Greatness Through Obedience

Genesis 6:14 (NKJV) 14 “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch.

Genesis 6:22 (NKJV) 22 Thus Noah did; according to all that God commanded him, so he did.

This week I have been looking at one of the great men of the Old Testament, Noah. Noah was great because he found grace in the eyes of God. He found this grace because he was different from every other person in his world. The whole world was full of such evil that the intent of every thought of every person was only evil continually. Noah chose to continue to believe in God in the midst of this wicked generation. The bible says he was perfect in his generation. That does not mean flawless. It simply means he did the best he could to walk before God in righteousness.

We must walk as true Christians in our generation. God does not expect us to be flawless. He does expect us to walk in the light that we have. James tells us that we must be both hearers and doers of the Word of God. If we hear but do not do the word, we deceive ourselves. It is dangerous to sit in Church, hear the Word of God, experience the presence of the Holy Spirit and not walk in the truth we learn. We become insensitive to the greatness of God and his Word and we will find ourselves doing things and making choices that get us into trouble.

It is the will of God for each of us to grow in God. Look at the admonition in the book of Hebrews.

Hebrews 5:12-14 (NKJV) 12 For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. 13 For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. 14 But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.

God desires that we grow into maturity. He does not expect what we are not ready to give. He does expect that we drink the milk of the Word and grow into the meat. He expects that we pass on to others what we learn. The last verse is particularly revealing. In James 1 we read of someone who hears but does not do the Word. He is like someone who looks in a mirror but does nothing to improve his appearance. In Hebrews, we see that the goal is that even our senses be trained to discern good and evil.

Overcoming our flesh is one of the most difficult things any Christian must do. Our flesh has been trained in a world ruled by spiritual death. It tends to want pleasure and gratification to the excess. It will crave things that are bad for it to the point of death. This scripture tells me that I can come to the place by doing the Word where my flesh will begin to reject what is ungodly and do what is right.

This brings me to the defining characteristic in Noah’s life. What really made him different? Why did he find grace with God when the rest of humanity did not? The most important thing we see in Noah’s life was not that he was particularly gifted or powerful. He was not a ruler or a general. He was really nobody. The people of his day ridiculed him. What set him apart is what we see in the two verses we read today.

God told Noah to build an ark. Noah built the ark. Noah obeyed God! It was obedience that made Noah great in the Kingdom of God and it is obedience that will make you and me great in the Kingdom as well.

We often look for complicated answers to questions. We want to hear God give us grand directions and reveal the deep purposes in our lives. He did that with Noah, but there was a reason he could. Noah was an obedient man. Let me highlight some ways he was obedient.

We have already talked about one in detail. Noah went against the flow of the world he lived in. Everyone else thought one way but Noah chose to obey God’s way. If we will not cultivate this kind of obedience, God cannot reveal his purpose for our destiny. We must first obey in principle and behavior before God can trust us with more.

Second, Noah obeyed in that he preached righteousness. 2 Peter 2:5 calls Noah a preacher of righteousness. We can only imagine the kind of ridicule Noah endured when he told the people of his day that a flood was coming. God revealed to him that it was going to rain for forty days and nights. There is no record of rain at this point in the bible. The earth was watered by the mist that went up from the ground. (Genesis 2:6))

Noah stood before his people and declared the Word of the Lord to them. He declared that sin had caused the Lord to bring destruction on them. He told them it was going to rain and the world would be flooded. They did not know what rain was. They could not conceive of such a thing as a worldwide flood. Yet Noah obeyed and preached what God told him to say.

One interesting thing about Noah’s obedience is that there was never any chance that the people would hear and repent. They were all going to die. Even so, God told Noah to preach his message and Noah obeyed. Sometimes we feel that no one is listening to our message. We feel that we are wasting our time by preaching the Gospel. We must be willing to obey anyway. Our obedience to preach will enable God to reveal more to us. If we will not obey the Great Commission, he will not give us a more personal commission.

Moses obeyed in another way that may seem somewhat unrelated. He built the ark in obedience to God but he built the ark for his family. God used it to preserve the animals of the earth, but in Noah’s heart, I am sure he was more concerned with protecting his family. I still live in the house where my children spent most of their growing up years. We have had various pets in that home as well. I did not pay the heat, electricity and mortgage for the animals. I paid them for my children.

I believe it is a matter of obedience to God that we protect our families. We need to teach our children the ways of God. We need to raise them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. We need to protect our marriages so that we can have the agreement and stability a good home provides. Why was this so important in Noah’s day? Why was protecting his family a matter of obedience that made him so great that he could save the world?

Who was it that was going to replenish the earth? Who was it that was going to become the people who would eventually produce the Messiah who would take away the sin of the world? It was his children. When we protect our families and make sure our homes are places where God reigns, we ensure that the Gospel will be preached until Jesus comes. Those that are saved because of our obedience to protect our families will be credited to our account.

If we do not protect our families, we jeopardize the future of the Gospel. I have many questions about the world in which my grandchildren will live. If we do not build an ark of protection in our homes, I wonder if they will be able to withstand what the devil has in store.

Finally, we read that Moses built the ark. It is just that simple. He did what God asked him to do. God did not ask him to raise an army. He did not ask him to build a financial empire. He asked him to build a boat. We need to do what God has asked us to do. We are not required to do anything more or anything less. What have you left undone. Examine your life and ask the Lord to help you. If there is something, than do it. Do not discount the power of simple obedience to produce greatness in the kingdom of God.

Perfect in HIs Generation

Genesis 6:9 (NKJV) 9 This is the genealogy of Noah. Noah was a just man, perfect in his generations. Noah walked with God.

Yesterday we started looking at Noah. Noah was a man who was great in the Kingdom of God. I believe it is the will of God for us to be great in the Kingdom. Our goal must not to be great in the eyes of man. If that happens, fine, but our goal is to be great in God’s eyes. Often this means we will be anything but great in the eyes of man.

The question we are asking is, “What made Noah great in God’s Kingdom.” We found that he lived in a world where every intent of the thoughts of every person’s heart was only evil continually. It is hard to believe the world could be that bad, but the bible says it was. God had not recourse but to destroy almost all people to make sure that it was possible to save mankind as a whole. The only ones that he did not destroy were Noah and his family.

God preserved Noah because he was different. That difference manifested in Noah’s finding grace or favor with God. What made him different from every other living human being? That difference is what made him great in the Kingdom of God.

The description of the world above is more extreme than I can imagine. There is another description in this chapter that seems more familiar to me.

Genesis 6:11-12 (NKJV) 11 The earth also was corrupt before God, and the earth was filled with violence. 12 So God looked upon the earth, and indeed it was corrupt; for all flesh had corrupted their way on the earth.

I do not believe the world has come to the place where all flesh is corrupted but I do believe the description of this corruption is relevant to us today. The earth is certainly filled with violence. There is corruption everywhere we look. People do not like the constraints of the Word of God. They tend to be like those in the book of Judges.

Judges 17:6 (NKJV) 6 In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

I do not believe God will ever again allow the world to get to the place it was in the days of Noah but I think we are headed in that direction. God needs a people who will be great in the way that Noah was great. The bible says that he was perfect in his generation.

We do not like the word “perfect.” We know that we cannot be perfect. I have dealt with many people who are overcome by perfectionism. It is a destructive thing in the life of an individual. When someone thinks they have to be perfect, they cannot accept failure of any kind. To fail means that there is something wrong with them. The problem is that failure is how we learn. It is not a problem to fail. It is a problem when we allow failure to cripple us. It is all right to make mistakes as long as we learn from them.

When the bible says that Noah was great by being perfect in his generation we immediately think, “That must mean he was special because I know I can’t be perfect.” We need to understand the word perfect when it is used in this context. It does not mean someone who never makes a mistake. It means someone who is complete. He does all that he can do. Think of a perfect baby.

We often use that term to describe a newborn. “Oh what a perfect baby!” That does not mean the baby makes no mistakes nor does everything correctly. In fact, the baby does nothing well at all. They cannot walk. They cannot feed themselves, dress themselves or even go to the toilet. What makes them perfect? They do everything that is expected of a baby.

Noah was not perfect in character or behavior. After the flood, Noah got drunk and caused sin among his children. That is far from perfect! What the bible says is that he was perfect in his generation. The Hebrew word means whole or complete. It means that he was sincere, upright and walked in integrity. Although he may not have done any of this without flaw, he did all of it in a way that stood out in his generation.

One of the keys to Noah’s greatness was that he stood out in his generation as a righteous man. The intent of the thoughts of every other person was only evil continually. It would have been easy for Noah to go along with that. It was the accepted lifestyle of his generation and culture. He chose to believe God. He chose to walk according to the revelation of God that he had. This made him perfect in his generation.

There is a verse in 1 John that shows us how this applies to our day.

1 John 1:7 (NKJV) 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.

Not one of us has all the light of the Word of God active in our life. However, if we walk in the light as he is in the light, the blood of Jesus will cleanse us from the sins we commit. This chapter goes on to say that we must repent of and ask forgiveness for known sin. It is not saying we can live any way we want and do whatever we want and it does not matter. It is saying that if we stay with Jesus in the light of his love we will stand out in our generation.

One way to say this is that we must walk in the light that we have. I do not know everything about God or his Word. God knows that. He does not hold me accountable for what I do not know. He expects me to grow in knowledge. He also expects me to do my best to walk in what I do know. James 1 sheds even more light on this.

James 1:23-25 (NKJV) 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

If we hear the Word with understanding but do not do the Word, the bible says we deceive ourselves. The devil’s main weapon against us is deception. He does not need any help! When we know the Word and will of God and transgress it anyway, we help the devil defeat us. When we hear and do the Word, we are perfect in our generation.

I make mistakes and so do you. Noah made mistakes. However, what set Noah apart was he tried his best to do what he knew to be the will of God even when his whole world thought he was crazy for it. That is what we must be like if we are to be great in our day. We must walk in what we know as Christians and do it in front of our world. We can make mistakes. We must not live in compromise. There is a difference between those two things. If we will be hearers and doers of the Word, we can be for our generation what Noah was for his.

There is another aspect of this that se Noah apart from the rest of his world. Noah was obedient.

Only Evil Continually

Genesis 6:5-8 (NKJV) 5 Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. 6 And the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. 7 So the LORD said, “I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth, both man and beast, creeping thing and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.

Our theme for 2014 has been that we must be a supernatural people living in the natural world. The idea is that we must walk as real Christians in the midst of the world. We cannot separate our “religious” and our “secular” lives. On the other hand, we need to realize that the supernatural God is a God of everyday living. He is not just with us in church. He is not just supernatural when we “feel his presence” in a service. The supernatural is not just relegated to when we feel the anointing. We are supernatural people all the time because the supernatural God is in us all the time.

As I have looked at different elements of this thought during the year, I came to the scripture where Jesus defined what it took to be great in the Kingdom of God. He did not rebuke his disciples who asked about greatness. Instead, he redefined greatness and the path to greatness. He said to be great in the Kingdom of God means we serve those around us.

Let me make this more personal. Do you want to be great in the local church? Find a way to serve the other members of the local church. Do you want to be a great father and husband? Serve your wife and your family. Do you want to be a great wife and mother? Serve your husband and your children. Do you want to be a great employee? Serve your boss and fellow workers. Do you want to be a great boss? Serve your employees. The list could go on and on, but you get my meaning.

The “red letters” of the bible, the words of Christ himself, are full of this kind of thinking. We will be great in the Kingdom of God if we do the “red letters.” This will not be the path to greatness in the world. Truth be told, living the “red letters” may mean you never get recognition or success by worldly standards. Our goal must not be greatness in the world. Our goal must be greatness in the Kingdom of God.

Greatness and supernatural living are really the same thing when we are talking about God. If I am walking in the supernatural, I am great in the Kingdom. If I am great in the Kingdom, I am walking in the supernatural. The bible is full of great people. I decided to look at some of them and see what made them great. The first one I examined was Noah. What was it that made Noah a great man in the Kingdom of God? Let us look at his world for a moment.

In today’s scripture, there is a statement that always boggles my mind. The world that Noah lived in was the world that developed after creation. It had been several generations since Adam’s fall in the Garden of Eden. The affect of spiritual death had been working in the earth during the years preceding Noah. Man had come to a place where “every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

We live in a very difficult world. Even in this corrupt day, I cannot believe that things are so bad that every thought all the people think is evil. The thoughts they thought were not mostly evil. They were not predominantly evil. They were continually evil. It says that the thoughts were not all that was evil. The bible says that the intent of every thought was evil. They intended to do evil things. They wanted to think evil thoughts. They were not out of control; evil was the only controlling factor. That is scary!

The bible says that God was sorry that he created man. The original King James Version of the bible says that God repented of making man. When the bible speaks of God repenting, it does not mean quite the same thing as it does when it tells us to repent. When we repent, it means we are wrong about something and we must acknowledge that fact. God is never wrong.

The second phrase in that verse gives a clearer picture of what God felt. “He was grieved in his heart.” God did not believe he made a mistake in creating man. He was grieved in his heart when he saw how far man had fallen from what He originally intended. He was sorry to see that man had so fully accepted the nature of Satan that he became something far lower than what he should have been.

I believe that God is sorry when he looks at us and we are living below the “abundant life” Jesus died to give us. He is never sorry he made us. He is sorry that we are not all he made us to be. In Noah’s day, he had to do something about this condition. Today, he wants to move in our lives to help us overcome the things that keep us from walking in abundant life.

The problem in Noah’s day is that everyone was corrupted. There was no one who loved God and no one who would stand for God in all the earth. No one except Noah!

People look at the flood and think, “How could a loving God destroy everyone? That does not seem fair!” We must understand God’s perspective. The bible says he can see the “end from the beginning.” He knows the outcome of every situation. When he saw the condition of man, he knew that once Noah was gone there would be no one left that would cultivate the knowledge of God in the earth.

He knew that he was going to make covenant with a man named Abraham. He is knew that there had to be an Israel through whom salvation could come. He knew that a Messiah was going to be born and that the messiah would give man a path back to the eternal relationship with God that he always intended.

He also knew that once Noah died, that would be impossible. All of the people alive were so corrupted that no repentance was possible for them. They were going to die. When they died, they were going to be separated from God for eternity. To God, a few more years was only going to make things worse. We see the flood as judgment, and it was. If we simply see it from the human perspective, it seems cruel. If we understand God’s perspective, the flood was an act of mercy that preserved the possibility for all humanity to come eventually into relationship with God.

The bible says that Noah found “grace” with God. Grace is unmerited favor. Of all the people in the world, Noah found favor with God. What does this mean? It means that somehow Noah was different from everyone else in his world. Noah was great in his world. Why? What made him different? Join me tomorrow.

Love Your Enemies

Matthew 5:43-48 (NKJV) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 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 have been looking at part of the Sermon on the Mount from Matthew 5. One of the characteristics of the teachings of Jesus is that they tend to be the opposite of what had been taught before. Where the world tends to see greatness as obtained through domination of one form or another, Jesus says greatness comes through servant hood. In this chapter, Jesus tells his followers that the age-old tenant of justice, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth, must be replaced by a philosophy that does not resist evil but instead repays evil with good.

All of these things seem counterintuitive. To our mind, they just will not work in the real world. However, the history of the church tells us that it is this kind of behavior that has made Christianity virtually impossible to destroy. I believe the reason for this is simple. God is behind Christianity. When we obey the words of Jesus, we release the power of God. Even if we seem to be defeated in the short term, we end up winning in the long term. People respond positively when we maintain the lifestyle and attitudes preached in the Gospels.

This brings me back to what we talked about yesterday. We need to take the “red letters” of the bible more seriously and more literally than we do. By the “red letters”, I mean the custom of printing the words of Christ himself in red. We need to understand that if we do the “red letters,” we will automatically live the way God wants us to. If we do not do the “red letters,” all of the other doctrinal things we may do will be useless. The key to success and victory are the “red letters” of the bible.

I want to look at the next section of Matthew 5. In these verses, Jesus gives us the real key to the previous teaching on responding to evil people. Once again we see the contrast between what had been taught and what he teaches his disciples.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies.” Jesus quotes anther Old Testament verse here.

Leviticus 19:18 (NKJV) 18 You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.

I find this very interesting and very telling. Jesus quotes the scripture but adds something to it. In Leviticus 19, it says that Israelites should not take vengeance upon their own people but that they should love their neighbor. In Matthew 5, the words “you shall love your neighbor” are in italics indicating a direct quotation.” The words “hate your enemy” are not in italics. This indicates that these words are not a translation but are, instead, an interpretation traditionally added to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

In Jewish culture, anyone who was not an Israelite was considered a potential enemy. It was acceptable to treat a non-Israelite differently. You should not seek vengeance upon an Israelite. It is quite acceptable to seek it on an “enemy” or someone who was not an Israelite. Their cultural interpretation of this thought was that it was acceptable to hate an enemy or anyone not of their people. That is not what the bible said.

This is an example of how cultural interpretation of the Word of God can cloud the spirit of what God was saying. The purpose of the statement in Leviticus 9 was to emphasize the love that Israelites should feel toward one another. The cultural interpretation emphasized the hatred for outsiders. We still make these kinds of mistakes.

Jesus leaves no room for misinterpretation. He makes it clear that the requirement is that we must love our enemies in the same way we love our “neighbors.” How must we love them? He gives us a number of practical keys.

We must bless those who curse us. We must speak well of people who speak badly about us. The natural tendency is to strike back at those who curse us. He says we must speak blessing over their lives. One of the best examples I have heard of this involves two preachers most would recognize if I named them.

One man believed that the other was preaching something that was not right. Instead of going to his brother as the bible says we should, he decided to attack him in his national publication. Large numbers of people read this magazine. He would publish cover stories about how bad this brother was and how damaging his teachings were. I cannot remember if he called him by his name but I know there was no doubt about whom he meant.

The second brother was someone I listened to a great deal. He did not have the wide audience that the first man did. However, whenever he spoke about this first preacher he always had wonderful things to say about him. He would say, “That man is just a preaching machine. He has probably preached to more people than anybody I know!” I never heard a negative word come out of his mouth about this man who was destroying his ministry in print.

Some years later there was a great scandal surrounding the first preacher’s ministry. He was caught in sexual immorality and eventually he became a reproach to the church. There have been attempts to do the same to the brother who refused to return cursing for cursing. None of the accusations stuck and to this day, although there are some who do not like his message, his integrity has never been questioned. When we choose to bless those who curse us we can rest assured that God will defend us.

He tells them to do good to people who hate them. I have had people who hated me and usually it was without reason. I did not want to do good things for them. I tried to not speak badly about them. I would not do bad things to them. I did not go out of my way to do good things for them either. However, Jesus says that to love them means I must do good for them if I can.

He says that we should pray for those who spitefully use us. To me this is even more significant. Someone may curse me out of ignorance. He may hate me because he has bad information. If he is being spiteful, it implies that he knows what he is doing and that he intends to hurt me even though he knows it is wrong. Love requires that I pray for him.

It is obvious that this is a type of love that the world has never known. Even the Israelites who had the greatest revelation of the creator in the world at that time did not understand this kind of love. Yet Jesus is very clear. The “red letters” tell us that we must do this kind of love if we are his disciples. I know that, in myself, I would find it very difficult to follow what Jesus says. Nevertheless, he did say it.

Maybe you would pray this with me. “Jesus, I see the kind of love that you say we must have. I am not sure I have that kind of love. I know I don’t in myself. Holy Spirit help me to yield to this love. Help me to respond according to the words of Jesus. Help me to love as Jesus tells us to love.”

Red Letters

Matthew 5:38-42 (NKJV) 38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also. 40 If anyone wants to sue you and take away your tunic, let him have your cloak also. 41 And whoever compels you to go one mile, go with him two. 42 Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.

Yesterday we looked at these verses and how they changed the rules of behavior for the whole Jewish culture. The statement of justice Jesus quotes here was the standard for dealing with those who meant harm. If a person caused harm, it was acceptable to repay them with the same harm. Jesus said that this was not acceptable for his followers.

Jesus says that we are not to resist an evil person. I want to say again that I do not believe he is talking about evil in the world going unchallenged. It is not ungodly to defend our families, our nation or our way of life. What Jesus is talking about is our reactions on a personal level. He speaks of being slapped. This is not a threat to our way of life. It is a personal injury and insult. How do we respond to such things? The natural response is to retaliate. Jesus says we are to offer this person the other cheek and let him slap that as well. This is revolutionary thinking.

All of the examples in this section of scripture involve personal responses to personal injuries or insults. In each case, our natural response would be just the opposite of what Jesus says we should do. It seems that if we follow this kind of behavior we will be left vulnerable. It would seem that the result would be that we would be weak and easily overcome. History tells us this is not the truth.

Christianity has proven to be the most resilient belief system in history. Part of the reason this is true is the kind of behavior Jesus is teaching in this scripture. The stories abound through history of how this extreme good will has confounded those who would destroy the church and turned them to some of her greatest propagators. The prime example is the apostle Paul.

1 Timothy 1:12-15 (NKJV) 12 And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, 13 although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. 14 And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. 15 This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.

We know Paul’s testimony. He was a persecutor of the church. He approved the stoning of the first church’s martyr, Stephen. On his way to Damascus with orders to arrest the believers there, Paul encountered Jesus in a vision. Jesus did not attack Paul even though Jesus tells Paul that his attacks on the church are really attacks on him personally. He did not resist Paul’s evil with evil. He offered salvation. He loved Paul.

The result was a conversion so powerful that Paul became the most prolific Christian of all time. His letters make up 1/3 of the New Testament. He planted churches all over the known world. He is the second greatest standard, next to Jesus himself, for true Christian living. Jesus showed the power of his teaching in the life of Paul. Paul continued to live that teaching even though he suffered many things. He never struck back at those who persecuted him.

It is true that some of those who chose the path Jesus’ describes were killed as martyrs. However, their martyrdom contributed to the eventual spread of the Christian faith through the whole world. The foundation of Christianity led to the rise of western culture and the greatest societies the world has ever known.

Most bibles are “Red Letter” editions. That means that the words of Jesus himself are written in red. As I was going over this message, the Lord began to speak to me about the red letters. The words of Jesus are revolutionary in nature. This sermon in particular sets standards of living that no other philosophy would set in quite the same way.

Matthew 7:24 makes a statement that I am not sure we take as seriously as we should.

Matthew 7:24 (NKJV) 24 “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock:

We know that we need to build our personal “houses” on this solid foundation to be successful in life. We usually interpret this to mean building on the whole word of God. I believe that to be true. All of the bible is important. We must order our lives after the whole Word of God. However, that is not what Jesus says here. He is speaking specifically about this message. He says we must build on “these sayings of mine.” I believe we might extend this to include all of his sayings. In my bible, that is the red letters.

When teaching in other countries, I talk about the cultures of those countries. There is nothing wrong with culture. All cultures have beautiful things about them. They express the wonderful diversity that God himself put into the earth. However, all cultures have things about them that do not agree with the Word of God. When we find those things, the culture must be adjusted to the Bible not the other way around. That is true of western culture as much as it is true of any other culture.

I believe we must begin to realize that the “red letters” in the bible must become the real world guide for all of our behavior. The scripture we have been looking at is an excellent example of how important and difficult this can be. These are the words of Jesus. These are his sayings. If we are going to build on the rock, these sayings do not need to be adjusted or rationalized. They do not need to be updated to reflect our current culture. They simply need to be obeyed.

This is not easy. I do not believe we can do it without the help of the Holy Spirit. That does not mean we are excused from them. Look at these sayings. I am talking about the few verses we have been studying this week. Are you doing them? Is this the way you respond in life. Is this what guides your responses at work? Is this how you respond at home?

You might say, “Well I try but my husband does not respond that way.” “You don’t know my wife!” (You could put in “my boss” or “my co-workers or “my fellow students.) The responses of others do not matter. Jesus uses people who are behaving badly in his examples. It is not about how they behave. It is about how we respond.

If we, the church in America, could start to take the “Red Letters” seriously, I believe we could change our world. Until we do, Christianity is just one of many cultural influences that can be either positive or negative depending on how we interpret the bible. If we choose to live by the “red letters”, we will change the world. People who have done so have changed the world throughout the history of the church. If we do not choose to live by them, we will continue as we are and eventually, the world will change us.

Everyday Sacrifices

Daniel 11:29-32 (NKJV) 29 At the appointed time he shall return and go toward the south; but it shall not be like the former or the latter. 30 For ships from Cyprus shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved, and return in rage against the holy covenant, and do damage. So he shall return and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. 31 And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. 32 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.

(We had a guest speaker this week at Living Word. She is a dear friend of mine and my wife’s, Pastor Joy Collins from the Detroit area in Michigan. Here are some thoughts on what she shared with us.)

Yesterday we began looking at this scripture. I was drawn to the 29th verse that said there was an attack coming against the righteous, but it would not be like “the former or the latter” attacks. I believe that we are living in a similar day today. The attacks coming against the church are different from the ones I have experienced in the past. They seem more effective and carry more animosity.

One area this scripture points to is the lack of regard for the “Holy Covenant.” I believe this is speaking of the disregard we see in popular culture for the moral standards of the Word of God. Those who believe in the Bible are seen as backward and intolerant. The bible is considered a book of outmoded ideas that needs updating. How arrogant of man to think that he will ever be without need of the wisdom of God.

As this kind of thinking has all but taken over western culture, we see a steady decline of conditions in almost every area. Economic turmoil is on the increase. War is everywhere and the conflict between light and darkness has never been more evident. People who espouse violence against the innocent are pressing their agenda for a world dominated by a morality from the middle ages. Yet it is those who believe in the God of the bible that are seen as a threat to tolerance.

The next thing Daniel points to is the attack on the sanctuary fortress. This is the church. We must guard against the attack of mixture that is trying to come into the church in the guise of “relevance.” There is an antichrist spirit in the world and it is attacking the “sanctuary fortress.” We must guard against that attack and maintain the holiness and righteousness of the House of God.

There is good news in this section of scripture. Those who know their God will be strong and carry out great exploits. Even in the midst of the attack prophesied by Daniel there will be those who know God. This is the great admonition throughout the Bible. God desires a people who know him. This is the reason God created in the first place. He wanted a family.

There is a key in this verse that will help us to understand how we can know God better. He says that one of the things that the enemy attacked was the “every day sacrifices.”

Our world is inundated with the spectacular. The blockbuster movie is the one that makes the most money. We do not want to see everyday life. We want things that are larger than life. Unfortunately, this tends to get into our thinking about church as well. We look at everyday life and we feel that we are wasting our time if we are not doing something great.

The problem is that we tend to define great by our “blockbuster” mentality. We want things to be exiting and different. We discount everyday Christian living. We do not feel we are important unless we are winning hundreds a day to the Lord or performing miracles. If what we are doing just involves the everyday Christian walk, we feel like a failure. The devil knows this and makes sure to reinforce those feelings.

We all need some excitement in life. We all like a distraction from the everyday. There is nothing wrong with that. However, we are bombarded with images of the exciting. It is hard for us to accept the mundane as important. In years past, this was not so. The people who lived even 100 years ago did not have the amount of entertainment we do today. They did not see high definition video of exotic places. They were not subjected to 5 or six hours every evening of dramas that portray spectacular lives. We are.

We must understand that the vast majority of people will never do anything the world considers spectacular. That does not mean they are not important to the Kingdom of God. The Lord showed me many years ago that generals do not win wars. Wars can only be won when an everyday soldier takes ground from another everyday soldier. The generals plan the battles but the soldiers win them.

We are all soldiers in the army of the Lord. Every time you stand against the devil in your life or in the lives of your family, you are doing something significant for the Kingdom of God. A few people who preach to big crowds cannot win the world to the Lord. They have their place. Individual believers who go out into everyday life and live as Christians before the world are the only ones who can win the war.

The vast majority of people are just like you and me. They are doing what they have to in order to get by in life. They go to work, raise their families and try to be the best people they can. They face everyday problems and they need people with everyday answers. Listen to Jesus’ admonition in the Sermon on the Mount.

Matthew 5:13-16 (NKJV) 13 “You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. 14 You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. 16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

Salt and light are everyday things. There is no exhortation here to be powerful or exotic. Jesus sends us into the world as salt and light. All he asks is that we be those things in the world. He is not asking us to be something we cannot be.

When we go forth into the world as salt and light and allow the quality of our Christianity to flavor and illuminate our world, we will make a difference. It will usually be an everyday difference. It will be walking through everyday problems with the help of the spectacular God we serve. Our lives will shed light on him and let the world know what he is like. They will see that there are real solutions to everyday problems available to them as well.

The gifts of the spirit are available to help us. We should expect God to heal and deliver as we live our everyday lives. We should believe for words of God’s wisdom and knowledge to help us as we walk through our everyday things. Just do not discount the power of the fruit of the spirit as we walk out our everyday lives in front of everyday people who face the same challenges you overcome by the power of God in your life.

Those who Forsake the Holy Covenant

Daniel 11:29-32 (NKJV) 29 At the appointed time he shall return and go toward the south; but it shall not be like the former or the latter. 30 For ships from Cyprus shall come against him; therefore he shall be grieved, and return in rage against the holy covenant, and do damage. So he shall return and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. 31 And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary fortress; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation. 32 Those who do wickedly against the covenant he shall corrupt with flattery; but the people who know their God shall be strong, and carry out great exploits.

(We had a guest speaker this week at Living Word. She is a dear friend of mine and my wife’s, Pastor Joy Collins from the Detroit area in Michigan. Here are some thoughts on what she shared with us.)

The language in this scripture is prophetic and so a little difficult to understand at times. It is referring to a time in the future that Daniel the Prophet sees in the spirit. Many times the Old Testament prophetic writings have meanings for both their day and our day as well. In this case, we see Daniel use the term “abomination of desolation” which the New Testament applies to the antichrist of the last days. As I read this, I can certainly see how this scripture applies to our time.

Daniel is talking about a series of kings and rulers that will attack the “Kingdom of the South.” We might assume he is talking about Israel but I think we can see ourselves in this as well. Whatever else this prophecy is pointing to it is certain that Daniel sees a subtle evil that attacks the righteous. In verse 29, the Prophet says that this evil ruler will, “go toward the south” but it shall not be like the former or the latter.” Something about this attack of evil against the righteousness will be different.

I turned 60 years old this year. I have served the Lord since I was 14 and been in fulltime ministry since I was 24. I have seen many moves of both good and evil in the land, but it seems to me that the attack that is coming against the righteousness is different from at any other time in my life. It seems to me that the forces who would like to minimize the church and her influence have gained greater traction today than in the past. It seems that the degree of animosity against the righteous has increased. There has always been opposition to the church but this time just seems different to me.

This verse points out a few things that I think could apply to us. First, we read that this leader “raged against the Holy Covenant” and showed regard for those who did not show regard to the covenant. The prophet said that this caused “damage.

I do not think there has been a time in my life when less regard has been given to the Word of God than today. We especially see that the standards of morality set forth in the covenant of God are not just rejected but ridiculed and even reviled. The current homosexual agenda is at the spearhead of this trend.

It is difficult to watch TV or a movie without the thought that to be opposed to homosexuality is backward and evil. All those who oppose the acceptance of this lifestyle are portrayed as mean spirited. It is not mean spirited to believe that the bible is the word of God. Indeed, those who know Jesus know that to love the sinner is far more our mandate than to hate the sin.

Homosexuality is only one example of how the attitudes toward the church have grown more and more vitriolic. We are told to stay out of politics, entertainment and most other arenas. Higher education seems to make it their goal to attack especially Christianity as backward and intolerant. However, our mandate is to go into all the world and preach the gospel. From my perspective, it does much greater damage to society when we do not regard the Holy Covenant than when we do. This is not the perspective of much of our culture today. Daniel could be speaking to us!

Next Daniel speaks of the defiling of the “Sanctuary Fortress.” I do not see how this can mean anything but the church. In the New Testament, it speaks of the “Abomination of Desolations” actually going into the Holy of Holies in the Temple of God. The idea is that this abominable leader will try to take the place of God himself. Many things are trying to take the place of God in today’s church.

We see social action, professionalism in music and corporate structure replacing the preaching of the Gospel and the anointing in many churches today. All of these things have their place but they must not replace the power of the Word of God or the anointing of the Holy Ghost. Some churches take the tact that we must not be too extreme in worship or we will make visitors from the world uncomfortable. I tell our church that if we are comfortable praising and worshiping the Lord, people coming in will be as well. Even if they are not, I want people to know that the Lord was in the house even if they do not understand.

Look at the words of David in answer to the criticism of his worldly wife.

2 Samuel 6:21-22 (NKJV) 21 So David said to Michal, “It was before the LORD, who chose me instead of your father and all his house, to appoint me ruler over the people of the LORD, over Israel. Therefore I will play music before the LORD. 22 And I will be even more undignified than this, and will be humble in my own sight. But as for the maidservants of whom you have spoken, by them I will be held in honor.”

The anointing of the Lord was more important to David than the acceptance of the world or even his own dignity. I believe we need to feel the same way.

Finally, we see that one of the things that was taken away were the “daily sacrifices.” If we allow the world to rob us of the “daily sacrifices of the Christian life, we will never see the move of God many have been praying for. It is not the spectacular that changes the world. It is the everyday living of our Christian life that really matters. If the devil can take that from us, we have already lost. If he cannot we cannot lose.

More tomorrow.

We are Well Able to Take the Land

Numbers 13:30 (NKJV) 30 Then Caleb quieted the people before Moses, and said, “Let us go up at once and take possession, for we are well able to overcome it.”

Yesterday we began looking at the account of the spies who were sent into Canaan. Moses’ purpose was not to see if they could take the land. God had given it to them. He knew they could take it. It was to find out what the land was like and to confirm that it was what God said it was.

I believe that the 10 spies who gave an “evil” report were like many Christians today. They heard the bad news about the strength of the inhabitants of Canaan. It is certain that they would have encountered people along their journey who told them of Canaan. They may have spoken with travelers and told them that God had given them this land. Those travelers probably told them about Jericho and the giant people who lived there. I can hear them saying, “You can’t take that land. It’s impossible.”

Today we hear news all day long about the impossibilities in our world. The 24 hour news networks have to justify their existence so every bad thing is reported until everyone is tired of hearing about them. The affect on us is to reinforce fear and cripple our faith. The children of Israel had gone through many difficulties to get to the edge of their destiny. When they went in to the Promised Land, they did not see it through the promise of God. They saw it through the bad news of their day. Joshua and Caleb were different.

When Joshua and Caleb came back from their intelligence-gathering mission into Canaan, they told the people, “We are well able to take the land.” Why did they come to such a different conclusion than the other ten? They had seen the same walled cities and giants. It was not that they were naïve about what it would take to conquer Canaan. They simply evaluated the evidence they saw through a different set of facts.

The ten who concluded they could not go in evaluated the information they gathered through the natural bad news of their day. They heard about the strength of the enemy. The heard the evaluations of the “experts” that told them they could not possibly take the land. When they looked at the difficulties, they concluded that they were not capable of overcoming the obstacles before them. We tend to do the same thing today.

We hear the news about the economy, the political problems and the strife around the world. We listen to the analysts and experts and conclude that we simply cannot cope with the challenges we face. We consider our finances, our lack of influence and every other natural evidence that tells us we will fail. We throw up our hands just as the children of Israel did and we give in to discouragement.

The whole nation was affected by the bad report of the ten spies. A whole generation missed their destiny in God because of the bad news promoted by a few. I see a parallel in our society. The few who declare the bad news so loudly cause many of us to give in to despair. Two disagreed with the popular opinion of the ten.

Numbers 14:6-10 (NKJV) 6 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.” 10 And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel.

What caused them to see the future so differently? Their focus was not on the bad news of the day nor on their own ability or resources. Their focus was on the promise of God. They came back with confirmation that what God had said about the land was true. If that part of the promise was true, the whole promise was true. If it was a land that flowed with milk and honey as God had described, than he would give it to them. All they had to do was not rebel against God.

I believe that Joshua and Caleb did not just come to this conclusion because of what they saw as they spied out the land. The ten who gave an evil report did not come to their conclusions just by what they saw. The ten had focused on the news of the day. They were thinking about their own weakness and how difficult the challenge was. I believe Joshua and Caleb had done just the opposite.

We do not have any record of Caleb before this time. We do know about Joshua. We know that he was Moses’ assistant. We know that when Moses was on the mountain receiving the Ten Commandments, Joshua was halfway up the mountain waiting for him. We know that Joshua lead the battle against the Amalekites while Moses prayed for victory. Joshua spoke with Moses and observed his faith. I do not believe it is any coincidence that Joshua came back from Canaan with a report based on faith in God’s promise and not fear.

I think it is likely that he and Caleb were of the same mind. Whether together or independently, they had focused on the promise of God for the whole journey. They talked about the Land God was going to give them. They meditated on what God had done and what he said he would do.

As they prepared for their scouting expedition into Canaan, I believe they were thinking about the promise of God. As they saw the richness of the land, I believe they got more and more excited by what God was giving them. They probably looked at the huge grapes and said to one another, “Isn’t it wonderful what God has done. This is our land and God who is faithful will give it to us.”

I do not think they were oblivious to the challenges. It is just that the challenges were nothing compared to the promise of God. They were not thinking about how weak they were in comparison to the walled cities and giants. They were thinking about how strong their God was when he defeated the Egyptians. They remembered how God had taken them through the Red Sea. They thought about the battles they had won and the provision God had given. They thought about how he had led them through the wilderness and brought them to the edge of what he had promised.

In light of all this evidence, it seemed impossible to them that God would not give them the land. Giants and walled cities did not compare to the power God. If they were right with God, he would give them the land. Their weakness was irrelevant when compared to God’s strength.

I believe it is very important right now that we do just what Joshua and Caleb did. What has the Lord done in your life? How has he met your needs in the past? Is he or is he not the God of the bible? I believe he is! I believe we need to stop listening to the bad news and open our heart to the good news that God is still on the thrown. I believe we need to stop meditating on the evil reports and begin meditating on the promises of God that Paul said are all, “yes and amen in Christ Jesus.”

If we do that we will begin to see the day we live in as a time of opportunity not a time of destruction. We will see that God has brought us to this day so that we can be victorious not so we will be defeated. It is time for us to believe in our land of promises just as Israel needed to believe in their promised land. If we do, we will say with Joshua and Caleb, “We are well able to do what God has called us to do!”

What do you Believe

Numbers 14:6-10 (NKJV) 6 But Joshua the son of Nun and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, who were among those who had spied out the land, tore their clothes; 7 and they spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: “The land we passed through to spy out is an exceedingly good land. 8 If the LORD delights in us, then He will bring us into this land and give it to us, ‘a land which flows with milk and honey.’ 9 Only do not rebel against the LORD, nor fear the people of the land, for they are our bread; their protection has departed from them, and the LORD is with us. Do not fear them.” 10 And all the congregation said to stone them with stones. Now the glory of the LORD appeared in the tabernacle of meeting before all the children of Israel.

I normally use this space to reinforce the Sunday morning message preached in our church. This week the Lord met us in a special way and there was no message to speak of so I have been praying about what to share here. The one thought that did come through what happened Sunday is the need to believe the Lord not what we see in the world today. I thought this story was appropriate for our day.

As I stood up to preach, the Lord impressed on me the need to give thanks for what God has done. We are a praising church. Praise and Worship is an important part of our identity. The problem is that we have been a church for 27 years. When we first started, the praise and worship was new. God gave us a revelation about the importance of both. Our music is good, but not exceptionally so. It is the participation of our people that makes the difference in the praise and worship we enjoy.

After 27 years, we sometimes come together and just sing. That is not praise or worship. Praise and worship must come from the heart not just the mouth. Praise in particular is a declaration and affirmation of what we believe. I felt that we were not releasing and faith in our praise Sunday morning and I felt led of the Lord to change that.

I am a musician and I led praise and worship long before I began preaching. I encouraged our people up to really give thanks for what the Lord has done in our lives. As we released our faith in a time of praise, the Lord began to move to meet the needs of many people.

We live in a day of bad news. The evolution of the 24-hour news network has compounded our obsession with bad news. Good news just does not sell. When something remotely bad happens, the news outlets feel they must report on it every minute of every day until it is no longer “news.” This has made bad news seem even worse.

When you couple that with the simple fact that there is an awful lot of bad news in the world right now, you get a perfect storm of discouragement and fear constantly projected to the people of the world. I believe that we need to counteract that storm with a storm of praise and worship. We need to give thanks to God for what he has done. This has the effect of magnifying the Lord and minimizing the bad news. It is a weapon we cannot afford to ignore in today’s world.

As I was thinking about this, my mind was drawn to this very familiar story. God delivered the children of Israel from Egypt for a definite purpose. They were to occupy Canaan. Eventually they were to produce the Messiah who would save the whole world from sin. This was God’s will and destiny for their lives. As they approach their destiny, bad news comes which delayed the will of God for 40 years.

God had done many things that should have proven to Israel that he was with them. They saw the judgments that came upon Egypt. They walked through the Red Sea as if they were on dry ground while the Egyptian army was drowned. God’s miraculous provision provided food and water in the wilderness. Their shoes and clothes did not wear out for the whole time they were wandering. Now God had brought them to the edge of the Promised Land. Yet with all God had done, the majority of God’s people did not believe they could go in. Why did they reject the evidence that God would do what he said he would do? I believe the answer is that they believed bad news more than they believed the Word of God.

As we read this chapter, we know that Moses sent spies into the Promised Land. The purpose of the spies was not to see if they could take the land. The purpose was to show them that God had not lied. The land was all that he said it was. However, 10 of the spies saw something different. They saw a land that confirmed the news they had heard all along about how strong the inhabitants of the land were. Their conclusion was that they could not possess the land.

Where did they hear about the land of Canaan? The Israelites did not live in isolation. Although their path to Canaan did not always follow the established trade routes, we know they fought the Amalekites in Exodus 17. It is likely they came across many people who came through Canaan. I am sure they heard the stories about Jericho and the “giants” who lived in the land.

When they saw the Promised Land for themselves, their words reveal what they really believed.

Numbers 13:27-29 (NKJV) 27 Then they told him, and said: “We went to the land where you sent us. It truly flows with milk and honey, and this is its fruit. 28 Nevertheless the people who dwell in the land are strong; the cities are fortified and very large; moreover we saw the descendants of Anak there. 29 The Amalekites dwell in the land of the South; the Hittites, the Jebusites, and the Amorites dwell in the mountains; and the Canaanites dwell by the sea and along the banks of the Jordan.”

All that they said was true. There was bad news. Joshua and Caleb saw the same land but came to a very different conclusion. Why? I believe they believed the Word of God more than the bad news. The same evidence was before them as before the other ten but they saw opportunity not defeat.

We cannot ignore the facts of life in our world. There are bad things happening. It is a dangerous time. The economy is the worst I have seen in my 60 years. The political situation must change or our country is in for more difficulty. The world is even worse. There are wars and rumors of wars. There are potential conflicts that could turn into something horrific.

On a more personal level, we see fewer options for the future than we have in the recent past. I know that many wonder if their lives will be less rewarding than that of their parents. It is hard to see how good things can happen. Jobs and careers are scarce and more people are stuck in dead end situations than a generation ago. There is bad news.

On the other hand, God has not retired from being God. He is still on the move in the earth. Times of challenge have always produced great moves of God. I do not believe today is any exception to that rule. The problem is that we are so inundated with the bad news that it is hard to remember the “Good News” that God is still on the throne!

Just as Israel faced the challenge of bad news that threatened to keep them from their destiny, so do we. Today we must make a conscious choice about what we believe. That is why praising God is so important. As we release our faith in praise and worship, we reinforce what God has done and what he will do instead of reinforcing the bad news.

That is what Joshua and Caleb did.

The Path to Greatness in the Kingdom of God

Mark 10:41-45 (NKJV) 41 And when the ten heard it, they began to be greatly displeased with James and John. 42 But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. 44 And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”

This week we have been looking at the difference in the world’s way of doing things and the bible way. Jesus points out a number of ways that the world handles various life situations. His response to this is in verse 42. “It shall not be so among you.”

Although I believe this chapter indicates that Jesus means these words to apply to anything in life, there is something very specific he is addressing. Two of his disciples have asked to occupy certain positions when Jesus comes into his kingdom. The request for position is not appropriate and causes jealousy among the other 10 disciples. Jesus does not rebuke the request for greatness. He wanted them to strive for greatness. The question is who determines what greatness is and how do you get it in the Kingdom of God.

The answer is something any Christian knows but few practice. Too often, the worldly definitions of greatness and success enter into the church. Money, fame and size become the barometers by which we measure them. This may produce an illusion of greatness but it will never be accepted by God.

I do not mean to imply that anyone who has wealth, fame or a large ministry is wrong. However, those things should not be seen as greatness. They should be seen as a result of greatness and seeking the will of God. If one does not have those things but is walking in the will of God for his or her life, than they are just as great in God’s eyes.

What is the measure of greatness in the Kingdom of God? Jesus defines it very clearly here in Mark 10. First, he points out how greatness in the world usually works. In the world, those who are strong exercise authority over the weak. Greatness in the world is usually obtained at the expense of someone else. If I am stronger than my competitor is, I will be greater in business. If I am stronger than my physical opponent on the sports field is I will be the greater athlete. If I can dominate my political opponent, I will win the election gain greater power.

In most areas of life, those who are strong will dominate the weak by the force of their strength. It may be strength of arms in war, strength of wealth or strength of personality. In any case, it is by beating or dominating someone else that greatness is obtained. It is in response to this that Jesus says, “It shall not be so among you.”

How will we find greatness in the Kingdom of God? Jesus says the path to greatness can only go through servant hood. He is very specific in what he tells them. We often tend to think of this in terms of serving God or serving the world. This is not what Jesus says to his disciples. Remember, he is talking to 12 people. He is not talking to the world. His direction is to them and them alone. Let us look at what he said.

Mark 10:43 (NKJV) 43 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant.

He did not tell them to serve him. He did not tell them to go out and serve the world. He did not tell them to be willing to serve people they did not know. He told them to serve each other. The path to greatness is not in serving God or people from some other part of the world. It is in serving the ones in your home, your job or your church. It is in serving people you may not want to serve. If I can serve the one next to me and not be jealous of his or her success, I am on my way to greatness in the Kingdom of God.

What does this really mean? I must be willing to put the good of my brothers and sisters above my own good. Paul agrees with Jesus on this.

Ephesians 4:1-3 (NKJV) 1 I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, 2 with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, 3 endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Paul exhorts us to maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. We are to do that by walking with lowliness and gentleness toward one another. We are to bear with one another and be longsuffering when we are having problems getting along. This is part of what it means to serve one another.

It also means that we must be willing to promote our brother above ourselves. It means we must be willing to give our time and talent to help our brother succeed. If I am out for “number one”, I am not serving my brother and I am not a candidate for greatness in the Kingdom of God.

When I was first in fulltime ministry, God caused me to work under a very dear friend of mine. He was a little older than I was and we were a little bit competitive. When God showed me I was to work under him, he also said I was to give everything I had to make him a success. For ten years, I tried to do that.

It seemed that I was moving farther from fulfilling the will of God for my life as I served him. However, God made it clear to me that if I obeyed him he would take care of me. Eventually it became clear that I could not continue to follow him and the Lord led me in another direction. My willingness to serve him is part of what has brought me to the place where I am traveling all over the world speaking to leaders today.

Jesus tells his disciples that if they want to be great in the Kingdom of God they must serve each other. He goes on to reveal an even higher level of greatness. He who would be first must become the slave of the rest. What is the difference between a servant and a slave? The difference is that a servant has a choice and a slave does not.

We must understand that the slavery Jesus is speaking about here is not like the slavery that existed in the Roman world. They were slaves against their will. The slavery Jesus is referring to is the practice in the Old Testament called “love slavery.” An Israelite could not be slave to another Israelite forever. The exception to that rule was if the slave decided that he loved his master and wanted to stay with him. He could then submit of his own free will to be slave to the master for life.

If we want to be the greatest in the Kingdom of God we must willing give up our rights and become slaves of all who need us. In truth, that is what it means to be ministry. A leader in the body of Christ is not one who has authority over many people. A leader in the body of Christ is one who takes responsibility for many people. In so doing, he becomes their slave.

I want to be great in the Kingdom of God. I want to see God do great things in my life. To see that happen, I must be willing to lay down my will for others. I must be willing to sacrifice my success for others. If I do those things, I will find that the Lord himself will ensure my greatness. It may not be greatness in the eyes of men but it will be greatness in the eyes of God.

1 Peter 5:5-6 (NKJV) 5 Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble.” 6 Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time,