Here's A Thought...

Here are some "THOUGHTS" that will hopefully answer some of the questions that you may have about what the Bible has to say about our everyday lives. These articles are here to provoke thought; provide answers, guidance and resources; all in an effort to bring you into a closer relationship with your Heavenly Father!


Sunday, November 17, 2013

Jesus Christ: My trash collector.

You know what’s so amazing about God…? (Ok. So there are a lot of things that are amazing about our God). But one of the things that is so amazing about our God is that He can use anyone or anything to speak to us. How awesome is it that our God can use any circumstance or situation to speak to us; if we’ll just have the ears to hear. (Another lesson, I digress.)

It was during one of these experiences that God showed me how I was hurting people in my attempt to help people. I gotta tell you; that was a HUGE slap in the head for me! I’m talking about one whomping “Gibbs slap”. So I’d like to share the experience with you in hopes that it benefits you as well.

There has been a charming young lady that God and led into my life that I have been attempting to counsel on her life and her situation. The story is not original; got married young, had kid’s young and is now completely overwhelmed by her life’s circumstances. (For those of you that know me, this is not my life’s story.) Now my first gut reflex and reaction to “help” a person in a similar situation is to tell them; “You need Jesus!” However; to those who don’t know Christ, they have no idea what that means. I would have better results if I just said; “You need a drink!” And honestly, that would probably be more helpful.

So I opened up conversation with this person and I start down the path of going through the things in her life that are causing her so much anxiety and stress in an effort to point her towards some better coping skills and in the end…her need for the savior – Jesus Christ. Early on in this process, like most, I notice that what I was getting from her was behavior modification; not a heart change. This naturally was not helping her circumstances, just causing more frustration. So I sat down with her and we discuss how she was struggling with her new behavior and discussed her internal struggle to revert back to old habits. So I “wisely counsel” her and point out that she has just modified her behavior without changing who she is. (Man that sounded good coming out of my mouth). Until she looked at me inquisitively and somewhat hurt and said; “You make me sound like a horrible person.”

I was wrecked. Here I was attempting to help her - and with the best intentions, and without being aware of it; I had caused her more pain. The impact that had on me was beyond explanation. I had inadvertently brought her to the same issue that ran me out of so many churches most of my life.  The issue that I did not want anyone telling me that I needed to change. I liked who I was. I liked being me and NO ONE was going to tell me that I needed to be (or become) someone or something else!

You know, once we invite Jesus into our hearts and into our lives, as followers of Christ, we are excited about the changes that begin to take place in our lives. We get excited and we want to share our story with others. But that’s exactly it…the changes are not in who we are, but who Jesus is in us and what Christ is doing in our lives…not in who we are!

This sent me into deep reflection and prayer; and if I may, I would like to draw you a different picture of what Jesus does when He enters our hearts and give you yet another tool to use as you share with those that are unsaved; to possibly better help them understand what it is that Christ is offering.

So here we go:
We all have been beautifully, fearfully and wonderfully made (Palm 139:14). In God’s eyes, we all have been created by Him and in His image (Genesis 1:26). God looks upon each and every one of us as a proud parent holding their newborn child for the first time; looking at a new and perfect creation. Sure God sees our sins; but he sees them apart from his creation. This sin that destroys our lives is a part of our lives, but God still sees the creation…free from sin.
See, I have been created by the perfect creator in His image for the purpose of a relationship with my creator. So if I was created to be who I am, why does it make any sense that I would have to change who I am to become the person I was created to be? (You may need to read that a couple of times and let that soak in.        -        Take your time…)

So let me offer up a thought. My God, my father, my creator…created me as I am for the sole purpose to have a relationship with Him. In that relationship I will honor and serve Him out of love with the personality and gifts that He gave me when He created me. But there is something wrong that is keeping me from doing that.
You see, what happens is that we pick up and collect garbage. This garbage can come from our parents that get passed down. Garbage piled on us from the place where we are born and the circumstances we are raised in. Garbage we begin to accumulate from our friends, schools and influences. Garbage we carry from our decisions and their resulting consequences. It’s from all these exposures to the world, and quite frankly the sins of the world that we collect and accumulate our garbage.

Now we learn from a very young age how to hide our garbage. First of all we don’t want to suffer the consequences of having the garbage so it gets hidden. Then we get embarrassed about our garbage and don’t want anyone to know about it…so we hide it. We also, at a very early age, learn the importance of appearances; so we learn to hide our garbage.
We hide our garbage under the bed, stick it in the closet, toss it in the back yard…all in an effort to hide our garbage from everyone else (including God). After all it’s not who we are, it’s just garbage we’ve collected. But it’s not long that we begin to notice that our garbage is affecting others; plainly put – it stinks! We know that our garbage is a problem, but we just don’t know how to get rid of it. Some of our garbage has been with us so long, we’re not sure how we would function without it. No matter how bad it stinks, it’s like an old blanket that just brings us comfort. After all, there is security in what you know and fear in what you don’t. So we hang onto our garbage.
Heck, even if I wanted to get rid of it; where would I put it?
So we keep on going trying to find ways to hide our garbage, mask the smell, build up walls and barriers so that no one can get to or find out about our garbage. All the while realizing how much it makes us stink.

That’s where Jesus Christ comes in. He is my trash collector. He is my garbage man. You see, God is not trying to change who you are…he created you. He loves you so much that He sent his son to bridge that gap in the relationship between Him and you. He just wants you to allow Jesus into your compound so He can start clearing out the garbage. It’s not about changing who you are; it’s about discovering who you were really created to be: that you that has been buried under and behind all that garbage.

Jesus Christ is crying out for you to come as you are. There is nothing that you need to change, nothing that you need to prepare; and certainly nothing that you need to do or could hide. God is that Father that eagerly awaits the return of the prodigal son. Your Father cries out that there is no need to clean up, no need to change, just come home and I will clear away your garbage and place you in fresh clean linens and restore you to the place you were created to be. Don’t change, just come home.

So for all those that don’t know what it means to allow Christ into their lives, it’s simple; just call in the garbage collector and let him take away all in you that stinks, all that burdens, and all that shames. Let Christ clear away all that is keeping you from the person of God and the relationship with God that you were created to be.

May the Creator of the Universe and the God of our salvation guide you, lead you and strengthen you as you pursue a greater relationship with Him and may he give you peace as you traverse the battlefield of this life towards our pursuit of eternity with Him.

God’s Blessings be upon you.

Monday, October 7, 2013

The Devil is Real

           The world seems to be losing its mind. It doesn’t matter what you believe. It doesn’t matter what your social beliefs, your economic beliefs, your political beliefs or your religious beliefs; we all can agree that there is something going on in the world today and it seems like the world is just going crazy. And honestly, I don’t know if things have really changed that much in the last couple centuries or if it’s just the fact that with the media and the use of social networking that we are so much more aware of what’s going on not just around us, but around the world. One thing for sure is that there is a tension that most would agree they can’t understand…but you couldn’t cut it with a chainsaw.
            If you are reading this, you have probably read some of my material in the past and there isn’t much of a secret about my relationship with my Heavenly Father; that I am a devoted follower of Jesus Christ; and how much I rely on His Holy word.  I am also no stranger to writing on topics that have caused many who share my faith to disagree with what I have written. I am sure this will be no different; however if by sharing this I can wake anyone up to the reality of what is going on around us, it will be time well spent.

            I was recently approached by a young lady who had been attending a church organized study of a book written by C.S. Lewis (great author). This group’s intent is to further spiritual growth. The question was raised as to whether the devil can read your mind. I believe the heart of the question is more to the point of does the devil have access to your mind? What brought me to a point of utter disbelief was the answer she was given. She was told no, that the devil (Satan) cannot read your mind. She even told me of another woman who was afraid to pray out loud for fear that the devil would hear what was on her mind.
            As I discussed this question with more and more Christians and also those who are spiritual leaders; I found that most didn’t have an answer to the question and if they did they really didn’t know why they believed what they believed. Most answer’s came from what they had been taught in church or from some other source but not from their own study of the Bible.
            So I have compiled a two page list of verses from the Bible that speak to Satan’s ability to speak, interact, address, possess, oppress, influence or otherwise have impact on us and/or the word around us. I have included this list at the end and would just like to take a few moments to address a few of them.

            “The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing the world that he did not exist.” –Charles Baudelaire

            We all have heard or maybe even used this quote at some time in our life, but do we really understand the significance of that statement? Do we really understand that there is an almighty and Holy creator of the universe? If we do; do we understand that there is an adversary whose sole function is to take over or destroy all that God created? Do we truly believe in God, do we truly believe in Satan? Do we believe that sin is anything that violates our relationship with our Heavenly Father? Do we truly believe that Satan, and therefore evil, truly exists? Do we believe that there is evil attempting to cause us to sin?
            If you get to the end of this and read through the list of scripture verses that reference Satan and his influence and you still doubt his existence or his influence; I am praying for you.

            The bible list two times that Jesus either taught us about prayer or offered prayer for us. First; he taught us the “Lord’s prayer”. This was a response to the disciples, who had heard him pray, asking Jesus to teach them how to pray. It is at the end of this prayer that he tells them to ask God for protection from evil. If the devil and therefore evil cannot influence them, why would they need protection?
            The second time is in the Gospel of John when Jesus offers a prayer to God for the disciples as the time for his crucifixion approached. It is often referred to as the “High Priestly Prayer”. It is in that prayer that Jesus Christ asked our Heavenly Father to “keep them from the evil one”; again asking for protection for us from Satan. Interesting that Jesus asks God to protect us from Satan or evil.
            In another instance, when Jesus told his disciples of his upcoming death, he was confronted by Peter.
            From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you. But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”(Matthew 16:21-23 ESV)
I don’t think Peter was challenging Christ’s destiny, he was challenging Christ’s divinity. At which point Jesus quickly identified the presence or influence of the source of this challenge and immediately addressed the perpetrator…Satan.

There is no question that everywhere Jesus went while he was on earth that he was casting out demons. It was a testimony not only to who he was, but his authority over Satan and all of his demons. He also gave his followers authority over Satan and his demons as well.
The bible says to resist the devil and he will flee. But how can you resist something that you won’t acknowledge?

            The world is engulfed in fear, anger and sin. We are consumed with guilt, anxiety and depression that we attempt to cover with addictions and rebellion. We spend billions of dollars in America alone on psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors; billions of dollars on medications and treatments to help us to cope with all of these issues and the consequences of these issues…and none of it seems to be helping. We are all wearing and tending to the battle wounds of a war we refuse to admit that we are in. We are stumbling in the midst of an active war zone…refusing to admit there is a war.
            Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus about this battle:
            Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.(Ephesians 6:10-18 ESV)
How strange it is that we are still attempting to fight this battle in the flesh with will power, counselors, medications, groups and so on. If we do not admit the battle we are in, who the players are, and how to fight; we are just spinning our wheels. We have brought the proverbial physical knife to a spiritual gunfight.
            We don’t acknowledge Satan and all of his works. We don’t resist because we don’t acknowledge. And as long as this continues to be our pattern of approach; we will NEVER have victory! The Apostle John wrote to us:
            We know that everyone who has been born of God does not keep on sinning, but he who was born of God protects him, and the evil one does not touch him.
We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.
            And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1 John 5:18-21 ESV)

I beg you; seek out a relationship with your Heavenly Father. Seek to know His word. For if all you know is of this world; you are “in the power of the evil one”. If you choose to stick your head in the sand, Satan will kick you in the ass! (Please take a minute for that visual image to completely form.)

            From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 4:17 ESV)

The Devil in the Bible

1 Chronicles 21:1 – Satan incited David to conduct census
Job 1:6-12 – Satan approached God and discussed Job
Job 2:1-7 – Satan struck Job with sores
Zechariah 3:1-2 – vision of Joshua before the Lord with Satan at his right side to accuse him
Matthew 4:10 – Jesus tempted in the desert by Satan (also in Luke 4)
Matthew 16:23 – Matthew challenges Jesus divinity and death on cross; “get behind me Satan”
Mark 4:15 – in parable of sower, Satan takes the seed on the path (also in Mat 13, Luke 8 – devil, Matthew 13:19 and 13:38 evil one)
Luke 10:19 – Jesus gave disciples authority of Satan
Luke 13:16 – woman “bound” by Satan for 18 years (healed on the Sabbath)
Luke 22:3 – Satan entered into Judas (also in John 13:27)
Luke 22:31 – Jesus tells Peter of denial; tells Peter “Satan demanded to have you”
Acts 5:3 – Peter to Ananias; “why has Satan filled your heart to lie”
Acts 26:18 – Paul confesses Jesus; “turn from darkness to light, from Satan to God”
Romans 16:20 – The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet
1 Corinthian 5:5 – deliver man to Satan (brother who is sexually involved with fathers wife)
1 Corinthian 7:5 – married; don not deprive one another so Satan may not tempt you
2 Corinthian 2:11 – forgive so not to “be outwitted by Satan”
2 Corinthian 11:4 – Satan disguises himself as light; Satan’s servants disguise as servants of righteousness
2 Corinthian 12:7 – thorn in flesh is messenger of Satan to harass me
1 Thessalonian 2:18 – Paul wanted to come to them “but Satan hindered us”
Revelation 2:9 – those who claim to be Jews, but a synagogue of Satan
Revelation 2:13 – you dwell where Satan’s throne is
Revelation 12:9 – Satan thrown down to Earth (also devil)
Revelation 20:2 – Satan had to be bound for 1 thousand years (also devil)
Revelation 20:7 – Satan released from bondage, thrown into lake of fire (also devil)

John 6:70 – Jesus said; “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.”
John 8:39 – Jesus said you are of your father the Devil
John 13:2 – the Devil put into the heart of Judas to betray Jesus
Acts 10:38 - Jesus proclaimed as healing those oppressed by the Devil
Acts 13:10 – Paul confronts Elymas the magician, called him “son of the Devil”
Ephesian 4:27 – Give no opportunity to the Devil
Ephesian 6:11 – Stand against the schemes of the Devil
1 Timothy 3:6-7 – qualifications of overseer can fall into snare of the Devil
2 Timothy 2:26 – worker approved by God to avoid the snare of the Devil
Hebrew 2:14 – Devil has been granted power over death
James 4:7 – Resist the Devil and he will flee (you have to acknowledge him to resist him)
1 Peter 5:8 – Devil prowls like a lion seeking to devour
1 John 3:8 – who makes practice of sinning is of the Devil
1 John 3:10 – evident who is of God and who is of the Devil
Jude 1:9 – Judgment of false teachers, resist as Michael rebuked the Devil over the body of Moses
Revelation 2:10 – Devil will throw you into prison to be tested

Matthew 4:24 – those oppressed by demons brought to Jesus
Matthew 7:22 – did we not cast out demons in your name
Matthew 8:16 – many brought to Jesus oppressed by demons, he cast out spirits
Matthew 8:28 – city of Gadarenes “legion” of demons possessed a man (also Luke 8:26)
Matthew 9:33 – man unable to speak, Jesus cast out demon
Matthew 10 – Jesus sends out disciples with authority to cast out demons (also Mark 6:13)
Matthew 12:22 – Demon oppressed man
Matthew 15:21 – faith of Canaanite woman; daughter oppressed by demon (also Mark 7:26-30)
Matthew 17:18 – boy with demon disciples could not cast out; “only by fasting and prayer” (also Luke 9:42)
Mark 1:32-34 – many oppressed by demons were cast out
Mark 1:39 – Jesus went throughout Galilee casting out demons
Mark 3:15 – Twelve given authority to cast out demons
Mark 16:17 – these signs accompany believers, ability to cast out demons
Luke 4:33-34 – man in synagogue oppressed by demon, cried out to Jesus
Luke 4:41 – demons came out of many crying out “you are the son of God”
Luke 8:2 – Mary Magdalene with 7 demons
Luke 9:1 – Jesus sends out 12 with authority over demons
Luke 10:17 – 72 disciples return; “even demons subject to us in your name”
Luke 11:14 – Jesus cast out a demon that was mute
Luke 13:32 – Jesus; go tell Herod “I cast out demons”
1 Corinthian 10:21 – you cannot partake of the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons
1 Timothy 4:1 – some will depart, devoting to teachings of demons
James 2:19 – even demons believe in God and shudder
James 3:15 – wisdom that is not from above is demonic
Revelation 16:14 – demons will perform signs
Revelation 18:2 – Babylon fallen, dwelling place for demons

Evil one
John 17:15 – Jesus “Priestly Prayer”; protect them from the evil one
Ephesians 6:16 – shield of faith to protect from the flaming darts of the evil one
2 Thessalonian 3:3 – prayer; Lord guard against the evil one
1 John 2:13-14 – you have overcome the evil one
1 John 3:12 – do not be like Cain, of the evil one
1 John 5:18 – we are born of God, protected from the evil one
1 John 5:19 – whole world lies in the power of the evil one

Job 12:16
Revelation 12:19

The Lord’s Prayer
Matthew 6:13 – deliver us from the evil one (KJV)

The Serpent of Genesis 3

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Why the "Love Chapter"

There is a very popular chapter in the bible that is commonly referred to as the “love chapter”. Most followers of Jesus Christ know the verses I am referring to. Most who have attended church for any period of time have probably heard the verses. If you have never attended church but have been to a wedding…you may have heard this chapter. It is Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13, and it goes like this:
            If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
            Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
            Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.
            So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13 ESV)

What I would like to do is to spend a few moments talking about why Paul wrote these words and why he placed these words right in the middle of his letter to the church in Corinth.
So let’s start with a little history. The church in Corinth was a very new and young church. It had only been established by Paul a few years before this letter.
There were several major mainstays of the social practices of the city of Corinth that were beginning to leak into the church culture. Corinth had been a community that was very big on social advancement. There was a big emphasis on pride related to personal accomplishments. The residents of Corinth had worshiped many other “Gods” and as part of that practice was the use of sex as part of their ceremonies and worship. It was common practice to have multiple sexual partners outside of personal relationships as it was considered “normal” in their society. It was also common in Corinth to pay speakers to come into the city; who by the use of lavish speeches, putting on a huge display, the use of humor and showmanship would attempt to “educate” or sway their audience in the way of social behavior and social advancement.

There were several of the above issues that were brought to Paul’s attention and prompted him to write this letter. As a matter of history, this is actually the second letter that Paul wrote and the first has been lost to history. Now it is important to understand that Paul was very pleased and proud of the church he had started in Corinth; however, he was equally concerned over issues that if left unattended could lead those of the church away from the Gospel of Christ. So he wrote a letter to bring to their attention or to clarify to the church the expectations of Christ.

So Paul is writing to the church at Corinth about division. He’s telling them not to be divided by doctrines or the use of spiritual gifts. Not to be divided by whom they follow or who they had been baptized by. He’s warning them about the sexual immorality that they have been indulging in.
The entire letter is an admonishment to unity. And right in the middle of this letter he places these couple of paragraphs regarding love. So why does Paul add these words in the middle of writing a letter of correction to the Corinth church? These few simple words in the middle of this letter are reminding the church that their focus should be on love.

I served in the United States Marine Corps and one of my specialties was that of a firearms instructor. There are many factors that have to come into play to teach someone how to place a round in the bulls-eye. Things such as stance, posture, grip, breathing, trigger squeeze and so on. But one of the things that is the most difficult to train a new shooters to do is to obtain and maintain the correct focus during aiming. In order to correctly aim the weapon, you have to obtain the appropriate alignment and picture of what the sights in relationship to the target should look like. The trick is that the human eye can only focus on one point at a time and if your eye is not focused on the appropriate point, you will not be able to obtain the picture and the alignment needed to effectively hit your target. In order to place the round where you need it to go, you must obtain and maintain your focus on the front sight.
I will try not to drag this out, but follow me for just a few minutes. In a lot of weapons, the front sight is fixed, that is it is welded. It cannot be moved or adjusted. On those weapons that you can adjust the front sight; once the weapon is “sighted in” the front sight is never touched again. All adjustments to the weapon in regards to sighting adjustments are then made to the rear sights (elevation and windage).

So how does this apply to you and me today? How does this apply to what Paul is saying to the church in Corinth? The target in our illustration represents the people in our lives. People from family to friends, from people we go to church with to neighbors, from those we are sharing the gospel with to perfect strangers. The rear sights that we must look through represent our beliefs and our doctrines, our customs and our habit’s, our pride and our self-righteousness, our foundation and our faith…our religion. The rear sights represent what we know and what we believe. But the most import part of lining up our sights is staying focused on the front sight which is love. The love of God, the love of Jesus Christ and the love we are to have for one another.

When we are focused on the rear sights; we can get hung up on our beliefs and our righteousness, our doctrines and our rituals, and completely miss our target. When we focus on our targets; we can become distracted by their faults and their failures, their shortcomings and their sins, their differences and their quirks, and completely miss the target. But when we focus on the fixed front sight of the love of Jesus Christ; things begin to line up. When we are completely focused on love we begin to notice that the target begins to blur. We can no longer see all the blemishes, spots and wrinkles on the target. When we become focused on love; we notice that the rear sights of our religion, our righteousness, our pride and our doctrines begin to blur – yet we will be able to obtain the perfect alignment needed to hit our target.

What Paul was saying to the church in Corinth is that you have lost focus and become distracted. Distracted not only by your own pride and religion, but distracted also by those around you that you have been called to be the light of the Gospel to. Paul took a minute out of the middle of his letter to simply say that if the center of your focus is not on love…you are missing the entire message of Jesus Christ. If you are not focused on love, you will have missed the entire purpose of being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

So why did Paul write the “love chapter”? He wrote it to call us back into focus. Focus on love and the ultimate example of that love was the sacrifice of our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13 ESV)

I pray that when in our lives we seem to be struggling to hit the target in regards to our relationship with those around us, we need to stop and examine our focus. I pray that we all learn to stay focused on love. Jesus said; “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.”(Luke 10:27 ESV)
Heavenly Father strengthen us through your Holy Spirit that we may walk in love, maintain focus on love and be examples of your love in all that we do. We ask in Jesus name – Amen.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Treasure of God

How many times in your life have you lost a penny? If you even noticed, how much time did you spend searching for that penny; a glance, a second of your time? What if you lost something of greater value - maybe a hundred dollars, maybe a thousand…maybe a diamond or some other jewelry? How much effort would you put into attempting to find one of those items?

There are so many people in church today that are frustrated in their Christian walk; I know because I have been one of them. We go to church with the same laundry list of questions for our priest, pastors and spiritual leaders:
·         Who is God and what is Jesus all about?
·         What does God want with my life?
·         How does God want me to make this big decision?
·         Where was God when that happened?
·         Why wasn’t God there?
·         When is God going to do some work in my life?

There are those that will spend years or even a lifetime “going to church” and never get the answers to any of those questions. What is the most astonishing and equally the most frustrating…is that the answers are all very simple. Not easy…but simple.

A man we’ll call Jerry goes to a group of friends with a problem. He tells his friends that he just won the lottery but he lost the ticket and just can’t seem to find it. Out of concern and wanting to help their friend, they begin to ask him some questions.
“Where have you looked?” -is one of the first questions. Jerry said; “Well I went to a group of people I kind of hang out with on Sunday’s. I talked to some people and kind of glanced around for about an hour. Some of them had some great suggestions on where to look and some even looked around for me for a while; but we never found the ticket.”
“Have you looked anywhere else?” was the next question. “I had dinner with a group of friends last week and told them of my problem. I go there about every week; so they kind of looked around a little for me. They also had some great suggestions on where I could look.” -was Jerry’s reply.
A good friend of Jerry’s put his hand on Jerry’s shoulder and asked; “Jerry…have YOU looked for the ticket?” Jerry looked back at him with a very frustrated and puzzled look and said; “I just told you…I’ve been looking and no one has told me where the ticket is yet!”

The single biggest thing that God wants from us is a relationship. He wants it so bad that he has done everything on His part to make Himself available to us:
For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. (Ezekiel 34:11-13 ESV)
I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me;
                        I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me.
            I said, “Here I am, here I am,”
                        to a nation that was not called by my name. (Isaiah 65:1 ESV)

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16-17 ESV)

Through the scriptures, God is letting us know that he is seeking us, his desires are for us and he is calling us. The problem enters however, when we fail to understand that relationships are a two-way street. A man and a woman can attend counseling and get all the advice in the world on how to improve their relationship; but if they don’t invest time in each other, if they don’t seek after each other…it is WASTED!
Let me simplify. Going to church on Sunday and hearing about how to have a greater relationship with your Heavenly Father but not spending any time in the Word or in prayer the rest of the week; is as useful and a couple attending counseling once a week to hear about how to improve communication in their marriage but never spending any time talking to each other! The solution is simple! Just start talking to each other…it’s just hard.

Your Heavenly Father desires so badly to have a relationship with you, but he will not force you. He will call you, he will nudge you, he will seek you and he will lead you…but he will not make you.
But from there you will seek the LORD your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you are in tribulation, and all these things come upon you in the latter days, you will return to the LORD your God and obey his voice. For the LORD your God is a merciful God. He will not leave you or destroy you or forget the covenant with your fathers that he swore to them. (Deuteronomy 4:29-31 ESV)

            One thing have I asked of the LORD,
                        that will I seek after:
            that I may dwell in the house of the LORD
                        all the days of my life,
            to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD
                        and to inquire in his temple. (Psalm 27:4 ESV)

We want answers. We want to know. We want greater understanding and wisdom. We want peace and we want provision. God has given us the answers:
            Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all.
            But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
            “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (Matthew 6:31-34 ESV)

Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually! (Psalm 105:4 ESV)

Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways! (Psalm 119:2-3 ESV)

            My son, if you receive my words
                        and treasure up my commandments with you,
            making your ear attentive to wisdom
                        and inclining your heart to understanding;
            yes, if you call out for insight
                        and raise your voice for understanding,
            if you seek it like silver
                        and search for it as for hidden treasures,
            then you will understand the fear of the LORD
                        and find the knowledge of God. (Proverbs 2:1-5 ESV)

I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me. (Proverbs 8:17 ESV)

In closing, I have to confess an understanding that what I am saying is hard. Jesus himself told us that this would not be an easy road. But it is the only road to Him and to our Heavenly Father.
            He (Jesus) went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them,
            “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:22-30 ESV)

What I have written is simple…it’s just hard. The simple is that God just wants a relationship with you and has made himself directly available to you through the Holy Spirit as granted by God’s sovereign grace through the sacrifice of His son Jesus Christ. The hard is that relationships require effort, sacrifice, time and a commitment. We are asked to submit our will for His. We are asked to sacrifice our desires for His. We are asked to acknowledge that we only exist because of Him; created by Him, designed by Him, made for him…we are asked to submit to Him.
            Seek the LORD while he may be found;
                        call upon him while he is near;
            let the wicked forsake his way,
                        and the unrighteous man his thoughts;
            let him return to the LORD, that he may have compassion on him,
                        and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
            For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
                        neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD.
            For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
                        so are my ways higher than your ways
                        and my thoughts than your thoughts. (Isaiah 55:6-9 ESV)

May all the grace of God fill you with His Holy Spirit; that He may create in you a desire to draw nearer to Him, to grow in your relationship with Him, to have the courage to submit yourself to Him so that we may all be together with Him for eternity in Heaven. May the LORD bless you and keep you; may the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; may the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace. -Amen

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Grace vs Law

There is a growing movement of teaching in the world today about “Grace”. That is, there has been an increased teaching about the “Grace” of God and how we are to apply that in our life today. I sometimes have heard it referred to as; “hyper-grace”.  As I listen to the various teachings and teachers of the Word and study the word on my own, I have found that I have been dealing with increasing conflict in my spirit over this teaching. Please allow me a few moments to share with you what I have been dealing with and I hope and pray that I can bring some understanding to those of you who have been struggling with this as well.

First of all, I think we have to have a foundational understanding or definition of what “grace” is. So here is the definition that I am going to be working from whenever I use the word Grace: Grace is the understanding that God sent His only Son to be tortured, humiliated, beaten and crucified (that is murdered) on the cross for the purpose of paying the penalty for my individual and personal sin against my Heavenly Father. Sin is anything that I do that violates, offends or creates separation in my relationship with my Heavenly Father. Grace is also the power that is granted us from our Heavenly Father (as made available to us through the sacrifice of His son Jesus Christ and delivered personally to us through the Holy Spirit) to stand against, resist, and defeat the very source of sin (that is Satan and all of his works) that is in our lives.  Grace gives us the power to overcome the very things we struggle against that pull us away from our Heavenly Father. Grace gives us the power and the strength to be obedient to the relationship that God so eagerly desires to have with us.

Now anyone who has had any familiarity with church or the bible has heard reference to “the Law”. I also want to have a common understanding of what I am referring to when I reference “the Law”. The Law refers to any directive that has been handed down from God. Now, this is not just referring to the “10 Commandments”. God speaking to Isaac put it this way;
I will multiply your offspring as the stars of heaven and will give to your offspring all these lands. And in your offspring all the nations of the earth shall be blessed, because Abraham obeyed my voice and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. (Genesis 26:4-5 ESV)
So when I make reference to “the Law”, I make reference to all the above.

So here enters the struggle for me and I think for many others. We are somewhat mislead when we are taught that because of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, we now live under the “grace” of God and no longer under the “law” of God. This is an accurate statement, however it is incomplete. I think that sometimes we can be given the impression that it is an either/or conversation. Just like it is difficult at times to understand that Jesus was “fully God and fully man”; that just sends our brain cells into “TILT” mode. Allow me to elaborate.

Under “the Law” of Moses; God made it clear to us that because of our sin, we were not worthy to be in His presence. We were not worthy to speak to him, not worthy to ask for His help and certainly not worthy of being in His presence. Under “the Law”, in order to seek some redemption for our sins; we would have to offer some sort of sacrifice in the form of a food offering or the slaughtering an animal, and we would have to go through a “priest” in order to make this intercession on our behalf. What “grace” does is that through the sacrifice of the body and blood of Jesus Christ, our offering for redemption has been given in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Grace is the body and blood of Jesus Christ. Grace does not abolish the law; grace is the love of God sacrificing his Son that we would no longer be liable for the punishment of “the Law”.

The main point that I want to get across to everyone is that it is not and either/or conversation. It is both! (This is where people begin to get uncomfortable.) Give me a minute to clarify.

There is only one person who walked the Earth that was without sin; that is Jesus Christ.
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 ESV)
No one can earn salvation by following the law. Salvation is only accessible through grace by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Grace does not abolish “the voice, the charge, the commandments, the statutes and the laws” of God; it allows for the forgiveness in our times of failure. It strengthens us in our times of weakness. Grace is the power to overcome evil and the allowance for the weakness of our flesh.

Jesus said:
          “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)
Matthew chapters 5-7 are a collection of the teachings of Jesus. In this particular statement, he is laying the groundwork for the need of Him. He is beginning to let us know that on our own ability, we are unable to achieve a level of righteousness that will grant us access to the kingdom of Heaven. But there is also instruction of not relaxing the law and warning against teaching others to relax the teachings of “the law”.

The laws and commandments of our Heavenly Father do not go away through Christ; it is in Christ that we are able to escape the penalty of our inability to keep the law. Here is the rest of what Paul said in Romans:
          But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:  for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
            Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:21-31 ESV)

When we come to the conclusion that we are no longer under the law because of grace; we base that conclusion on an assumption that the law only existed to point out our sins. The problem with that assumption is that the law does so much more.

The law points us to righteousness. Paul continued:
            Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions.
            Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
            What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
            For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:12-23 ESV)
Paul continues:
            There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
            You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. 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.
            So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (Romans 8:1-17 ESV)

Paul is clearly stating that for those who are under the grace of God, as provided by the Holy Spirit by faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, you will desire righteousness through obedience; obedience to your Heavenly Father, obedience to His righteousness, obedience to His laws and commandments. This is not to say to earn grace - this is to say to desire righteousness because of grace. Grace is the free gift of the sacrifice of Christ; obedience towards righteousness is natural outpouring of love to the relationship that we have been granted access to through grace! This is not an expectation of perfection or perfect righteousness, for we know that we all have sin. Paul wrote to Timothy in both letters encouraging him to “pursue righteousness” knowing that only Christ has obtained perfect righteousness.

Not only does the law point us towards righteousness, in pursuing obedience and righteousness we find protection from the consequences of sin. The law explicitly points out to us Gods desire for us. I could write a book on all that our Heavenly Father has to say to us in the bible in regards to blessings to the righteous and judgment to the unrighteous. I think the very first Psalm sums it up nicely for us.
            Blessed is the man
                        who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
            nor stands in the way of sinners,
                        nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
            but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
                   and on his law he meditates day and night.
            He is like a tree
                        planted by streams of water
            that yields its fruit in its season,
                        and its leaf does not wither.
            In all that he does, he prospers.
            The wicked are not so,
                        but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
            Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
                        nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
            for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
                        but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1 ESV)

I would just like to conclude with this – the conversation we should be having is not grace instead of the law. It is obedience to the law because and through grace. It’s not one or the other; it’s both. To put it another way; Jesus Christ did not sacrifice Himself on the cross for you to pursue more sin; He died to grant you the freedom to pursue your relationship with your Heavenly Father, free from penalty and restrictions of sin. Grace abounds for the forgiveness of sin, not the allowance of it.

May the abounding love and grace of our Lord Jesus Christ guide your heart and your mind towards a greater understanding of, and relationship with your Heavenly Father. May all the blessings of God fill you and strengthen you as we all battle against the flesh; and through the power of the grace of God lead us to victory over sin so we may walk in victory, walk in obedience, walk in peace…walk in grace. -Amen

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Love God-exceptions?

As I continue to search through God’s word and spend time in meditation and prayer; I feel as if I’m being taken to a place that is making me very uncomfortable. The place that I am talking about is a spiritual place of relationship with my Heavenly Father which brings more understanding of Him and His word. What is making me uncomfortable about this place is that I am finding myself in more and more
conversation where I am defending His word. I am finding myself more isolated and alone, standing apart from most “Christian” in my belief and that has sent me into deep reflection.
            “What do I mean by ‘defending His word’”; you’re probably asking yourself. I mean that I am having more and more conversations with people that either don’t agree with what the Word of God says or they don’t believe it applies to them. Now I’m not talking about those who don’t believe and don’t follow the teachings of Jesus Christ; I’m talking about professed Christians who don’t acknowledge all of the truth of the content of scripture. Not just the parts they like, but all of His word. What frightens me the most is how long I lived in denial myself and how long will our Heavenly Father be patient until His day of judgment is upon us?
            I am just going to pour out what is in my heart and just some of the scripture’s that have brought me to this place and I will leave it to you to either agree or disagree.
            I am going to start my position with the greatest commandment:
            And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he (Jesus) answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28-31 ESV)
            So; it seems as if Jesus makes everything plain and simple for us. Love God with everything and love others as you love yourself. However, take time to listen to what Jesus said. The greatest commandment is to “love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and with all our strength”. The word “all” seems to be very popular in this statement. It really doesn’t leave a whole lot of wiggle room for negotiation. He said; “all”.
            The first place that God began to take me to; or if you will, reveal to me about my heart, is that I want to love God – with exceptions. If you will indulge me, I will share with you just a few of the area’s that the Holy Spirit convicted me in:
·         I will love God with all that I am; just not with my time.
·         I will love God with all that I am; just not with my money.
·         I will love God with all that I am; just not with my marriage.
·         I will love God with all that I am; just not with my family.
·         I will love God with all that I am; just not with my work or career.
·         I will love God with all that I am; except for my neighbors.
·         I will love God with all that I am; except for my drugs and alcohol.
·         I will love God with all that I am; except for my sexual immorality.
Now, every time I start to have one of these conversations, I begin to hear the arguments of the defendants (word chosen deliberately and carefully):
·         We are covered by God’s grace.
·         God views all sin equally, no one sin is worse than another and we are all saved by grace.
·         Your advocating “works”, and we are not saved by works, it’s by grace through faith.
·         I’ve prayed to God and I have been forgiven.
I do not dispute any of the arguments that you just read or you may have. But what I would like to do; is to just take a few moments to examine scripture on what Jesus said about loving Him and our Heavenly Father:
            One of the most, if not the most quoted scriptures of the Bible is John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. But if we were to just continue reading;
            “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:18-21 ESV)
I don’t know about you, but there appears to be a suggestion that the things you do…may reflect what you believe. Chapter 3 finishes with this thought:
            Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)
Here we finish with if you believe, you will obey.

Jesus has more to say to his apostles when he promises the Holy Spirit and they question him:
             “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.
            “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” Jesus answered 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 home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me. (John 14:15-24 ESV)
Jesus said very plainly and clearly; if you love him you will keep his commandments and those that do not love him do not keep his words. Jesus was very clear as Matthew recorded on the teachings of Jesus.
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19 ESV)

            What I have been sharing so far goes against much of what is being taught in “church” today, but I plead for your patience as we look at how Jesus impacted “sinners” and what instructions he gave to them.
            The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground.
And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11 ESV)
Notice here that after Jesus had shown this woman grace, he issued a commandment. He did not say; “You’re good; go back to committing adultery.” He said; “go, and from now on sin no more.” Grace and forgiveness was given with a commandment.
            Here’s another popular story. The story of Zacchaeus:
            He entered Jericho and was passing through. And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 ESV)
Now here is Zacchaeus, a man who had been a cheat and a swindler. A man that once impacted by the presence of Jesus Christ, by allowing him not only into his home but into his heart, was markedly changed. After having “faith” in Jesus Christ, he gave away half of his possessions and to anyone he defrauded he returned four times as much. This is a man who’s behavior change is a reflection of his heart change.

            For those who desired to follow Christ as they were seeking eternal salvation, there were some stumbling blocks and Christ’s response was plain.
            And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.
            And Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly, I say to you, only with difficulty will a rich person enter the kingdom of heaven.
            Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished, saying, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Then Peter said in reply, “See, we have left everything and followed you. What then will we have?” Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, in the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name's sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first. (Matthew 19:16-30 ESV)

            As they were going along the road, someone said to him, “I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another he said, “Follow me.” But he said, “Lord, let me first go and bury my father.”
            And Jesus said to him, “Leave the dead to bury their own dead. But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Yet another said, “I will follow you, Lord, but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:57-62 ESV)
The message that Jesus is clearly conveying here is this; there should be nothing that is of greater importance than following Him. Not money, not a funeral, not saying goodbye to friends and family. Nothing is or can be more important. Love God with all – no exceptions.
            This is not a popular message and it sure doesn’t fit the “feel good” message that is so popular in our culture. But Christ addressed that as well:
            “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person's enemies will be those of his own household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” (Matthew 10:34-39 ESV)
            There is even an interesting story in John chapter 6. After Jesus feeds the five thousand, he continues to teach that He is the bread of life and over simply put; all should be seeking him and nothing else. Now some of his disciples could not swallow all that he was teaching (pardon the pun), so the following ensued:
            When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
            After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:60-69 ESV)

            Now, I know that there are some of you that are already upset and you’re setting up your defenses; but I want you to understand that I just want to bring you the truth, so that you may be set free:
            So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed him, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, ‘You will become free’?”
            Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. I know that you are offspring of Abraham; yet you seek to kill me because my word finds no place in you. I speak of what I have seen with my Father, and you do what you have heard from your father.” (John 8:31-38 ESV)

Paul writes concerning the continuation of sin;
            What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.
            For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:15-23 ESV)

We all agree that we are saved by faith through grace, but remember James issues this challenge;
            What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
            But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:14-26 ESV)

            I believe we are in the time that Paul wrote to his spiritual son Timothy about:
            I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1-5 ESV)
So I urge you, I beg you and I plead with you; do not take anything that I have written here for granted. Do not take what your church or your pastor/priest/preacher tells you for granted. I implore you to read the Gospels, read the New Testament. Study the word and earnestly seek wisdom in prayer and meditation. Test all that you hear. So that the conclusion that you may come to, comes to you from our Heavenly Father and not from what anyone may tell you.

            The fact of the matter is that here in the United States we are sheltered and spoiled. While we sleep comfortably under the blanket of our freedom and our “rights”; there are those that have freely sacrificed all we enjoy to be a follower of Christ. There are those in other countries that by simply professing their Christianity; they are being disowned by their families, beat and tortured by their communities, and jailed by their governments. There are those that risk life and/or prison to smuggle bibles into countries where they are forbidden. There are those who leave America and are imprisoned for “simply” spreading the Gospel in Muslim led countries.
            We walk around arrogantly professing the love and “grace” of Christ with our mouths yet wallowing in the slavery to the sin in our hearts. We must begin to hold ourselves accountable. And before you take off down the road to start pointing fingers;
            Jesus also said; “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.”
            He also told them a parable: “Can a blind man lead a blind man? Will they not both fall into a pit? A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.
            Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take out the speck that is in your eye,’ when you yourself do not see the log that is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother's eye.
            “For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:37-45 ESV)

            This is a call to self-examination. This is a call to self-reflection. This is a call to repentance. This is a call to action. What are you willing to sacrifice for what you believe? Are you prepared to love the Lord your God with all that you are and all that you have…or are there exceptions? When Jesus Christ died on the cross, he died for all…without exception. Will you continue to love him back with exceptions?