The Pastor's Pen
Yesterday On November 4th, my wife and I were eating lunch after church at the Mongolian Grill, a local Asian restaurant. We were with some people from the congregation and did not leave until around 2 pm. About ½ hour later, a tornado went right through that area! Thank God that no one was seriously injured, although there was substantial damage done. The same day this occurred in Celina, a church in Texas was assaulted by a gunman and 26 people were left dead.
Whether it was the people in Texas getting ready for a worship service that morning, or a pastor and some parishioners enjoying a lunch together in Celina, no one could have known that these tragedies would occur. Once again, we are reminded just how precarious life is. All of us are really only a heartbeat away from eternity. Knowing this, we must be serious about our relationship with God.
We need to take our relationship to God with the importance it deserves. Romans 12:1-2 is a call to total surrender, and it is made in the context of God’s goodness extended to us. In other words, in light of all God has done on our behalf, the only logical thing is to give God control of every part of our being. In reality, this is the only way to enjoy all God has for us. This full surrender is what God deserves from us, and what we need to do for our soul. Don't treat your salvation casually. You never know when you will be called to stand before your God. Be ready!
By Grace Alone
As human beings, we tend to want to work for what we have. Most of us have a hard time simply receiving a gift, especially one we do not think we deserve. We then carry this attitude over to our belief about salvation. We want to work for heaven, do something to gain God’s acceptance, have some merit we can point to and take pride in. This is why religion is so popular. It ultimately feeds our ego as we DO SOMETHING to merit favor. On the flip side of this are those who believe they have sinned so much and are so bad that there is nothing that can happen to make things right with God.
Against both these extremes stands God’s way of grace. To those feeding pride, Grace declares that nothing can be done to earn salvation. To those believing that there is no hope, Grace declares that Christ has paid the price and in Him there is all hope!
October marks the 500-anniversary of the reformation. The foundational truth recaptured through this great move of God is that we are saved by grace through faith alone. That is it! We add nothing to it and we can lean fully on it. This great news tells me that no matter what I have done, there is always forgiveness and cleansing available if I seek it. Since this is by grace alone, I can have full assurance of my salvation, and you can too.
Our salvation from sin is a gift of grace. God extends it to us through the nail scarred hands of Christ. What remains is for us to accept it by faith. If you need forgiveness; if you need cleansing; if you need reconciliation with God; if you need deliverance from sin; call upon God and accept what Jesus died to give you!
Why God Cares About Giving
There are over 900 verses in the Bible concerning giving. Why does God care so much whether I give to His cause? After all, if He owns a cattle on a 1000 hills, what is my offering going to accomplish? Let me give you 4 reasons God cares.
1) Giving builds faith in God. When we give, especially out of our own need, we demonstrate that we are trusting God enough to obey Him. In response, God takes care of us, and our faith in built up for all areas of life.
2) Giving expresses God’s love to others. We can say “God loves you” till we are blue in the face, but giving to meet the spiritual and material needs of others shows this, and becomes an open door to share Christ.
3) Giving keeps priorities in order. God warns about the love of money, the deceitfulness of riches, and storing your treasures on earth. When we habitually give to the Lord’s work, it guards us against such things. An open hand helps keep an open heart.
4) Giving meets needs. God could supernaturally provide for every need of the church and humanity, but He has chosen to use us. If we do not give, God’s house is in want and our neighbor’s need is not met.
How is your giving? Ultimately, all God asks of us is motivated by love. Trust His heart, step out on faith, and give to support His church and help those in need.
Gen 21:1-2 "Now the LORD was gracious to Sarah as he had said, and the LORD did for Sarah what he had promised. Sarah became pregnant and bore a son to Abraham in his old age……."
Have you ever found yourself being impatient? Let’s all raise our hands on that one! Along with man’s natural tendency towards impetuousness, our increasingly fast culture has conditioned us to be impatient at the slightest delay. If something takes 30 seconds longer than we think it should, our foot starts tapping. Against this mindset, God’s promises are fulfilled according to His timing, not our impulsiveness. Abraham’s saga brings this out.
Twenty-five years prior, God had told Abraham (then known as Abram) that he and Sarah (Sarai) would have a child. Twenty-five years! At the time of the original promise it would have been a small miracle for Sarah to conceive. She would have been 65 and Abraham 75. Obviously, if God was going to do something He had better hurry! But God did not hurry. He waited…. waited through Abraham’s doubts….. waited through Abraham’s trip to Egypt…. Waited through Abraham’s ill-fated episode with Hagar. God waited a quarter of a century before he allowed Sarah to have the promised child. For a variety of reasons, Abraham and Sarah would have to exercise patience in waiting on the Lord.
This is just another example of what we know all too well. God does things in His timing, not ours. How often we need reminded of that. Our clock watching does not move the hand of God. He is not motivated by our need for speed. What God is motivated by is love. He knows the perfect time to fulfill His promises, and will do so in a way which advances His plan for us and the kingdom.
In all this waiting, it is easy to lose sight of a simple fact; God does fulfill His promise! After 25 years of ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies, faith and fear, the impossible did happen! A 90-year-old woman held her son. Abraham at 100 had the heir God had promised so long ago. It is noteworthy that Abraham and Sarah named this child Isaac, which means laughter. This was not the mocking laughter of unbelief, but the joyous laughter of a promised come to pass.
Child of God, take heart! What God says will be done! One day you will be holding your Isaac; your answer; your breakthrough; your healing; your deliverance; the fulfillment of God’s promise to you. Hang in there. Obediently wait on the Lord. Your doubts, fears, and faltering will be turned to laughter as long as you do not give up on God. “I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry.” (Ps 40:1)
Gen 20:1-2 Now Abraham moved on from there into the region of the Negev and lived between Kadesh and Shur. For a while he stayed in Gerar, 2 and there Abraham said of his wife Sarah, “She is my sister.” Then Abimelech king of Gerar sent for Sarah and took her.
What constitutes a lie? On the surface, this question seems simple to answer. Anything that is not the truth is a lie. Certainly no one can argue with that statement, but there is more to lying than this simplistic response. Consider the example above. Abraham did not technically lie. When he said of his wife, “she is my sister”, it was the truth. Sarah was his half-sister. Yet, in the eyes of God, Abraham was not honest. This becomes apparent as you continue to read the story.
We live a world of deceit. Phrases such as “alternate news” and “alternate facts” have entered our vocabulary. We shrug our shoulders and collectively yawn when a politician is caught lying. We are bombarded with advertising which exaggerates the truth. In court, we qualify statements by saying, “as far as I know”, or “to the best of my recollection”, or “I cannot remember”, to shield us from perjury. White lies to outright deceit are a part of most people’s life.
Of course, this is nothing new. Man has always sought the advantage by lying. Against all this, God tell us, “Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 12:22), and “Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices” (Col. 3:9). All through the Bible, lying is condemned by God as having no place in His children’s lives. This brings us back to the original question, what constitutes a lie? Can something be technically truthful yet still a lie in God’s eyes? Abraham’s example shows that it can be.
Lying really has to do with intent. If the intent is to deceive, then what is said or portrayed is a lie. Abraham’s intent was to deceive the king about who Sarah really was. Although what he said was truthful on the surface, because Abraham willfully withheld other information (that he was married to Sarah), what he said was not honest.
If the goal is to deceive, then it is a lie. As a Christian, I am to judge myself through this prism. As I do, I gain a lot of clarity in each individual situation.
Jesus told us long ago that we should let our “‘Yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’” (Matt 5:37). Those who do not know Christ may feel the need to lie to gain some advantage, but as Christians we have a Heavenly Father who will take care of us. There is no need to be deceitful. Abraham was still learning this. I trust that we have.
Gen 19:14 So Lot went out and spoke to his sons-in-law, who were pledged to marry his daughters. He said, “Hurry and get out of this place, because the LORD is about to destroy the city!” But his sons-in-law thought he was joking.
We have all seen the caricature of a wild-eyed man holding a sign saying “Repent! The end is near!” He is the punch line of jokes and the subject of ridicule. No one takes him or his message seriously. While such a heralder may have his issues, what he is communicating should not be brushed aside so easily. Yet it happens.
People make light of future judgement all the time. “I’m going to go to hell for this.” we say with a smirk on our lips. Songs with lyrics such as “If heaven ain’t a lot like Dixie, I don’t want to go.” are presented with a smile and wink. I don’t mean to over analyze such things, but it does underscore our careless attitude toward eternal consequences. We just do not comprehend what we are saying.
Lot’s sons-in-law heard about the judgement of God which would soon fall on Sodom. They had a chance to flee; to be saved; to be delivered. Instead of grabbing hold of the only lifeline available, these men did not take the warning seriously. They thought it was a big joke. They died the next day.
The Bible is very clear. Eternal judgment awaits. There are only 2 possible destination, Heaven or Hell. What we do with Jesus determines our destiny. Those who believe in Christ (not just intellectually, but a belief which results in faith and submission) are saved and will spend eternity in Heaven. Those who reject Christ (who do not place faith in or submit to) are lost and will spend eternity in hell. The message, “Repent! The end is near” is no so far-fetched. As a matter of fact, it is right on target!
What are you doing in response to God’s warning? Do you think it is a joke? Are you laughing at it all? Brushing it aside as foolishness? You do so to your own peril. One day, God will judge. Only those found in Christ will enjoy the place called heaven. All others will be in hell. The good news of the Gospel is that you can be in Christ! You can be forgiven! You can be heaven bound! Repent of your sinful way and accept new life in Christ. You will then have no need to fear future judgment. “There is now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” Rom 8:1
Gen 18:32 “Then he said, ‘May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?’ He answered, ‘For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.’”
Anyone who looks at the founding of our nation objectively can see that we were established using Judeo – Christian values. This does not mean that every founding father was an evangelical Christian. It does mean they used the principles found in God’s Word to guide them in the structure and laws of the land.
Because of this, it has oft been repeated that we are a Christian nation. Whether you concur with that statement or not. I think one thing all of us can agree on is that the nation is drifting further into sin. We are more openly wicked than we were 50 years ago. What used to be done in the shadows is paraded in broad daylight. What used to bring shame is now bragged on.
Of course, transgressions have always been practiced. The difference today is that we don’t call these things wrong or sin, we say they are right and good. Pornography, prostitution, promiscuity, homosexuality, and other sexual sins are readily embraced. Abortion has ended the innocent lives of over 60 million of God’s children since its legalization in 1973, and has also left a carnage of damaged women, men and families. Lawlessness is celebrated. Debauchery makes you famous. Corruption is commonplace even in the highest offices of the land. Greed and covetousness has led to a 20 trillion dollar debt. We could go on, but it is obvious that we are not a righteous nation seeking after God.
The question then arises, why doesn’t God wipe His hands of us? Why does He allow us to continue on? There are a lot of variables we could look at, but I believe one main reason is because of the righteous sake. In Sodom, God would not have brought judgement had he found just 10 righteous people in the city. In America, we still retain that remnant of people who have not succumbed to the prevailing winds of the culture. True believers in Jesus Christ are the salt which season the society; we are the light piercing this darkness. It is for our sake God withholds his hand. This gives us more time and resources to share the hope of Christ to our decaying world.
Therefore, we must guard our heart and our walk. If the church loses its way, what hope does society have? If the salt loses its saltiness, what good is it? When the world hates, we love. When others hold back, we serve. When people take, we give. We speak hope to a world that has none. We exhibit freedom to a people steeped in bondage. As the culture wallows in filth, we are to be a trophy of God’s grace, shining in the incomparable image of Christ to a world which desperately needs to see Jesus. In all this, we must not compromise with the society we are attempting to reach.
God searched in vain for 10 righteous people in Sodom. How many does He find in our country? In your city? Your church? Family? May God find at least one in me!
Gen 17:5 “No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations.”
I don’t know how many of you remember “Bagdad Bob”. His real name was Mohammed Saeed al-Sahhaf. He was the Iraqi Information Minister under then Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. He came to wide prominence during the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As acting spokesperson for Saddam's regime, Saeed gave grossly exaggerated accounts of the invincibility of Saddam’s army. Even while tanks rolled into Bagdad behind him, he was on camera a few hundred yards away denying the invasion. As you can imagine, “Bagdad Bob” became the source of much amusement due to his overstated denial of reality.
In the scripture above, one could argue that God seems to be playing the role of Bagdad Bob. The Lord comes to this 99 year old man, married to a 90 year old woman, who have no children together, and He tells him that he will be the father of many nations. To emphasize the point, God even changes Abram’s name to Abraham, which means “father of many”. The Lord goes on to make the claim that this old, childless couple would be very fruitful, their descendants would greatly increase in number, and that even kings would arise from their linage. Talk about not facing reality! Talk about denying the obvious! What God does here would be absolutely ridiculous except for one thing, it is God who is speaking. His Word is always the final reality, not our perception.
If God says a 99-year-old man and his childless 90-year-old wife will be the source of many nations, then that is the truth! Remember, this is the same God who looked at darkness and said, “let there be light”. What happened? There was light! God said, and it was so. This is the power of God’s Word.
As we lean on the promises of God, may we all remember that it is what God says that is the reality, not what we see. Whatever Word of God you are trusting in, order your life accordingly, and you will see that the same God who spoke light into darkness, and told an aged, childless couple they would father many nations, will bring His promise to pass in your life. As the old hymn says, “’Tis true, oh, yes, ’tis true, God’s wonderful promise is true; For I’ve trusted, and tested, and tried it, And I know God’s promise is true.”
Gen 16:13 “She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: ‘You are the God who sees me,’ for she said, ‘I have now seen the One who sees me.’”
The story of Hagar is a tragic one all the way around. God had promised Abram an heir. Abram was now 85 years old, his wife Sarai was 75, and they still had no son. Sarai then tells Abram to have relations with their maidservant, Hagar, so she could bear a child for them. This may have been an acceptable practice for the culture at that time, but it was not God’s plan for Abram or Sarai or Hagar. Nothing but problems occurred from this.
Abram does sleep with Hagar. She does become pregnant with Abram’s child. Instead of being satisfied with this arrangement (Remember, this was Sarai’s idea), Sarai becomes insanely jealous of Hagar, and ends up driving her from the home. We find Hagar, pregnant, alone, fleeing through the wilderness, not knowing where she was going to end up. It was there God meet her. This encounter ends with these beautiful words, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”
Isn’t this what we need in times of distress? To see Him? We know that God sees us. He is everywhere, He knows our name, our heart, our thoughts, our coming in and going out, and our needs. God even has the hairs on our head numbered. Nothing about us is hid from His sight. Yet what I need is to see Him; to experience a fresh encounter with God; to know that God is not just a concept found in songs, sermons and scripture, but He is real, bringing comfort and help in times of trouble.
Hagar needed to see the one who sees her, and she does. This encounter changed the direction of her life. She received instruction and encouragement. Problems still persisted from her situation, because it was outside God’s will, but she knew God was with her. A new encounter with God does not solve every issue on the spot, but we are reassured that God is in control, He has our answer, and He will walk with us as we walk in trusting obedience to Him.
The beautiful thing about God is, if we reach out to Him, He comes to us! Are you in a wilderness not knowing what the future holds? Call out to the One who knows you. God will answer your cry. Along with Hagar, your testimony will be, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”