1 Thessalonians 2:4 | Desires are Trouble

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Action is a physical act of manipulating something within time and space. Taking a step forward is a manipulation of muscle and bone to move the leg and this represents an action. Desire however is an idea in the mind and is the act of manipulating the spirit. Desire is not a manipulation of time and space however desire can and often does lead to action. Some actions are reflexive but many actions are deliberate and are the direct result of desire that has built up over time.

If I desire to steal but never act upon that desire is it a sin before God? If I desire to steal but never have opportunity because of some constraint (like fear of getting caught) is it a sin before God?

Moses arguably the greatest leader and judge of Israel was told by God that he would not be allowed to lead Israel into the promised land because of one time where he did not “uphold [God] as holy”

10 Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” 11 And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. 12 And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Numbers 20:10-12 ESV

Now Moses was told by God to bring water from a rock to allow the people to drink while in the dessert and Moses did that. God through Moses brought the water out of the rock, but Moses failed to represent God as holy in the situation. The standards God has set for our desires and our actions is beyond what any person can follow. Moses who has seen the physical holy representation of God whose very hand carved into stone the 10 commandments is being held to an even higher standard than the average person. Moses failed to keep God holy before the people and Moses knew better. His actions in time and space brought forth water out of a rock but his desires, his anger with the people for being such awful whiny complainers had made him angry. Maybe his anger with the people or something as priest like he failed to give thanks to God resulted in God calling out his desire as a sin.

Paul talks about desire to the early church and keeping Moses in mind read what Paul states about leadership and where desire should be focused.

3 For our appeal does not spring from error or impurity or any attempt to deceive, 4 but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts. 1 Thessalonians 2:3-4 ESV

Many people I talk with about God will state something along the lines of “God will see I am a good person and will see that my good outweighs my bad. What more can I do?” This is the wrong perspective because it follows the worlds obsession with the physical actions. Notice the focus on actions of good and bad results. “I am not as bad as that person my actions are much better.”

Just like when I move a foot to take a step forward I must first desire in my heart and spirit to move that foot forward. How many times have I thought I should take a step forward and failed to do so? I will be accountable to God for those desires that were never even acted on.

Do not think God will only see our actions and our actions are those of a good person. Know that God will judge our heart and our desires. He knows the hate I have had for others even if I did not act out the violence in my heart. He knows that I have desired the money of my neighbor even though I never robbed him. He knows that I have lusted for the physical comforts of this world to satisfy my own selfish desires to the detriment of brothers and sisters. What a wretched heart that lives in me. Forgive me father for my sins of both action and desire. Thank you for Jesus who has taken those sins from me that I may humbly sit before you as a child restored to his father.

1 Samuel 2:25 | Intercede for Me

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I have made mistakes and hurt people. I cringe when some of those events come to mind. What happens when make mistakes are made that reach the court system? The idea of getting wrapped up in court or dealing with police would cause me enough stress that panic attacks would not be far behind. So when I read news reports like the recent one that an elderly nun, Sister Catherine Rose, while in court dealing with a lawsuit collapsed and died I immediately think of the frustration and the anxiety of that situation contributed to this sad news. The court case is regarding a property dispute in that the nuns wanted to sell their property to a particular individual but Katy Perry, the famed pop star, also wanted to purchase the property. Before fighting for my rights in anything when it comes to judgment of a court I would want to take measure of the cost and make sure I was well represented. This nun spent her last moments in court and her death is now sadly linked with Katy Perry and Perry must live with the result. As intimidating as man-made laws and courts might be I have a greater fear and that is standing before the God of Creation and being left to represent myself on my own merits.

Eli a priest of God for the nation of Israel had a problem with his sons. His evil sons were breaking laws of men and God for their own selfish gain. These sons were abusing the people they should have been serving. Eli pointed out a problem and truth that they refused to understand.

25 If someone sins against a man, God will mediate for him, but if someone sins against the Lord, who can intercede for him?” 1 Samuel 2:25a ESV

Eli’s question is profound. We have arbiters, mediators, and peace makers who might broker restitution between men but who is qualified and who is strong enough to broker reconciliation between God and man? Eli’s protégé Samuel years later answers the question that Eli proposed. Samuel had become the priest and leader of Israel when the rebellious people came to him seeking God’s mercy.

5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the Lord for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the Lord. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the Lord.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah. 1 Samuel 7:5-6 NIV

Eli asked who could intercede between man and God. Samuel answers the question with action. As priest and leader between the people and God he could intercede and he could bridge that gap. Samuel is a great defense attorney navigating the perfect justice of God. Samuel tapped into God’s mercy just as Moses had done generations before.

7 And the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord, that he take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. Numbers 21:7 ESV

This kind of intercessory prayer seems to have been lost in the generations between Moses and Samuel. Eli the previous priest asked the question, but had no answer and it does not appear that he knew how to intercede for even his own children. God knowing that people are limited put into motion a plan to create the perfect unlimited priest. A priest that would not die or be limited by space and time. God provided for mankind a priest that could be perfect representation to all people at all moments.

22 This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant. 23 The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office, 24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. 25 Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. Hebrews 7:22-25 ESV

Jesus always lives, Jesus continues to live making intercession for anyone ready to accept his gift. Notice when Moses and Samuel interceded for the people it was an act that started by the people asking for help and submitting to the authority that Moses and Samuel represented. Jesus does not just represent that authority. He is that authority and he ready to intercede for anyone who calls on his name and that is God’s perfect gift to creation.

Why did Jesus Need to Die?

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Death is such an ugly business. Especially brutality and murder. Outside of the voyeuristic obsession moviegoers seem to have with death most people push the aging and sick off to the sides of society. Personally, to my good fortune and shame, I have never spent time in a hospice for those who are dying. Those that deal with death in these settings daily as a part of their job must have special insight into the moments between life and death. On one hand, I would like to experience and understand on the other I shudder at the emotional weight of such finality. When relatives, loved ones, and even pets die it is a heart wrenching emotion for those left to carry on. Even when the death is expected and drawn out the emotion of the situation can be overwhelming to even the most stoic of persons. I fall into that category. I do not want to deal with death unless necessary and even then, emotions must be held in check. Why would God allow such an unnatural evil to invade our space and our all too short of lives on this earth? The short answer is “grace and mercy” because of sin life is cutoff otherwise we would all be cursed to live forever in our sins not unlike some miserable vampire forever without purpose and without fellowship with our Creator. But why would God need Jesus to die to secure salvation for me? What does God need from Jesus? The author of Hebrews addresses this in an interesting way.  

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. Hebrews 9:16-17 ESV

The author is explaining to the Jews of his day that Jesus is a new covenant replacing the old covenant where priests sacrificed goats, bulls, and sheep to cover the sin of the peoples. No longer will those sacrifices be needed because their fulfillment was completed in the death of Jesus on the cross. But what is interesting is that he uses the contract of a will to describe the process. God could have just given us a room in his house, or given his creation a large sum of credit to fix the problem of sin. However, that credit and that place to stay would not make us whole it would only make us dependent. God wanted creation to be his children, sons and daughters, we were made to be family to the king. God resolved the issue by putting on the flesh of a man, becoming Jesus, and then being killed so that he could give the creation an inheritance of life, fellowship, and restoration of a curse removed. The only way to make us whole was his death so the will and inheritance could take effect.

27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV

God loves his creation and as members of that creation he is calling us to an inheritance that only can be provided through Christ. When we stand at judgment will it be in our own sin or the perfect blood of Jesus?

Mind or Body?

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YOLO or You only live once. One might hear this called out as encouragement to someone about to do something bold, crazy, extreme, or stupid usually to gain a rush of adrenaline and excitement from the act. “You only live once” is good natured and intended to remind everyone to live life to the fullest while one can. The term however has a major shortcoming as it fails to recognize that while we live in this corrupted sin slaved body we also have an eternal spiritual nature that lives for eternity. The fact is we outlive this temporary physical body so no we do not just live once.

It is hard for contemporary society living in a material obsessed world to remember that there is also a spiritual world. The god of Science and Atheism has infiltrated every aspect of culture and life to the point that God is denied and if dwelt on a realization that if this is all just a material being then one is simply just the sum of chemical reactions. A machine that will one day stop working resulting in death and then nothingness. Paul rejected this YOLO way of thinking and highlighted in his letter to the Romans how the physical and the spiritual interact.

14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. 15 For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Romans 7:14-15 ESV

The law is morality, truth, right and wrong, and accountability to the Creator. The commandment do not murder seems to be focused on governing the actions of the flesh but it is really more than that. It is a moral standard, a spiritual standard that God holds up as truth.

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

The law is spiritual because it deals with desire and intent not simply just what actions were manifest in the material world. John the Disciple of Christ is saying that hate for someone else may not manifest into a physical altercation that ends in murder but that hate is still the intent and thus corrupts the spiritual nature of the person that has such evil thoughts. Jesus highlights this when it comes to sex. If you have ever looked at another person and imagined them sexually. If you have viewed or continue to view pornographic images, writing, or simply lustful material then according to Jesus your spirit has broken the law because the law is spiritual.

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28 ESV

Now Paul acknowledged to the Romans that we have a serious problem with the Law. We know what is right and wrong but we do not have the ability to consistently carry it out. The physical desires of this body and the cravings and appetites of the world get in the way.

18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. Romans 7:18 ESV

There are two mistaken ways to go forward because of this war between the spirit and the flesh. First is to deny the spiritual aspect of oneself and say “oh well I was born this way”. Another “this is who I am”. Better yet people were made to enjoy these pleasures so YOLO and go for it to the extreme. The second extreme is to deny the flesh and physical altogether and focus solely on the spiritual side of oneself. Monks for example move way a remote location to cut themselves off from the physical pleasures of the world and attempt to live above the selfish evil desires of the flesh. The unhappy secret here is that even in the monastery one still must deal with the selfishness of the flesh. The problem with either way of living is that it will ultimately be unsatisfying. Life is more than pleasure and life is more than denial of physical. One cannot deny the spiritual side of things any more than they can truly deny the physical side.

6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. 7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. 8 Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:6-8 ESV

The sin of our physical desires must be put to death and we must be born again into a spirit filled life where the physical is controlled and enjoyed by the spiritual. It is in Christ that the Spirit gives us a new heart and a new desire for the things that are valued by God.

6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ John 3:6-7 ESV

John 9:3 | Jesus Does Heal for God’s Glory

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A healing Jesus is important to the church and the body of Christ. Any small group within a church has a long list of prayer requests and a majority of those prayer requests will most likely be physical issues. Sickness, addictions, and all manner of ailments that trouble loved ones. So why does a good God allow these things into our lives. A better and much less selfish question is why does God allow debilitating disease, deformity, and death to be commonplace? We all know or we might be someone that is disabled in some major or minor way. Why does it seem that so many have cancer and yet many loose the fight even with much prayer? Is Jesus really a healer and does he still heal today? The answer is yes to both however we need to explore why Jesus heals and to what purpose.

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. John 9:1-3 ESV

When you study and review the Bible where Jesus or the Apostles healed or performed miracles they were always in such a way that the healing directed all glory to God. The healing of an individual established God’s authority to the person healed and to the witnesses. Never are healing and restoration simply or only for personal reasons. Nowhere in the Bible does God promise everlasting pain free living in this present world. Quite the opposite is true. God promises that the consequence of sin is death.

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23 ESV

Review this most famous healing by Jesus where he brings to life a man who was dead and buried. Notice that even before Lazarus died Jesus knew the end result would be a resurrection that would give authority to God in mighty way.

Now a man named Lazarus was sick. He was from Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. 2 (This Mary, whose brother Lazarus now lay sick, was the same one who poured perfume on the Lord and wiped his feet with her hair.) 3 So the sisters sent word to Jesus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” 4 When he heard this, Jesus said, “This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it.”… 38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.” 40 Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 41 So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.” John 11:1-4;38-44 NIV

Multiple times in this passage Jesus testifies plainly about the reason for bringing Lazarus back to life. It was for God’s glory that the people witness to it would believe that Jesus is God in the flesh. While profoundly important that Lazarus was resurrected to his family the primary point of the miracle was not about Lazarus. Sadly Lazarus is going to die again at some point in the future because our present bodies are under the curse of sin.

While I have witnessed friends and acquaintances give testimonies about how God healed them of cancer or some other issue I have also witnessed loved ones die much too young. I do not know why God chooses to heal or not. Some prayers are answered in ways that seem undesirable to me yet I know that God in his wisdom has always done the right thing. Paul has an answer that I do find acceptable. Paul was faced with a physical issue that he prayed for God to heal. Read here his perspective when God told him no.

though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 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 weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:6-10 ESV

Boast in weakness? Boast in hardships? Content with disability? Why would Paul boast in such things? Because in that weakness and disability Christ could be glorified. Sometimes God does not heal because others can see him more clearly when we live a life that says God’s “grace is sufficient” even in this weakness. God’s grace is all I need. Come heaven or hell, life or death, God is enough for me.

If you recognize your weakness and limitations and are ready to put your trust in God’s grace now is the moment to turn away from your sins and trust in Jesus and his perfect power to give new life.

Confession

Have you ever done anything wrong? Have you ever done something stupid that you regret? Have you hurt someone close to you because of your own selfish choices? I have. It is not easy to talk about and I can’t imagine that anyone wants to revisit these moments of failure. There are times we fail to measure up to even our own standards of right and wrong. Sometimes our bad choices pile up to the point that relationships are destroyed. Have you ever lost a friendship or become estranged from family because the trust was broken too many times?

God provided a standard that he laid out in just a few rules to show us a path of living righteously. Those 10 rules come in two parts. 1-4 are rules for our relationship with Him. 5-10 are rules for our relationship with our family, friends, passersby, and enemies. Let’s look at those last six rules quickly to see how we measure up to God’s standards and evaluate how we have failed those around us.

Exodus 20:12-17 MSG
5. Honor your father and mother.
6. No murder.
7. No adultery.
8. No stealing.
9. No lies about your neighbor.
10. No lusting after your neighbor’s house—or wife or servant or maid or ox or donkey. Don’t set your heart on anything that is your neighbor’s.

#5 Have you ever been disrespectful to your parents?
#6 Have you ever hated someone and then killed them? Hopefully the answer is no, but if you have hated someone in your heart God’s standard says that you have broken this rule.

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

#7 Have you ever committed adultery? Of course not some of you would say… But Jesus tells us that God’s standard is that even looking with lust upon another person is enough to break this rule in God’s eyes.

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:28 ESV

#8 Have you ever stolen anything? Be honest with yourself, even if it is something small or intangible?
#9 Have you ever lied?
#10 Have you ever wanted something that someone else had and thought about how you could get it or wished they did not have that something?

If you are a normal person and are anything like me then you have broken every one of those rules and you have broken them over and over. Are you familiar with the history of King David? Read his story in 2 Samuel 11. King David is the leader of a people, who loves God, and is loved by God. He is blessed with every material possession. David a good person sinned and then did more evil to cover up what he had done. As King he ordered a woman that he lusted after to visit him (#7,#8,#10). She became pregnant and to cover this up he called her husband, Uriah, home from war in order to get him to go home and be with his wife so that when it is discovered that she is pregnant everyone would think that it was Uriah’s child (#9). Uriah who is an honorable man refused to go home to his wife when all the soldiers were still at war where he felt he should be. So King David did an even more terrible thing. He sent this man back to war with orders to the General to make sure that the Uriah would be placed into a battle where it was guaranteed that he would be killed (#6). King David who is a good king almost overnight breaks five commandments because of one selfish action.

When the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she lamented over her husband. And when the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord. 2 Samuel 11:26-27 ESV

While I do not have the power of a kingdom at my disposal to act on my selfishness I am still a great sinner based on God’s standards. I am guilty because I have broken all those same commands in different ways. If you are honest and reflective on this you should agree that you are in the same boat with me because the human condition in this matter is universal.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23 ESV

I have displeased the Lord just as King David displeased the Lord. What Judgment did you pass on King David? That same judgment is due to yourself as well. Remember that if you are honest then you have admitted breaking the same rules that King David broke.

So where does that leave us? Like King David we have sinned and have been judged. What recourse do we have? I recommend the same path King David took and is recorded for us in Psalm 32…

Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty! When I refused to confess my sin, my body wasted away, and I groaned all day long. Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me. My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat. Finally, I confessed all my sins to you and stopped trying to hide my guilt. I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.” And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone. Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time, that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment. For you are my hiding place; you protect me from trouble. You surround me with songs of victory. Psalm 32:1-7 NLT

Recognize your guilt before God. Confess your sins to him. Stop trying to hide and pretend that you have done nothing wrong. God forgave King David of a horrible string of sins. He will forgive you as well. In fact that is why God became a man in the body of Jesus to take the judgment of sin on our behalf. Act now as David wrote “let all the godly pray to you while there is still time”. Now is the time of mercy and forgiveness before judgment comes.

Awkward

Jesus did not act as many people might expect, he certainly did not act as the people of his own time expected. Jesus challenged everyone around him. He challenged the sinner to stop sinning and he challenged the religious to stop being religious. That challenge to stop being religious stands even today. Being religious for me is comfortable. There are rules, I know the rules, and I can for the most part comfortably slide through life picking the rules I like. That is because religious rules are manmade rules. Rules like what one can wear at Church or how to worship in Church. Rules like these really have nothing to do with God.

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Matthew 9:13 ESV

Jesus speaking to the religious leaders tells them his purpose, resolve, and intent is mercy. There is no place for mercy in a religious mindset because the rules are more important than people. When the non-religious mix with the religious that lack of mercy makes everyone uncomfortable. Jesus was comfortable spending time with sinners and many sinners appear to have wanted to spend time with Jesus.

And as Jesus reclined at table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and his disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Matthew 9:10-11 ESV

So how did Jesus avoid the awkward? How did he cross the divide of someone who appeared as perfectly religious and hang out with people who appeared without religion? How did cultures and people who would not normally share a meal together sit and eat? Jesus cuts through the uncomfortable cultural divide because he loves people even where they are at the moment. He loves his children. He created people (John 1:3) and the good Shepherd has moved heaven and earth to restore the relationship. Eating with sinners is a result of that love in action. It is real, genuine, and trustworthy compassion and the sinners that Jesus ate with recognized it. That kind of love could never be awkward.

Jesus became a servant who interacted with people as they are. He has provided and pointed to the way one should go. What do you think they talked about at this dinner? Did he talk about sports? Did they bad mouth the religious leaders? I imagine that he talked about what was important to those tax collectors and sinners. I imagine that the conversations were similar to others recorded in the gospels where Jesus with compassion would tell them about their future and the better way that only God can provide.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” John 8:10-11 ESV

He loved them first. He befriended them. He showed compassion by being willing to spend time with them in their home. He allows sinners to come as they are without judgment. Religion only judges and has no room for love.

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8 ESV