Monday, June 10, 2019

Getting of Your Dead Horse

Charles Conn was in his hotel room in Atlanta looking through the Yellow Pages for a restaurant. He found one named: Church of God Grill. He was too curious not to call, so he dialed the number and got the owner. “Hello, Church of God Grill.” Conn asked how the diner had been given such an unusual name.

“Well, we started a little church down here, and then started selling chicken dinners after church on Sunday to help pay the bills. People liked the chicken, and we did such a good business, that eventually we cut back on the church service. After a while we just closed down the church altogether and kept on serving the chicken dinners. We kept the name we started with, and that’s Church of God Grill.”

It's called getting sidetracked. You start out in one direction, full of enthusiasm and passion, then something of greater interest pulls you off the road. We see this in everyday life. Give me a list of what you want me to get from the grocery store and I guarantee there will be more in the basket than on the list when I check out. The things written on the list don’t hold my attention.

We see it in work. I have a mission to accomplish. I’m excited to get to it, but when a lull hits, or I have to wait for something to get done before I can finish, I lose interest. I see something else that I’d rather be doing. And the mission is left undone.

A hunting dog running after a rabbit, can get distracted by a bird or a squirrel and will give up on the primary target to go after less desirable game.

We also see it in our spiritual lives. When Paul went through Galatia on his third missionary journey, he established the churches there according to his standard practice. They knew the truth of salvation. They had Elders to Titus 1:9 hold fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that they will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. The safeguards were built in, yet due to the distractions of outside influences, uninformed or deceptive teachers, they were no longer pursuing the original doctrines.

Gal 3:1-3 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 

They were slipping off the foundation Paul had laid. The argument had been over how complete was the work of Jesus to set them free from the Law. Were there things left over that they had to do to make sure they were saved or remained saved? If Jesus fulfilled the Law, why would they go back to it in order to satisfy their need for daily rituals and obligations?

But there is a broader application here beyond the doctrines, it is whenever we abandon the path God laid out for us in order to, instead, pursue our own course.

It’s that battle of moving forward or going back to what we had before. What is typical is, when we embrace the excitement of Christianity, our lives are changed. We’re headed in a new direction. We’ve thrown ourselves totally into this new life. Then, for one reason or another, we take a few steps back. We settle for less than what is possible. Instead of living within the simplicity of salvation we complicate it with our own method of making our life full and meaningful. The result: we take away the joy of that salvation.

In describing what happened during the Great Awakening in Jonathan Edward’s Northampton, Mass., church in 1734, the local newspaper said, “It pleased display his free and sovereign mercy in the conversion of a great multitude of souls in a short space of time, turning them from a formal, cold and careless profession of Christianity, to the lively exercise of every Christian grace, and the powerful practice of our holy religion.”

New people were coming to the Lord and others who were already Christians were ignited in a new fire of passion. Why did they need that? The original fire had grown cold and was no longer affecting their daily lives.

Back when the computer was new and taking over how we did life I had a secretary who was very old school. She took shorthand, she used a typewriter, she made carbon copies. When I suggested we get a computer, she quit. She said she was too old to learn. The real problem was she was too settled in how she did her job and didn’t want to move forward. Can you imagine life without computers today?  In fact, that’s behind Apple’s mission statement:

Our whole role in life is to give you something you didn’t know you wanted and then, once you get it, you can’t imagine your life without it.

That’s what’s behind every new product or method or idea. Try this and you’ll like it. Like it and you’ll buy it. Buy it and it will change your life.

But, have you ever bought in, listened to the sales pitch, watched the advertisement and gotten the product, only to be disappointed? It either wasn’t what you wanted or failed to meet your expectations. Then you’d set it aside and go back to what you were using before.

So, why would the Galatians, having discovered the freedom of life in Christ, passion for God, the unique privilege of being spirit-led, the joy of direct access to the Father, the provisions God promised in His Word decide to take a path away from the promised freedom of His acceptance and go back into self-effort to satisfy their lives? It was where they were most comfortable.

Gal 4:8-9 However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? 

What’s he talking about? How we live out our Christian life. Not everyone can handle the freedom of casting our cares on the Lord, of praying and expecting God to respond, of trusting the Lord with all our heart, leaning not on our own understanding and relying on Him to direct our path.

We want a system we can be comfortable with, one we can control. So, we organize our lives around our ability to achieve a full and meaningful life. We want to be self-made Christians. That’s just the opposite of how we come to the Lord. We give up control. Words like yield, submit, commit, surrender, constrained explain our commitment obligation to the Lord.

Can you imagine being in a room and setting up a ladder against the wall and spend all your time climbing that ladder with the intention of getting into the room you are already in? Paul introduced them to the room where God was. They were privileged to live in His presence. Then someone came along and told them if they really wanted to get close to God, they had to climb this ladder that’s already in the room. It gave them some sort of busy work that would distract them from enjoying the presence of God.

So, having given up self control when they came under God’s control, it would seem foolish (as it was to Paul) that they would choose to go back to their old, empty way of doing life. Or, specifically, as it applied to the Galatians, to go back under the Law to live by rules and regulations instead of grace.

Realize, we have the same goal in mind God does: a full and meaningful life. We want the abundant life Jesus promised, but if the path we’ve chosen to follow to get there isn’t the path God set out for us, we won’t end up where we hope, in fact we can’t. We can’t get to where God wants us when we’re fighting against Him in how to get there. The old way is dead, yet we’re still trying to give it life. It’s like we’re trying to ride a dead horse.

The Dakota tribe wise man says whenever you are riding a dead horse, the best thing to do is get off and find another horse. Or, you could:
  • Tell everyone this is just the way I’ve always ridden this horse.
  • Hang around with others who are also riding dead horses.
  • Search online for techniques to riding dead horses.
  • Compare your dead horse to other dead horses. Surely there is a dead horse somewhere deader than yours.
  • Lower the requirements for all horses until your dead horse qualifies.
  • Spend a great deal of your time wishing your horse wasn’t dead.

For the Galatians, they had gone back to riding the dead horse of bondage to how things were before God set them free.

Gal 5:7-9 You were running well; who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough. 

Paul’s question is who hindered you? Who got in your way? What distracted you by presenting some method of life more attractive than the freedom you found in Christ? Allowing that little bit of yeast into the dough caused the whole lump to be affected.

What is my leaven? A pinch of self-confidence that over-rules my God-confidence. A little flash that says I know better than God as to what makes my life good.

Phil 3:12-16 Not that I have already obtained it or have already become perfect, but I press on so that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet; but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let us therefore, as many as are perfect, have this attitude; and if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you; however, let us keep living by that same standard to which we have attained. 

By looking forward instead of backwards, ahead instead of side to side, we’ll keep heading toward the goal. It’s when we lose sight of the prize, we begin to stumble.
  • By looking back, we’ll get disappointed.
  • By looking back and applying it to our present, we’ll get discouraged.
  • By looking back and applying it to our future, we’ll get depressed.

What we look at influences where we’re going and whether we’ll get there.

Jesus said: Luke 9:62 No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.

Meaning what? You cannot plow a straight line if you are more interested in where you’ve been than where you’re going. I don’t plow. Then, you can’t mow a straight path by looking backward. I don’t mow. Then, you can’t drive forward by looking in the rear-view mirror. Our life will go toward whatever we’re looking at. So, if we keep looking forward, carrying our pursuit toward the Lord, our lives will follow in the right direction.

The Galatians started strong, but they allowed outside influences to distract them from continuing to follow the Lord as God wanted to be followed. The result? A rebuke from Paul, disappointment in how things were going, discouraged that their relationship with God wasn’t working and depressed that where they were wasn’t where they wanted to be.

Gal 5:1 It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. 

Slavery messes with our hearts. Rom 6:16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? 

This kind of slavery is a choice. It is choosing who or what is most important in our lives. It divides our heart by cluttering it with divided loyalty. The key? We give all of our heart to the Lord, not part of it to the enslavement of some other master.
  • God will accept a dirty heart if He is allowed to clean it.
  • God will accept a sick heart if He is allowed to heal it.
  • God will accept a damaged heart if He is allowed to fix it.
  • God will accept a contaminated heart if He is allowed to purity it.
  • God will accept a cluttered heart if He is allowed to prioritize it.
  • God will accept a hard heart if He is allowed to soften it.
  • God will accept a broken heart if He is given all the pieces.

When we were saved, we gave our lives to the Lord – our entire lives. Whenever we take part of that life back to try and live it contrary to how God wants it lived, we have returned to riding our old dead horse.

Today’s a great day to get off that horse. Return to the joy of a life given totally over to the Lord. Reclaim the freedom of living with God instead of against Him. It’s time to enjoy the Lord again. How do we start? Try this: God, reignite my passion for You.

  1. It is disappointing when we buy a product that doesn’t meet our expectations.
  2. It is possible, though, that the problem doesn’t lie with the product but with our understanding of how it works.
  3. Reading the instructions can give us great information to be able to enjoy it.
  4. If we find ourselves less than enthused with our relationship with God, we might want to pull out the instructions and remind ourselves what He intended in the first place.

Monday, June 3, 2019

Standing on the Promises - Practicing the Presence

What made Moses Moses? Was it his pedigree? His upbringing? His take charge attitude? Did he have special gifts, abilities or skills no one else had? Was there a secret power he possessed where he could divide water or turn it into blood or call it out of a rock? Was he a good motivator, a good navigator, a good people person?

Wanting to know that is more curiosity than necessity. But what if you were to take over his job? Assume responsibility for leading the people of Israel into the Promised Land? Unless you were a highly arrogant man, boasting in inflated abilities, you’d probably be shaking in your sandals.

You’d desperately want to know what made Moses unique. Why did God pick him in the first place? Why did God pick me? Am I also unique? Not that you hope to duplicate his style or techniques, but you’d want to know, will the people follow me as they did Moses? Will God speak to me as He did to Moses? If called upon to part the waters, will I be able to do so like Moses did? Do I have what Moses had? And what was that?

Ex 33:15-16 Then he said to Him, "If Your presence does not go with us, do not lead us up from here. For how then can it be known that I have found favor in Your sight, I and Your people? Is it not by Your going with us, so that we, I and Your people, may be distinguished from all the other people who are upon the face of the earth?" 

The presence of God was the distinction that made him unique. Without that presence he was just a man. He brought nothing to the table. He wasn’t loaded with ability. But because of God’s presence, God was able to use him in mighty and miraculous ways.

Moses knew it – without God he was nobody. But Joshua didn’t see that. All he saw was evidence of the mightiness. So, when Moses died, and Joshua had been appointed to take over, the first thing Joshua needed to know: do I possess that same uniqueness? Perhaps in a cry of desperation or a simple prayer for confirmation, Joshua admitted his limitations and fears, and God told Him:

Josh 1:5-9 No man will be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I have been with Moses, I will be with you; I will not fail you or forsake you. Be strong and courageous, be careful to do according to all the law which Moses My servant commanded you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go. This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous! Do not tremble or be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go." 

That promise was the promise of all promises. It was what made Moses Moses. It was what would turn Joshua into Joshua. I am with you.

In our study of Standing on the Promises, we’ve looked at a variety of men who showed us the difference having a word from the Lord made in their lives. But what we didn’t see was the foundation upon which that word from the Lord rested – God was with them. They didn’t start with calling down fire, they started with an understanding that God was in their lives. From that assurance, they could then count on all that God said.

Do we have that same assurance that God is our lives?

John 6:44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him 
Draws: It is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict of sin (exposes the separation), convince us of the truth that Jesus’ death provides access to the Father, compel us to respond to God’s invitation by realizing how much God loves us.

John 14:23 Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. 
The purpose of us coming to Him is so He can come into us.

The first thing He does is knock on our heart’s door for entrance into our lives.

Rom 8:11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you. 

Dwells: takes up residence, make Our abode.
Gives life: brings our dead spirits to life.

Second thing He does is makes us alive. Paul said we were dead in trespasses and sins but He made us alive.

Eph 1:13-14 In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God's own possession, to the praise of His glory. 
Sealed: identified, marked, labeled.

The third thing He does is stamps us as His.

Rom 8:9 However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him. 

Fourth thing He does is gives us our new identity – we are Children of God.

1Cor 2:12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, 

The fifth thing He gives is the privilege of the provisions of God. And He does all of that in an instant, the moment He comes into our lives.

His presence assures us we have everything we need for life and godliness. He is our confidence we are more than conquerors, adequate for the moment, sufficient for the circumstances, covered by His goodness. We are alive because of the Spirit and are to live by the Spirit.

Paul says: Gal 5:25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. 
Walk by: living in sharp awareness of His presence in our lives.

Paul discovered it was the evidence of God in his life that made him unique. He saw God’s reputation coming to play day after day as God fulfilled His promises in Paul’s life. To such an extent he could write: Col 1:27 Christ in you, the hope of glory. Glory – that which reveals the presence of God. The means by which God accomplishes His work in my life.

Until we grasp God is in us, we will not realize everything else that is available as well. If we continue to doubt that promise, we will not trust Him for the other promises He has made.

What I am with you doesn’t mean:
  • That you will not have difficulties. Everything won’t work out as you expect it to.
  • That you will not experience suffering and pain. Life hurts but God is good.
  • That you will not feel deserted. Friends and family may desert you.
  • That you will not doubt God’s faithfulness. Satan’s greatest attack will be your faith.
  • That you will not have to go through the storms.

But it does mean:
  • You will have all the provisions and promises of God.
  • You will never be dislocated from God’s love, power and grace.
  • You will never be without hope.
  • You will find strength for whatever you face.
  • You will never have more placed upon you than you can trust God to help you handle.

Don’t think God is only in the big things, the miraculous, the mighty moments when He breaks through and produces the miracle to delivers us, as Joshua thought of Moses, but realize is He there in the quiet. That place within you where He said He’d never leave you and from there would accomplish all that matters in your life.

So, if the presence of God is what makes us uniquely God’s children, how do we practice that presence?

·       By giving ourselves up to GOD – to settle once and for all that we belong to God because we have received His gift of salvation through Jesus’ death. Paul said: whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved.

·       By acknowledge being a child of God is a permanent possession. We will never not belong to Him because no one can snatch us out of His hands.

·       By understanding as trees go through seasons, we will go through seasons of life: alive and vibrant and then deadness and quiet, growth and fruit and then stillness and rest. We will not always sense the dynamic activity of God, but there is purpose in each phase of our lives. Never judge your life by a phase.

·       By knowing that we have an enemy who will make us doubt God’s goodness. We will be tempted to deny God and live as though He isn’t present in our lives. Resist those doubts because they aren’t true.

·       By always seeking God first in whatever we face. As a habit of faith, remember: acknowledging God is a promise of His direction in our lives.

·       By praying every day. Realize that whenever we call out to Him, He hears and responds. Praying daily will remind us He is present in our lives whether we see Him or not.

  1. The greatest privilege of salvation is God in our lives.
  2. It’s what makes us unique, gives us power for life we would not otherwise have and brings in all the other provisions for being a Child of God.
  3. His presence guarantees us everything we need for life and godliness and assures us His promises are real.
  4. If we forget God is in us, we will also forget the other privileges of His promises.
  5. But if we remember, then we can be assured will have something of substance to stand on.