That You May be Like Your Father in Heaven

Matthew 5:44-48 (NKJV) 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? 48 Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.

This week we are examining another vital block in our supernatural foundation. Specifically we are looking at Matthew 5:43-48. In this section of scripture Jesus says, “You have heard it said that you should love your neighbors and hate your enemies. But I say Love your enemies.” This is a revolutionary statement and a completely different way to live life than that with which we are familiar.

To love friends and hate enemies makes perfect sense if you are a natural person. That is particularly true in today’s world. However, we are not supposed to be natural people. We are to be supernatural people. We are to be supernatural while we still live in this natural, sinful world. Verse 44 expands Jesus directive. It says we must bless those who curse us do good to those who hate us and pray for those who spitefully use us. When he uses the word spitefully, it takes out of play the thought that these are just ignorant people. The want to hurt us and they know what they are doing.

To do good and bless such people seems almost dangerous. To pray for them seems overly spiritual and weak. That would be true if we were alone. Paul tells us in Romans 8 that God is for us. Jesus is telling us to become seemingly vulnerable in the sight of evil and difficult people. Though we may seem vulnerable, when God almighty is your ally, you never are vulnerable.

The difficult part for us, of course, is to trust God with our lives and our futures. Sometimes God’s way of protecting us is not the way we would choose. God sees past the temporary. God also works through us to reach others. Sometimes that process takes us through some difficult ground. It may seem that we are being harmed. We must accept the fact that, in the end, God is going to work out everything for our good. This is most important when it does not look like it is possible.

The last few verses in this chapter give us some extra insight into the heart of God in this matter. Verse 45 tells us that when we do what Jesus is telling us to do we are like our Father in heaven. When I first read this verse, I was not sure how it could apply to us. God makes the rain fall and the sun shine on both the good and the evil. How is that relevant to our personal lives and the people who may threaten or oppose us? As I thought a little more about it, I understood that to God it is the same.

God created all people as his family. Some love him but some hate or ignore him. Some stand for everything that is contrary to his nature. Some desire to obliterate his influence from the earth. It is possible for God to withhold rain. It happened in the days of Elijah. It is possible for one group to have sun and the group living beside them to be in darkness. That happened under Moses in Egypt. In those times, God was judging and he used rain and sun to do it.

Jesus is reminding us that our Father loves all people the same. He does not hate those who hate him. He blesses them with sun, rain and many other good things even though they may be against him. He does this so that they may have a chance to know his goodness and repent. He uses us as the channels for that goodness. When we choose to be like him in loving our enemies, we are able to become the channels he needs to reach the most people possible.

In verse 46, he gives us a clear comparison between natural and supernatural behavior. If we love those who love us and greet only our friends we are no different from anyone else. We may be nice people or not so nice people. If we behave like the world, we have little to offer as a contrast. We will not display the nature of our Heavenly Father. We will not draw people to Him.

We are to be supernatural people in the natural world. We are to be examples of who God really is and witnesses of his salvation through Jesus Christ. What better way to be that than to love those who are our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us and pray for those who spitefully use us and persecute us. The history of the church is full of examples of how this kind of behavior broke the resistance of sinners and led to glorious salvation. Now it is our turn.

The last verse in chapter 5 really caught my attention. If we choose to live this way, Jesus says that we will be perfect, as our Father in heaven is perfect. Perfect! That is quite a word. If anyone else said this, I would not believe it. Jesus said it so I must accept that it is true. Perfect implies something much more extensive than just my reaction to those who hate me and are a threat to me. It means lacking nothing. I want to lack nothing in my relationship to God. If I will make a quality decision to cultivate this lifestyle, I will progress toward that goal. Nothing will get me there quicker than walking in the love of God especially toward my enemies.

There is a problem with all of this. It is not possible for either you or me. There is too much history against us to allow us to walk in this kind of love. We can acknowledge the goodness of the theory, but the application is beyond our ability.

We know we cannot be vulnerable to people all the time. We will get hurt. Many of us have already been hurt and that hurt makes it very difficult or even impossible to trust God the way this kind of lifestyle would require. Yet we are faced with the words of Jesus himself. He would not ask us to do what we cannot do. What is the solution? What do we need to do to get to the place where we can walk in this kind of love and trust?

We will answer that question tomorrow.

Love Your Enemies

Matthew 5:44 (NKJV) 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,

Jesus’ short sermon in Matthew 5-7 is revolutionary in the lifestyle it portrays. Jesus says a number of times “you have heard it said” followed by common attitudes and practices. He follows by saying, “But I say” and tells us that to be his followers we must cultivate a very different attitude.

Yesterday we started looking at Matthew 5:43-44. Here he is telling us how to respond to our enemies. Verse 43 contains a statement that makes perfect sense in the natural. Love your friends and hate your enemies. To do anything else would seem to ensure defeat in life. Enemies would rule over us and we would never be what we want to be or what God wants us to be.

Since we do not have the kind of enemies, at least here in the United States that Israel did in Jesus day we might say that this does not apply to us. However, an enemy can be anyone who threatens us. The threat may be to our job, our well being or our family. We may feel emotionally threatened. We would not like to admit this, but there are some people that we just do not like. In a sense, they become our enemies.

To love your neighbor and hate your enemy was the common wisdom of their day and ours as well. If you are a Christian, you know that the bible says something else. If we want to be supernatural people, we need to hear this from our real feelings not our religious feelings. How do we feel when we are threatened? It makes absolute sense in the natural to hate the one threatening you. Especially when you consider that this word translated hate can also mean to love less. I love those who threaten me less than those who like me. So do you.

Nevertheless, Jesus said we must love our enemies. This is a revolutionary statement that cannot work in the real world. It is impractical and we could even say risky behavior. If we love our enemies, we will be overcome. That is just the way it is in the real world. However, we are left with the fact that Jesus is the one who said this.

I may not understand what Jesus said. I may not like what Jesus said. If Jesus said it, I must accept that his way is the better way for me. I must love my enemies. I must not love my enemies less than I love my friends. If I do this, what will it mean for my life and future? The answer to that question depends on another question. Is the Lord really involved in my personal life?

The problem with what Jesus says here is that it puts us in a place of vulnerability. If you read the preceding verses, you find statements like, “If someone takes your coat, give him your shirt as well.” “If someone forces you to go with them one mile, go a second mile on your own.” My normal reaction in such a situation is to resist or defend myself. If I do not defend myself, the bully will take advantage of me again. I am left defenseless. However, the Lord is not telling us to become vulnerable. He is showing us how to be invulnerable.

When he tells us to love our enemies, it is with the understanding that the Lord fights our battles. God is there with us. He sees how we are treated. He will take care of our wellbeing. If I choose to stand up for myself, that keeps him from standing up for me. If I make myself vulnerable by obeying Jesus, Jesus will fight for me. Look at Paul’s words in Romans 8.

Romans 8:31-34 (NKJV) 31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He 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? 33 Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. 34 Who 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.

There are certainly times when we should stand up for our rights and when we should let people know they are not treating us properly. However, we see in Paul’s statement what Jesus is telling us in Matthew 5. When I allow myself to see the person apposing me as my enemy, I am leaning to my own strength. I am protecting myself. If I choose to see that person through God’s eyes, I am invoking what Paul invokes here in Romans.

God is for me. I do not need to hate you. I do not need to see you as an enemy. God will protect me. I am not vulnerable at all. I simply have to trust in the Lord. He will protect me and in the process, I may win my “enemy” for the gospel. This is living as a supernatural person in the natural world.

Let us look at the rest of this verse. He tells us how to love our enemy. I want to warn you, it does not get any easier. We all accept what I have been saying in principle because Jesus said it. It is when we start to look at the practical application that it really hits home.

We must bless those who curse us. The word “bless” may mean to do something nice for them. The example of giving a thief who steals your coat your shirt as well would be blessing someone who is trying to hurt you. However, blessing especially carries the idea of speaking words. If I am to love my enemy, I must choose to speak good words about them when they are speaking bad words about me. I do not know about you, but that brings the idea home for me.

Many years ago, we followed a particular preacher closely. Another preacher took it upon himself to expose this man’s “false doctrine” to the world. He would say things in his preaching and write things in his magazine that were misleading and false about this man. At the same time, we were listening to the accused brother all the time. He would frequently mention the other man’s name. He would always have a smile in his voice and he would say, “That _________ _________ is a preaching machine. That guy has won more people to the Lord than anybody I know!”

He chose to bless someone who was cursing him. The “curser” fell on hard times not too long after that. The “blesser” simply kept going and prospering in the Lord. I will leave it to you to decide who chose the right course.

Jesus then says to pray for those who “spitefully use” us and persecute us. We might be able to accept that a person is just being ignorant when they treat us badly. When Jesus says they are spiteful, that removes ignorance from the equation. They know what they are doing and they know why. How must we respond? We must pray for them.

I left the middle phrase for last because it seems to me to cover the most. Jesus tells us to, “Do good to those who hate you.” We all know that there are people who want us to fail and who want to harm us in some way. Jesus’ supernatural love says that we must try to do good things for them. This does not make sense in the natural. It is not fair. The thing is Jesus does not expect us to be natural people. He expects us to be supernatural people. He expects us to walk in supernatural love. When we do, we release a power in the world and in our lives that nothing can overcome and no problem can resist.

What the Resurrection Means to You: Our Inheritance

1 Peter 1:3-4 (NKJV) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 to an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you,

Yesterday we began looking at what Peter had to say about the resurrection. In 1 Peter this eyewitness of the actual event tells us a number of things that are ours due to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yesterday we focused on the idea that the resurrection provides us a living hope. Hope comes when we believe that things are possible. Faith is the substance of that for which we hope. If there is no hope, there can be no faith.

When we consider the resurrection, we see that God has overcome the greatest impossibility in man’s experience, death. If God can do that, he can do anything. Every challenge I face is less difficult than raising Jesus from the dead. We need to make an awareness of the hope of the resurrection a component of our everyday walk of faith.

Today I want to look at the next verse and the next thing that Peter says is ours because of the resurrection. We have an eternal inheritance.

In looking at Paul’s perspective on the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, he said that if we have hope in this life only we are “of all men most pitiable.” I pointed out that we live at a time where life in the earth is better than it has ever been. This is especially true in countries like the United States. There are challenges to be sure. The world is in a time of great upheaval and uncertainty. Most people who live in countries like ours are not aware of what that could mean for our future. We go blissfully along with our comfortable lives thinking they will last forever.

I pray we are able to overcome the challenges in the world without war or economic collapse etc. I pray our lives stay as blessed and comfortable as they are now. I am not sure that is going to happen. History tells us that eventually things will drastically change. However, right now it is hard to imagine anything being better than the life we now have.

This was not the case in the days when Paul and Peter were writing. I have had the privilege of traveling to many countries. Some places I have stayed are developing and some are undeveloped all together. Imagine a world with no technology. No TV to watch. No music players or digital devices. Imagine no electricity or running water. How would that change your life? You might enjoy the adventure for a while but most of you would want to get back home as soon as possible.

Now imagine that your life is under threat. Imagine that there were people who wanted to arrest you or worse. Imagine not knowing if you family would be there when you got home because the soldiers may have come to arrest them. Imagine life without the freedom, privileges and comfort that we enjoy. How important would your eternal inheritance be to you under those circumstances?

I know that is a bit of a bleak picture, but it does accurately reflect the world Peter and Paul lived in. The truth is that just because our world is so much more comfortable and blessed does not change the fact that our time on earth will end. We just have a hard time focusing on that. They dealt with the inevitability every day.

As wonderful as life in our modern world can be, let me ask you to imagine something even better for a moment. This verse tells us that our future inheritance is “incorruptible and undefiled and does not fade away.” What would that world be like?

Corruption is all around us since the fall off man. Politics is a prime example of corruption. The purpose of government should be to protect and benefit the people of a country. However, we see many politicians who use their office to benefit their own pockets or their need for power. The people end up serving what should serve them. This principle of something good being tainted by compromise appears in almost every area of life.

What would a world with absolutely no corruption be like? It would be a world where everything functioned as it should. It would be a world where beauty is never overcome by ugliness. It would be a place where there is no decay of any kind. That is our inheritance.

What does it mean to be defiled? My wife heard a story about some very special brownies. Some children needed to understand that sin was a bad thing and that even a little sin will defile. It seemed that they thought a little sin was not so bad. So she told them her special brownies had a secret ingredient. That secret ingredient was dog poo!

The children said, “Yuck! We won’t eat that.” Mother said, “It’s just a little bit of secret ingredient.” The children responded, “We don’t care we won’t eat anything with poo in it!” I am sure we all agree with the children, but why.

Just a little bit of feces would “defile” the whole. We might not taste it. It probably would not hurt us but just the thought of it would turn our stomach to the point where we might well throw it up if we did eat it.

The world we live in has been defiled by sin. The affect of it is all around us. We have become so used to living in a defiled environment that we cannot imagine what an undefiled environment would be like. Try to imagine what life would be like in a place that was absolutely pure and undefiled by sin of any kind. That is our inheritance.

Finally Peter says our inheritance does not fade away. Everything in this life fades. The colors in our clothes fade with the washing. The flowers fade in the heat. Our youth fades over time. Romance fades, excitement fades and we grow tired of things we thought we could not do without.

Picture a world where everything is always fresh and new. Where the colors and the excitement are as rich as the day you first saw them. Imagine a place where the sense of love and joy in relationship never diminishes. Try to imagine a place without boredom or the dulling sameness of everyday life. Each moment is fresh and new for eternity. You cannot imagine such a place, but it is what your eternal inheritance is like.

How can we be sure any of this is true? We can be sure because of the resurrection. If Jesus was raised from the dead, he was raised for a greater life. That greater life belongs to you as well. The last thing Pete says is that we have a reservation already made for this wonderful world to come. The resurrection is a reminder of that reservation.

We should live our lives here and enjoy them. We should take advantage of what the world has to offer as long as it does not compromise our relationship with the Lord. We should serve the Lord here with zeal and gladness of heart. However, we should never forget that this is not our inheritance. That is yet to come and it will be better than anything we can have here on earth.

Thank God for the resurrection!

What Does the Resurrection Mean to You: A Living Hope

1 Peter 1:3 (NKJV) 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His abundant mercy has begotten us again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,

Yesterday we looked at Paul’s perspective on the Resurrection and what would be lacking from Christianity if Jesus had not been raised from the dead. Here is a list of things from Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15.

1. His preaching and our faith are both empty

2. All who preached in the beginning are false witnesses (liars)

3. We are still in our sins

4. The dead are just dead

5. We are living futile and pitiable lives

Today I want to look at the words of another apostle, Peter. The difference between Peter and Paul is that Peter was there. He saw the trial, the crucifixion and the resurrection. He went to the tomb and saw the empty grave clothes. Later he ate with Jesus. He talked with Jesus many times. He was there when the risen Lord gave them the instructions to wait in Jerusalem. He watched as Jesus was taken up into heaven and he heard the angels tell them that Jesus would return in the same way.

In today’s scripture, we read some things that Peter says were provided by the resurrection. The list of things we could say came through the resurrection is endless. However, I want to focus on what this eyewitness has to say in these few verses.

The first thing Peter tells us that God the Father has caused us to be born again unto a living hope through the resurrection. When we were looking at Hebrews 11, we found that faith is the substance of things hoped for. Hope and faith are closely related. Hope is possibility. We have hope when we believe for any reason that something is possible.

Faith is the application of a promise from the word to our hope. As we meditate on the promise, the force of faith rises in our hearts until the hope changes from possibility to certainty. Without hope, faith has nothing to grasp. Without hope, we fall into despair and unbelief. Peter tells us that we have a living hope because of the resurrection. As I read that this past Sunday morning, something exploded in my heart.

What produces hope more than the fact that God raised a man from the dead? Jesus was not partially dead or almost dead. There were reports circulated by the Jews and the Romans that Jesus did not really die on the cross. However, there were far too many witnesses there for this to be true. Jesus was dead.

I have done both weddings and funerals in my life. I am sad to say that some of the people I married are not still married due to divorce. I can say with absolute confidence that every person I have ever buried is still in the ground! Once a person is dead, they stay that way. Death is the ultimate impossibility. As the saying goes, “Nothing is sure but death and taxes.”

When we look back at the resurrection, we understand that if God could raise Jesus from the dead, anything is possible. If God would raise Jesus from the dead, there is nothing he will not do for his children. That does not mean that everything and anything we want will be done. It does mean that within the boundaries of God’s written word and the further boundaries of that which is good for us, God will do anything; God can do anything for his children.

When I face that fiery trial, I need to remember the hope that comes with the resurrection. If my body is sick, I need to remember that God raised Jesus from the dead. If I need a financial breakthrough, I need to think about the power released in the resurrection. If there is any other need in my life, I know that it cannot be greater than the power required to raise Jesus from the dead.

Look at Paul’s words in Ephesians 1.

Ephesians 1:19-20 (NKJV) 19 and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power 20 which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places,

Paul makes it very clear here that the power at work toward us is the same as the power it took to raise Jesus from the dead. I submit to you that raising Jesus from the dead is the most difficult thing God has ever done. Of course, we are talking about God here, so I am not saying it was any problem for him. I am saying that there was more Satanic resistance to that one act than anything else God has done.

God created everything. That is certainly outside of the realm of any power I can imagine. The difference between that and the resurrection is that there was no resistance to creation at all. The birth of Jesus was a great display of God’s power. However, that was done in a way that veiled the plan of God in the realm of the spirit. Satan knew God was doing something but he did not understand what. 1 Corinthians 2:8 tells us that Satan would never have crucified Jesus if he had understood the plan.

Once Jesus arrest trial and death had taken place, Satan had a much clearer understanding of what God was doing. I do not know if he fully understood the implications of Jesus death but I am sure he knew the importance of Jesus resurrection. All of the power at Satan’s disposal was focused on keeping Jesus in the grave. I think he would have loved to annihilate him altogether if that were possible. In the end, all the power Satan had was woefully insufficient to keep God from raising Jesus. That is why Jesus made that great statement in Matthew 28:18.

Matthew 28:18 (NKJV) 18 And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.

Whatever you and I are facing today is not more difficult for God than the resurrection of Jesus. Take a moment and look at your circumstances. Look right at the impossibility of the situation and then read the story of the resurrection. Let you soul thrill to the wonderful victory that was purchased on that day. Measure your need against the power it took to raise Jesus from the dead. I think you will find that hope will rise. Find a promise and faith will not be far behind.

What if There was no Resurrection?

1 Corinthians 15:13-19 (NKJV) 13 But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. 14 And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. 15 Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up–if in fact the dead do not rise. 16 For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. 17 And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! 18 Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.

This week we celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every year I say this, and every year it strikes me as more significant. We live in a world with a level of sophistication and education that is unprecedented in history. For the most part we are far removed from the days when mythology was religious practice. We do not believe that the constellations are gods watching over us. We do not believe in mythical monsters or the Greek and Roman gods. Yet in this educated and sophisticated world, we still believe that God raised Jesus from the dead.

I know that there are many nominal Christians, those who are Christians by heritage and tradition, who do not believe in a literal resurrection. However, all over the world there are millions and probably billions who do. We believe that the resurrection is not a story or an allegory. We believe that Jesus Christ was born a real human being but was also the God of the universe. We cannot explain that because it is beyond our ability to do so. We simply believe it.

We also believe that this “son of man and Son of God” took upon himself the penalty for the sin of all mankind. This penalty involved his physical death on the cross. When the penalty was paid in full, the Glory of God entered his body and he was made alive again. He rose from the dead, was seen by a number of people and eventually ascended into heaven.

I deeply believe this to be an historical fact. I believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and I have received him as my Lord. (Rom. 10:9-10) I believe it though I cannot prove it. This fact touches everything in my present life and is my assurance of eternity.

Although all bible-believing Christians accept the fact of the resurrection and although we consider it one of the defining truths of Christianity, we usually do not really think of it but once a year. We pull it out of the corner at Easter, dust it off and give it a quick glance to be sure we remember it really is important. As I prepared for this year’s Easter message, I realized that this is not enough when we are considering the resurrection. It is far more important to our Christian life than that.

One of the most powerful resurrection chapters is 1 Corinthians chapter 15. I encourage you to read it this week. Rather than simply give an account of the resurrection, Paul reveals its significance in the life of every believer. I want to focus on the six verses from today’s scripture. Paul tells us here what Christianity would be like if there was no resurrection. It is not a pretty picture.

If you eliminate the resurrection from Christianity, the first thing that must go is the credibility of every one of the early preachers of the Gospel. All of the original 11 remaining disciples after Judas’ betrayal saw Jesus after the resurrection. There were many others among the original believers that saw him and gave testimony that he had risen. If this is not true, than the founders of Christianity were one of three things.

They were either liars, dishonest schemers or delusional. If that is the case, how can we believe their message? Western civilization is largely based on Judeo-Christian thinking. Everything that flows from Christianity and Christian tradition is a lie.

Paul then tells us that if Christ was not raised our faith is in vain. We base our faith on a lie or a myth at best. There is no afterlife as the bible teaches it. There is no point to the religious forms that we, as Christians follow. It is all foolishness. Paul says it is empty.

In verse 17, he tells us the worst consequence of a lack of a resurrection. Not only is our system of faith futile but we are still in our sins! I believe that man’s condition is a result of the sin of Adam and Eve. All the evil we see in the world is a result of that sin. That one act caused a change in man’s nature. It is that nature that we see manifested in the earth and it is that nature that leads us to ungodly deeds.

The only solution to the problem of sin is the sacrifice of Jesus. However, even if I believe that he laid down his life for me, if he was not raised from the dead, what proof it there that his sacrifice was effective. If Christ was not raised, I am still in my sin. I was not forgiven. The penalty was not successfully paid. The best I can hope for is that there is no afterlife and when I die, that will be the end. The worst case for me is that there is an afterlife and when I die, I will spend eternity separated from God by my sin.

If there was no resurrection, all those who died in are lost. They are either in torment or in oblivion. We will not see them. We will not enjoy eternity with them and with the lord. Whatever comfort we have taken in the fact that they are in a better place is nothing but a cruel joke.

Finally, Paul sums up the condition of the church without a resurrection with these words. “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.” It strikes me that modern Christianity spends far more time talking about how Christianity can make earthly life better and not nearly enough about the eternal implications of Christianity. If there is no resurrection, our hope is limited to what Christianity can do for us here. I believe in those things.

I believe God wants to heal us, deliver us and prosper us. I believe that God wants to touch our emotions and heal our hearts and souls. All of that is a very important part of Christianity. All of that is impacted by the truth of the resurrection. However, none of that is the most important part of Christianity. If our hope is only for this life, we are of all men most miserable. We are giving our lives for a lie.

We would be better served to look out for ourselves and get all we can out of life. Why bother to follow the bible. Why bother to walk according to Godly principles. We should do the best we can, try to help some people along the way and try not to hurt anyone. That or we should just serve ourselves and let everyone else do the same!

Thank God, Paul did not stop with verse 19. In verse 20, we read the words that have thrilled the hearts of Christians for more than two thousand years.

1 Corinthians 15:20 (NKJV) 20 But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Paul’s preaching was not false. Our faith is not in vain. We are not still in our sins. Those who have died in Christ are waiting for us in that “great cloud of witnesses” spoken of in Hebrews 12:1. We are not pitiable in any way. We are to be envied. We have an eternal home, a wonderful inheritance and heavenly involvement in our daily living. All of this is made certain by the fact of the resurrection.

Have you Ever Thought about the Donkey?

Mark 11:1-4 (NKJV)
1 Now when they drew near Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, He sent two of His disciples; 2 and He said to them, “Go into the village opposite you; and as soon as you have entered it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has sat. Loose it and bring it. 3 And if anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it,’ and immediately he will send it here.” 4 So they went their way, and found the colt tied by the door outside on the street, and they loosed it.

We are just finishing up in Puerto Rico. It has a busy but productive trip. This week was Palm Sunday. We were ministering in a church in Carolina, Puerto Rico (pronounced Caroleena) and the Lord spoke concerning the nature of Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the preparation day for what Jesus is going to face in the crucifixion and ultimately for the Resurrection. We might also think of that day as a day of preparation for the coming of the Lord to us.

One way to look at it is as preparation for the second coming of Jesus to the earth. However, I believe that we can also look at it as a preparation for the Lord coming to our lives. Jesus wants to manifest himself to every believer. We need to be prepared for his visitation by keeping our hearts and our faith in expectation for something good.

I have another thought about that day I would like to share with you. Have you ever considered the donkey that carried Jesus on his triumphal entry into Jerusalem?

The bible says that it was a colt that had yet to be ridden. I can imagine him tied with his mother when the disciples come to get him. They start to untie him but his owner stops them. “What do you think you are doing? That’s my donkey.” The colt says to his mother next to him, “Wow, that was close. I thought they were going to take me away.” Then he hears the new people say, “The Lord has need of him.” His owner says, “Oh, by all means take the colt for as long as you need him.”

They untie the young donkey and begin to lead him away. “Momma, where are they taking me!” “I don’t know son, but be good and I am sure we will see each other again.” The mother Donkey was trying to reassure her son, but she was not at all sure they would be together again.

They took the colt to another place and he felt them put something on his back. Then he felt this strange weight on his back. He turned his head and saw that a man had climbed on his back. The man had kind eyes but the donkey had never experience a thing like that before. He thought about trying to get the man off his back but was too afraid and the man seemed to reassure him.

They began to lead him with the man on his back toward the city. As they got closer, he began to hear a commotion. He walked on slowly and reluctantly with his head down. He did not understand what was happening to him and just wanted to go back to his mother.

The further they walked the louder the crowd became. At first, he thought they wanted to hurt him. He forgot all about the man on his back. He tried to lower his head even more in the hopes that they would somehow not see him. Then he realized that the crowed was not angry. They seemed excited. He decided to look up just a little and he saw the crowd waving branches from the palm trees as he passed by.

He did not understand the words they were shouting. It sounded like they were saying “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” He had no idea what the words meant, but the people were smiling and shouting with voices that sounded very happy indeed!

As he passed by, they began to place the palm branches and even their cloaks on the ground in front of him. He thought, “I must be a very important donkey.” He could not imagine what made him so important, but why else would the people be so happy to see him! Why he must be the most important donkey to ever live.

He began to prance for the crowd. The more he pranced the louder they shouted. He nodded to them and acknowledged their adulation. He held his head high and perked up his tail trying to look as important as the people made him feel.

Finally, they came to the great building where all the people would go. He did not know why they went there, but he had passed by with his mother. He asked her about the building but she did not know what it was for either. When they got to the building everyone stopped moving. They continued to shout and the donkey wondered what great honor was coming to him.

At that moment, he felt movement on his back and remembered the man he was carrying. The man got off and instead of bestowing more honor on him, they followed the man and continued their shouting. Slowly the donkey realized that it was not for him that they were shouting. It was for the man he carried.

They took him back to his mother. He was happy to be back with her but a little sad as well. She cried out, “Son, I was so worried. I didn’t know what they were going to do to you.” He said to his mother, “It was very strange. There was a great crowd of people and they were shouting. At first, I thought they were going to hurt me. Then I felt something on my back and a man got on top of me. As we walked, the people shouted something that seemed to make them happy.

“The farther we walked the happier they got. I forgot about the man on my back. They placed palm branches at my feet and even put my clothes on the ground so I would not walk on the dirt. I felt so proud, Momma. I held my head high and perked up my tail. I thought, ‘You are the most important donkey ever!’

“Then we came to the great building in the city and we stopped. I thought they were going to honor me, but the man got off my back and they all followed him. I wasn’t important at all. They just brought me back to you. They forgot all about me.”

“Ah, little donkey.” She said. I understand. They were using you to carry a very important person. That is a great honor for us donkeys. You should be very proud. I am very proud of you that my son should have such an honor. But we donkeys must remember that the glory does not go to us. We are just the ones who carry the important person. The glory always belongs to the King we carry.”

I am sure you understand the moral of this little fable. When people honor us for carrying the gospel of Jesus Christ we must remember that it is not about the donkey. All the glory and honor goes to King Jesus whose message and presence we carry in our lives.

The Sound of the Abundance of Rain

1 Kings 18:44 (NKJV) 44 Then it came to pass the seventh time, that he said, “There is a cloud, as small as a man’s hand, rising out of the sea!” So he said, “Go up, say to Ahab, ‘Prepare your chariot, and go down before the rain stops you.’ ”

It has been a long cold winter in Greene, NY and my wife and I are enjoying the sunshine here in Puerto Rico. That said, this is not a vacation for us. We are here ministering to many precious pastors, leaders and churches. God is ready to do something wonderful in the world and Puerto Rico is no exception.

There are many good churches in Puerto Rico but just like everywhere else, it has been a difficult season. I have talked to pastors and leaders all over the world and many of them have said the same thing to me. “2013 was the worst, most difficult year of our ministry.” For some it was financial. For some it was opposition. For many it was simply the discouragement that can come from the everyday nature of trusting God.

Local church is the foundation ministry from which Jesus intends to reach the world. Christianity is not a religion or philosophy. It is a relationship and that relationship must be communicated from person to person. Books, audio and video messages, radio, TV and the internet are all valid tools we can use to communicate the gospel and teach the Word of God. However, at some point in the development of a Christian, another Christian must take them by the hand and teach them how to walk this walk. The best way for this to happen is within relationships built in the local church.

The problem with this is the long-term nature of local ministry. I enjoy traveling to different places. That has its own challenges but at least you see different faces. You get to minister to different people who want to hear what you have to say. You do not have to deal with the personal problems individuals face. You “love them and leave them” as one old friend of mine used to say.

That is all well and good but someone has to “stay with them.” Someone has to be there to help people apply the wonderful principles of the Word of God we teach. When I get back home, I have to hear about the problems both the local church and its people are facing. This can wear upon anyone.

It sometimes seems that nothing ever changes. We go for years doing what we know to do. The challenges remain. When we win one battle there seems to be another one on the horizon. We get a financial breakthrough and there is another challenge that pops up. We help one person through a difficult situation and the next week there is another situation we need to deal with. We give our time and energy to a person in need only to see them ignore counsel and make the same mistakes over again.

It is this perpetual nature of local church that makes things difficult. I know there are some churches that are growing right now. There are also many good pastors and churches that are not seeing growth. It seems the church has not changed for a long time, but they keep doing what they have to do. The end of 2013 for many of these pastors and leaders represented a time when enough was enough!

I believe God showed me that 2014 is a year when things are going to begin to change. Here in Puerto Rico we found the same frustrations but also the same excitement. God is beginning to do something. We have not seen all that we would like to see, but we see movement. That is the beginning

If you are a pastor or leader, I want to encourage you to believe that 2014 is going to be different. I am not saying it will be free of challenges or that everything you want to see in your church will happen. I am saying that it will be a beginning. If you are in a church and you have been discouraged, do not give up. Pray for the leaders in your church and believe with them that 2014 will be different.

Hebrew 11:1 tells us that faith is the substance of what we hope for and the evidence of what we cannot see. It is time to hope again. Hope is simply the knowledge that something is possible. God is for us, so what can be impossible? Find a promise in the written word and apply that to your hope. That is the most sure thing you can stand on. However, you can also stand on the prophetic word of God. If what I am saying witnesses with you spirit, join me in believing that 2014 is going to be different. We may not know exactly how it will be different but I believe it will be different!

In today’s scripture, we read the end of a long story. We know the story. Elijah has defeated the prophets of Baal and begun to turn the people back to God. There needs to be another miracle to finish this chapter in the prophet’s ministry. He came to the king 3 years before and said, “It will not rain again until I say it will.” It had not rained for the whole three years, but now it must rain if Elijah is to be believed as a prophet.

He has prayed six times and six times he sent his servant to see if there was any rain on the horizon. Six times the servant came back and said, “I’m sorry prophet, but there is not a drop in sight.” Each time he said to the servant, “Go again.” Finally, the servant comes back after his seventh trip and he says, “I see a small cloud about the size of a man’s hand on the horizon.”

If we are looking in the natural this does not seem like much. However, Elijah was not looking with natural eyes. He tells the king to get into his chariot because there is a “sound of an abundance of rain.” What made him think such a small beginning could result in an abundance of rain? He knew God had spoken and any movement confirmed that something was going to happen.

I want to encourage you to see with the eyes of faith as Elijah did. He had been through a difficult battle and needed to see a change. It had not rained for three years. It was great that he had beaten the prophets of Baal, but now he needed to see the rain so the land could be healed. Maybe you have won some battles in 2013 and early 2014. We have but I still need to see some things happen. Our people need to see some things happen.

I have begun to feel a change in the spirit. It is a little like Elijah’s cloud. It is not very big. There has not been any great outpouring of the spirit yet. We have seen some financial breakthroughs but much more will be needed in the near future. Yet I know that God has spoken. I feel a movement in the spirit. It is not very big yet but I hear the sound of the abundance of rain!

Maybe you are feeling something in the spirit but are afraid to believe that anything is really happening. Disappointment is a difficult thing to overcome. However, overcome it we must. It is time to tell the people to go again into the harvest. It is time to look expectantly to the horizon and see by faith that God is moving in the earth again.

If you are a leader, do not be afraid to trust God again. Do not be afraid to tell those you lead, “I hear the sound of an abundance of rain.” If you are a member of the congregation, get on board with the leaders. Encourage them that you are believing with them for great things in 2014. If they seem discouraged, encourage them. Maybe even give them this blog post.

The world needs to see a move of God even more than the church. In this story, it was not Elijah or his servant that needed the rain. It was the people of Israel. People need to know that God still cares. How else will they find that out if we, the church, do not rise up and show them? We are the ones that know the Lord and we are the ones through whom he will work. Put aside discouragement and begin to hear the sound of the Spirit of God. He is on the move!