Friday, October 14, 2011

Take the First Step

James 2: 14-25

James 2:17 "In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead," (NIV).

An old friend of mine sent me a message on Facebook yesterday that brought me to this passage. He was explaining that he has been out of church for a while now, after the one he used to attend separated and revealed a lot of what was taking place behind the scenes. Since then, he has struggled to find his way back to a church home and asked for suggestion on how to return back to religion after being away for so long. Now I won't go into all that I said, but the driving point was that in order to complete this return, he would have to decide that's what he wants to do and then do it. That brought me to this passage, and this brings me to what I think we can learn from James' words here in Chapter 2.

Do your part. James brings up an interesting topic here in talking about good deeds. He says that faith alone is useless if it is not attached to an action. It's useless to believe that God will bless the homeless when you aren't out helping yourself. It's useless to believe God will provide you with a job if you haven't filled out an application. It's useless to believe God will give you a mate,when you decline any opportunity to go on a date. In each of these situations, believing in God, His power and His sovereignty can only go so far before it's time to do something yourself.

James uses the example of Abraham offering his only son, Isaac, as a sacrifice saying that if Abraham had not went through with preparing the sacrifice, then God would not have seen him as righteous even though Abraham believed that God existed, (James 2:20-24). I'll take it another step further and mention Peter walking on water. Matthew 14 tells us the story of Jesus walking on the lake to get back to the boat where his disciples were. Once on the water, the disciples were afraid and Jesus told them, "Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid," (Matt. 14:27). Peter then spoke up and asked Jesus to call for him to walk on the water as well. Jesus obliged and Peter began to walk. It took a lot of faith for Peter to believe that it was Jesus he saw on that water and not just his imagination but it took even more action to actually go to Jesus. All Jesus could do was give Peter the ability to walk on the water by saying "Come.," but Peter had to take the first step on his own.

There isn't one area in our lives where faith alone has any worth. Even our salvation comes with an action. Romans 10:9-10 tells us that, "If you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved," (NIV). The first thing that Paul tells us is to declare, (or confess in other versions) which is an action. It comes before believing in this passage of scripture which shows that it is equally as important as faith.

We have to take the first step in our own lives just as Peter did on the lake. We can't just settle for believing that God exists and is all powerful because as James says, "Even the demons believe that--and shudder,"(v.19). We know that "with God all things are possible," but in order for anything to happen in our lives we have to first do our part by taking the first step, (Matt. 19:26, NIV).

Be Blessed,


Thursday, October 13, 2011

In The Midst

Nehemiah 9: 32-38

Nehemiah 9: 33 "In all that has happened to us, you have been just; you have acted faithfully, while we did wrong."

Today's Righteous Roulette brought me to Nehemiah and yet again, God gave me a word from what seemed like nowhere. This time we find the Israelites in the midst of slavery and there are a couple things we can take from this part of their history. So let's jump right into what I think this chapter teaches.

1. Learn your lesson. In this chapter of Nehemiah, the Israelites are confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness as was customary in their law. However, this particular confession was unique from what we may see as confessing nowadays.  The Israelite people were confessing not only for their current situations, but for past transgressions that their ancestors had committed against God. The funny thing about the whole situation, however, is that it sounds like a broken record as they repeat the same sins over and over again as a people. God blesses them, they get spoiled, they worship some other idols, God punishes them by allowing them to get conquered, they beg for forgiveness and God blesses them again. Then the entire cycle repeats itself over and over again, (read the beginning of chapter 9 for details).

As an observer, I found the Israelites to be foolish to try God that way time after time and not believe there would be some sort of consequence for their actions but then I realized we do the same thing everyday. Whether it's worshiping other idols, (actors, sports stars or even our Pastors and Bishops) lying, cheating, stealing or lusting, we still repeat the same sins constantly and then wonder why certain desires in our life aren't fulfilled or why life just seems hard.

Paul tells us in Romans that "where sin increased, grace increased all the more," and many of us take that for granted knowing that God will forgive us, (5:20, NIV). However, he goes on to say in Chapter 6, "Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means!," (v 1-2, NIV). Just because we know that God will forgive us if we confess our sins, doesn't mean that we should continue to be disobedient. Jesus told us, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching," so even if we aren't obedient to avoid the consequences, we should do so simply because we say that we love God, (John 14:23 NIV). We know that actions speak louder than words so prove to God you love him by learning your lesson and turning away from sin.

2. Praise Him in Advance. The other important lesson that stuck out to me in this story is the fact that in the midst of their slavery, the Israelites were celebrating. They were celebrating as the recounted the many times they turned away from God. They celebrated as they recounted every time they were made slaves and every time God punished them for their disobedience. They celebrated even as they were enslaved at that moment for the same disobedience and did so not because they enjoyed being slavery, but because across that same history of disobedience and punishment, there was a history of grace, mercy and redemption. God gave the Israelites chance after chance and they knew that God loved them so much He would be willing to give them another chance if they turned their attention back towards Him.

There are countless situations where praising God in the middle of your trouble has brought nothing but reward. Never have I read a story where praising God at your lowest point has only made troubles worse and never resulted in some sort of breakthrough. Whether it was Daniel in the lions den, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the furnace, Paul and Silas in prison or Job's unfortunate chain of events, each of them praised God when it seemed like a hopeless situation and God showed up every time.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us "Be joyful always; pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus," (NIV). Don't let you situation prevent you from fulfilling God's will for you. Whether up or down, rich or poor, happy or sad, the joy of God should always be with you so praise God in advance for what he can and will do in your life.

Be Blessed,


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hear Say

1 Samuel 3:1-10

V. 7) "Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him,"(NIV).

This morning has been pretty interesting as I woke up seeking to hear from God where He would have me to go with my next devotional.  Little did I know that He would send me to a scripture by pure chance that would deal with hearing the voice of God, (seriously, I went to the Bible app in my phone, closed my eyes and started scrolling up and down on the touch screen to land at this exact chapter). The crazy thing, however, is that as soon as I started reading, I knew that God wanted me to share a word from this story but it didn't quite jump off the pages for me as it often times does. So what did I have to do? Listen. And that's where this entry will begin.

There are a couple things that God shares with us through the story of Samuel here in chapter 3 that I feel are important for us to understand in order to ensure that we follow the will of God and they are as follows:

1. Hear no God, Know no God. This goes out to all the "Samuels" out there and if you aren't quite sure who you are, just listen to this description. Samuel was practically born and raised in the house of God. His mother gave him back to God as soon as she weened him, he had a mentor in Eli who was a man of God and he served the house of the Lord consistently for years. Does that sound like you at all? Raised in the church, dedicated to God as a child, grew up singing in the choir or serving as an usher? Not quite finished though, because although he was raised in the church and surrounded by all of the right people in order to be a great man of God, Samuel still could not recognize God's voice. Maybe this still sounds like you.

Verse 7 tells us very clearly that "Samuel did not yet know the Lord" and as a result, did not understand when the Lord was speaking to Him. Often times, we say we're waiting on a word from the Lord but don't hear it because we don't know what we're listening for. In the Gospel of John, Jesus addresses this issue with a parable about the "Good Sheppard." He tells us that the Good Sheppard "walks ahead of [the sheep], and they follow because him because they know his voice" (John 10:4, NLT). Jesus then goes on to explain that He is the Good Sheppard that we are to be following and we should know that we're following Him because we should recognize His voice. Do you have a hard time hearing God speak to you? Are you like Samuel and when you hear Him speak you are not sure who is talking or where it's coming from? If so, you may not know God as you think you do but thank God, there's hope because...

2. The Spirit Reveals the Father. The second half of verse 7 tells us, "The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to [Samuel]." That implies that it was not completely Samuel's fault that he did not know the voice of God. In order for something to be revealed, that means it had to have first been hidden or kept secret  as God's word often times was during that time. Verse 1 tells us that when it says "In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions," (NIV). However, we live in a new day where the Spirit of God can reside in each and every one of us and that same Spirit is responsible for revealing the will of God to us. 1 Corinthians 2 speaks on this subject and is something you should read for further understanding but for the sake of carpal tunnel, (which I guess would make more sense if I were actually writing instead of typing) I can only summarize by saying that it's once we receive the Holy Spirit that the thoughts of God can be revealed to us. Without His Spirit, we are destined to not understand as only with a spiritual mind can we understand spiritual teachings.

So if you are in a place where you feel that you aren't quite sure what God wants of you or what He is saying to you as I was when I started this blog an hour ago, stop and take time to ask God to reveal his word to you through the Spirit. If you don't have the Spirit within you, then this is a good opportunity to refer to Romans 10:9-10 and accept Christ into your life by first confessing with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.  Either way, know this: God is always talking to you and is ready to reveal His will to you.  He's just waiting for you to do as Samuel did and reply "Speak, for your servant is listening," (v. 10).

Have a blessed day.


Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Love, Hope and Pizza

It's been entirely too long since I've blogged but since I've had to prepare a Word for my youth weekly, I feel I might as well come back and at LEAST share the same Word with anyone who would like to read.  So my first entry will be what I shared with the youth last week at Bible Study entitled "Love, Hope and Pizza." We talked about Godly dating and God gave me 6 Ways Godly Dating is like Making a Pizza. I hope the Word blesses you as much as it blessed me. :)

1. You have to know how before you can begin. If I were to ask just about anyone reading this to go to their nearest Dominoes, Pizza Hut or Papa Johns and make a pizza from scratch, the end product would probably be tragic.  And it wouldn't mean that you were incapable of doing it correctly, just that you were ignorant to the process of making a pizza.  In the same sense, if you do not know what God says about dating before you start dating, you're bound to make a mistake down the road.  It's likely that you may miss out on blessings or spend a lot of time starting over trying to get it right the next time.  Not to say that if you date the way that God says you'll find the one for you on the first try, but there is less likely to be emotional scars, drama and residual consequences involved if you stay within the context of the Word.

2. Your foundation must be in order before building on it. The first thing I learned when I started working at Hungry Howie's Pizza was how to prepare and make dough. Before learning how many pepperonis go on a large pizza, or how many slices a medium pizza is cut into, I had to know the proper way to prepare the dough. Before working there, I did not know that the bubbles that I sometimes used to see on my pizza were a result of improper dough treatment.  Or that if my crust was flat or not round on all the edges, that too was improper dough treatment.  The point is, in order to properly make a pizza you have to take care of the foundation first. You can't add the toppings to dough that isn't ready and expect to have a successful pizza.  Likewise, if our foundation isn't in order it's foolish to think that we can add other influences to our lives and not have an effect on our future.  It's difficult to determine who you are as a person and discern God's will for you when you have another person's beliefs, values and opinions influencing your own.  It's hard to hear what God is saying to you when you already have someone in your ear. On that same note, your faith in God and relationship with Him must be together before you can invest in another relationship.  Priority number one should be firming up your foundation in Christ before adding a single topping to your life.

3. There is a proper order and time when things should be done. This point is pretty self explanatory.  If I bake a pizza and then add the toppings, it's not going to come out right. If I ask a girl to be my girlfriend and then ask her for her name, chances are that won't work right either. Ecclesiastes 3:1 tells us "There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens" (NIV). There is an order in the way Godly dating is supposed to take place and operating outside of that order brings consequences. The Word tells us that sex should be reserved for marriage.  If we operate outside of that order, there is the risk of pregnancy, STI and emotional baggage. If we have children outside of marriage, we can deal with emotionally damaged children, strained relationships between parents and the start or continuing of an unhealthy cycle. In either case, there is a right path to a successful Godly relationship and attempting to take any other path could result in consequences that can easily be avoided if we would only stay within the parameters that God has set for us in His word.

4. Although you have choices in type, there should always be a common thread. Pizzas come in all shapes and sizes but the one things you will always see on a pizza is crust.  Whether it's thin crust, deep dish, stuffed crust or hand tossed, there is always dough which in turn makes crust. In the same way, we may have a preference in our flavor of potential mate. We may like them short or tall, light or dark, skinny, thick or thicker but either way, we must always have dough. Referring back to my second point, our dough is our foundation in Christ and that should be something that is a requirement of all those we date. 2 Corinthians 6:14-16 tells us not to be unequally yoked with unbelievers as we have nothing in common with them. When having this discussion with my youth, they all agreed that having something in common with the person they date was of utmost importance so if that's the case, shouldn't your belief be one of those things? Shouldn't you have in common the desire to spend time with God, the belief that prayer works and the trust that God's word and will is sovereign? Because if you believe that dating is a stepping stone to finding your husband or wife one day, then don't you think it's best to not have to worry about if you're children are going to have to attend church or if you're both of you are going to tithe? The person's relationship with God should be the first quality you look for in a potential date because if they lack foundation, so will the relationship. And keep in mind, you can't add crust to a pizza after you cook it...If that went over your head let me know.

5. You can't properly prepare more than one at a time. The keyword here is "properly." I don't have to go into too much detail as to what this one means as I think it's clear but I will say this. This point doesn't just apply to balancing more than one boyfriend or girlfriend at a time.  The other scenario I see in this point is sexual. The Bible tells us that when we sleep with someone, our spirits are joined as one, (1 Cor. 6:15-16). So in the same sense, if we have sex before marriage, whomever we do marry will now be getting more than one spirit. Think about this: If you were to order and pay for a pizza from your nearest pizzeria and they brought you a box with three slices left in it, how would you feel? Would you demand a refund? Maybe an explanation? Would you feel shorted? Well that's what we're doing when we give ourselves to anyone who isn't our spouse. It's as if every time we sleep with someone, we're giving them a bite or a slice out of our pizza. Then once we get to our spouse, we present them with a half eaten pizza saying, "Sorry, I let whatshername have some first." Think about what kind of pizza you'd like to get on your wedding day and let that be motivation to give your spouse all of you and not just the leftovers.

6. When done the right way, it will bring joy to your heart. I love making a perfect pizza.  Even when I don't get to eat it, I know that when my customer opens the box, they will be as excited to eat it as I was to give it to them and that is pure joy. There are no worries, no regrets and no guilt as I proudly hand them their box.  Godly dating is even more fulfilling.  When that day comes that you find the one that God has set aside for you and you have done it the way that God says, pure bliss will be the only way to describe your relationship. Not to say that you won't hit a bump or two down the road, but you won't have to worry about children when you weren't ready, ex-husbands or wives that won't let go, self esteem issues due to bringing in unwanted spirits or anything of the like because you did it God's way.  And if there's one thing we should know, it's that God's way is ALWAYS the best way.

I hope this has been a blessing to someone. Be back soon with another devotional.  

God Bless.