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2016

God's Vision

            AS we have been learning about Paul's questions, which are really more like obvious statements, we see God's goal for all humanity: That we become like Jesus. Here is what Paul said in Romans 8:29, "For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son..."  What is clear from this is that God's vision for me is the best version of me.

            BUT many people feel restricted by God. I guess that's why Isaiah 53:6 says, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray." In so many areas of my life I still feel I know what's best for me. Sure, I need God's help now and again with the big stuff, but I can handle everything else. Yeah right! But isn't this how many people think? God has a plan for my life, but I have some plans of my own.

            NOW, time for some truth. I have no idea how to run my life. All I know is how to ruin it. Until I draw this conclusion I will never draw on God for help. If I think I know what's best, I don't need help... Actually, this means I really don't need God. This is what the Prophet Amos wrote, "This is what the Lord says... 'Seek me and live." The more I seek God for my life, the more of my life I will actually enjoy. And the more my family and friends will enjoy my life.

            GOD'S plan was to come to dirt (Earth), to lead the dirty back to the Divine and then to make the dirty like the Divine (Heaven). But this only occurs when we submit to God, which helps us: To think like Jesus, which is the best definition of wisdom; To see like Jesus, which is the best definition of vision; To feel as Jesus would, which is the best definition of compassion; To hear like Jesus does, which is the best definition of understanding; To speak to people as Jesus did, which is the best definition of hope; and to be like Jesus, which is the best definition of love. This is the dirty becoming like the Divine. This is God's vision for all of us.

            WHEN you put it that way, how would being like Jesus be a bad thing and how could it be restricting? The vision God has for me is really the best version of me. In I Peter 2:21, Peter said, "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps." We have been called to follow in the steps of Jesus.

            IN 1896, Charles Monroe Sheldon wrote a best selling novel called "In His Steps". The subtitle of his book was "What Would Jesus Do?" This is where we get the famous idiom "WWJD?" In this book, Sheldon encouraged his readers to live like Jesus lived and it swept through the churches of his day. By the way, Sheldon's book has sold more than 30 million copies. If only we would live it out today. What a world we would have if this were true.

            IF I were like Jesus I would not hurt anyone in any way. Being like Christ makes me kind, generous, patient, and loving. I wouldn't bully, shame, threaten or manipulate people. I would be safe with everyone. Being like Jesus is the best possible version of me. But when I'm more like myself and less like Jesus, I'm a danger to myself and to others.

            GOD'S vision, if fulfilled in me, is not only the best version of me, but will actually bring me more joy than if I try to be happy on my own.

            DID you know the theme songs of Hell are Frank Sinatra's, "My Way" and Sammy Davis Jr.'s, "I've Gotta Be Me." Now I'm not saying these are bad songs, nor am I saying they were sung by bad men, rather they are just indicative of how people who refuse to know and follow God want to live their lives. On their own terms, in their own unique way, being the way they want to be.

            JOHN wrote in his first epistle to the church, "Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did." I John 2:6

            AS we enter the holiday season, the best Christmas gift you can give yourself and to others is to commit to being like Jesus. To think, see, feel, hear, speak and love like Jesus. This will bring us more joy and contentment in life than any store bought gift we could buy. It will also have a positive change on everyone within our circle of influence.

Conclusions

            THERE are a lot of people who have questions these days. Some questions are designed to discover the answers to the unknown. They are meant to uncover mysteries and unlock secrets; to learn pertinent information or, in a legal sense, to build a case. These kinds of questions explore our knowledge with the hope of helping someone else's lack of understanding. These kinds of questions are also intended to get a better idea of someone's thoughts or feelings about an issue or problem.

            SOMETIMES people ask questions of God because they are genuinely seeking an answer due to their confusion. But sometimes they are looking to defend their positions or actions. God is never upset or intimidated when we ask questions because we want His help with an issue or problem, but He isn't fond of us trying to justify our false beliefs or disobedience. In truth, these really aren't questions so much as they are arguments.

            GOD likes to ask questions as well. His questions are designed to bring us out of the dark and into the light. God never asks questions in order to find out information, and none of His questions are meant for us to help Him with a problem. God's questions are to help us see Him clearer, to press us to address our sins and weaknesses and show us the right way to live.

            NOW Paul's questions are a bit different from God's or man's. His questions are more rhetorical in nature. These kinds of questions are asked in order to remind us of the obvious. Their purpose is to instill confidence in us and give us the courage to not only think right but to do right. They are intended to help us leave the wrong path and propel us on the correct path.

            IN Romans 8:31 Paul asks a rhetorical question when he says, "What, then, shall we say in response to this?" So I have to ask myself, "In response to what?" Well, what he said in Romans 8:28-30, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified." These verses tell us who God is and what He wants to do in us. So what do we say about this?

            DO you think there is a required response to a question like this, or do you think God is the type to be put off without a response? If God is asking us this question, and I believe He is, how long will we be able to avoid it? I know many people are doing everything they can to shut the thought of God and His plans out of their minds, but can we really do this? Doesn't Paul's question reveal the need for an answer and doesn't God deserve one from us?

            BUT God doesn't really need an answer, we do. Nothing settles our heart and gives us peace like coming to a conclusion about our purpose on earth. Knowing God is working all things in my life for good, makes me less confused about His love and more convinced of His goodness. When you know that you know, that you know, that you know, it's pretty tough to rattle you. But if we are still debating, vacillating and going round and round over what is true, we'll never get it. 

            COMING to the conclusion that God is for me and with me helps me walk with confidence. Paul wrote in II Timothy 2:12, "...I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard

What I have entrusted to Him for that day." Confidence is a powerful thing and comes from our convictions. Confidence is that no fear, no doubt, "we are going to win", attitude that actually puts us in the winners circle. But if we are unsure and insecure about what we know is true then we will be tossed about wave after wave of other people's opinions. Those who don't know what to believe will fall for anything.

            CONFUSION is one of the greatest killers of our confidence. It also kills our peace. Most people are confused because they can't or won't make a decision. This is why Paul's question is so important. What do you say in response to this?

 

The Ten Lepers

            ONE of the most beautiful stories is found in Luke 17:12-19. I know it is a long story but it is well worth our time to read again, "As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, 'Jesus, Master, have pity on us!' When He saw them, He said, 'Go, show yourselves to the priests.' And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him, and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, 'Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no-one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?' Then He said to him, 'Rise and go; your faith has made you well."

            FROM this passage there are a few key essentials for being grateful people:

            RECOGNITION - "One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice."  Luke 17:15

The word "saw" means to be aware or conscious of something. This causes me to ask myself, "What am I aware of, and do I recognize all the blessings in my life or do I take them for granted? I also wonder if I will miss the chance to come back and praise Him who is responsible for my blessings. You see, I believe we must ponder to praise, think to thank, reflect to rejoice and change our attitude to show gratitude. Otherwise, we will take our blessings and ultimately God for granted, which is regrettable.

            WHAT the one leper had was a panoramic view of life. Who do you think will get a better look at life, the one taking a selfie, or the one who takes pictures of others? Of the ten healed, the one came back praising God and he was the one with a better (panoramic) view of life. He wanted a picture of the One who healed him rather than a selfie of his own clean skin. Most of our society wants to see themselves, which is the lower 90%. Those who worship want to see the one who blessed them. These are the top 10%ers. Which are you?

            RESPECT - "He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him..." Luke 17:16-17. Just as all ten lepers were healed, all ten could have come back and given thanks to the giver of life. We too have a choice: We can humbly fall before Jesus, showing Him honor and respect, or we get tripped up by our pride and arrogance. Either way, one day we will all end up on our faces before Him. It is far better to bow our knees before God than to skin them before man. The one is humility, the other will bring humiliation.

            RETURN - "Was no-one found to return..?"  Luke 17:18. The word "return" Jesus used here has two meanings: The first means under your control, power, or in hand, and the second is to change, turn away, toward or around. The full meaning is we have the power to change. Now there are things in life we can't change: our skin color, nationality, family, or our past. And we definitely can't change others. But what if there were changes we could make, like how we can change the way we see, think and feel about life? These are attitude and perspective, which are always under our control. So often when we have a problem we want a solution. But more often than not, the real solution is with-in and not with-out. Jesus noted it was a foreigner (different) who returned. But what made the one "different" was not his changed skin, but a changed heart. It's attitude and perspective that are the most powerful weapons of change.

            RE-BIRTH - "...Except this foreigner?" Luke 17:18. What is interesting is the word "foreigner" in the Greek is Allo/Genes which means Of/Another birth, or different race. Jesus was describing one who was physically different, having been born elsewhere. But on a spiritual level, this man had a different spirit. Like those who have been born again, those of a different place... Heaven, by a different father... God. What makes us believers different, unusual, or unique? What says we are "foreigners" to the world? It has to be that we are born of God. This makes us different. His blood and the forgiveness we enjoy also inspires us to return to worship God. In fact worship is one of the signs someone is truly born again. Praise and thanksgiving come from our lips and worship flows from our lives. Will you return and worship God?

 

 

What Did I Lose?

            HAVE you ever had a conversation with a belligerent non-Christian who just wanted to argue ridiculous points and every "what if" known to mankind? It can be very frustrating and you probably guessed it, I have had many, and one fairly recently. When it's all said and done, a lot is said and not much got done, except to give me a little inspiration for this letter.

            IN  this particular encounter, this real "smart" (at least he seemed to think so) guy I was having a conversation with wanted me to know that the Church was full of a bunch of frauds and the Bible "full" of, well, something else entirely. After taking a deep breath, so as not to punch this guy's running lights out (talk bad about the church, that's one thing, but talk bad about God's Word and it's on). Anyway, now that I got all the tough talk out of the way, I was pretty upset by the guy's rudeness and foolishness. But he kept on insisting that all the church wanted was his money and that religion was just a crutch that played on weak minded people for, you guessed it, their money. Boy this guy was really worried about his money. He kind of reminded me of Gollum and his "precious" from the Hobbit.

            AS I continued listening to this very opinionated fellow I got to thinking, "What have I lost by serving Christ?" Honestly, I couldn't come up with a single thing that I have lost. I mean sure, I could look at my tithing and giving to the church as money that I have lost. I suppose I could reflect on the time and energy I have expended working in the ministry and serving the church. I could even calculate all the Sundays and Wednesdays I have "missed" out on by having to be at church all those many, many days I have served as a pastor. But I just can't see it that way. I've not lost a thing. It's true, I have invested much in the way of money, time and energy. I have "given up" things in order to answer the call to a lifestyle of ministry. But not only have I not lost a thing, I have gained so much. You see, I like to look at what I am gaining and have gained from giving and serving Jesus Christ.

            WHAT I have come to realize is that even if I gave every red cent penny I have to the absolute worst money grubbing ministry in the world, I still would not lose. In fact, I can't lose. We never lose when we give to the Kingdom of God. A person I know gave me a large check one day after he took me out to lunch. He said I could open the envelope and see the size of the offering. He wasn't doing this to show off, he just wanted to have a conversation about the offering. He said I could use the money however I saw fit for the church and that there were no restrictions on the money. What he said was this, "I will have to stand before God for what I give, you will stand before God for how you use it."

            SO just what did that generous man and his wife lose by giving that offering? Nothing. Whether I used the money properly or not was on me, but what he gave was credited to him. This man may never fully know, until he gets to heaven, just what his offering did for the kingdom of God. It just may be that one or more of you reading this letter will be brought to this man in Heaven by Jesus and He will say, "These people came to Me as a result of what you gave." I can tell you for sure, that many people have asked Jesus Christ into their hearts because of the presence of Jesus here at The Foothills. I can also tell you that the presence of The Foothills Church here in the South Valley is because of the faithfulness of the givers who attend this church. For that I not only thank you, but the thousands coming to this church and the many who will find Christ before He returns. Thank you.

            IF my giving, or your giving for that matter, is focused on how much we are giving up rather than on what we are giving for, then we really aren't giving so much as we are calculating. I don't want to be a calculated giver. I want to be a free will offering giver who loves God and wants to see His kingdom prosper.

            AS for the not so gentle man with whom I had the conversation... he may have saved himself some money by not being a giver, and he may even think I have lost money by giving, but I see myself as not a loser but a winner.