Is God Really Good?

-Doubting His Wisdom & Plan!

The Old Testament book of Numbers provides a picture of how God disciplines His own children when they fail to trust Him! When they doubt Him & His word! It pictures a people who’ve been freed from the bondage and slavery of Egypt; but, haven’t reached Canaan land yet! That is a lesson we need to learn from the book of Numbers— like Israel if you had the faith to follow God out of the bondage of your slavery to sin; but, you’re still whining & complaining it’s because you’re doubting His wisdom & plan for you! You’re not resting in God’s Spirit!

-Rest In His Sovereignty!

Canaan land is a picture of the Spirit-filled life that God intends for you to enjoy! To rest in His Sovereign control & to quit complaining when things, in life, don’t work out the way you planned them to go! Beginning with chapter 11, it says, “Now the people began complaining openly before the Lord about hardship” (v.1).  Now let’s just pause and consider that for a little while! We might understand, humanly speaking, a little bit of their hardship! Every day packing up their tents & belongings; and, heading out to the next campsite! Every day hunting for food and water! And, they were traveling in a blazing hot desert! We might understand their hardship to a degree! I mean, they were on a perpetual camping trip! But, let’s put this in perspective!

-It Had Only Been 3 Days!

Flip back a chapter to Numbers 10, v.33, “They set out from the mountain of the Lord on a three-day journey with the ark of the Lord’s covenant traveling ahead of them for those three days to seek a resting place for them.” How long had it been? 3 DAYS! Say, what? It had ONLY been 3 DAYS! And, here they were complaining! I’ve found that it doesn’t take very much time or very much trouble for some people to begin grumbling! But, let’s see God’s response! Back to chapter 11, the end of v.1, “…When the Lord heard, His anger burned, and fire from the Lord blazed among them and consumed the outskirts of the camp.” God was angry with their whining & complaining because it revealed their failure to trust Him! We need to take a personal application from this incident! When we complain & grumble God is angry because it reveals that we have doubts about His character! It reveals that we doubt His love, His mercy & His grace! We’re ultimately expressing doubt that He’s really a GOOD God! Have you ever considered that? It’s true! We doubt the wisdom, of His plan for our life, when we complain!

-Where Complaints Come From!

So, let me warn you! When you murmur & complain it reveals something about you & your faith in God! Like Israel, it means you’re doubting God’s character & His benevolence toward you! When we doubt, we begin to complain! Read the rest of Numbers! Many of the Israelites spoke as though they thought God was out to get them! He was bringing them out of Egypt to kill them in the desert, they said! When we doubt God’s goodness, it offends His Name & His reputation! And, our doubt doesn’t generally end with our ingratitude! Doubt & a lack of trust, in God, will fuel a spirit of rebellion in us! When we doubt God, we open ourselves up to a spirit of rebellion! There’s a progression to Israel’s sin! Their doubt turned them into complainers; and, rebellion against leadership followed closely behind!

 

The Proof Of Your Faith!

-As You Wish!

One of my all-time favorite movies is The Princess Bride.  It’s a romantic comedy; and, if you haven’t seen it, you need to! It’s a classic! It begins in the home of Buttercup, who’s dressed in the drab brown clothes of a peasant girl; but, orders everyone around as if she were royalty. Another peasant, named Wesley, is a laborer on Buttercup’s farm; and, the narrator—Peter Falk, he of Columbo fame—says that Buttercup’s greatest pleasure, in life, came from tormenting Wesley. She calls him “farm boy” & orders him to do all kinds of menial, boring jobs. But, regardless how menial the task, Wesley always responds the same way— ”As you wish!” While she’s incredibly condescending toward Wesley, he never refuses her demands; and, his attitude is always kind & willing. One day, she has an epiphany; and, the narrator says:  “That day, she was amazed to discover that when he was saying, ‘As you wish’ what he really meant was ‘I love you.’”

-Communicating Love!

I love that line because it fits so well into a Biblical conversation about service. It’s Buttercup’s realization that Westley was communicating his love for her, through his service to her, that holds such a remarkable spiritual parallel to something the Spirit of God inspired James to write:  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself” James 2:14-17.

-The Invisibility Of Faith!

By its very nature, faith is invisible! You can’t see it! I can tell you that I have faith; but, I can’t show it to you.  James says, however, that faith can be seen through good works or acts of service & ministry.  He uses this imaginary person who claims to have faith; though, it can’t be seen. But, James disagrees:  “Yes, you can!” he argues, “You can see faith! You see faith when a believer offers to serve someone who lacks food; or, the necessities of life.” And, then, he uses the example of Abraham in the verses that follow. You can see Abraham’s faith, in his obedience to God, when he offered Isaac, his son, on an altar, James argues.

-Works Cooperate With Faith!

Abraham’s works were cooperating, with his faith, so that His faith actually became visible through his works. He offers Rahab, as another example, in his text.  In essence, James shows us that saving faith always produces acts of service that evidence it’s genuineness.  That’s why it must be a core ministry value, for every community of faith, to serve widows & orphans & others who are marginalized by their neediness. God’s word tells us that’s really the only way people can SEE our faith! Our faith is seen in the way that we love people! That means that any “faith” that fails to serve is, at best, questionable! James asks, “What good is it my brothers if someone says he has faith but does not have works?” It’s no good!

 

When Church Culture Meets Needs!

-Haunted By A Scripture!

I grew up in a church culture that did relatively nothing to meet “physical” needs! It was argued that if you gave people money that they’d just spend it on booze & cigarettes & drugs. So, don’t give them anything, we were told! We had no food pantry to provide for the hungry in our city! We had no benevolent funds to assist with other needs! And, yet we thought we were being faithful to God’s Word.  But, there’s a scripture, in James, that always haunted me as I read it:  “Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows” James 1:27.  What do you do with that?

-Playing The Legalist!

How can we just dismiss that? Or, play the “legalist” and limit the spirit of the text to caring for orphans or widows exclusively. At the same time, we cannot just be preoccupied with physical needs and omit the sharing of the Gospel! That’s the problem with many socially-minded churches! If we limit our care, for them, to physical needs & never share the Gospel, with them, all we’ve accomplished is to keep them alive longer, only to prolong their ultimate meeting with God @ the judgment, whereupon their unbelief will be exposed! It’s not “good deeds” or the “Gospel.” It’s not an EITHER-OR! It’s a BOTH-AND decision we must make!

-What Is Pure Religion?

To James, pure religion is not the RESULT of good deeds; but, RESULTS in good deed! We don’t take care of the orphan, the widow & the poor in order to ATTAIN pure religion! Rather, when our religion is the pure Gospel, of Jesus Christ, we become Jesus “in the flesh” when we meet the needs of the orphan, the widow & the poor! “Not by works of righteousness that we have done; but, by His mercy He saves us” Titus 3:5.  Salvation is “…not of works, so no one can boast…” Ephesians 2:9.  But, when we humble ourselves & trust Christ’s atonement work, on the cross, He changes us inside & the Holy Spirit gives us the heart of Jesus! As we are sanctified & grow, in our faith, we’ll want to meet the physical & spiritual needs of the down-trodden, of our world, just like Jesus did! This ought to be a core ministry value for the church!

-A Change That Includes Service!

Look again at that verse in James; but, this time let’s back it up one verse & see how it flows, in context, from one verse to the next:  “If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Pure and undefiled religion before our God and Father is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself unstained by the world” James 1:26,27. Notice how James lumps together 3 very practical evidence of pure religion; or, 3 areas of obedience that evidence genuine saving faith— 1) Self-control in your speech; 2) A Ministry of Compassion to the needy; and, 3) Practical holiness. See that? Inspired by the Holy Spirit, James places ministry to the needy & cleaning up a potty mouth on an equal plane as living a holy life! More on that next week!

 

Lord, Teach Us To Pray!

-Bad Prayer Habits Abound!

I want to begin this series of posts, on the subject of prayer, by sharing, with you, the results of a survey of the “Top Ten Bad Prayer Habits.” Here they are:  #10—”My Prayers Are Just A Grocery List!” #9—”I Make My Grocery List During My Prayer Time!” #8—”I Only Pray By Myself!” #7—”I See Prayer Only As My Personal Wish List!” #6—”I Always Pray The Same Thing & Get Bored!” #5—”I Only Pray When I’m In A Crisis!” #4—”I Do All The Talking While I Pray!” #3—”I Can’t Stay Focused While I Pray!” #2—”I’m Just Too Busy To Start My Day With Prayer!” And, #1—”I Don’t Pray At All!” Can you identify with any of that? I can! I’m guessing we’ve all had; or, still do, have some bad prayer habits. Now, if you claim to be a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ, you can see how that would be a bit problematic if you don’t pray at all, right?

-Praying Like Jesus!

There’s an amazing New Testament text, about prayer,  in Matthew’s Gospel.  Jesus was praying; and, when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray!” Now, let me share my take on that scenario. I see it kind of like one of our typical church prayer meetings! Jesus and His disciples are all gathered in a circle praying; and, the disciples have their little prayer lists—  “God, keep us safe from the Romans… Help Zebedee catch lots of fish today… Help us not to get leprosy! That’s been going around… Oh, and bless the missionaries!” And, when they finish they look up & Jesus is still praying! Minutes pass by! Maybe an hour! We don’t know! The text doesn’t tell us. But, I get the idea that things begin to feel a bit awkward as the inadequacy of their own prayer lives becomes evident. Maybe they start whispering among themselves, as they often did:  “Hey, ask Him how to pray!” “I’m not gonna ask Him, that would be embarrassing! It’d be like admitting I don’t know how to pray!” However it actually worked out, one of them wrenches up the courage to ask him:  “Lord, teach US how to pray!” Not “ME”; but, “US”! So, Jesus tells them how to pray! We need to pay attention here, church! To summarize, He tells them never to pray like they’re counseling God!

-When You Pray!

He told them: “…you should pray like this: Our Father in heaven, Your name be honored as holy. Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And do not bring us into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one...” Matthew 6:9-13. If you were to underline or highlight any of Jesus’ words here, I’d go back to v.5 “…whenever you pray…”; v. 6 “..when you pray…”; v.7 “…when you pray…”; and, “…pray like this…” in v.9.   Over the next couple posts, we’ll dig deeper into Jesus’ instruction about prayer! And, spoiler alert, Jesus makes it clear that God doesn’t need us to tell Him what to do! That’s not prayer! Don’t hang out a shingle and try to be “God’s Counselor”! Jesus tells them that prayer is how we align ourselves with God’s Sovereign plans!

 

What Do You Love More Than God?

-Are There Competing Loves?

When Jesus told the rich young ruler to, “Go, sell your belongings and give it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven…” he confronted him with the one thing in his life that was competing for a relationship with God—his wealth! The text continues, “…but, when the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions” Mark 10:17-27.  Let’s be clear—Jesus didn’t tell everyone to sell all their possessions and give it to the poor. Only to those, who made their possessions an idol, does He tell to get rid of it!

-Do You Want To Be Rich?

And, it’s not just about HAVING riches! The Apostle Paul says, “…those who WANT to BE RICH fall into temptations, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction” 1 Timothy 6:9.  It’s not having riches, necessarily, that are the temptation and trap. It’s the WANTING to BE RICH! I’ve known people who were dirt poor and fell into this trap! It was the “lust” they had to BE RICH that ruled their life! It was the idol they bowed down to—WANTING to BE RICH! Those who love money, whether they have it or not, are easily deceived by it!

-The Root Of All Kinds Of Evil!

Paul continued his warning to Timothy, “…the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” 1 Timothy 6:10. In other words, it’s that covetous love for money that can give rise to all kinds of other deadly sins. When the “love of money” is your life’s ambition, you’ll sell out everything to get it—even your relationship with God! You’ll do whatever it takes to gain more money; and, to gain more stuff! But, you’ll never be content!

-Godliness With Contentment!

Paul told Timothy that it was “…godliness with contentment that is great gain”; and, “…if we have food and clothing we should be content with these” 1 Timothy 6:6,8.  Our greatest “return on investment” comes from a life that finds contentment in God alone! If we have God! If we know Him! If He is our treasure, than food and clothing is all we really need in this life! Paul tells Timothy that it’s possible to be content with those simple necessities of life because we have all that we really need in God! Do you believe that? Do you live that way? Are you content?

-Free From The Love For Money!

God inspired the writer of Hebrews to record these words: “Keep your life free from the love of money. Be content with what you have. For He has said, ‘I will never fail you nor forsake you.’ Hence we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid; what can man do to me?’” Hebrews 13:5,6.  We can be FREE from the love of money! We can be content with what we have because God will never forsake us! He’ll never fail me! The stock market will fail me; but, God never will! So, how do you spend your money? Jesus said, “…where your heart is, there your treasure will be…” If you treasure stuff, that’s where your heart will follow! If you treasure God’s work, that’s where your heart will follow!

 

Do I Really Own My Stuff?

-Or, Am I A Manager?

You don’t want to be on the wrong side of that question! If you don’t listen to the Word of God—when it comes to your finances & your stuff—you’ll forfeit something. God will oppose you as long as you live like an “owner” of YOUR stuff rather than a “steward” or a “manager” of HIS. The prophet, Malachi, was inspired by God’s Spirit to write: “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed ME! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse” Malachi 3:8,9.

-God Owns It All!

Clearly, God means for us to understand that our resources are not ours to use however we may wish! In my last post I challenged you with Scripture that makes it clear that God owns ALL of it! He doesn’t just get our tithe & offerings; and, the rest is ours to spend on ourselves! He owns it ALL—Deuteronomy 10:14; Haggai 2:8; 1 Corinthians 10:26. As stewards, we are responsible for managing the portion of HIS “estate”—that He has entrusted to us—the way that HE wants it to be managed! We don’t really have the freedom to do what we want with it! Our responsibility is to spend it the way He directs us! We have to get this right, Church! You’re the STEWARD of your stuff, not the OWNER! Repeat that our loud! You need to convince yourself of that!

-Do A Financial Audit!

Here’s what you need to do—you need to do an AUDIT of your finances! And, if God’s Spirit shows you that you’ve been living like an owner instead of a steward, you need to “repent.” Literally, to “repent” means to “change your mind” about something. If you’ve not been obedient, in this area, you need to repent & change your mind about the way you’ve been living! And, I would challenge you to make it a matter of prayer, every day, to release your stuff back to God! Talk to Him every day, about it, and, give it all back to Him. And, how will you know if you’re making progress? Well, you’ll begin to experience freedom from greed, first of all! When it’s part of your mindset that none of your stuff is really yours, you’ll also begin to experience a freedom from the anxiety that a love of money can bring. It’s all Gods anyway; and, He’s promised to take care of you! So, your dependence transfers from your IRA to God, right?

-Don’t Wander From The Faith!

The Apostle Paul warned Timothy, his son in the faith, with these words: “But godliness with contentment is a great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out.  But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation, a trap, and many foolish and harmful desires, which plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains” 1 Timothy 6:6-10. Catch the gravity of Paul’s warning to young Timothy? He tells him that the way he looks at his money & his stuff has a direct correlation to his relationship with God! And, if he gets it wrong he’s in danger of “financial apostasy”; or, wandering from the faith! Don’t do that!