The Reward of Occupying

Luke 19:16-19(NKJV) 16Then came the first, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned ten minas.’ 17And he said to him, ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities.’ 18And the second came, saying, ‘Master, your mina has earned five minas.’ 19Likewise he said to him, ‘You also be over five cities.’
Luke 19:22-24(NKJV) 22And he said to him, ‘Out of your own mouth I will judge you, you wicked servant. You knew that I was an austere man, collecting what I did not deposit and reaping what I did not sow. 23Why then did you not put my money in the bank, that at my coming I might have collected it with interest?’ 24“And he said to those who stood by, ‘Take the mina from him, and give it to him who has ten minas.’

This week we have been looking more closely at the idea of occupying until Jesus comes. The only place the term “occupy until I come” is used is in the King James translation of Luke 19:13. This is a parable Jesus told to the people in order to make them understand that the manifestation of the kingdom they expected was not going to happen immediately. The Jews of that day believed that the Messiah would lead them in overthrowing the rule of Rome. They expected him to establish a new Israelite kingdom on the earth. This was not the case. Jesus was going to establish a spiritual kingdom, but people would still have to live in the corrupted world for many thousands of years. This parable was to tell them how they could be successful living in the world until the day when the King of kings would come and establish the new earthly kingdom as well.

There are a number of elements we need to see in the story Jesus tells. First, we see that there was a nobleman who was going away to become the king. That is speaking of what Jesus was about to do. He would be crucified, buried and rise again. He would then go to his Father in heaven and sit at his right hand. One day he will return to the earth as the reigning King.

Ten servants were each given a talent or mina of silver. This amounted to 3 months wages. The nobleman told them to “occupy” with this money until he returned as the king. The New King James Version says, “Do business until I come.” The implication is that the servants are to take what the nobleman gave them and invest it to expand the nobleman’s influence and holdings. We are the servants of the nobleman and we have been given precious gifts to invest for our returning king. The greatest of these gifts is life itself.

Finally, there were citizens of the nobleman’s jurisdiction who hated the nobleman and did not want him to rule over them. They went to the ten servants and tried to discourage them from extending the nobleman’s influence. Today we live in a world whose citizens do not want Jesus as their king. They will try to discourage us from investing our lives and gifts to extend the kingdom of God.

In the parable, we see that the king does return eventually. He has been made the king despite the objections of those citizens. Our King will return someday. When he does return, “every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.” (Philippians 2:11) In the parable, the servants must give account for what they did with what was given to them. So it will be with each of his servants today.

The first thing we notice when the king calls for an accounting is that he speaks to three servants not ten. What happened to the other seven servants? What did they do with what they were given? It does not say in the parable, but I have to wonder if they listened to the “citizens” and simply took the nobleman’s money and used it for themselves. There are many of the Lords so called servants today who have been exposed as those who use the gifts of God to benefit themselves. They do not even rate a mention in this parable.

Of the three servants the nobleman does deal with, two are commended. The first one comes and says, “Look, I invested your ten minas and I doubled it. Here are 20 minas for you.” The master says to him, “Well done good and faithful servant. Now that I am king I am going to give you 10 cities to rule.”

The second comes and says, “Master, I invested your money and I earned 5 more minas. Now you have 15 and not 10.” The master says to this man, “Well done good and faithful servant. I am going to make you the ruler of 5 cities.”

There are some important things I want to point out in what the master said and did. The two servants did not produce the same results and therefore did not get the same reward. Today, there is a tremendous pressure for fairness in the world. If this story were told today, many would say each should have ruled the same amount of cities. After all, they both tried hard. Just because one may have been more talented or worked harder does not mean he should get a greater reward. However, that is just not true. Not everyone is the same and not everyone will produce the same results. God is not fair so much as he is just. It is just that the one who produces more gets a greater reward.

On the other hand, the nobleman gives each man the same commendation. This shows that he loves and accepts them the same way. All God asks of us is that we do what we can do. Some will have greater results. Some pastors will have bigger ministries. Some businessmen will make more money. Some who witness will win more souls, but as long as we do our best with what we are given, we will get the same commendation. The greatest possession we will have in eternity will be the words, “Well done good and faithful servant.” Some who we would look at and say, “What have they done?” will hear those words because they obeyed God with their whole heart.

Finally, we come to the third servant. This man buried his “gifts” because he thought of the master as cruel and unfair. Where did he get that idea? The master was neither with the other servants. I believe he also listened to the “citizens” who hated the King. He did not use the mina for his own profit, but he did not invest it either. The king looks at him and says, “Let your own words condemn you. If that’s what you thought of me, why didn’t you at least put it in the bank so I would have some interest. Because you did nothing you will lose what you have.”

It is my opinion that, had the man at least invested the money, he would have received the same commendation as the other two. I believe God knows where we are and if the best we can do is put what we have into the bank to gain interest, he understands that. However, because the servant did nothing with what the master had given him, he lost what he was trying to preserve and got no reward. It does not say he was cast out of the kingdom, just that he got no reward.

I believe it is important that we see the necessity of occupying our land until Jesus comes. We need to the business of the kingdom. That business is winning souls and making disciples. It is to live our Christianity for all to see even if those around us may not want to see it. It is to build our houses on the rock of hearing and doing the Word and planting gardens of the word of God so that the fruit will be there for all to see. (Matthew 7:24-27 and Mark 4:13-20)

As we approach the New Year, make a quality decision to do the business of the Kingdom of God. If you do, you will “rule some cities” but more important you will hear those words, “Well done good and faithful servant.”

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Zacchaeus

Luke 19:8-10(NKJV) 8Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” 9And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

This week we are looking at the power of occupying our land of promises in everyday living. I believe it is important to know that there is more to our Christianity than just where we may be today. God has a plan and a destiny for each and every individual. God has a plan for the world and he is moving to bring that plan to pass. The culmination of that plan will be the return of Jesus Christ to the earth. Remembering these things keeps us motivated to walk as God desires we walk.

There is another important truth that we need to remember. That is that we fulfill our destiny and contribute to the fulfillment of God’s plan by facing everyday life as a real Christian. One minister I knew said, “You get to your destiny by doing the will of God every day.” Doing the daily things we all must do in life and doing them with faithfulness, character and integrity, matters in the larger picture. When I choose to love those around me, take care of my family and walk in holiness and righteousness daily I am changing the world. I will not become famous for that. I will not build a big ministry or get rich in the process, but I will extend the Kingdom of God by my influence over those around me.

Today I want to look at some things from Luke 19. As I was praying about what to share with our church this past week, I felt the Lord draw me back to the idea of occupying until Jesus comes. I have heard this term used throughout my Christian life. Many older preachers and teachers would say things like, “God has not called us to just sit and wait for Jesus’ return. We must “occupy until he comes.”

When I first started to study this topic, I thought it must be a common term in the bible. Considering how much I heard it used I was shocked to find that it is used only one time in the New Testament and one time in the Old Testament. I was also surprised to find that the only time the word was translated “occupy” was used was in the King James Version. In most versions of the bible the word translated occupy in the KJV is translated “do business” or something similar. I found this interesting.

The Greek word translated occupy is even more interesting. If there are many mentions of a word or idea in the bible, it can mean it is something very important. This Greek word is only used once and that is in Luke 19. The fact that it is such a rarely used word carries its own significance. There is something about the word and the context that we need to see.

Jesus makes a statement in Luke 19:11 that is important.

Luke 19:11(NKJV) 11Now as they heard these things, He spoke another parable, because He was near Jerusalem and because they thought the kingdom of God would appear immediately.

Tomorrow we will look at this verse more closely, but today I want to look at the first few words. He says, “as they heard these things he spoke another parable.” This connects the subsequent parable to what was happening beforehand. We need to know what that was.

When we go to the beginning of Luke 9, we find the story of Zacchaeus. This story is made famous by a children’s song many of you sang in Sunday school. The song and the story both reveal something about Zacchaeus that is significant. He was short. I believe the bible points things out for a reason and Zacchaeus’ short stature is no exception.

I believe we can surmise that Zacchaeus was probably made fun of because of his height. He could not do some things that others might be able to do. As a result, he may have felt like an outcast. When he grew up, he chose a profession that also made him an outcast. He was a tax collector. No one likes to pay taxes but in this time, tax collectors were particularly disliked.

Many tax collectors were dishonest. They got rich by taking money above that which the government demanded. It may be that Zacchaeus did not mind being seen that way as he was an outcast his whole life. If he cheated those who had made him miserable, it was of no consequence to him. They deserved to be cheated and he deserved to be paid back. Not only that, now he was the “big man” and they were afraid of him.

On this day, Jesus was coming to his town. He had heard about this prophet and although Zacchaeus was probably not welcome in the synagogue, he wanted to see him. Since he was too short to see over the crowd, he climbed up into a tree so he could get a good look a Jesus as he walked by. As Jesus made his way through the crowd and under the tree, he did something that startled everyone. He looked up into the tree and calls Zacchaeus’ name.

We do not know how he knew Zacchaeus. It would not be unusual for Zacchaeus to be known in the town. He probably had a bad reputation. It seems that someone had told Jesus about this stumpy little tax collector that nobody liked. At any rate, Jesus says something that surprized Zacchaeus. “Come down from that tree Zacchaeus because I am coming to your house for dinner.”

This had a profound impact on Zacchaeus. No one came to his house. He was an outcast but this prophet chooses to come. It so affected Zacchaeus that at the end of dinner he stands up and makes a startling statement. “I am going to give half of what I have to take care of the poor and if I have taken anything by false accusation I am going to return it fourfold.

This is something for the tax collector to say, but Jesus response is even more significant. He says that this indicates that salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house. Why would this action mean Zacchaeus was now a believer? Zacchaeus impressed Jesus because his newfound faith affected his daily living. His faith moved him to change his lifestyle.

Zacchaeus did not display some spiritual manifestation. He did not suddenly gain wisdom or knowledge of the bible. He did not fall to his knees and begin to weep and repent. All of these things could show that God had touched a person, but Zacchaeus showed nothing like that. He simply made a declaration that he was going to make some very practical changes in his lifestyle. These changes showed how deeply Jesus visit had touched him. I do not know if anyone treated him differently, but inside he was no longer the short little outcast. He was accepted by the son of God and could now accept himself.

It is in light of this story that Jesus tells the parable that is the only time the term “occupy until I come” is used. The reason is that to occupy means to let what we believe affect our daily living. Many Christians will have wonderful encounters with God in church, but on Monday, there is no evidence of it. If we want to fulfill destiny we need to let our belief in Jesus change the practical things in our lives that will reflect that faith.

Let me encourage you to look at yourself. Is there something you need to change in your practical behavior? Does your faith in Jesus extend to the way you treat your family or your neighbors? Is there some sin or lifestyle that would bring into question your faith in Christ? Has Jesus touched you inwardly? You need to let that show outwardly. It is an important part of occupying until Jesus comes. Jesus said that this practical impact of faith is what showed him and the world that Zacchaeus was truly saved.

Everyday Christianity

Jeremiah 29:5-6(NKJV) 5 Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished.

This week we are looking at the idea of occupying until Jesus comes. During the course of this year, we have focused on three basic thoughts relating to our Christian walk. We are to possess our promised land, drive out the enemies that keep us from possessing and occupy this land until Jesus comes.

Yesterday we began looking at Jeremiah 29. Verse 11 is a powerful thought that should encourage all of our hearts.

Jeremiah 29:11(NKJV) 11For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.

I believe in destiny. I believe that one of the things we have to offer those who do not know Jesus s the fact that God created each of us with a purpose and destiny in mind. We were not here by chance. Though there are many people who were not wanted by their parents, there are no people who were not wanted by God. He knows the thoughts he has toward you, and those thoughts are to give you a future full of hope. The implication is that he has a plan for you and is working to bring that plan to pass.

This plan of God is not inevitable. God will do all he can to cause it to unfold for us, but we also have a part to play. We must receive his salvation in Christ. We must allow Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, obeying his Word and living to the best of our ability in his ways. God will not force his plan or destiny upon us. We are not robots. We are God’s children and he wants the best for us. We have to be willing to submit to his will instead of insisting on our own. However, knowing that he has a plan is a powerful thing.

Sometimes we can become so focused on our future destiny that we forget that today is a part of that destiny. We need to see the life God has given us today and remember his blessings as we go about daily living. In Jeremiah 29, Israel knows that they have a destiny in God that is connected to the Promised Land. They know that they will eventually go back there and fulfill that destiny. However, God had to let them know that it was going to be 70 years before they returned and they were not to simply sit and wait for their future to manifest. They needed to apply themselves in the life they had in Babylon.

As we observe our world today, we know that the Lord has to do something to bring about some changes. We have bible promises that tell us there is a great move of God coming before the end of the age. I firmly believe we are on the verge of a great time of revival that will affect both America and the rest of the world. I have believed that for a long time. I still have not seen what God showed me many years ago. What am I to do?

Many believers today know that God has called them to something more than what they presently see. They may have a call to full time ministry. They may believe that there is something more for them in the business world. They may be waiting for relationships. Many believe the message that God has a plan and destiny for them, but they have no idea what it is. They do not know what their gifts are. They do not know what they are supposed to be in the body. We should all believe for more power to win the lost and make disciples. Yet at this point in life, many have no idea how God could bring a great destiny to pass in their lives. What do we do now?

I want to share something with you from my heart. We live in a celebrity driven society. Fame is more important than accomplishment. We give entertainment celebrities a status that they do not deserve just because they are famous. God is not oriented that way.

Paul was not famous. The vast majority of people would have had no idea who he was. Jesus was one of many prophets in the world in his day. He had certain notoriety in Israel, but so did many others. In Acts 5 when the disciples were brought before the council Gamaliel, a famous teacher, notes many leaders who began movements. He says if Jesus is like them, his movement will fade away as theirs did. The point was that he was not famous in the way we would think he should be. Jesus and Paul are known today for what they did not because they were celebrities.

This thinking causes us to see our lives in an ungodly manner. We think that fulfilling our destiny means we will be known by someone. We look to some future day or some future move of God and think that then we will make a difference. There is something more for you. You can be someone who lives a life that counts. You and I will be part of a wonderful move of God that will change the world. What we fail to see is that we already are.

The people of Israel were going to spend 70 years in captivity. Nothing could change that. They could pray all they wanted, but it would not make the number any smaller. They could work very hard or study the scriptures tirelessly and they would still be in Babylon 70 years. They could repent in sackcloth and ashes, but they would not return to Canaan one day sooner. The thing about destiny in God is that it is always on his terms and in his time.

I believe they could have caused their captivity to become 80 years or 120 years. How can I say that? Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness they did not have to spend because they would not go into the Promised Land the first time they had the opportunity. A whole generation died in the wilderness that did not have to because they would not believe God. How could Israel have caused their return to Canaan to be delayed? They could have ignored the words of Jeremiah.

What did God really tell them to do? He told them to live the life they had in Babylon for God. There was something more. The way to get to it was to “build houses and live in them and plant gardens and eat the fruit.” They were to live! God told them to live for God in Babylon so that they would be increased there and not diminished. This would cause them to be ready when the time of destiny came. Some of them would not live to see it but their children would.

I do not know exactly what God is going to do for our generation. I do not know what the next move of God will look like. I believe it is coming. I am now 58 years old. What if I do not live to see that move? Is my life wasted? That depends on what I do with it between now and when it ends. If I do not see the move I want to see, but my children do see it, I have fulfilled my destiny. My living Christianity daily in front of them counts

You may have a call on your life to something more than you are walking in now. You may be in the process of believing for some great thing to happen. You may have no idea what you are or what God has called you to be. What should you do?

You should live the life you have the best way you can. You should care for others, love God and obey the Word of God. You should have faith, walk in love towards your neighbor and the world around you. You should serve in any way you can. You should tell others about the Lord and invite them to meet him. You should praise and worship God, care for your family and help build the local church of which you are a part. All of these things count. When you do them, you count. You are making a difference. You will not be famous because of you do these things, but in the eternal plan you will change the world.

Houses and Gardens

Jeremiah 29:4-7(NKJV) 4 Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all who were carried away captive, whom I have caused to be carried away from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. 7And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace.

A few weeks ago we had the pleasure of a visit from our friends Pastors Tom and Joy Collins from Ecorse Michigan near Detroit. During our meetings with them, Pastor Tom shared a message from Jeremiah 29. If you have read any of this blog during 2012, you know that our theme for the year is “Possess our land of promises, drive out the enemies that keep us from possessing the land, and occupy that land until Jesus comes. Pastor Tom’s message spoke to the last of these three ideas.

Through this whole year, we have been dealing with various aspects of this theme. We have spoken about being aggressive in areas such as our love walk and our attitude toward the promises of God. We have emphasized believing the promises, speaking the promises and acting on the promises. Last week we stressed giving thanks for the promise while we wait for the manifestation of the thing for which we are praying. All of these things fall more into the realm of the first two of our three points within the theme for 2012.

Possessing is an attitude. Driving out enemies is an action. In both we find that there are some very specific things we must do. They are somewhat limited in scope. In a sense, possessing the promises and driving out the enemies are sprints. Even if we have to believe for a long time, or resist the devil for a while, we know what we need to do and we do it. There is little or no strategy involved in the process.

When I was in school, I participated in track and field for a while. I started out running the 100-yard dash. In this race, there is no strategy. You go as fast as you can for as long as necessary and in 10 to 15 seconds, you either win or lose.

Later I switched to the 880-yard run. I found that the 880-yard run required strategy. It took a longer time to run it. I could not simply run as fast as I could for that long. 880 yards is ½ mile or two laps around our ¼-mile track. I found that the best strategy for me was to lay back for the first 1 ½ laps and then try to overtake the rest of the field in the last ¼ lap. I won almost every race with this strategy.

If possessing and driving out are sprints, occupying the land is a marathon. It requires consistency of faith and character. It requires a strategy for the long haul. We must realize that we cannot apply a few basic principles and win the race in a short time. To win this race we must continue until we either come to the end of our lives or the Lord returns. Either way there are no shortcuts.

In Jeremiah 29, we see that the people of Israel were in captivity in Babylon. God did not deliver Israel from Egypt for captivity. God delivered Israel for a destiny and that destiny was that the Messiah be born in Canaan. God also wanted them to be his chosen covenant people. He wanted to bless them and set them apart as an example of his love for humanity. When they got to the border of Canaan God said that he wanted them to possess the whole land. Possessing it meant they would have to claim it as their own and drive out the people who already lied there. It also meant that they were to occupy the land until the Messiah came.

They did the first two parts to some degree, but they continually failed in occupying the land. God told them to drive out all the enemies. They did not. They continued to allow some to remain in the land. They intermarried with them and worshipped their gods. This produced mixture in their ranks. They did not fully occupy the land. They did not live in it according to the principles that the Lord had established in his covenant law. As a result, they never fully enjoyed what God had for them and they ended up in captivity in Babylon.

What was God’s purpose for Israel in the captivity? In the above verses, God tells them to build houses and live in them, plant gardens and eat the fruit of them and give their children in marriage so they will increase and not decrease in the land where they find themselves. God was telling them to occupy.

Verses 8 and 9 tell us there were false prophets among them. What were these false prophets telling them? They were saying the captivity would be short. They said, “Don’t bother getting settled because you will be going home soon.” This was not the truth. God tells them they will eventually go back to Israel, but that it would not be for seventy years. Many of these people would not live to see Israel’s return to Canaan. They were going to spend the rest of their life in Babylon. This was not a sprint it was a marathon.

In a sense, we are in captivity away from our home. If we are born again, we are citizens of Heaven. Jesus said we are to be in this world but not of it. (John 17:15-16) We have become new creatures in spirit but we still must live in these physical bodies. There will come a day when that will change, but until it does, we must deal with temptation, sickness and emotional pressure. Life will continue and as the saying goes, “Life happens.”

To succeed in having victory in this captivity we must possess the promises Jesus paid for with his blood. They are ours and just because we may be in “bondage” to the physical world does not mean we have to live subject to it. We can drive out the enemies that oppose us in this land. We do not have to submit to the devil. God tells us if we resist the devil, he will flee from us. However, these two things are the sprint. To get to the end victoriously we must occupy.

What does this mean? We will explore that at length, but from today’s scripture, it means we are going to have to build our houses and then live in them. Remember the story from Matthew 7 about the house builders. One built on sand but the other took the time to build his house the right way. He dug down and found bedrock truth to build on. His house stood against the storm. That is what it means to occupy.

However, once we build the house, we need to live in it. That means that the truth we built upon must become the guiding truth of our whole life. We cannot build on the promises of the Bible and then not live on the principles of the Bible. If we are going to occupy we must continue in the things of God and apply them to our whole life.

Second, these verses speak of planting gardens and eating their fruit. Gardens take time. Fruitfulness takes work. We tend to be a supermarket society. We go to the market and buy what we need for the week or even for the day. God desires that we be fruitful. That way we always have what we need and we can give to others. However, fruitfulness requires time, effort and consistency. Fruitfulness requires that we occupy, not just posses or drive out.

Giving our children in marriage certainly implies time. We must raise them, train them and find them spouses. God is teaching Israel and us as well that it is not enough to win some battles, take some land and drive back the forces of darkness. We need to occupy our land. We need to build houses and plant gardens. We need to live in the principles we built upon and eat the fruit of righteousness, holiness and faith that we reap from our gardens.

Think on These Things

Philippians 4:8-9(NKJV) 8Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things. 9The things which you learned and received and heard and saw in me, these do, and the God of peace will be with you.

This week we have been looking at the power of being thankful. Thankfulness for a Christian is a force that, when applied by faith in the promises of God, will bring good things to us. We have found some keys to developing and maintaining a thankful heart in Philippians 4. The first of these keys is rejoicing or celebrating in the Lord. This is an active demonstration of our thankfulness to God for all he has done.

The second key was to be anxious or careful for nothing. Worry does us no good. When we cast our care on the Lord, we will find that thankfulness is much easier to maintain. This is possible when we understand that he cares for us.

Third, we must bring our requests to him about everything all the time. We cannot expect to be thankful if we do not pray. We often think something is too small to bring to the Lord in prayer. There is nothing that concerns our lives that we should try to solve on our own. When we communicate with the Lord about the things that concern us daily, we will find that he is continually moving on our behalf. This will give us many reasons to thank him.

The forth key was to offer these prayers with thanksgiving attached. We must not wait until we see the answer; we must thank him because we know he is faithful to do what he said he would do. It may seem obvious to say this, but a major key to maintaining a thankful heart is to give thanks actively. Practice makes perfect.

There are two more things Paul tells us we must do in order to maintain a thankful heart. First, we must choose what we will think. Yesterday we said that the process of offering our requests to God would produce a force that guards our minds. This is true. However, we then must maintain that fortress by choosing to think the thoughts that help us maintain thankfulness. What are those thoughts?

Paul gives us a long list in verse 8. I will not restate that list here. Needless to say, it is a list of positive things. You cannot stay thankful if you allow your mind to dwell on the negative. The world is full of negative thoughts. We encounter them on TV, radio and the internet. Bad news is news. Good news is not news, so what you here most of the time is negative. We must choose to think on good things not bad. This requires a decision and discipline.

If you look at this list, you will realize that there are two things we can fill our mind with that fit everything described in Philippians 4:8. The first is the Lord himself. When bad news is all around us, if we concentrate on the Lord and his love for us, we will be thinking according to verse 8. Paul tells us as much in Romans 8.

Romans 8:31-34(NKJV) 31What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? 33Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.

Paul understood that in the midst of trial he had to keep his mind on the Lord. If you read on in this chapter, you will find another list. It is a list of the things Paul had faced in his walk with God. You would not want any of these things in your life. It is in light of this list that Paul writes the above verses.

The second thing we can choose to think on that fits Paul’s requirements is the Word of God. We have said much about the promises of God this year. When bad news wants to take our thankfulness, we need to go back to the Promise of God we are standing on. When we think on that promise and replace the bad thoughts with it, we will find that thankfulness will once again rise in our hearts.

In the end of this verse, Paul says something that I think is very descriptive of what we must do. “If there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.” Sometimes we have to work a little to find something good in a situation. Paul tells us that if there is anything positive in our circumstance we need to concentrate on that. If we look hard enough, we can always find something good to think about no matter what we face. If we meditate on the good, we will stay thankful.

The last thing Paul says in this section of scripture is not something we might associate with thankfulness, but without which we will inevitably fall in to being unthankful. Paul tells his readers that the things they have learned in their walk with God they must actually do.

We live in the greatest age of bible teaching the world has ever seen. We have books, audio and video teaching readily available. This is especially true for us in the USA. There are good churches everywhere and many of the pastors of these churches, both small and large, are excellent teachers of the Word of God. We may not know their names, but I have many friends that rival and surpass any of the preachers and teachers you may see on TV.

All of this wonderful teaching does us no good if we do not do it. James 1:22 tells us that if we hear the Word but do not do the Word we deceive ourselves. In Ezekiel 33, the Lord speaks to the prophet and tells him that the people are speaking against him. The way they are speaking against Ezekiel is that they are saying, “Let’s go hear Ezekiel prophecy. He is like a really good singer. We enjoy listening to him.” The problem was that they did not head what Ezekiel said. I believe many Christians are like these Israelites. They enjoy good teaching but they do not put it into practice.

If we do not do what we learn, we will not see God move in our lives. It is just that simple. I have been teaching our church about the power of the promises of God. I have extended those teachings to this blog. Many people enjoy what I have to say, but what good does it do to enjoy it but not apply it. I have taught that we need to meditate on the promise, speak the promise and act on the promise. In the church, these messages have been well received and enjoyed by all. That is really good for me, but all of us actually have to do those things or nothing will happen.

When we hear the word and do the word, we are built up in our spirit man. We are encouraged and we see God move. When we hear the word but do not order our lives according to what we learn, we deceive ourselves. We begin to think God does not love us. We begin to think the promise is not for us today. All of this thinking is deception from the devil. When we hear and do the word, we know that God is for us. We see God move and we feel the truth of what we are hearing.

Take some time to go over these scriptures for yourself. Meditate on them and ask yourself how you can apply Philippians 4:4-9 more fully. As you do, you will find thankfulness becomes a normal part of your walk with God. Your thinking and your emotions will be less subject to the ups and downs of life. You will see the promises of God manifest in your daily living and you will be more able to touch those around you.

Be Anxious for Nothing

Philippians 4:6-7(NKJV) 6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

Yesterday we began looking at Paul’s words in Philippians 4 concerning maintaining a thankful heart. We have seen that thanksgiving for Christian is much more than just a response to something good. Thanksgiving is a positive force that draws good things to the believer. Philippians 4:4-9 gives us some keys to cultivating and maintaining a thankful heart. Yesterday we studied the first of these keys, rejoicing in the Lord.

Rejoice means to celebrate or express joy. Rejoicing in the Lord is to celebrate our relationship with him. Paul says we should do this always. That does not mean that we must sing and shout all day every day. It does mean that we should keep a consciousness and rejoicing in our hearts concerning the wonderful things God has done for us. In order to do this, I believe we need to spend time in physical rejoicing or praising God.

In our church, we spend time in every service singing, clapping, shouting and even dancing before the Lord. This brings our flesh under the control of our spirit. When we are exuberant in our physical praise to God, we are doing what David did in Psalm 103. We are telling our soul that we will not serve it but that our soul, emotions, will serve us by praising God. We bring our bodies under subjection and cause them to praise the Lord. It is impossible to be unthankful when we are celebrating the goodness of God.

The second, third and fourth keys are in verse 6. First, Paul says to be anxious for nothing. The KJV says be careful for nothing. In Matthew chapter 6 Jesus tells us we cannot add an inch to our height by worrying. These are all saying the same thing. If we want to have a thankful heart, we cannot give in to worry.

Worry is meditation in fear. It is taking upon ourselves the care for our future and the responsibility to solve all our problems. There is a responsibility that we should carry, however we cannot handle the full weight. 1 Peter 5 tells us what we should do.

1 Peter 5:6-7(NKJV) 6Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, 7casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.

When we give into the temptation to think about all the bad things that can happen to us, we are giving in to the cares and worries of life. Bad things are always out there. They can happen to us at any time. The ones we know about are probably far fewer than the ones we do not know about. However, the ones we know are the ones that get our attention and cause us to worry. The problem with worry is that it simply does no good.

The solution is to cast the worry, or care, about a situation on the Lord. To do that we must realize the truth that he really does care for us. When I give in to worry, I will always find myself unthankful. When I cast my care upon the Lord, I must begin to thank him for what he has done in the past. I remember that God is able to deal with any problem. Soon I find myself telling the devil, “My Father has this situation under control. I am not going to think about it except to hear what he has to say about it. If you want to talk about it, you will have to talk to my Father.”

Casting our care on the Lord requires that we do something that can be difficult for some of us. We must humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God. To some people this means declaring that we are nothing and that we can do nothing. That is not true humility. True humility knows that I can do nothing without the Lord, but it also is willing to receive the help that God gives. I humble myself by letting the Lord take the care of the situation off my shoulders. He is well able to carry that burden.

The second key in this verse is that in everything we are to make our requests to God. This seems rather obvious at first, but if we examine ourselves, I think we will find that we do not do this. We try our best to solve the problem. We ask people for help or we lean on some natural institution. When all of that fails, we finally go to God in prayer. When we finally go to prayer, we have already taken the care of the situation on ourselves and we are already unthankful.

Paul tells us to take everything to God all the time. No request is too small or too large to take to the Lord. We should make requests of him first not after we try everything else. He can then direct us to whatever solution will best suit our situation. We may still get counsel from people or use some natural resource. We may find that the Lord will direct us as to how to handle the situation ourselves. He also may simply answer the request with a miracle. In any case, if we do not make the request he can do nothing.

Finally, Paul says we must make these requests “with thanksgiving.” It will do us no good to pray if we do not believe that God can and will meet the need. As we have studied in the past, if we believe God will meet the need, we should thank him for it even before we see the manifestation. God is not a man. He does not lie and he has no lack of ability no matter what our need may be. Since we know God can meet the need and, if we pray according to the promises in the Word, we know he wants to meet the need, we thank for the need met.

So let us summarize what Paul is saying in this verse. I need to be thankful to God. To cultivate this thankfulness, I must stop taking the burden of the care for the problem on my own shoulders. I must realize that God cares for me and be humble enough to trust him with my problems. I must also bring those problems to him through prayer and supplication, or asking.

Once I have done so, I must begin to thank him for the answer. In order to maintain a thankful heart, I must give thanks. I must practice thankfulness. As I practice thankfulness, I will release more and more of the care of the situation to God. As I release more of the care to God, I will be more thankful. I will also be more confident in bringing my requests to God, which will result in more practice of thanksgiving, which then will lead to more casting of my care on God, which will make me more thankful. Do you begin to see a pattern?

What is the result of this process? The peace of God begins to our hearts and minds. In this context, these words mean our thoughts and feelings. One interpretation of mind here is our disposition. I like that thought. The mind is the battleground of faith. As we put this process in place, there is something that begins to happen to our minds and emotions.

The Amplified Bible says the peace of God mounts garrison around our hearts and minds. This process produces peace, which becomes a fortress of God around my thoughts and my emotions. My disposition begins to change because I know that God is in control. The more I thank him the more peace rises and the stronger the walls become against the attack of the enemy. With this “garrison” in place, I can do anything necessary to see the full manifestation of God’s promise in my life.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Maintaining a Thankful Heart

Philippians 4:4-7(NKJV) 4Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say, rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. 6Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

This week we celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday and the beginning of the Christmas season. I believe this is more than a coincidence of timing. The Christmas season is a stressful time for many people. At best, it is exceedingly busy. If we choose to take seriously the meaning of the Thanksgiving holiday, it will change the whole complexion of the season. Start by truly giving thanks to God for what he has done and what he promises to do. Keep that attitude in your heart through the New Year and see what a difference it will make.

Yesterday we warned against the cancer of being unthankful. When we focus more on disappointment and what we do not have than on the many things God has done in our lives we are giving in to an unthankful heart. Romans 1 tells us that this can lead to confusion, darkness of mind and mood and ultimately a wrong idea of who God is and what he is doing in our lives.

We must combat being unthankful by offering up the sacrifice of praise, which is the fruit of our lips giving thanks to God. Even when we do not feel the emotion of thanksgiving, we must recognize that God is for us and not against us. We must choose to thank him in spite of our feelings or circumstances. When we do that, our emotions will change and the power of God will go into effect to change the circumstances.

Today I want to look at a section of scripture we touched on earlier in the week. In Philippians 4, Paul gives us some keys to maintaining thankfulness even in the face of trials and disappointments. In the sixth verse, we read that we should make our requests know to God with thanksgiving. This ties prayer and the promises of God to the idea of giving thanks. It is what we must do while we wait for the manifestation of the promise upon which we base our prayer.

I believe we can tie a number of the verses in this chapter to the same thought. In verse 4, Paul gives us the first step to developing and maintaining a thankful heart. He tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” This thought is so important that Paul repeats it by saying, “again I say rejoice.” If we are going to maintain a thankful heart, we must be willing to rejoice in the Lord. What does it mean to rejoice?

To rejoice means to celebrate or show joy. When Paul tells us to rejoice in the Lord, he is telling us to celebrate in the Lord. We all know what a celebration is. I am a sports fan. When a team wins a championship, there is a celebration. The people rejoice in the victory. The typical celebration in a locker room is to shake bottles of champagne and pop the corks spraying the champagne on everyone in the room. This is not a mild display. It is exuberant and extreme. When there is real rejoicing, everyone knows.

Thankfulness and rejoicing go hand in hand. There is no way that we can be unthankful and rejoice in the Lord at the same time. We generally associate rejoicing with a spontaneous reaction to an event. We rejoice at a championship, a marriage or a birth. However, just as thanksgiving is something a Christian does to produce an effect, so is rejoicing. When Paul exhorts us to rejoice in the Lord, he is not saying that we should wait for something good to happen. He is telling us to rejoice in the Lord. Our relationship with the Lord is the “something good” we are to rejoice about.

Paul tells us that this is something we should do “always.” Paul is not just suggesting that we rejoice. This verse is an exhortation bordering on a command. This implies that we must choose to rejoice in the Lord. We cannot wait for feelings of rejoicing to erupt. We must rejoice, or celebrate, whether we feel it or not. As we have already said, rejoicing is so important that Paul repeats the command a second time.

The implication is that we should actively celebrate our relationship with the Lord on a continual basis. I know that we cannot run around shouting all the time. However, I believe we must have this rejoicing in our hearts at all times. This is necessary if we are going to maintain thankfulness. I also believe that we will not have rejoicing in our hearts if we never practice rejoicing outwardly.

I do not agree with the current sentiment in many circles that would say we should have only moderate behavior in our church services. The thinking is that we do not want to offend anyone or make anyone uncomfortable. When I started my third church 25 years ago, this thinking was just coming into vogue. As I prayed about what Living Word Christian Center’s character would be, the Lord spoke to my heart. He said, “I don’t want you to make this church acceptable to the young or the old. I don’t want you to make it acceptable to the rich or the poor. I want you to make it acceptable to me.”

I have allowed this to guide me as we built the church. The word of God says, “Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice.” In our church, we spend time at every service obeying this command. We sing. We shout. We dance before the Lord. We celebrate his goodness and we thank him for his blessing. Some people do not like this kind of behavior in church. That is not my problem. Jesus likes it and that is all I care about. I find that if our people are comfortable with rejoicing, eventually the visitors warm up to it. If they do not, there are plenty of churches for them to go to. As for us, we will rejoice in the Lord!

For those who participate in this rejoicing, thankfulness rises the more we rejoice. How can you be unthankful if you are shouting about the goodness of God? How can you be unthankful when you dance around the sanctuary, celebrating his blessings in your life? You cannot. I find it interesting that no one seems to think spraying a room full of people with champagne is strange, but to shout, sing and dance in church because we are rejoicing in the Lord is strange.

I realize that rejoicing can mean different things to different people and at different times. I also know that God gives us some guidelines for rejoicing in the psalms. It is there we find shouting, clapping, loud cymbals and dancing. I believe that this pattern is pleasing to the Lord and therefore appropriate for church. I believe that the time we spend rejoicing in our church is exactly what David commanded himself to do in the psalms.

Psalms 103:1-2(NKJV) 1 Bless the Lord, O my soul; And all that is within me, bless His holy name! 2 Bless the Lord, O my soul, And forget not all His benefits:

David is speaking to his own soul. His soul did not want to rejoice. His soul was discouraged and disappointed. However, David knew the secret of rejoicing. He knew that a rejoicing heart is a thankful heart. It was David who danced before the Lord with all his might. David would not allow his emotions to rule him. He took hold of his emotions and commanded them to rejoice in the Lord.

However you choose to do it, I exhort you with the apostle Paul, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I will say rejoice.” Rejoice this thanksgiving. Continue to rejoice through the holiday season. Do not rejoice in the gifts or the giving. Do not rejoice in the fun or the food. Rejoice in the Lord. Let the celebration continue through the year. Rejoice by faith because God is good no matter what may be happening our how we feel. Rejoice on purpose and in the midst of trial and disappointment. You will find that being unthankful will not stand up to the rejoicing heart. You will be thankful and your thankfulness will bring good things to you and yours.