The Cards

CardsPaul’s enemies had stirred up the crowds in the Temple and would have put Paul to death when the Roman soldiers stepped in. The Romans were about to scourge Paul when Paul pulled out his Roman citizenship “card”.  Roman citizens were not allowed to be tortured.  The Roman commander wondered how Paul was a Roman citizen … And Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.” (Acts 22:28)

One of the things I appreciate about Paul was his ability to recognize that everything in his life had a purpose.  He recognized the cards he had been dealt.  A Jew educated as a Pharisee gave him an amount of credibility to other Jews. Being born in the Gentile city of Tarsus not only gave him Roman citizenship, it helped him relate to Gentiles. Even Paul’s arrests, beatings, and physical illness gave him the ability to relate to people others couldn’t.

You too have been given a set of “cards” to play with in your life. Those “cards” may involve how you were born or the experiences you’ve had in life. You may think that the cards you’ve been dealt don’t give you any advantage. You are wrong.  There are certain people that only you can relate to. There are bridges that only you can cross because of the cards you are holding in your hand. Nothing is wasted, even the pain.  It all has a purpose in God’s plan.  The bigger challenge is, will you let God use you?

Simple Truth

TruthSometimes the simplest explanation is the best explanation. Sometimes bad teaching is nothing more than taking simple truths and making them complicated. When the early church began to see pagan Gentiles converted, false teachers swooped in to make things complicated. The false teachers said that salvation took more than believing in Jesus. They said you also needed to be circumcised.

The church held a conference to figure out the truth. It was Peter who spoke up during the conference, reminding the elders that he was the first one to see Gentiles converted.  While visiting Cornelius’ house (Acts 10), Peter was simply giving a Bible study when the Holy Spirit fell on the Gentiles in attendance, and they began speaking in tongues.  It was obvious they had been saved, and it happened when they simply believed the word of God.  They trusted God’s grace.  They believed Jesus died for their sins. Peter reminded the conference, “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” (Acts 15:11)

Some churches have decided to redefine “grace” as something that you receive only when you come through their doors and participate in their rituals.  Yet all Peter did was to speak to Cornelius and his friends about Jesus.  They believed.  They were saved.  Be careful about complicating what God makes simple.

Open for Business

Open for businessPhilip was called “the evangelist” because God used him to lead many people to faith in Jesus.  Though you might be tempted to say that this was because he had the gift of evangelism, I think it was because he was simply open to being used by God.

When the first wave of persecution hit the early church in Jerusalem, all the believers except the apostles fled into the outlying areas.  Philip wound up in Samaria and decided to use his circumstances to share his faith.  A lot of Samaritans came to believe in Jesus.  Then Philip was prompted by God to leave Samaria and travel into the desert to the south where he stumbled across a caravan heading to Ethiopia.  Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” (Acts 8:29)

In that chariot, Philip encountered a man reading to himself from a scroll of Isaiah the prophet.  It just so happened that this man was reading Isaiah 53, about the suffering Messiah.  When the man asked Philip who the prophet was talking about, it was pretty easy to talk about Jesus.  All because Philip was open to be used.

My friends, the world around us is filled with people looking for answers.  People are finding out how unfulfilling this world’s ways are.  The question is, are we ready and available to share the answers they are looking for?  The answer is really quite simple.  It’s Jesus.

It’s Plain

Ancient ShechemAnd you shall write very plainly on the stones all the words of this law.” (Deuteronomy 27:8)

In modern Nablus, known in ancient times as Shechem, there was a spot between two mountains where God wanted to make a statement.  After the Israelites would conquer the land, they were to set up an altar on Mount Ebal made of stones. They were to coat the stones with plaster and write God’s law on the stones.  Today, that spot can still be seen from Mount Gerizim in the West Bank of Israel.

The idea was to make a permanent record for the people of how God wanted them to live.  God didn’t want the people to follow after the accursed ways of the Canaanites, but to live the blessed life of doing things God’s way.  To make the commands easier to read, they were to write the law on a white plaster background.

As followers of Jesus, we now live under a New Covenant.  God still has principles for us to live by, but His commands are no longer written on cold plastered stone, but on warm, washed hearts (Jer. 31:33-34). As believers, we get ourselves into trouble with the choices we make. We ignore the plain things that God has written and choose to follow the advice that the world gives us.  Don’t ignore God’s plain advice.  You know it’s right, because God wrote it on your heart. God’s ways may not be easy, but they are the best.

Full Joy

Baby Smile“These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. (John 15:11)

Life can certainly get overwhelming. Jesus certainly understands all of that. He was in fact the “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Is. 53:3).

However, I’d like to gently remind some of you not to get stuck in your sadness.  Jesus wasn’t just a “man of sorrows”, He was also a man of joy.  He was the one anointed with the “oil of gladness” more than any other person (Ps. 45:7; He. 1:9).

God wants us to have joy in our lives. It’s a joy that doesn’t come from “things”, experiences, medication, or relationships.  It’s a joy that comes from God because it’s Jesus’ own joy.  Jesus doesn’t want us to just settle for a “taste” of joy either.  He wants our joy to be full.

How do we find this fullness of joy?  We experience joy through the things that Jesus has spoken to us. In the context of John 15, those things involve knowing God’s love for us.  Jesus also said that God’s love becomes more real in our lives when we learn to obey God by loving others like He loves us.  How does He love us? He loves and does good toward us without expecting anything in return.

When you take your eyes off yourself and love others, you might just be surprised by joy.  May your joy be full.

Secure Inheritance

InheritanceThus no inheritance shall change hands from one tribe to another, but every tribe of the children of Israel shall keep its own inheritance.” (Numbers 36:9)

Five sisters came to Moses with a problem (Num. 27).  Their father had died without any sons, and these sisters were afraid they would lose their share of the coming inheritance in the Promised Land.  In those days, women were not eligible to inherit.  So when these sisters pleaded with Moses, God smiled and replied that women were indeed qualified to receive an inheritance.  A little while later, the leaders from their tribe of Manasseh came with their own concern.  The sisters were ready to get married. The leaders were worried that if the gals married outside their tribe, their property would be transferred to their husband’s tribe. Moses prayed, and again God answered that the gals simply needed to marry within their own tribe.  The precious inheritance would not be lost.

As believers, you too my friends have an inheritance.  It’s bigger than your parent’s 401k.  Your inheritance is also in a Promised Land, heaven.  Peter wrote that it was “incorruptible, undefiled, and does not fade away” (1Pet.1:4).  The sisters Zelophehad learned that the best of inheritances can’t be given away.  You can’t be swindled out of it.  No one can take it away. This is the security of eternal life.

This is Jesus

This is JesusAnd the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

He has existed since eternity.  He has always been with the Father.  He Himself is God.  Everything that has ever been made was made through Him.  He is the source of real true life.  In a world of darkness, He is light. And then one day this Person laid aside His glory, emptied Himself, came into our world, and took on human flesh in the womb of a young virgin named Mary.

This is Jesus.  He is fully God.  He is also fully human.  As God, He can do anything.  As man, He understands you and me.  He understands the world we live in.

You might expect someone like this to be a horrible tyrant, able to rule over us weak humans.  Instead, He is full of grace and truth.  While Moses introduced mankind to the Law, Jesus is the embodiment of grace, compassion, mercy, and forgiveness.

Although this amazing Messiah was initially rejected by His own chosen people, to those who receive Him, He gives eternal life.  He gives a new chance at life.  He makes them His child.

If you’ve received Him, do you realize what you have?  Do you realize what is available to you as God’s child?  It’s because of Jesus.

You Count

Widow MitesOn the fifth day Shelumiel the son of Zurishaddai, leader of the children of Simeon, presented an offering. (Numbers 7:36)

It’s probably not the most inspiring passage in the Bible.  In fact, if you’ve ever spent time reading through Numbers 7, you may have been tempted to skip this particular verse.  Numbers 7 is like the charitable giving receipt you get at the end of the year listing all that you’ve given.  This chapter records all the gifts that the leaders of each tribe gave at the opening of the Tabernacle in the wilderness.  Each person’s set of gifts is exactly like the gifts of the others.  Each gift consisted of silver, gold, grain, incense, olive oil, and sacrificial animals.  After you’ve read through the first three or four sets of gifts, you begin to realize that each set of gifts is exactly like the previous set, just the names have changed. So when you get to the fifth day and your eyes begin to glaze over, you skip to the end of the chapter.

Yet God makes sure that Moses records in painstaking detail each item that each man has brought to give to God.  Why?  Because each person’s gift is important.  Even if it looks exactly like the last person’s gift.  Your gift is important as well. Whether it’s sharing your talents, your finances, or spending time with a hurting person, God sees, God cares, and God takes note.  You see, God is generous and His people should be too.  What you do counts.

New Sheriff

Sheriff BadgeOne of the things Jesus was known to do from time to time was to cast demons out of people.  I imagine it was an amazing thing to watch.  Jesus spoke a word and the demonic being that was troubling some poor individual was gone.  A person’s life was dramatically changed.  A life that was once horrible, dark, and despondent came into light, mercy, and hope.  Once, after having cast out a demon, Jesus gave this instruction: “When an unclean spirit goes out of a man, he goes through dry places, seeking rest; and finding none, he says, ‘I will return to my house from which I came.’ And when he comes, he finds it swept and put in order. Then he goes and takes with him seven other spirits more wicked than himself, and they enter and dwell there; and the last state of that man is worse than the first.” (Luke 11:24–26)

There are plenty of things in this world that can cause a person despair, and there are many ways a person can find help.  There are many ways to clean a house.  The important thing in life is not to stop with a clean house.  The goal is to fill that house with a new occupant, someone who can handle the “bad guys”.  That’s a job for a sheriff. Jesus can be so much more than a “friend” of yours.  He wants to be the new sheriff in town.  When Jesus is the sheriff in your life, you aren’t afraid of bad days ahead.  Jesus will help you face the challenges because He’s on your side.

Still Guilty

Speed Limit 30“If someone sins and without knowing it violates any of the Lord’s commands concerning anything prohibited, he bears the consequences of his guilt. (Leviticus 5:17 HCSB)

In the Law of Moses, there was a type of offering called the “sin offering” or “trespass offering”.  This offering was to be performed if you had done something wrong, even though at the time you didn’t realize you had done something wrong. If you are going 50 mph in a 30-mph zone and get pulled over by an officer, you just might get a ticket whether or not you knew what the speed limit was.

I don’t know if you’re like me, but I often find that when I’m confronted with something I did that was wrong, one of my first responses is to make an excuse.  “I didn’t know you were there”, “I wasn’t feeling well”, or “I didn’t mean it” come spilling out of our mouths. When confronted with the world’s first sin, Adam responded to God with an excuse, blaming it on “that woman You gave me”.  The problem with the excuses I make is that whether I want to admit it or not, I still did a wrong thing and doing wrong things incurs guilt.

I am finding that I really don’t move forward in life until I learn to simply admit, “I was wrong”.  Admitting you were wrong is hard.  It’s humiliating.  It’s also freeing.  It allows for the possibility of forgiveness to be granted.  It allows relationships to mend.