Friday, June 19, 2015

The Right Kind of Sacrifice

"Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding with him." -1 John 3:15 (ESV)

I’m sure that most (if not all) of you people reading this have heard of the story of Cain and Abel. Cain makes a sacrifice, Abel makes a sacrifice, and then Cain gets mad because Abel’s sacrifice was acceptable to God, while Cain’s was hardly adequate. But What is the significance of this story? How does this apply to us in our lives? How can this help us increase our faith?

When Cain saw that Abel was giving a righteous sacrifice, what was Cain’s immediate reaction? Was it, “What am I doing wrong?”, or maybe, “What can I do to improve?” Did he ask God, “God, I know that my sacrifices aren’t sufficient, so what can I do to change that?” Instead of thinking these things, he thought selfishly. He thought, “How can I make this easier for myself?” Instead of trying to better himself, he looked at his brother, and how he could beat him. And when we stop looking at God, and we start comparing ourselves to those around us, we lose sight of what our goal was to begin with: pleasing God.

Hebrews 13:7 tells us to, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.” And I don’t think that there is a better verse that goes with this. Instead of looking at the outcome of the sacrifice, and deciding to do the same, Cain looked at Abel, and saw him as a competition. Christianity is not a competition; it is not about trying to be better than someone. Yes, we are supposed to attempt to “outdo” each other, and to build off of each other (Romans 12:10). But we aren’t to feel threatened by those that are doing things properly. It’s a bit backwards, isn’t it? When we get so caught up in trying to be better than others in their service to God, that we end up sinning in our jealousy. When we make singing about sounding better, than meaning more. When we make note taking about filling up more room, than hearing the message. When we try so hard to make ourselves look good, that we forget what the point of all this is: to please God. Cain could have bought a lamb from Abel. He could have kept a small flock for himself, and hired someone to look after them. But instead, he allowed his jealousy to dictate his actions, and ended up killing his brother. Now, of course, we don’t usually kill people when we are jealous. However, we can read in 1 John 3:15, that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”

Some may believe that God is a bit cruel when He enforces rules this much. I mean, we’re only human, right? What makes one sacrifice different than another if we put forth the exact same amount of effort? Well let’s look forward in time a bit to another time when someone offered the wrong kind of sacrifice. If you look in Leviticus 10, we read about the death of Nadab and Abihu. And if you’ve read this, then you know that things did not go well for these two. In the first verse, we see that they offered up a sacrifice. Everything seems good, right? Then we read the dreaded word, “unauthorized”. Now this was handled a little bit different than with Cain, but this is just more proof that God doesn’t command anything without genuinely meaning that it is the only way. When He says something, He means it. So how does this apply to us? Or to Cain, even?

What do you want for Christmas? It’s a bit far away, but you can never start thinking about Christmas too early, right? I know this sounds weird, but I really want some nice, fine, felt-tip pens. So let’s say that I ask for those pens. And I start asking this early in the year. I beg and plead with my parents, “PLEEEEAAAAASE GET ME THESE PENS!!!!!” And finally, at one point, they sit me down and tell me, “We’ve been thinking about this for a while, and we’re getting you those pens.” So then I get all excited. I’m getting the pens. This is amazing! What do you think my reaction would be if my parents decided to just go and get me some regular old $1 pens that stop working within the first sentence that you write with them? Now yes, I would be happy to have gotten something. My parents don’t owe me a anything for Christmas. But I would still be kind of upset that I didn't get those pens, right? I mean, I was promised pens! Imagine how much more upset God gets when we say, “God, I will follow you. I just don’t want to let go of ….” Or, “God, I will give you everything, but I’m not going to be happy about it.” What message does that send to God? Is that a proper sacrifice? God has saved us from so much pain and suffering, and the least we can do is to do what He says.

Today I would like to encourage you to look to yourself and ask, “Is what I’m giving to God sufficient?” And if the answer is no, then change something. Don’t get angry when you see someone thrive in an area, when you just can’t seem to . I’d like to encourage you to look to them as an example, and to learn from them. Wouldn’t it be so wonderful if we could all build each other up, instead of letting resentment grow and fester, getting worse and worse as the days go by. But look at them and think, “How can I take that and imitate it?” Maybe even talk to them about it, and ask them to encourage you. Maybe they struggled with it, as well! I’d like to encourage you to stop comparing yourself to others, but compare yourself to God, instead. And make sure you are measuring up to Him. Because that’s the important thing, right?

Monday, June 15, 2015

When the Answer is No

"Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done." -Luke 22:42

          Have you ever felt like your prayers weren't being answered? Like God wasn't hearing you, and your problems weren't being solved? Unfortunately, we cannot always have what we ask for, as some of the things we desire aren't good for us, for others, or sometimes not even possible. It's important that in these times, we don't begin to believe that God is ignoring our prayers, or start to lose faith. It's crucial that we don't begin to doubt God's ability to deliver us, or bring us comfort. But why do these things happen? Why is the answer so often "No", even when it's something we believe we need?

          The first reason the answer may be No, is because what we're asking for is not what we need, or what others need. In Luke 22, we read about Christ going and praying that the cup of His crucifixion to be passed from Him, if at all possible. Not because He didn't want to save us, but because, well, would you like to be crucified? Jesus spent His entire life here on earth, knowing that He was born so that He could die. He took on our sorrows so that we wouldn't have to keep them. He went through every temptation, according to Hebrews 4:15, and the most painful death imaginable. Now let me ask you something: Did God ever stop loving His Son? And at the same time, did God still allow Christ to die? And while that was hard, and while that was painful, is it not better for us that that happened? Is it not better for us that Christ died so that we don't have to experience hell? Yes, sometimes the answer isn't what we necessarily want it to be, but sometimes there is no other way, and it certainly doesn't mean that God doesn't love us. Sometimes you have to go through something that you really wish you didn't, but then you come out even better for it, and those around you are blessed because of it, as well.

          Another reason the answer may be No, is because you're simply asking the wrong question. Sometimes, as I have previously stated, we need to go through something for the greater good. Sometimes instead of saying, "Please let this end." we should say, "Please give me comfort." In 2 Corinthians 12:7-10, we see that Paul is struggling with a "thorn in the flesh", and once again He had prayed three times for it to go away, as Christ had prayed three times before His crucifixion, as we read in Luke 22. In regard to this thorn in the flesh, Paul states in verses 8-10 of 2 Corinthians 12, "Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But He said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weakness, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with my weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, I am strong." In this passage, we see that Paul accepted that fact that his persecutions weren't going to go away, and instead of always being down about himself, he accepted it. He took it and used it to help him grow closer to Christ, rather than let it separate him from Christ. Whenever we realize that whatever we are going through is necessary for us, or for someone else, we need to pray that we find comfort in it. We need to pray that we don't allow ourselves to fall into temptation because of it, because God will always help deliver us from sin. 

          The final reason that we may not be able to have our problems solved, is because we're asking for something that simply can't happen. Yes, God can help us to some extent, but we have to remember that no matter what, we are humans, which means that we all have our own free will. God isn't going to just going to miraculously control people to do things because you're having a hard time. This is where we have to do some work. If you're having a rival with someone, show them the love of Christ. "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (Romans 12:20) Sometimes we can't just hand everything over to God and expect all of our problems to be solved. We have to get up and do some work ourselves, sometimes! 

          Sometimes, things don't go according to our plans, but that's okay! Because as long as we are faithful until death, we will get to that sweet, heavenly rest for eternity. And these things here on earth that seem like such a huge deal now, won't even be a fraction of a second in comparison to eternity. So I would like to encourage you to remember that, and maybe, if you are going through something, ask a different question. If you're clearly going through something that you need to go through as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12:7, then ask that you have the proper attitude towards it, and that you become strengthened in your weaknesses as he was. And lastly, I'd like to encourage you to never stop praying. No matter how wonderful things get, or how horrible they become, always pray. Tell God what's bothering you, and if the cup cannot be passed from you, then ask for comfort. And more than anything, never let it change your relationship with God for the worse. 

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Praying for Patience

"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds." -James 1:2 (ESV)

          Numerous times, I have heard the phrase, "Never pray for patience." This is advice given in order to help us avoid trials. Knowing that praying for patience does brings tests of faith and hardships, I have payed careful attention for several years to never pray for patience. In fact, made it a point to never pray for patience. However, is this the attitude that a true child of Christ should have?

          The other day, as I was doing my memory work in the book of James, I was reviewing some of the verses I hadn't gone over in a while. Some of the verses in chapter one stuck out to me in a way that they never had before. Verses 2-5 say, "Count it all joy my brothers when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God the Father, who gives generously to all without reproach. And it will be given him." Now I understand that this is speaking of wisdom, but then I thought about patience, and the trials that come when striving for it. Are we not blessed when we go through these trials as well? And will they not be but less than a fraction of a second in comparison to eternity? Is it really worth it to risk not having the patience in order to go to heaven, in order to avoid small trials here on earth? How much worse would it be if we went to hell because we never had enough patience to handle things here on earth?

          Whenever you're giving a list to someone, the very first thing you tell them is usually a very important thing, correct? Well if you turn with me to a passage likely very familiar to you, in 1 Corinthians 13, we are given a list on what love is. The list begins in verse 4, when we are told that love is patient. How easy is it when we maybe don't like a particular person, that we can easily become impatient with them? When we truly love someone, we are far more willing to be patient with them. So when we ask for more love, but we don't ask for more patience, what are we doing? How can you have more love but not more patience? When we don't pray for patience, but we pray for love we are contradicting ourselves! We are also telling  God, "I have enough patience. But not enough love." Can you do that? Is it possible to have enough of a certain quality? When we intentionally don't pray for something, is that the heart of a true servant of Christ? How can we refuse to pray and then go around pretending that we're followers of Christ? As Christians, we need to strive for love, and in doing so, strive for patience. How can we love God if we don't love others? "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love." (1 John 4:8)

          Not only are we refusing to be more like Christ,  and we are rejecting a gift of loving more whenever we don't pray for patience, but we are also being prideful. Whenever Christ died on the cross, that was a pretty rough time. Why do we feel that while Christ died a gruesome death for us, we can't handle going through a rough couple of days? Why do we feel that Christ can suffer for our sake, but we can't suffer for His? "He must increase, but I must decrease." according to John 3:30. How continue to sin by lacking patience, and then thank God for sending Christ to die for our sins?

          Today, I would like to encourage you to, if you don't already, pray for patience. Please don't think that you're better off not praying for it. There's always room for improvement, and even though we could never be perfect, we can always strive for it. Don't be too proud to pray for an improvement, and remember that no matter what the hard time is, it will always pay off when we all gather together in heaven.

Monday, June 1, 2015

More Than Hearing

"But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves." -James 1:22

          In my last article, I addressed the issue of not reading God's Word enough. I wrote about how it's the light that we must look to so that we can avoid the darkness of the world around us. But I neglected one thing: we can't just hear the words, but we have to act on them as well.

          If you continue with James 1, verses 22 and on until the end of the chapter, it speaks about true religion. We have already read through the 22st verse, but the ones after it state, "For if anyone is a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in the mirror." then skipping ahead to the last 2 verses in the chapter, "If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world."

          If you've ever taken any kind of writing or speech class, you will have learned that when presenting information, you need to answer the five questions of, "Who", "What", "Why", "Where" and "How". These verses answer these questions very well. So what is pure religion? And who does it benefit? Look back in verse 27, "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world." Now I struggle with this as well, but it's not enough to just keep yourself out of the darkness of the world. But we also need to be constantly reaching out to those in need. Helping those who can't help themselves. Giving them fellowships when they are in need, bringing them food when they have a shortage, and checking in on them to make sure that they have everything that's necessary. I won't go into it much here, as I want to stop writing this article eventually, but we can read about this in Acts 9. We see here the story of how Dorcas helped those in need, and built up relationships with them, because she knew just how important it really was to those widows, and more importantly how important it is to God.

          The next questions we need to answer are "why" (the "where" in this situation is pretty self-explanatory. This applies anywhere and everywhere. In, and out of the church building.) Why do we need to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and why do we need to keep ourselves unstained from the world? Well, if we are to take in account Matthew 7:12 in that we are to treat others how we would like to be treated, and we take in account the numerous verses in the Bible about love, and how we ought to treat others with respect and patience, then this verse simply states the obvious. We are to care for those in need because we love them, and we want to help them. Not because we have to, but because we want to. 

          The final question is how do we do this? How do we keep ourselves unstained from the world, and how do we serve God instead of simply reading His words and pretending that we do them? Simple: we leave our comfort zones. We need to remember that we are not here for ourselves, but that this world belongs to God. We need to stop hearing, and start acting. Not that we should stop reading God's Word, but there comes a time when we need to act on it rather than sitting in our rooms and learning it. I once heard of a man who knew how to speak in several different tongues. He spent his entire life becoming fluent in many, many different languages. Once someone asked him, "Why are you learning all these languages? Do you plan on traveling a lot?" the man replied and said that he had no intention of traveling. He was far too busy learning all these languages!" What is the point in gaining information if we will never even use it? We need to act on God's Word, not just learn about it.

          Today, I would like to encourage you to look at your life, and ask yourself, "Am I deceiving myself, or am I acting on God's Word?" "Am I deceiving myself, or am I honestly doing my best to stay unstained from the evil of the world around me?" If you honestly search yourself and come to the conclusion that you aren't going out and doing God's will, then get up and call one of your widows. Reach out to that kid in class who recently lost their parents. Stop someone before they reach the door after services and show them that they're loved. Is this not true Christianity?