and he examines all his paths.
22 The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him;
the cords of his sin hold him fast.
23 He will die for lack of discipline,
led astray by his own great folly.
"I know, my God, that You test the heart and are pleased with integrity." - 1 Chronicles 29:17a
God tests His children to know what is in their hearts. God's desire for each of His children is to walk in relationship with Him, to uphold His righteousness and integrity. It is a high calling that we will fail to achieve without complete dependence on Him.
The greatest tests come not in great adversities, but in great prosperity. For it is in prosperity that we begin to lose the sensitivity to sin in our lives. Adversity motivates us to righteousness out of a desire to see our adversity changed. Prosperity fails to provide this motivation for obedience. We fall into a satisfaction and confidence in life that is based on our prosperity rather than on God.
Hezekiah was a great godly king. He was a faithful, God-honoring king most of his life, but toward the end he became proud. God wanted to find out if he would still honor Him and recognize His blessings in his life. He failed the test when God sent an envoy to his palace to inquire about a miracle that God performed on behalf of Hezekiah. The test was designed to find out if Hezekiah would publicly acknowledge the miracle performed on his behalf.
But when envoys were sent by the rulers of Babylon to ask him about the miraculous sign that had occurred in the land, God left him to test him and to know everything that was in his heart (2 Chronicle 32:31).
Hezekiah's failure resulted in his children failing to carry on as rulers of Israel, and the nation would eventually be taken over by Babylon.
The lesson of Hezekiah is clear. If we are to remain faithful to our Lord, we must remain steadfast in our obedience to Him. Prosperity can be our greatest test. Ask the Lord to give you the grace to be a faithful follower during times of prosperity
In the last several messages we've considered the importance of seeking God and loving Him with ALL our heart. This is an important issue with regard to our Salvation and the eternally restored relationship to which we've been called. But it's also critical to how we view the world around us and function in our day to day activities.
The author of Psalm 73 wrote with words of frustration about the things he saw in the world. He couldn't understand how the wicked could be so carefree and yet so successful; "For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked" (Psalm 73:3). He felt he may have even wasted his time in maintaining Godly values; "Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence" (Psalm 73:13). He kept searching for answers, but found none until he returned to worship in the presence of God.
"When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me - till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood."
Many issues in our life simply cannot be resolved through our human understanding and reasoning. We often try to make sense of events in the world, or in our particular situation, only to discover there are no easy answers or solutions. But no matter how confusing our life may become, we must always remember we're a child of God - a child of the Creator of the Universe! "By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of His mouth" (Psalm 36:6).
Our Heavenly Father does not function according to a set of human rules. He is not confined by time or space, and He's certainly not guided by our set of values; "as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways" (Isaiah 55:9). We must give God all of our mind as we seek to understand Him through His Word and study how He has moved throughout history; but we must also give Him all of our heart as we worship Him despite what we see, think, or feel. Only in the sanctuary of worship will we begin to truly understand.
We must come to our Heavenly Father with a heart-felt belief that being in His presence is more important than anything else in the world; "Whom have I in Heaven but You? And earth has nothing I desire besides You" (Psalm 73:25). This type of passion allows us to draw near and begin to see the disconnected pieces of our life fit neatly into God's perfect plan.
Let's return to the place where He's everything we desire and all we really need. Let's worship Him with all our heart and begin to understand His wonderful plan for our life. Let's once and for all open the door and enter His sanctuary!
"So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak." - Genesis 32:24
All that Jacob had lived for was coming down to one event - his reunion with Esau. More than 20 years had passed since Jacob had manipulated his father's blessing away from his brother Esau. During these years God had been changing Jacob from a controller and manipulator to a man who was learning to trust God. He was now ready to meet Esau. However, he was fearful that Esau might take revenge on him and his family for his past sin, so he sent a gift ahead, while he retreated and sought mercy from God.
As an angel appeared to Jacob, he realized the only hope he had was in God. Only if God blessed him would he survive this ordeal. In the past, Jacob would have sought to solve his problem his way. Now, he wanted only God's way. He wanted Him so badly that he wouldn't let go of the angel. He was striving with God, but it was the right kind of striving. Jacob was striving to have all God's blessing on his life. He was seeking God with all that he had. "When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man" (Gen. 32:25). The only way to overcome the strong will of this man was to physically immobilize him. The angel touched the socket of Jacob's hip. It was painful; it broke him. This was the final stage of removing the old nature from Jacob. It was the place of complete brokenness and surrender. No longer would Jacob walk in his own strength. He would now have to lean on a cane, symbolic of his leaning on God alone.
It was the final act from God in Jacob's life that was celebrated with a new name - Israel. No longer would he strive with God or man. The process was now complete. God could now bless this man abundantly. He gave him favor with Esau and restored their broken relationship.
What does God have to do in our lives to remove the controlling and manipulative nature that so often is part of a workplace believer's life? Perhaps it will require a time of immobilizing, loss of a job, loss of income, loss of health, loss of a close relationship. These are His methods of preparation. Your new nature will not be complete until you've stopped striving with God through your own self-efforts. If God is taking you through this process, be encouraged; it is because of the inheritance He has prepared for you. However, the inheritance can only be received when God brings us to total dependence on Him.
"But if we live in the light, as God is in the light, we can share fellowship with each other. Then the blood of Jesus, God's Son, cleanses us from every sin. If we say we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:7-8, NCV)
In Christian fellowship people should experience authenticity.
Authentic fellowship is not superficial, surface-level chit-chat. It's genuine, heart-to-heart, sometimes gut-level sharing.
It happens when people get honest about who they are and what is happening in their lives. They share their hurts, reveal their feelings, confess their failures, disclose their doubts, admit their fears, acknowledge their weaknesses, and ask for help and prayer.
Authenticity is the exact opposite of what you find in many churches. Instead of an atmosphere of honesty and humility, there is pretending, role-playing, politicking, superficial politeness, and shallow conversation. People wear masks, keep their guard up, and act as if everything is rosy in their lives. These attitudes are the death of real friendship.
It's only as we become open about our lives that we experience authentic fellowship. The Bible says, "If we live in the light, as God is in the light, we can share fellowship with each other ... If we say we have no sin, we are fooling ourselves" (1 John 1:7-8, NCV)
The world thinks intimacy occurs in the dark, but God says it happens in the light. We tend to use darkness to hide our hurts, faults, fears, failures, and flaws. But in the light, we bring them all out into the open and admit who we really are.
Of course, being authentic requires both courage and humility. It means facing our fear of exposure, rejection, and being hurt again.
Why would anyone take such a risk?
Because it's the only way to grow spiritually and be emotionally healthy. The Bible says, "Make this your common practice: Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you can live together whole and healed" (James 5:16, MSG)
Question: How can you try to cultivate more authentic friendships with your Christian brothers and sisters?
I think it is unfortunate what our country has done to the words "liberal" and "conservative". More and more, our distinction between these terms gives the implication that a person cannot be conservative in fiscal and social policies yet still have a huge heart and passion for justice and the impoverished of this world. That troubles me greatly because I think it leads us in a dead wrong direction.
I believe that quite the opposite is true. When social policies reward those who are true entrepreneurs -- those who "create" -- I believe that support of the world's hurting increases. I believe that statistics will show this to be true but I have not yet found that detailed of information.
Unfortunately, oftentimes, popular culture and media wants to confuse conservatives with opportunists. The comparison must instead be made between entrepreneurs and opportunists -- those who create to help others and those who pounce to help themselves.
Here's the question I pose: Supporting which group will best advance social causes worldwide?
Here's a good article to read. Click Here.
This is a very readable book. Stearns has done a great job of gathering statistics as well as scriptural references, all of which he puts to great use. While there's nothing earth-shattering in this book, it will give you a far better understanding of poverty in our world and God's personal call to each of us to do something about it rather than just turn our heads.
I will be recommending this book for a long time to come. You will not read it and be unchanged.
My question is this though: What will I do now?
Jesus returned to Galilee powerful in the Spirit. News that he was back spread through the countryside. He taught in their meeting places to everyone's acclaim and pleasure.
He came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,
God's Spirit is on me;
he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, "This is God's year to act!"
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, "You've just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place."
This is how Jesus saw Himself. As disciples of His, we are to be pursuing the same things He pursued ... how personally do we really take this? How personally do we really work to bring freedome to the poor, the bline, and the burdened and battered?
Jesus, I believe, did not come just to save us ... but to transform us ... and for us to in turn transform the world.
How well do you think we do at keeping up our end of the bargain?
I wanted to record a few thoughts I had this morning on "community" though.
One of the big things associated with Starbucks' stellar growth and popularity a few years ago was that they provided more than coffee ... they provided community. In metropolitan areas, it seemed that folks were really craving this sense of community so they'd line up at Starbucks each day, caring more about who they got to share a few words with than they did the coffee. It was hard for them to recognize that, though, so they told folks they went there for the great coffee.
As I have gotten older, I have begun to realize how much I desire and love community. When I was younger, I fancied myself a bit of a lone wolf ... I was comfortable being on the outside of community. I wouldn't say that I was scared of community but I was more prideful of my ability to resist community and be the independent self-reliant type.
But, these days, things have changed. I have lived in the town we live in now for I figure 24 of my 45 years. Yopu'd think I would have understood the importance of community within that context far sooner than I did but I am a bit stubborn and resistant.
These days, though, whether it's at the service station, my favorite coffee place, church, school, restaurants, the bank, even doctors' offices, I truly enjoy seeing people I know ... and greeting them as well as greeting folks I don't know. You get a mixed bag of reactions when you greet people who don't know you ... but that just makes it more interesting.
At my favorite coffee place, even though it only takes them a minute or so to make my drink, I sit down on the couch while they make it. I like the relaxed feeling of the couch ... from there I can be comfortable as I watch and hopefully participate in the community around me.
There's something markedly richer and more enjoyable about living life in community ... the way that I believe we were intended to live.