Monday, April 30, 2012

Assurance in What God Reveals

“Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.”  1 John 4:17 (KJV)

In a word study of the above verse, I was certain as I began, that my efforts would make the text clearer and afterwards I would walk away with a new truth to be treasured in my heart.   Instead, the activity of picking apart the above verse, has given me reassurance of a truth I already understood (always a nice thing to uncover) but brought with it a perplexing question, completely unrelated to the verse I set out to study – let me explain.

As you can see, the above verse is from the King James Version of the bible.  Below you will also find the same verse from the New King James Version (my preferred version to read), the New International Version, and the New American Standard Bible – all four of which are the most widely used bible translations in the English speaking world.

 Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world.”  1 John 4:17 (NKJV)

“This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 1 John 4:17 (NIV)

“By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world.”  1 John 4:17 (NASB)

I am assuming that after reading these four different translations you may be feeling the same way I did as I approached this study – a bit confused.  So, let’s look at the original Greek and see if that sheds any more light on the topic of this verse:

“herein” means that resting place of truth follows in the preceding text

“love” means a charitable love feast

“perfect” to have completed or accomplished in its most perfect form

“have” signifies to hold as a continuous possession

“boldness” otherwise meaning outspokenness

“day” is just a set aside amount of time

“judgment” means to bring to judgment

“as he is” the overall meaning of these words together is that God’s presence resides

“so are we” likewise these words together mean that where eat of us reside

“in this world” meaning creation and all of the things that are contained in the context of creation

What my compilation of definitions left me with was the following:

“In the following truth we find the love feast of God brought to its perfect completion, this being a truth that during the entire length of judgment, will help us His people have the ability to be outspoken about the truths we understand:  God was real and present in our world and in the activities we were involved in each day, just like any other person we interacted with on a daily basis – He, God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the gift of the Holy Spirit are REAL.”

In my life I have leaned on the above truth even before the judgment day so as just to have faith when I could not see with my own eyes the God I so dearly love.   There are many times God asks us to act and/or speak out for Him when we have no worldly basis to do so, but it is because of our past experiences with Him that give us the courage to be bold and outspoken as He calls us.  When that final day of judgment arrives we will receive our final and greatest test of that faith.  Will we have a faith strong enough to stand before the throne of judgment and be able to say, “Yes I stake all of my eternity on Jesus!”?  Or will we waiver?  What God is telling us is that if we have come to know Him in this world as He has been present with us in it, we will not waiver a bit but rather have the ability to be outspoken in our trust and love for Jesus.  How wonderful a reassurance!

So, that was the truth which was reassured for me, but what I am left with is a question is the following: “What do I do with the conflict in how the bible translations really skewed the truth behind this verse?”  I have resolved to leave that discrepancy up to God.  In truth all scripture is God breathed and through Him alone we receive the revelations of knowing the greater meaning contained within our limited vocabulary.  As God revels Himself through His Word we then get a new glimpse of who He is – it is that simple.  No perfect translation is going to reveal all of those truths and make them all of a sudden evident to us, but God who is faithful will not miss an opportunity to share His truths with us if we just but seek His face and desire to come into a closer communion with Him.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

No Barrier is Too Big for God

“Now the whole earth had one language and one speech…But the Lord came down to see the city and the tower which the sons of men had built.  And the Lord said, ‘Indeed the people are one and they all have one language and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.  Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language that they may not understand one another's speech.’”  Genesis 11:1, 5-7

I am not sure if you noticed a subtle change I made to my blog yesterday, that is if you have the habit of checking in once a day.  Up in the top left corner of the page you will now find a “translate” button that allows you to pick from one of the available languages to allow it to convert the text of my blog into the language you prefer.  What an amazing way to reach beyond my limited language impediment of only knowing how to speak English and share the lessons God has laid on my heart with my brothers and sisters in Christ who speak languages other than mine.

Genesis shares the story of how mankind came to speak so many different languages – as a means to keep the people from uniting and building up a front against God.  But what about those who have a heart for God and want to cross the boundaries of speech to glorify Him?  This week-end I had the privilege not only to hear about how God allows His people to cross those language barriers, I was also witness to the work of God - seeing first-hand how He orchestrates for His people to not be encumbered by hindrances like the fact they speak different languages.

This week-end we have had the honor of hosting a missionary couple from the Dominican Republic in our guest house.  Unfortunately we speak very little Spanish and they speak very little English.  I know that in our lack of ability to communicate there is so much we could share about how God is working in both of our families that we just can’t because of the language barrier.  But fortunately a month before we even knew this couple was coming to stay with us, God had worked out that some friends of ours who pastor a Spanish church were to join us for dinner the night of the missionary couple arrived.  What a blessed night we experienced in seeing these two couples, who were bonded by language, share with each other their love for Jesus and the love of the ministry they share in two different countries. 

Moreover, the following morning our church hosted a morning coffee to welcome this missionary couple.  At this coffee a man from our church who also spoke Spanish, which he learned from his childhood in Cuba, was able to translate for us all and bridge the communication gap.  Interestingly enough this man stated God had taught him how to speak English just by reading the bible.  (A story similar to another missionary we had hosted at our church only a month prior who had learned Spanish in the same manner.)  For me though, I learned about this great app – Google Translate – that not only have I been able to add to my web page but which I have also been able to add to my mobile phone and adequately communicate with our guests for the remainder of their stay.

I guess the point I am trying to get to here is that God created the speech barrier to confuse those who oppose Him, but He also has the ability to easily remove those barriers if there is a work that needs to be done to glorify Him in crossing those barriers or even removing them.  Furthermore, speech is not the only thing God has allowed to confuse us so that we as a people do not glorify ourselves above Him.  There are many other barriers God allows to block the ways of man.  If we see those barriers as impassible obstacles just because they had been so in our pasts when we had desired for the barriers to be taken down for our own personal desires than we fail to trust in the fact that God can remove any barrier – any mountain – so that His will can be done on this earth.

The next time you come face-to-face with a barrier and you know that God is calling you to continue to move forward then do not hesitate to trust in His ability to remove any difficulty He has brought you to plow through – an act of God is on your horizon if you chose to continue forward instead of turning back in defeat from what your eyes have seen but your heart has failed to trust in being removed.  Trust and take that step – you will have a story of God’s great work in your life you will never find shame in sharing.  Whatever God calls us to do, He is faithful to complete it.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

We Are His Firstfruits

“Of His own will He brought us forth by the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of His creatures.”  James 1:18

At first glance I thought I understood the meaning in this verse, but as I read it a second time there were two things which made me second guess if I really knew the true meaning of what the verse had intended to communicate.  The first thing that caught my eye was that the expression “word of truth” was not capitalized, so it didn’t point to Jesus who is sometimes referred to as the Word of God.  Then, the second discrepancy that caught my eye was the connection of the firstfruits being brought forth by God – not a firstfruits offering that we as a people offer God.  A verse, that at first seemed to be easy to interpret, all of a sudden became more mysterious in nature and the curiosity of the moment swept me to dig further into the passage. 

I then went to my Greek word study of the New Testament and looked up the keys words in this verse to see if they could shed anymore light onto the truth James was seeking to convey as he wrote these words.   So here is a summary of that I found:

“of His own” means having a mind which carries out the verb to follow the expression

“begat”  or “brought forth”  means to generate

“word” translates into meaning something said which implies the entirety of the topic, from beginning to end.  (Therefore the “word of truth” would imply the complete revelation of God from beginning to end)

“kind” in this context means a created thing or object

“firstfruits” stands for an object separated out that has precedence over other similar objects

“creatures” has the meaning of original formations

Therefore, in looking again at this verse I found I was right in looking back upon it with some further clarification because what I thought the verse said and what the verse actually said were two different things.  What the verse really boils down to saying is that God’s mind had always been set that He would first regenerate, that is first above anything else in His creation, the ones He set apart to regenerate – us His people.  We were specifically set apart from all of His creation and given positions of priority.

Isn’t that an awesome thought?  When God created everything and knew that everything would be changed by the consequence of sin in the world, that His people would be the first ones set apart above all of the other things He created to be perfected back again to the way He had originally intended them to be.  And even more so, we know that we have the ability to be perfected while we are still living in this world of sin when we abide in perfect unity with Him through the Holy Spirit as a gift we can only receive through His Son, Jesus the Christ.  That is a special designation only we humans who have been set apart to have the ability to tap into.  The rest of God’s creation must wait until the New Earth is established and sin has been completely eliminated from this earth.

I get so excited when I realize that heaven is attainable here on this earth no matter what my eyes are telling my mind contrary to that belief.  As you look upon your day and the lies that the enemy is using to try to keep you from rejoicing in your heighten position in creation, I hope you seek to look beyond those lies and choose instead to see the heaven on earth the Lord has given you the ability to live in through His Son and the Holy Spirit. 

We have been chosen – set apart – perfected.  You are not a victim of your circumstances.  God has already set you apart and He has overcome all there is to overcome.  Triumphant living stands in the wake of believing God will help you prevail in all your circumstances.  All you need to do is believe and stand ready for God to open your eyes and give you victory.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Loving Beyond Your Abilities

In Mark 12:30-31 Jesus reveals the encompassing commands all believers are asked to strive to attain.  His charge is simply this: “…love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength …[and] love your neighbor as yourself.  Definitely a simple decree to quote, but it’s a far cry from simple to live out.  What Jesus is really saying here is He requires a sacrifice deeper than a good thought or a kind action.  Instead He requires everything you have and all that you are to be given to Him as an act of love. 

But the math just doesn’t add up.  Consider first, we are finite individuals.  Then, consider the fact we are called to love God with all we have plus share the love of Christ with others.  From a worldly point of view our calling proposes the impossible.  Fortunately God is not held by worldly standards.

Jesus told His disciples “I am the bread of life.  He who comes to me shall never hunger” (John 6:35).  The lesson Jesus intended to teach was about more than just having enough food to eat.  His main lesson here had to do with the larger picture of hunger and need.  What Jesus wanted His disciples to understand was that He was the source of ALL their needs – body, mind, soul and heart.

Consider the food you eat to supply the needs of your body.  You have the choice of filling your body with quick food that will supply all of your caloric needs to function.   But eating this way over time will deplete your vital resources and your ability to function at optimum levels.  On the other hand, taking the time to eat properly with a well planned diet will fill you with food intended not only to meet your nutritional needs but also to sustain you for the physical demands that lie ahead.

Next consider the material you use to feed your mind.  On one hand, you can choose to watch and read, light and entertaining media and materials based on worldly values so as to reduce your stress and escape the problems of the day.  On the other hand, you can choose to fill your mind with truth by reading the bible and watching or reading biblically-based or biblical worldview based materials  The predominant choice you make in this area is guaranteed to affect the way you make decisions and ultimately how you sustain your focus on God and your relationship with Him.

After that, consider the way you feed your soul – your contentment.  Relationships and felt needs are the variables which affect how an individual typically seeks contentment.  It is easy to keep shallow self-focused relationships that can be easily ended, but the long-term implications of living this way prove no contentment in the soul.  Instead, choosing relationships with the intention of serving the needs others and sacrificing oneself provides a deeper sort of contentment.   The soul is therefore not sustained by the success of human relationships, but rather by a grace-rich relationship only Jesus can offer and and which you in turn can offer others.

Finally, consider the way your heart is fed.  Your heart is the source of all your decisions and it is the well-spring of all the choices you make when deciding how to feed your body, mind, and soul.  A heart determined to make choices based on the flesh and a need to feel good about one self will always put its interests first.  But, a heart determined to make choices based on truth and planted in a relationship with Jesus Christ will be determined to put God and His ways first.  Truly a heart focused on Jesus is the only one that can feed on the "bread of life" and in the end be sustained to fulfilling Jesus' command to “…love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength …[and] love your neighbor as yourself.”

God is not bound by the logic we want to make out of how things should add up in our lives.  As He provides for us it is wise to remember He will never ask us to give away more than the excess (that which we don’t need for ourselves) from which He has already provided us or plans to provide us.  We must just trust as we live to serve, that the supplier of all we need will never stop giving, so in turn we never have to stop giving either.

As a side note I do not want you to think I am saying that all junk food, light-hearted media, or self-indulgent options should be removed from the life of a believer.  But, what I am saying is that these things should never be considered as things which bring meaning or sustenance to our lives.  God alone sustains and in Him we find all we need.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Perfect Wedding Dress

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready. And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.  Revelation 19:7-8

What a word picture the scripture verses from Revelations 19 give us!  When I read these verses this morning a picture of the most exquisite fabric came into my mind and moved my heart as I imagined what this “fine linen”, composted of the treads of “the righteous acts of the saints”, would look like.  I am sure none of us can imagine how beautiful the final garment to clothe the bride of the Lamb will look like, and yet each day we are privy in witnessing those threads as they come out of the obedient acts God calls us to live in each of our lives.

It is hard to believe that the simple and most often ordinary and messy circumstances which God works in and through each of our lives on a daily basis will one day be the raw material used to create the most magnificent wedding dress ever constructed.  These treads, their final fabrication, and the dress design were sketched by God before man even stepped onto the earth.  A pattern which God the Father painstakingly designed to fit the bride perfectly and fabric woven into the most exquisite design to complement not only the bride but also the theme of the most glorious wedding ever to be conceived.

My daughter and I have taken to watching some episodes of “Say Yes to the Dress” on Netflix since sewing and fashion are areas she has some beautiful God given gifts in.  What my desire is in having her watch this show and others like it with me, is to expose her to the reality of the fashion industry, with all its worldly drama, at an age where she still desires to listen to my wisdom and hear my godly reasoning regarding the situations she is bound to encounter if she eventually does pursue a job in that industry.  It has been a fun and bonding exercise for both of us, but I digress on this tangent so we can get back to the point I was trying to make.

On the show, “Say Yes to the Dress”, a common theme when a bride finally puts on “the dress” is that the experience always moves her and her family to tears.  It is as if in that moment the dress moves from being just a garment to being a reflection of bride’s heart in regards to the wedding ceremony and all it entails.  In that instant, the wedding dress is simply not just a dress anymore to be worn as any other every day garment but rather it is a dress that sets the theme for the entire wedding and reflects the deeper connotations of what the union of the bride and groom and their future life together will signify.

What God has planned for this bridal garment that will clothe His church on the day of the Great Wedding Feast will definitely be greater than any wedding dress even conceived here on earth.  As the maker of the dress and the Father of the groom and the bride, our Lord God has custom designed the “perfect dress” for the occasion.  I am pretty sure this dress will bring us all to tears when we see it and finally put it on as the bride to the Lamb of God.   The fabric, the design, the color, and the construction quality will reflect the striking significance of this wedding – it will be the pinnacle event of all time.

Today we each have the ability to add some threads that will eventually be woven into that magnificent wedding dress.  God is particular in working out in each of our lives the exact threads, that is “acts of righteousness”, which are needed for the final garment so there is nothing lacking when it is finally constructed.  I hope you take joy in this thought today - your life and the choices you make today are able to produce a piece of that magnificent wedding dress to will be worn on the most important day of all creation, the day the church, the bride of Christ, is united with the Lamb of God and an eternity of bliss and happy ever after will begin!