Sunday, March 22, 2009

Death To Life

“For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that His life may be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” 2 Cor. 4:11-12

Both the natural and the spiritual worlds operate on the death to life principle.

First, let’s look at the natural world: a seed must die and go into the earth to produce life; cells die while new ones come alive; and even a forest fire produces much death that will eventually result in much new growth within that same forest. Death produces new life!

Now let’s move to the spiritual world: we must die to self in order for the life of Jesus to be manifested through us. Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds” (Jn. 12:24).

This principle starts at salvation and continues throughout our spiritual journey. In order to be saved, we must die to self, repent of our sin, and receive the life of Christ. Only then does God begin to live inside of us through the Holy Spirit. Jesus said whoever wishes to save his life will loose it, but whoever looses his life for Christ’s sake will find it.

In the same way we were saved, we progress in our spiritual life by dying to self and yielding to Christ. Each and every day we are called to die to any and every thing that goes against God’s will. The above passage says we must constantly be given over to death for the life of Jesus to be revealed in our mortal body.

Being constantly delivered over to death is not a cake walk, for sure. Who likes dying to self? Who enjoys giving up what they want? Who would choose on their own to put others before self?

In addition to going against our flesh, this death to life principle is also counter-cultural. We live in a day that bombards us with messages of “take care of yourself” … “love yourself” … “you deserve a break” … “do whatever makes you feel good.”

As difficult as it is on our own (i.e. the flesh) to die to self, it is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit. It is the Spirit who works within us to give us a desire to live for God; it is the Spirit who convicts us when we live for self; it is the Spirit who moves us to repent of sin; it is the Spirit who prompts us to yield to God; and it is the Spirit who works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). Without the power of the Holy Spirit we could never die to self and experience the life of Christ.

Despite how difficult it can be to die to self, and despite how much this goes against our culture, let’s consider the benefits. When we die to self we get the life of Jesus. What a great trade: my life for His! I trade my sin and get His forgiveness. I trade my confusion and receive His peace. I exchange my weakness for His power. Who wouldn’t want this?

Notice one more point in this passage: when we die to self, life comes to others (“death is at work in us, but life is at work in you”). This is a powerful principle of leadership – what God works in us through death will benefit others. You can probably think of areas in which God worked in your life, though it was very hard at the time, which resulted in accelerated ministry to others. When you experience the death to life principle, you have a platform by which to speak to others. You can relate to their struggles. When you are being called to die to something, you can be assured that if you fully cooperate with God in that death, He will use it to advance your ministry.

So, is God calling you to die to something in your life? Is He asking you to surrender something to Him? Is it time to sacrifice for the kingdom? Sacrifice is giving up something you love for something you love even more. Do you love Jesus even more than ….? Let’s die that we might live!

Saturday, March 7, 2009

God's "Around About" Way

Have you ever felt like God did not know what He was doing in your life? Have you been in a situation where you asked, "What in the world are You up to, Lord?" Do you know what it feels like to follow the Lord, only to find yourself in a desert place? I do, and I bet many of you do as well. Whoever said following Jesus with your wholeheart would be easy?

I am reading in Exodus right now, and today I came across a most interesting passage: "When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, 'If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.' So God led the people around by the desert road toward the Red Sea" (Ex. 13:17-18). I call this God's "Around About" Way. What a lesson for us: At times God does not lead us to take the shorter or easier path, but rather He leads us through that which will be difficult, yet best for us.
You mean sometimes what is best is difficult? You bet! How is silver perfected? Through heat, trials, and hardships. But at the end of the day, the silver reflects the image of the one refining it.

As the perfect Parent, God knows what path is best for us. It might not be the one we would choose. It is likely not the path we prefer. However, it is God's path. It is God's will. And it is best for us. But only God knows this, and we must trust His divine wisdom. If we knew ahead of time that His path would take us through a desert, we might not agree to go there. Therefore, sometimes God withholds from our understanding the full knowledge ... until we are ready to possess it.
Every earthly parent can relate to this way of working. Often, especially in the early years, we know better than our children what is best for them. We may direct them toward that which will be more difficult, but that which will benefit them most for the long term. If they will trust our wisdom, they will be better off. But if they buck our will and go their own way, they will suffer.
The same holds true in our relationship with God. Even when His will is not easy, we can trust that it is best. This is why it is so important to have an accurate understanding of who God is. I am convinced nothing is more important in our overall spiritual development than having a deep conviction about God's true nature. No topic is more worthy of our study than the attributes of God! When we are going through difficulty, our understanding of God will either make or break us.

When God led me to leave a most wonderful pastorate of 17 years, little did I know it would involve a seven month season of testing, desert dryness, and waiting. I hate too wait. I do not like uncertainty. I struggle when the bank account gets smaller and smaller. On the other hand, I want God's perfect will. I want to know Him better. I desire to become conformed to the image of Christ. If this involves testing, desert dryness, and waiting, then so be it.
When I surrendered my life and heart to Christ, in essence I was saying, "Lord, I am yours. Do whatever it takes to make me like You want me to be."

God led His people out of Egypt and through a "around about" way to the Promised Land. This path was not what they expected, but it was the best path for them. God knew that if they faced war, they would turn back to Egypt.
In the same way, God knows your heart. He knows which path is best for your development, even if that path is not the one you would chose or prefer. Here is where you must trust Him. You must know that His will for you is good, acceptable and perfect (Ro. 12:1-2). Are you willing to trust Him even when He leads you through an "around about" path?
I would love to hear what your experience has been in regards to the topic of this blog. Feel free to share it in the comments section below.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Power of the Blood

Medical science confirms that blood is the most important part of our body. Without healthy blood, we will die. It is blood that keeps the body going, fights diseases, and gives us life. In the same way that blood is essential to physical health, the blood of Jesus is essential for spiritual health.

I am reading through Exodus right now. The Passover was such an amazing event. All the Israelites had to do was put blood from the sacrificial Lamb on the doorposts of their home, and the angel of death would "pass over" their home. So simple. Such faith. Simple obedience.

The result? Saved from death, delivered from slavery, and set free!

The same is true for us - if we will follow God's instructions and apply the blood of Christ to our hearts, we will be forgiven, saved from sin, and set free to live as God would have us. So simple. So profound. Such faith.

One more thing about the blood of Jesus: We overcome Satan by the blood of the Lamb and the word of our testimony (Rev. 12:10). You see, Christ's blood dealt Satan a fatal blow, and we enforce that victory through the word of personal testimony and faith in Christ.

Let's rejoice in the power of the blood of Jesus!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Love Motivates God's Tough Challenges

I love it when God shows you something in His Word you have never noticed before. I have read about the rich young ruler many times, but never seen what God showed me today.

You know the story: a rich man comes to Jesus and asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus recites some of the 10 commandments, and the man says he has kept them all from his youth. Before Jesus tells him that he has to sell all he owns and give it to the poor, Mark 10:21 opens a window for us to see into Jesus' heart.

Look carefully at this passage: "And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, 'You lack one thing: go, sell all you have ....'" Before Jesus issues this very strict challenge, it says Jesus loved him. Wow. It is love that motivates God's tough challenges.

When God challenges us or appears to be tough on us, we can be sure that He loves us and has our best interests at heart. Every parent knows what this is like. Becasue we love our children, we are hard on them when we know they need it. Jesus knew that money was the god of this man's life, and as long at money remained his god, he would not be fulfilling his purpose in life. Jesus was offering him a better way, but he would have to sacrifice before he would experirence this better way.

Even when God has to discipline us for disobedience, He does this out of love. Hebrews 12:6 says, "For the Lord disciplines the one He loves." Hebrews 12:10 reminds us further that "He disciplines us for our good." God always wants the best for us. Even when His best might not be easy for us, we can rest assured that He loves us and wants us to experience His "good, acceptable and perfect will" (Romans 12:1-2).

What are you going through right now that is difficult? Where do you feel the Lord is being hard on you or putting you through more than you can handle? Regardless of what you are experiencing, know that God has your best at heart and loves you more than you can ever imagine. Because God is love, His actions are always motivated out of love for you!

Monday, March 2, 2009

Learning From Joseph in Genesis 37-50

Joseph is one of my favorite persons in the Bible. He provides an amazing example of someone who trusted God amidst some very difficult circumstances. Most of all, we learn from him how an absolute conviction regarding the sovereignty of God is essential for coming out BETTER instead of BITTER when people mistreat us.

During my times with the Lord of late, I have been in Genesis 37-50. Again, I have been challenged and encouraged by the life of Joseph. I admire the following characteristics in him:

1. He resisted sexual temptation. When Joseph was tempted by Potiphar's wife in Gen. 39, he "fled and got out of the house" (v. 12). Many today will see how close to the edge they can get without sinning. Joseph, on the other hand, stayed as far from the edge as he could so as not to fall. "Put on the Lord Jesus and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lust" (Ro. 13:14). Are you resisting any and all sexual tempatation? Josh McDowell once said the number one reason Christians "tub it spiritually" is sexual sin. Don't forget, if you do sin forgiveness and healing is possible through the blood of Jesus.

2. He served God even when falsely accused. After Joseph is falsely accused by Potiphar's wife and put in prison, he still served God by interpreting another prisoner's dream (Gen. 40). He could have become so upset with the Lord that he refused to be a vessel of God. Instead, Joseph faithfully served despite his unpleasant circumstances. When circumstances don't go your way, do you tend to blame God or remain obedient to Him despite what has happened to you? "Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor in the Lord is not in vain" (1 Cor. 15:58).

3. He kept a God-focus while in prison. In Gen. 40 Joseph interpret's the prisoner's dream, which gets this prisoner out of jail. Joseph asks the prisoner to assist his release, but the prisoner forgets about Joseph. The next thing we are told in Gen. 41 occurs two years later. In other words, two years go by before we hear any more from Joseph. In this incident, Pharaoh has a dream and calls upon Joseph. How do we know that Joseph maintained a God-focus during these two years in jail? Because when asked to interpret the dream, Joseph says, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer" (v. 16). This answer reveals a total dependence on the Lord to give Joseph the interpretation, and God did give Joseph the interpretation. Wow. I am so impressed that Joseph would have this humble attitude in the midst of all he had been through. When you go through difficult times, do you cling tightly to God?

4. He trusted in the sovereignty of God. Here lies the key to Joseph's success. He was totally convinced of God's sovereign control, even over the most unpleasant of situations. Gen. 50:20 reveals this when it says, "as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive." Joseph could have become angry at God, bitter toward his brothers, and resentful at life. Instead, he trusted in the sovereignty of God. God's sovereignty can be easily remembered by breaking down the word: sovereignty = God so very reigns. God is in control even when the worst of situations enter our lives. Bad circumstances do not indicate that God has taken a nap. We simply must wait and trust to see the full plan of God unveiled, even if this takes a long time. "All things work together for good to those who love God and are called according to His purpose (Ro. 8:28). Joseph had to wait almost 20 years before he saw the full plan of God come to fruition. He was 17 when sold into slavery; 30 when elevated in Pharaoh's court, and around 36 when he had a son and said, "God has made me forget all my hardship, and all my father's house ... God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (Gen. 41:51-52). After Joseph spoke these words, it was probably another year before he was reconnected with his family and saw firsthand how his position was able to save their lives. This whole situation amazes me. How would we respond if we had to go throgh 20 years of ups and downs before seeing the full blessing of God? The only way we would do well is if we are convinced that God is totally sovereign over all the affairs of our life - the good as well as the bad ones.

5. He was honest with his emotions. In the latter chapters, there are so many references to Joseph weeping over his family. I cannot imagine what this must have been like for him: hated by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and then finally being reunited with his family. This was a very emotional ordeal, and the Bible does not hide his pain. Over and over the Bible says "Joseph wept" (42:24; 43:30; 45:1, 14-15; 50:17). Often he would remove himself from public settings in order to privately weep. When we experience difficulty, we need to give ourselves permission to grieve. Feeling sad and distressed is part of walking with God. It is in such times that we need to pour out our heart to God, have trusted friends to talk to, and at the end of the day hold fast to God. Express your pain to God and allow Him to be your comforter!

6. He forgave those who hurt him. As the book of Genesis comes to an end, Joseph's brothers are fearful that he will retaliate for all the wrong they did to him. However, Joseph forgives them because he was a godly man and trusted in the sovereign will of God. Because he forgave his brothers, God blessed Joseph even more. This is similar to the ending of Job's life. Because Job forgave his "friends" for falsely accusing him, God restored to Job all that he had lost. I believe this principle applies to us: if we forgive those who hurt us, we will live under the freedom and blessing of God. But if we withhold forgiveness and choose bitterness toward those who sin against us, we are playing God and will forfeit His blessing. Are you forgiving those who sin against you? Rememember, forgive "as Christ has forgiven you" (Eph. 4:32) It is only as we realize how much Christ has forgiven us that can we forgive others!

Because of Joseph's faithfulness to God, we benefit from his life today. May we live in such a way that others will benefit from our example!