hard for so long; but no one listened. No one repented. Jeremiah was despised and rejected, even by his own family.

In the end, the disobedient people of Israel were handed over by God as captives to Babylon. Jeremiah was neither honored nor influential among his peers. But he was successful in doing just what God called him to do.

Jesus Christ succeeded too, by leaving His glorious throne to become a lowly, poor, human being. He was despised and rejected, and submitted Himself to death by crucifixion (Isaiah 53: 1-10, Philippians 2:5-8).

All the apostle, as well, faithfully served Christ, working hard to spread His gospel. And for their service, they all endured hunger, mockery, imprisonment, floggings, beatings, and stonings. All despised and rejected, only one of them, John the Revelator, survived to die of old age, a prisoner in a Roman rock-yard.

God does not promise a comfortable life to anyone; even if you serve Him faithfully, even if you work really, really hard. You are not promised good grades or a successful career. You are not promised monetary gain. You are not promised material wealth. You are not promised physical health. You are not promised that you will be respected or influential. In fact, if you follow the One who was despised and rejected, there's at least a pretty good chance that you'll be despised and rejected too. For no servant is greater than his master (John 13:16, 15:20).

So, what does God promise? I'll get to that in a moment.

The American Dream promises health and wealth and worldly success to anyone willing to work for it. But the American Dream can't keep that promise toward everyone who works hard because they're all competing against each other. Competition is the ongoing quest to defeat one's fellow human beings. That's not how the kingdom of God works, but that is how the world works. Therefore, someone has to be defeated, (according to the world's standards of success and defeat) even if they tried really, really hard, even (perhaps especially) if they faithfully serve the Lord. And in a competitive world it's difficult enough for everyone just to get job, let alone forge an actual career in a choice field. Some will succeed. Many will not; even though they do their best.

God does not validate the promises of the American Dream. But what He does promise is that He will be with you through all the joys and inevitable sorrows you encounter as you serve Him. He promises every spiritual blessing of spiritual comfort, joy, and peace in the midst of tribulation (Ephesians 1:3, Philippians 4:7, John 14:27, 1 Peter 1:6-9). And your reward for all your service will be in heaven (Romans 8:18). And that's what God calls "success".

"Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others." (Philippians 2:1-4).

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Ordinary Rockstars

I am so thankful that one does not have to be a rockstar in order to be pleasing to God. And here I am using the term, "rockstar" in a figurative sense. I mean that one does not have to do anything extraordinarily spectacular to be pleasing to God. One may be a most ordinary person, living an ordinary life of ordinordinary days, going to an ordinary job, for ordinary wages. One may only have a small circle of ordinary people that they see, every ordinary day. And if that ordinary bloke lives that ordinary life by faith in the Son of God, such a person is just as likely as Billy Sunday, or Mac Powell, to be pleasing to God. We may even find, that the most ordinary of God's children are the biggest rockstars in His kingdom. As the Lord has told us, "But many who are first will be last, and the last first." (Matthew 19:30).

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The House of the Righteous

"In the house of the righteous there is much treasure,But in the revenue of the wicked is trouble." (Proverbs 15:6).
"In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also." (John 14:2-3). 
"Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matthew 6:19-21).

The house of the righteous is not of this world. The house of the righteous is part of the kingdom of Christ, which is in Heaven. (John 18:36). Yes; the house, the reward, the treasure, and the heart of the righteous is in heaven. This is a concept that was not fully grasped in the times before Christ came into the world, when Solomon amassed his worldly wealth and then wrote about the house of the righteous. Nevertheless, it is an integral part of the gospel message.

Much of the Old Testament is concerned with showing the futility of worldy and human attempts at fullfilment. As the saints of those times awaited God's Messiah, who alone can bring salvation and fulfillment, God showed that the Law, a body of religeous rules and regulations could not bring about the fulfillment of His plan; which is salvation and new, everlasting life for those who trust in Him. Likewise, the waging of physical war can not bring about the salvation and peace that God desires for His people. And in the same way, worldly wealth does not make the righteous prosper.

Job's frenemies judged and condemned him in the time of his deep hardship because they thought worldly wealth and health was a sign of righteousness. The Pharisees believed the same garbage. And that is why they also condemned and oppressed the poor. Luke tells us,

"Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, 'You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.'" (Luke 16:14-15). 

Then verse 16 really drives home this point concerning the Old Testament.

 "The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it".

Now in the gospel, we have hope of true and etenal wealth, which is spiritual, not carnal. It is heavenly, not earthly. Everything that is carnal and earthly is corruptible and passing away. But we "were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold...but with the precious blood of Christ" (1 Peter 1:18-19). And we are reminded in Scripture,

"Now godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and harmful lusts which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." (1 Timothy 6:6-10).

Sunday, February 12, 2017

No Perfection

Ethiopian Emperor, Haile Selassie I, was a Christian, and publicly discouraged Rastafarians from worshipping him. He urged them instead to read and study the Bible, and trust in the crucified carpenter who is risen from the dead.

There is a Selassie quote that I really appreciate. In a 1968 Christmas interview with Dr. Oswald Hoffman, he said,

"It is quite true that there is no perfection in humanity. From time to time we make mistakes, we do commit sins. But even as we do that, deep in our hearts as Christains we know we have a chance of forgivness from the Almighty."

Saturday, January 28, 2017

No Foolin'

I was raised to believe that it's a sin for a Christian to call a fellow believer a fool; because "The fool has said in his heart, 'There is no God'" (Psalm 14:1). A fool is a person who doesn't know God. So if one has a saving faith in Jesus Christ than they are no fool, even if in some way or another they might act like one. A person may think or act foolishly and not be a fool.

Jesus Himself warned His followers not to call a brother a fool. He said, "But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire." (Matthew 5:22).

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Good Legacy of Samson

Samson had some very obvious spiritual flaws and glaring moral failures. He preferred the company of pagan prostitutes like Delilah over the love of any faithful daughter of the one true God.

His sinful tendencies came with heavy consequences. He was betrayed by  Delilah. He became a prisoner of the Philistines. His eyes were plucked out. He died a violent death at a young age.

Yet the author of the book of Hebrews counts Samson in with the righteous heroes of faith:

"who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouthes of lions, quenched the violence of fire, out of weakness were made strong, became valient in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens (Hebrews 11:32-34).

By grace, through faith, Samson's legacy is something more, and better than his flaws and failures. His affairs - yeah, that happened. His capture, his humiliation, his death - yeah, that happened.

But his legacy is that he was a servant of the Most High God. And God took him, with all his weaknesses, and did powerful things through him.

This makes me glad because, like Samson, I am not perfect. I'm not going to be perfect in this life. And neither will you, or anyone else. We are going to be imperfect. We are going to have failures. It's going to happen.

But thank God that by grace He can give us a legacy that is greater than ourselves!

Friday, January 6, 2017

Ancient Rednecks

"Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled. And they realized that they had been with Jesus. And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they could say nothing against it." (Acts 4:13-14).
It gives my heart a thrill of joy to know that Jesus Christ chose to use a couple of simple, uneducated commercial fishermen to spearhead the establishment of His Church in Jerusalem. Peter and John were basically two ancient Israeli rednecks. God's enemies, the Pharisees and Sadducees, must have been like "Man! These guys should just go back to their smelly fishnets!"
A formal education is not a bad thing. It's not necessarily a good thing either. It's just a thing - period. You can do good or evil with a formal education. You can do good or evil without one too. Having or not having a formal education has nothing whatsoever to do with following Christ. It doesn't make anyone a better or worse person, or Christian. The only thing that really matters is whether or not you've (as the above Scripture says) "been with Jesus".