Saturday, April 28, 2012

Draw Near to the Lord...

...and He will draw near to you.  ~~James 4:8

I'm amazed at how many Christians don't have a close relationship with God.  I don't understand how you can profess Christ on the one hand, and yet not have a relationship with Him on the other.  It doesn't make sense to me.  And perhaps that's because I've been so close to Him myself for most of my life, that anything less is foreign to me.

Some Christians have been hurt in life, and therefore distance themselves from God.  Some Christians don't care.  They're content to live their lives and deal with God after their death.  Some Christians just don't know better.  They go to church, they pray over dinner, and they might pray for a certain favor or a certain material item they want.

But...God doesn't force Himself on anyone.  You are as close to God as YOU want to be.  If you want to be distant, God will be distant.  But if you want to immerse yourself in Him, He will be BIG in your life. 

If you're distant, you cannot expect God to move in your life as if you're one of His closest friends.  Some people pray, and if they don't get what they want, the end up getting mad at God and sometimes cursing Him.  They might even forsake the truth of the Bible, saying, I asked, but God did not provide.  I knocked, but the door didn't open.

But what's the key to these verses about asking God in prayer?

31 "Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."  ~~Matthew 6:31-33

Do you seek God's Kingdom and His righteousness before all things?  That's what "first" means in this passage.  Is God #1 in your life?  Before your SPOUSE?  Your CHILDREN?  Your POSSESSIONS?  Your FRIENDS?  Your ENTERTAINMENT?

If not, WHY not?

God's not your thing?  If you claim to be a believer, GOD *IS* YOUR THING!!  If He is not, you really need to examine your heart and your motives for being a "Christian".  Is Jesus a "Get Out of Hell Free Card" for you?  Or is He the absolute Sovereign Savior of the World?  Because if "God's not your thing" and you say you're a "Christian", you are NOT ready for Heaven, my friend.  If worship "bores" you, if you can't crack open your dusty Bible (if you own one) because you've "already read it" or it's full of hard-to-understand prophecies, then you need to meet the Living God!  Because if you're not transformed by ENORMITY of what God has done for you, if Jesus is not the treasure you'd leave EVERYTHING for, I'm skeptical that you've EVER met the Lord.

I have to believe Christians who don't put much effort into their relationship with God don't fully understand the Gospel.  Oh, they might have the head-knowledge, but they don't have the heart-knowledge.  Too many Christians are still in bondage to sin, believing that God will pour out wrath upon them if they don't repent a million times for every little thing.  "Oh, if I have one unconfessed sin, I'm going to Hell....!"

Um, no, you're not.  Don't you know that CHRIST ABSORBED ALL of your sins upon the cross??  How can you not know that?

It's as if these Christians think Christ died for past sins but not future ones.  I want to share a bit of wisdom I learned from Pastor Joseph Prince. 

When Christ died 2,000 years ago, ALL YOUR SINS WERE FUTURE SINS!

Do you get that?  Do you understand?  Christ didn't die for the sins you've committed up until the day you became a Christian and now you have to repent to keep your salvation until the day you die.  No!  He died for your ENTIRE LIFE!!

People, hear this.  If all Jesus had to do was die for us, He could have come down as a full-grown man and die on Passover just as He did in Scripture.  But that was NOT the entire plan.  He had to be born, grow up, and become a man, not only to teach us how to live and love God as well as our neighbors, but to live a PERFECT LIFE.

Why did He have to be perfect?  Because every Passover lamb had to be spotless before God.  And Christ was the Lamb of God!  When a sacrifice is made, the sins are imparted to the innocent lamb, and the lamb's innocence is imparted to the sinner.

The record of Christ's perfect life is yours, friend.  Right here, right now.

Repentance for the believer is not a way to desperately hang on to your salvation, but to keep a close connection to God.  Sin pulls us away from Him, as sin is rebellion against His Law. 

Our salvation in Christ is guaranteed by the grace of God through faith.

But when you become a believer, the Holy Spirit does a great work in you.  You become a new creation by the renewing of your mind.  What you once loved to do (sin) you now hate, and what you once hated (righteousness) you now long for.

Your eyes are opened to the power of the Gospel and your heart is filled with an overwhelming LOVE for God.  Remember when you were a new Christian?  Do you remember the absolute JOY?  The FIRE in your belly?  The way you BOUNCED off the walls for Christ?

That was not a fad.  It wasn't a phase.  It wasn't puppy-love or some kind of romantic euphoria one might have for someone they're crushing on.  That was the kind of love God wants us to have for Him ALL THE TIME.

And it's not about being a Jesus Freak.  Loving Christ is a very personal relationship with Him.  There is no law that you need to have 1,000 Jesus fish on your car and tell all your friends the Good News.

But when you love God so much and put Him FIRST in your life before every other thing you love, you can't help but produce fruit for the Kingdom that tells others in this world that you love God.  Or at least that you're peculiar.  As Christians, we are the light of the world.  And Christ said you do not light a lamp and hide it under a basket!!

Unfortunately, I think that's what a lot of Christians have done -- they've hidden their light under a basket.  They've hidden their light under the bed.  I have one question...WHY??

The Sovereign God of the Universe humbled Himself and came down as a man.  He lived a perfect life that we couldn't possibly achieve and died an excruciating, tortuous death in order to purchase our souls from Hell.  One look at the cross of Christ, and you KNOW the measure of God's love for you.  No longer do you have to wonder.  Christ suffered the FULL VIOLENCE of God's wrath for you on that cross.  And then, after being dead for three days, HE ROSE!!  He rose, proving He has all power over death.  And one day, we will also rise and be like Him, glorified in His perfection, given His holy righteousness to wear ourselves.  How amazing is that?  GOD giving us His very own holiness?  His very own perfection and righteousness?  It is so mind-blowing to me that I can do nothing but stand before God in awe at the depths of His mercy and grace.

Brethren, how can we settle for anything lesser?  How can this world possibly satisfy us?  How can the world be more attractive than this God of unbelievable, unfathomable, unquenchable LOVE?

Seek Him.  Seek Him with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.  I promise you will find Him.

In Jesus name,

Thursday, April 12, 2012

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

When bad things happen to good people, should we get angry at God?  Should we blame Him for our malady?  Should we demand of Him that because we are His children, our lives should be filled with rainbows and butterflies?

Where does this sense of "entitlement" come from?  God has never promised us rainbow-filled lives.  In fact, the Bible promises quite the opposite.  Those who believe in Christ will suffer.  No man is greater than his master, and our Master SUFFERED.  In the most horrendous of ways.  Crucifixion has got to be one of the most heinous of tortures ever to spring from the mind of man.

Aside from the torture our Lord endured, look at His life.  He was, for all intents and purposes, homeless.  He had no money.  He ate where He could, most likely from the generosity of His disciples.  Perhaps from the providence of friends and strangers.  Most likely He only owned one set of clothing.  He washed whenever He could find water.  He slept on the ground.  A lot.

As His followers, what makes us believe our lives should be any better?

I have said before our joy comes, not from our circumstance, but from God alone.  If you build your house on the rock, then no storm can shake you.  No wind can move you.  You're anchored in Christ Jesus.

Recently, I've been diagnosed with a disease in my lower leg called Cellulitis.  It's a nasty infection of the skin, usually caused by the staph virus.  It laid me out in the hospital for a full seven days.  After I got home, it laid me out in bed for a week and a half.  In fact, I'm still IN the bed, as I'm writing this at the week and a half mark.  I have huge, disgusting blisters on my calf that have turned into open wounds.  The pain of having my leg vertical can become excruciating.  I have to use crutches to get around, and I visit the wound care clinic at my local hospital twice a week to change my bandages.

Have I once blamed God?  Have I once shaken my fist at Him and cursed His name? 

Absolutely not.

In fact, being forced to lie on my bed day after day has brought me closer to Him rather than farther apart.  Things I've taken for granted, like warm sunlight on my face or the cool breeze in my hair, have now become simple delicacies that I acutely enjoy.  Birdsong - who knew how beautiful it is to just sit and listen? 

If anything, this illness has given me a greater appreciation for God, and for the Body of Christ.  During my entire stay in the hospital, I had members of two churches praying for me, as well as an entire Christian forum I'm a member of, friends on Facebook, my family, and my real-life friends.  Three members of my church came and visited me and prayed over me -- twice.  My sister had her pastor pray for me on Good Friday.  I believe all these prayers covered me during my stay in the hospital, and beyond, as I've had a good-natured attitude throughout it all.

Some people might say, "Well, that's just you, Becka.  You're a good-natured person in general!"  Well, that's true, but let me tell you, I do get down in the dumps.  I do get depressed.  And this was one of those times when I had every opportunity to become depressed.  There have only been a handful of times, perhaps two, that I've teared up over being stuck in the bed for so long.  But even then, what comforts me is turning on my Christian music and gazing out the window at God's creation.

I find my joy in Him.  I always have and I always will.  Whenever I'm feeling blue, all I have to do is turn to God.  "I lift my eyes up, where does my help come from?  My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of Heaven and Earth." ~~Psalm 121:1-2

You know what it's like for me?  Coming to God when I'm feeling lost, alone, hurt, sad, or depressed is like being able to BREATHE again.  Suddenly, I'm cleansed from my problems.  They don't seem so big anymore.  I don't have to bear them alone.  I don't have to bear them at all.  My Savior carries them for me.  He makes me feel loved, cherished, and cared for.

I know without a doubt that God has heard all the prayers from His saints regarding my healing.  My swelling has gone down tremendously and my pain level has lessened from the torture it used to be of just getting out of bed to use the restroom.  There is still a great deal of pain, however, and a long road before I'm back to 100%, but through it all, I have never once even let the thought cross my mind to "blame" God or "curse" Him for allowing this to happen.  I know all things work together for the good to those that love the Lord.  If God allowed me to contract Cellulitis for His glory, who am I to yell at Him for it? 

He's helping me through it, He hasn't left me alone.  He's right here with me, encouraging me, teaching me, and giving me a Shoulder to cry on if I need it.  Why would we EVER turn from the One who understands what we're going through?  Who's felt the pain Himself?  Who knows what it's like?  Why would we forsake the very One we need in our time of need?  How could we turn our backs on the One who has NEVER turned His back on us...?

Bad things happen to good people.  It rains on both the righteous and the unrighteous, just as the sun shines on both the righteous and the unrighteous.  "In this world, you will have trouble.  But take heart, I have overcome the world!" ~~John 16:33

Do you know why we can find comfort in Christ's words that He has overcome the world?  Because if we remain in Him and He lives and shines through us, then WE TOO shall overcome the world.

Amen.  Lord Jesus, may I ever find my comfort and hope in You, no matter how tempestuous the storm, no matter how dark the valley of the shadow of death.  May I ever cling to Your robes and follow where You lead to the glory of God the Father, and for the simple fact that I absolutely adore You, my precious, wonderful King.

Amen and amen.