WHAT’S YOUR ANGLE? It is hard to find authenticity in this world. It’s hard to know what is true, it is hard to know what’s genuine. It seems as if that all of us are expecting some sort of angle. Even the way that you watch the news, even the way that you deal with others. At times we like we have some sort of guard up against our neighbor, against those around us, because we are assuming that they are working with some type of angle in mind. Mark 10:35-45.
In the miracle of the fishes and loaves, there were five thousand men, plus women and children. All of them had been following Jesus all day. It was late and they were tired and hungry. On the surface, you would think their main problem was a lack of food. But that was just the surface problem; there was a deeper spiritual problem.
Are you willing to leave your comfort zone to trust God completely? God didn’t save you to make your comfortable, but you make you obedient. You’ll never go on a mission trip is you’re not willing to leave your comfort zone. You’ll never start tithing until you are willing to leave your comfort zone. You’ll never start travailing in prayer until you are willing to leave your comfort zone. You’ll never vocally share your faith with others until you’re willing to leave your comfort zone. You’ll never volunteer to serve the Lord if you aren’t willing to leave your comfort zone.
It wasn’t so much how Jacob started, but how he finished the race. Maybe you’ve left a trail of mistakes behind you as well. But God can change your life without changing your name. There’s still time to grab hold of His grace and let him turn you from a cheater to someone who is a blessing to others.
Let’s face it. God must have an interesting sense of humor. He chose a couple of super seniors to begin his chosen nation. We know God laughs because Psalms 2 says that he who sits enthroned in the heavens laughs. If we had been making that plan we would have chosen a couple of young twenty-something’s.
Loving your neighbor as you love yourself simply means you see yourself as God sees you. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, but we are all made with flaws. But God loves us in spite of our imperfections. You and I are trophies of His grace. When you see yourself as a sinner saved by grace, but deeply loved by God, you are free to love others.
Sometimes life is good. It’s like a summertime when the living is easy. Fish are jumping and the cotton is high. Your daddy’s rich and your momma’s good looking. There’s certainly no reason to cry when life is like that. And it’s also not a time when your faith is tested. Instead, God tests our faith during the difficult times when the living is hard. Fish aren’t jumping and the cotton is burned. And you have no idea what’s going on with your daddy and momma. That’s when God tests our faith.
Are you tempted to give up and quit? Maybe God has given you a dream or a vision and it hasn’t happened yet. You want to give up—but don’t. Hang in there. Maybe you’ve been praying for something to happen for a long time and God hasn’t answered your prayer—don’t give up. Keep on praying. Keep on trusting. You may be in a bad situation, and you don’t know how you’re going to make it. Hang in there and hang on. Don’t give up!
Imagine you are planning an expensive two-week vacation to Costa Rica. The easiest thing to do is use a travel agent and let them plan the trip for you. But most of us want to do some of our own research online. So you go online to learn everything you can about Costa Rica. But when you Google Costa Rica there are only three words on the website. These words are, “Beautiful, Wonderful, Paradise.” You wouldn’t be satisfied. You’d want to know more about the place. You want to know the history, the climate, the language, the currency, the places to eat and the places to stay. Those are some of the details of heaven we’re going to be examining in this series.
When your world is falling apart and a foreign country is threatening to conquer your country, it would be easy to live by fear. But Habakkuk shows us that there is another way; we can live by faith. His prophecy begins with an “Oh, no! Things are awful!” And he ends with “Oh, yeah! God is in control!”
How many of you have ever seen a falling star, raise your hand. Really? I doubt what you saw was a star. Our sun is a star, and stars don’t “fall.” What you saw was a piece of space junk, a meteor. It wasn’t a star falling. If you see a star falling, we’re in trouble. And if you think you saw a Christian who fell from salvation, chances are they weren’t a Christian in the first place.
Justified margins means the left margin and the right margin are both straight; they agree. Justified people are those who have been made right with God. Here are God’s standard on the left—absolute perfection—straight up. And here we are on the right—our lives are ragged. Religion or legalism is the attempt to JUSTIFY our lives with God’s perfect standard. But we can’t justify our lives to God’s standard. Thankfully, God does the justification. It is His act, not ours!
The more you talk ABOUT your mountain, the bigger it gets. It grows and grows until sometimes you really do turn a molehill into a mountain. And if you don’t speak to your mountain it will speak to you—it will taunt you, “Look at me! You can’t get past me! You’ll never be healthy! You’ll never get out of debt. You’ll never kick that habit!” So try speaking directly to the mountain; you don’t have to yell. Just say with faith, “Mountain, there’s not enough room for both of us in this life, so you gotta go!”
the Bible teaches we were all blind until Jesus touched our lives and gave us the light of salvation. And you and I live with people who are spiritually blind. They are stumbling over themselves trying to find spiritual truth through crystals, meditation, or the newest and latest new age fad. Satan has blinded their minds.
The very best way for you to hear from God is to let His Word abide in you. To do that you have to maintain a steady, daily diet of God’s Word. Once you have it in your head and in your heart, you will be thinking about His Word all the time. When you’re confronted with a challenge, or a challenge, you won’t need a sign. You’ll be able to say; “God’s Word says this about that issue.”
If you want to live according to Philippians 4:13, you’ve got to start believing “I can” instead of “I can’t.” The word “can’t” is the most destructive word in the English language. It kills dreams, and destroys motivation, it denies the power of faith. If you want to see changes in your life, I suggest you take your dictionary and cut the word “can’t” out of it. You may say, “I can’t because I don’t have a dictionary.” I’m sorry, I don’t understand what you said because “can’t” isn’t in my vocabulary!
It requires both faith and persistence to bring someone to Jesus. Do you REALLY believe Jesus can forgive and change even the most hardened person? Then start working on them. And don’t give up. The paralytic’s four friends didn’t give up. When they found the way blocked, they didn’t quit, they tried a creative approach! God wants you to be a persistent roof-ripper and do whatever it takes to bring your friends to Jesus.
Have you ever noticed Jesus often talked to people the crowd rejected? He spoke to tax-collectors, prostitutes, lepers, and even little children His disciples tried to shoo away. And here Jesus speaks with a Gentile—and worse than that, a Roman soldier! The Jews hated Gentiles, and they despised the Romans. This Italian was not just a soldier; he was a commander of 100 other Roman soldiers who were occupying Israel. Most Jews avoided the Roman soldiers and spat on the ground when they passed. We’re reminded here that Jesus receives any kind of person who approaches Him. That should give us hope today that none of us are too sinful to be outside the love of Christ.
Some people read their Bibles like a tax attorney reading the IRS code looking for loopholes. But God wants us to read and study His Word like a love letter He has written to guide us through our daily lives. When you’re asked a question that involves morality or ethics, is your first response, “What does the Bible say?”
Remember I told you our students are trading up a tiny paper clip for something more and more valuable? When Aaron received his paper clip, he contacted one of the car dealers in town, asking if they would like to please trade him a car in return for a paper clip! But guess what? Because he had big faith in a Big God, he got one. That’s right, he got a great-running used car for his paper clip. I like that kind of faith! Even more, I like what that kind of faith says to everyone about the kind of God we serve—He’s BIG. And he wants us to not hold back when we come to him. The Bible says in James 4:2, “You do not have, because you do not ask God.” People say you never know until you ask. I say you never know how big God really is until you ask Him to show you.
We are children of promise. God wants more children, and if we share God’s heart, we’ll have a passion to reach and disciple more and more people. On any given Sunday morning, within a thirty-minute drive, there are 60,000 people who don’t attend church. As a church, we cannot be content to limit God’s family to those of us who are already here. Jesus told His disciples, “Open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest.” (John 4:35) He wasn’t talking about corn or wheat—Jesus was talking about people who needed to have a relationship with the Living God. God wants more children in His forever family.
What kind of faith do you have? Is it a fair weather faith? As long as things are good, you’re okay with God? Or do you have a foul weather faith–when a crisis comes you go running to the Lord? Jesus said that the Heavenly Father makes it rain on the just and the unjust alike, so make sure you have an all-weather faith.
Too many people today are living in denial. They don’t want to admit their need because they look around and they can usually find someone worse than themselves. Because we live in a spiritual leper colony called America, there are plenty of chances to think, “I’m not so bad. I’ve never robbed a bank, I’ve never murdered anyone. I’m not a drug pusher or a child molester. In fact, I’m better than many of those hypocrites who go to church!”
Before Jesus can help you, friend, you must quit fooling yourself and admit you have a problem, but that’s not enough, you must cry out to Jesus. All the twelve-step programs agree the first step for recovery is to admit your problem. But that’s not enough, you must seek help. Before you can have a relationship with Jesus you must say, “I am a rotten sinner! Jesus, have mercy on me! Help me Jesus!
Forgiveness is not a feeling or an emotion–it is a choice. It is your decision not to want to punish that person for what they’ve done to you. Our forgiveness should be a reflection of the forgiveness God offers us. He places our sins behind our back and remembers them no longer. If you actively choose to continue to remember what that person has done to you, you haven’t truly forgiven them.
When God forgives us, He doesn’t keep bringing up our sin–but the devil keeps trying to make us aware of our own sin and the sins others have committed against us. That’s why the Bible calls him the accuser of the brothers.
The challenges in life can be divided into two broad categories: those things you can’t do anything about (like the weather); and those things you can do something about. Don’t worry about the first category, because there’s nothing you can do about those things. Don’t worry about the second category, because if you can do something—do it, don’t worry about it! Many years ago, I learned a little poem that has helped me overcome worry. It says, “For every evil under the sun, Either there is a cure, or there is none. If there be one, seek ’till you find it. If there be none, never mind it!” Jesus said, “Do not worry” because it’s a waste of time!
As you and I walk along with Jesus, He brings us closer and closer to being conformed to His likeness: self-denial; and dying daily to our own feelings and desires. As we move along, He wants us to forget the past. We can’t go back there. We must fix our eyes on Jesus and keep growing and progressing.
We pack our suitcases to overflowing because we like having our precious “stuff” with us. But when we are loaded down with our own stuff, we often depend on our possessions rather than on God. Are you trusting God to provide your needs, or are you trusting your job, your bank balance, your securities portfolio, or your 401K to meet your needs?
God knows suffering makes us stronger, and it makes us depend on God. I’ve often said the name of God’s college is the University of Affliction, and although the tuition is steep, the classes and the degrees we receive are priceless. Some of you are enrolled right now in the University of Affliction.
Have you ever heard it said of someone that they “stand alone?” In greatness and glory, the name of Jesus does stand alone, higher in prominence, preeminence, and position than any other name. The name of Jesus stands alone in its prominence and position because His name includes everything we need for life.
We may think greed isn’t as evil as some of the more evident sins of the flesh. But God catalogs selfish greed right beside those physical sins. Greed is actually idolatry. You would never picture yourself bowing down before a statue or some man-made god. That’s idolatry! But when you hang onto your possessions and refuse to give them up you are basically saying, “I trust my wealth more than I trust God.” People say, “well, you’ve got to save for a rainy day.” But, my friend, you can trust God during your rainy days.
For us, Kadesh Barnea is a place where we stand with an opportunity before us. This challenge can only be claimed by faith. At Kadesh Barnea, the Israelites failed to seize the moment and claim God’s promise; as a result they wandered aimlessly for 40 long years. As members of Green Acres, standing before a great opportunity, we must avoid the attitude of fear and unbelief.
Throughout my ministry, I’ve seen Jesus do the same thing. I’ve seen Jesus give a wayward rebellious son or daughter back to his or her parents. I’ve seen Jesus take a sorry, alcoholic husband, clean him up and present him back to his wife and children. I’ve see Jesus take a wayward wife and give her back to her family. Jesus is the business of healing broken relationships.
Just as the Roman centurion got his authority from a higher power, he recognized Jesus had access to higher authority–His Father in heaven. God has set up a clearly defined system of authority in our world. When God’s chain of authority is followed, there is peace. When God’s chain of authority is ignored, chaos and misery ensue.
God is not some heavenly puppet, and your prayer is not some string you pull. God is the King of the Universe, and He always knows what’s best. Why don’t you stop running from Him? Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were prepared to die! They could say, “Lord, even if I have to suffer, if my body ignites and my burning flesh fills the air with stench, I will go out trusting You. I will believe You, even if I don’t get the answer to my prayer!”
Do you remember what happened to Adam when he sinned? He died immediately in his spirit, he died gradually in his soul, and he died ultimately in his body. Now, let me tell you what salvation is. It reverses it. Look at it. When you receive Jesus you receive life immediately in your spirit. Instantaneously, you are justified. Immediately, you receive life in your spirit.
I admire women and men who can take a piece of fabric, put it down on a table, and then can take a dress pattern and put the pattern down on the fabric and cut out along the dotted lines, and then sew it together, and have a beautiful garment. That’s a miracle to me! I want you to know that I could never do that. What God is saying, “Upon the fabric of human suffering, I have superimposed my Biblical pattern, and if you will understand what I am trying to do, the result will be something beautiful if you just don’t mess it up.”
The difference between when Jesus died and the death of every martyr or every hero who ever died is this: Those people died and they are still dead. The thing about Jesus Christ is he died, he was buried, and he came back after three days. We wouldn’t have Christianity to celebrate if there was not a risen Savior. He would be just a good man who died. We wouldn’t be here today. We wouldn’t believe this book. We wouldn’t tell people how to be saved. It’s the fact he’s alive today! That was God’s stamp: PAID IN FULL. He was delivered over for our sins and was resurrected for our justification.
When somebody directs us to do something, before we take the first step, most of us want to know all the details. In fact, if Abraham had been like most of us, and God had spoken to us, we would have said, “Now wait a minute. I need to know who you are, God. What’s your name?” Abraham didn’t ask. We would have asked, “Now, Lord, we want to know exactly where it is you are going to take us. What is the name of the land you are leading us to?” Abraham didn’t ask that. Later on, Abraham just kept on moving by faith until he came to this land that was going to one day be Israel.
Let’s say you own a secular bookstore and everything in your bookstore is classified as fiction and nonfiction. Where would you put the Bible? Would you put it in the nonfiction section with historical truth, or would you put it over here in the fictional section with the other fairy tales and mythology? If you were a librarian and your job is to classify all the books in the library, where are you going to put the Bible? That is a fundamental decision everybody must make.
The story of Isaac and Rebekah is a beautiful love story in and of itself but it’s also a beautiful story of how God, the Father, loves you and wants the best for you. He sends the Holy Spirit to draw you to the Father and then you as a person, like Rebekah, chooses whether or not to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit but when you do, you are entered into an intimate, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
Did you notice Isaac had to be a willing sacrifice? We don’t know exactly how old Abraham was, but we do know he was a hundred years older than Isaac. Imagine Isaac is 16. Don’t you think a 16-year-old boy can overpower a 116-year-old man? Do you think when Isaac was tied up with that rope and laid up on the altar, don’t you think a 16-year-old old could have said, “Wait a minute! What are you doing, old man? Stop it!” No not only did Abraham trust God’s plan, but Isaac also was a willing sacrifice. Always remember that about Jesus. They didn’t murder Jesus. He was not a martyr. He willingly laid down his life! And that was God’s plan all along.
Has this ever happened to you? When you read a passage of scripture that you have read time and time again and suddenly, it just reaches out and grabs you by the lapels and slaps you in the face like one of those Aqua Velva commercials and you just get a wake up call and you say, “Whoa!” When that happens, it is a sword you can use to dispel fear, anxiety, depression and anything the devil is shooting at you.
As I stand looking out at the shoreline of the mercy of God into the ocean of the grace of God, looking at the skyline of the love of God, I think, “It is so wonderful to find something that there is enough of.” Of all the sinners in the world, of all who have ever lived, there is more than enough grace, more than enough love, more than enough mercy for all of God’s creatures.
A deep theological question I have been asked is, “Was Jesus ever sick?” Some say because he was God in the flesh he never got sick; others say he never had the sniffles or He never had a headache or a cold. Did Jesus ever get sick? I don’t know if he got sick during the thirty-three years he was here on earth. I’m not going to answer that question, but he does tell us there is one thing that makes him sick: Lukewarm Christians–compromising, side-stepping, lukewarm Christians.