faith

Wrestling with God

The last time Jacob saw Esau, Esau vowed to kill him. Now, Jacob is returning home, and he receives word that Esau was coming out to meet him with 400 men. Would God make good on His promise to bring Jacob safely home? Or would Jacob and his family be slaughtered by Esau?

As he struggled through the scenarios, Jacob wound up wrestling with God.

This can happen to us if we don’t trust the Lord, and if we focus on our problems instead of our blessings.

God loves you when no one else does

The Bible does not only record God’s law and promises, it gives us real-world examples of things that happened to people, some of which was very messed up. Mankind is sinful, and therefore we can make life into a total disaster, either for ourselves, or someone else.

Leah was a good woman, but she wasn’t the most attractive woman of her day, and the guys were not interested in her. Her father, Laban, feared that he would not be able to find her a husband, so he tricked Jacob into marrying her.

Jacob, for the record, was in love with Leah’s younger and more beautiful sister, Rachel.

So, her father basically pawned her off, her husband is in love with another woman (whom he eventually marries and makes her share the house with), and she is completely isolated, rejected and alone. I mean, this is one of the most devastating things a woman can go through.

The Bible tells us this story, not to legitimize it, but rather to show how God works through the disasters that man makes in life.

No one loved Leah but God, and God loved Leah in a way that no man could. He shows His compassion on her by giving her children, and He transforms her life from one of affliction and loneliness, to one of blessing and praise. By the time God finishes with her, she doesn’t need Jacob’s love, praise or affirmation. She has God’s, and that’s all she needs.

The same principles hold true for us. God loves us, even when no one else does. If we let Him, He will transform our lives from that of anger, depression and hopelessness to a life of praise and blessing in the midst of the storms. Will you trust God to do so?

The Life of Abraham

Abraham’s life was summed up in Genesis 15:6, “And he believed in the Lord, and He counted it to him for righteousness.”

Many people regard Abraham as a righteous man, however, it was his faith that berthed his righteousness. God saw Abraham’s faith, and therefore regarded him as righteous.

Abraham’s faith guided his actions. It was his faith that motivated him to obey God, and to believe His promises.

So, to learn what we can from the life of Abraham, we first have to have a proper understanding of faith. Faith simply means a deep-rooted trust. You not only believe in God, but you believe God! You take Him at His word, and thus you obey Him.

That faith, that belief is what saves you. It’s what gives you hope for the return of Christ. It’s what you express when you give to God. And that’s what Abraham’s faith was all about. We explore those issues in this episode of The Point podcast.

The Tower of Babel

The world’s first tyrant to build an empire was Nimrod, an ambitious, valiant, yet rebellious warrior who built a kingdom by providing for his people in successful hunts, putting down opposition on the battle field, and by building influence around his Type-A personality. First in war, first in peace, first at the dinner table.

Nimrod’s downfall, however, came in his rebellion against God. He built a kingdom in modern day Iraq, and the people decided to build a tower to reach into Heavens. Essentially, they were trying to invade Heaven.

God’s response shows His patience and grace, while also showing that He will not tolerate sin and rebellion.

I’m fine! No, really, I am. Okay, I’m not.

How are you doing?

No really, How are you doing?

Nearly 100 percent of the time, when asked the first question, we say, “Fine.” Or, some of our more spiritually inclined brethren say, “I’m blessed.”

All too often, when we give those answers, we are not being truthful.

You see, we have been conditioned to think that any sign of distress, any sign of worry or stress is an indication that our faith is faltering. Somehow, by expressing heartbreak over the loss of a loved one, concern over a wayward child, fear over a pending financial disaster, uncertainty over the loss of a job, or anger over being mistreated, we are expressing a character flaw. We’ve “taken our eyes off of Jesus and looked at the waves crashing all around us.” We’ve become Peter trying to walk on the water, but sinking because his faith failed.

Indeed, we don’t want to lose faith in the Lord, and we don’t want to be focused on our problems. However, in the real world, we do have problems. And those problems still exist when we enter the church doors. Therefore, there is no need for the church to become a fantasy world where problems don’t exist. They do. Therefore, one of the ministries of the church should be to help people through their problems.

This is not just a humanitarian position. It’s actually in scripture.

Galatians 6:2 says to “bear one another’s burdens.” While the greater context of that verse deals with restoring a brother who sins, it should be noted that sin is part of the lives of those who live in the real world. We all struggle. We all fail. We should be able to turn to our brothers and sisters in Christ for love, encouragement, and restoration as we repent from that sin.

The Bible also tells those who are afflicted to pray (James 5:13) and to confess our faults one to another (James 5:16). In fact, the church experience was designed so we could gain encouragement from each other while we walk this Christian life together. Hebrews 10:25 says that we should not forsake the assembly of ourselves together, but should exhort one another. That means to encourage each other to stay strong in the faith and to do great things for the Lord.

We cannot be encouraged if we are unwilling to address the things that burden our hearts. We cannot be encouraged if we are not willing to face our problems, and seek help. We cannot help each other with our struggles if we pretend they don’t exist.

The Lord knows we have problems. He knew beforehand that we would. Hence, He gave us the church to help us through those problems. The problem is, the church doesn’t do this because we fear being judged if we admit we have problems.

The Lord understands problems. He had a few of his own. Hebrews 4:15-16 says:

For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.

Do you know what that means? It means that the Lord was tempted… not only to sin by Satan after Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness, but also by the same struggles in life that we face: Not enough money, shortage of food, fatigue, being rejected and betrayed by others, being homesick and missing family, physical pain, emotional pain, bereavement, etc.

Yet, the Lord experienced all of this without sin. Therefore, He was uniquely qualified to pay for our sins on the cross, rise again to conquer the grave, open the gates of Heaven and plead our cases before God every single day.

Furthermore, these verses tell us He is sympathetic to our cause, because He has been through the same struggles we have.

Therefore, you are more than welcome to approach the Lord in prayer regarding the struggles you face. You should also be able to lean on your brothers and sisters in Christ for comfort and encouragement. If that’s not possible, maybe you need to find some other brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Lord understands our struggles, because He’s been here. We should understand each others’ struggles as well, because we’re still here. Love, help and encourage each other. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of God.

The Rise of Civilizations

Two brothers, two sacrifices. One pleased God, the other didn’t.

Cain was wroth, angry that God did not honor his sacrifice of the fruits and grains that he had harvested. No doubt, Cain had labored hard for the harvest, and for God to reject his offering was equivalent to God rejecting Cain himself. This sent Cain into a self-destructive and homicidal rage cycle that led to him murdering Abel, his brother.

Abel sacrificed some of the firstlings of his flock. God respected that.

What was the difference between the two sacrifices? Faith (Hebrews 11:4). Obviously, both Cain and Abel believed God existed, but Abel looked to, and trusted God, whereas Cain just lived knowing He existed. The faith in Abel’s heart pleased God, so He was pleased with the sacrifice. Cain’s lack of faith, and minimal tolerance of God displeased Him, so He disregarded Cain’s sacrifice.

So, in a jealous rage one day, Cain kills Abel, and God drives him out, where he fathers an unGodly society that advances in sexual perversion (Gen. 4:19), agriculture (Gen. 4:20), culture and entertainment (Gen. 4:21) and technology, architecture and weaponry (Gen. 4:22).

Seth is born, and eventually fathers a culture that calls upon the name of God… and so we have the rise of the civilizations. One Godly, one unGodly. We’ll see how this turns out in the next few chapters, but for now, check out the impact that this has on us today by listening to this podcast.

Why Is She Buying Her Stairway to Heaven?

Back when I was a rocker, one of my favorite bands was Led Zeppelin, whose most famous song was “Stairway to Heaven.” The song, which was really a series of pieced-together lyrics designed to follow a set of pieced-together guitar riffs and melodies, portrayed a woman who was getting everything she wanted, and had no regard for anyone or anything else. The one lyric that almost anyone can quote from the song is “There’s a lady is sure, all that glitters is gold, and she’s buying her stairway to heaven.”

Follow the sometimes-unintelligible lyrics, and you’ll learn that Heaven for this lady is all the gifts and gold she’s buying. For many people, Heaven is just that… the goodies you can accumulate during this lifetime. How disappointing it will be when we all realize how temporary the things of this world really are.

But, once again, that lyric goes through our heads… “and she’s buying her stairway to Heaven.” How desperately we want to see things go better in our lives. We need a breakthrough. We need a situation resolved. We need a hurt or a brokenness fixed. So, after all else has failed, we turn to the Lord in prayer, and we look to the scriptures for encouragement.

Anyone who is coping with a recent tragedy, a layoff, a loss of income, a foreclosure or repossession, or a missed promotion, will inevitably come to Romans 8:28, which says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.” While this verse definitely applies to the struggles we face, we often draw the wrong conclusion from it.

“All things work together for my good,” is often understood as, “So, I didn’t get the promotion. God must be working up a better job for me.” “So, the offer I made on this house was rejected, God must be reserving a mansion in the hills for me.” “So, I just got fired, maybe this lottery ticket is a winner.”

When we take the promises of God and apply them to temporal things like jobs, houses, finances and worldly opportunities, we do two things. (1) We miss the big picture, and (2) we set ourselves up for disappointment and disenchantment, because God is not always lining up a windfall for us.

“All things work together for my good, but I didn’t get the promotion.”

“All things work together for my good, but I’m still unemployed six months later.”

“All things work together for my good, but this lottery ticket was a loser.”

There is no worse place to be in life than to think that God’s promises apply to everyone else, but somehow exclude you. This leads to disenchantment, depression and loss of faith. It was caused by a misunderstanding of what otherwise is a glorious verse.

Romans 8 is not talking about material blessings, earthly wealth, or added prestige. Romans 8 is previewing Heaven for us. When Romans 8:28 says “All things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose,” it is saying that God is working everything in your life to bring you into His eternal glory. Romans 8:28 tells us that God is working to strengthen us Spiritually, is working to set us up for eternal rewards, and is working to form us into the person he intended on us being.

God didn’t allow you to be laid off so He can get you hired as the CEO of DuPont. He allowed you to be laid off so He can build your faith, so that regardless of your employment situation, you feel confident and secure. He wants to give you the tools to face life’s challenges, the opportunities to glorify him, and to enter his Kingdom hearing “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

The comfort of Romans 8:28 is not that there’s a bigger house around the corner. It’s that God’s hand is still on us, even though a storm of life is raging.

All of this is a sub-point to the greater truth that God is pulling out all the stops to bring you into His Kingdom. Romans 8:29-30 say that whom God foreknew, he predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, and whom He predestined, He called, justified and glorified. Romans 8:31-39 go on to say that there is no force in Heaven or Earth that can derail God’s love and plan for you. This truth builds our faith because we are reminded once again that salvation is God’s work, not ours. He bought our salvation, He worked our salvation, and He’ll maintain our salvation. All He asks is our repentance and faith.

So, with that in mind, “Why is she buying her stairway to Heaven?” And why are you trying to buy yours? God has already paid for it. Just trust Him as your ascend those golden steps into His Kingdom.

The Old Coot at the Temple

What seemed like a normal day must have taken a strange turn when the old man approached the young couple to adore their baby. Mary and Joseph were on their way to the Temple to present Jesus to the LORD, as required by the Law of God, when Simeon approached them to praise the newborn Son of God.

We don’t know much about Simeon. This was his only appearance in the scripture. All we know about him is that he was just and devout, and was told by the Holy Spirit that he’d live to see the birth of Christ.

Often, we get so excited reading Luke’s account of the birth of Christ that we dismiss Simeon as just an old coot at the Temple. However, Simeon actually holds theological significance. He shows us exactly who we are to be in Christ.

The Bible says in Luke 2:25 that Simeon was “just” and “devout.” He was just in that the Lord had forgiven his sins based on the future crucifixion of Jesus Christ. He had been declared not guilty because God would cleanse him of his sin. He was devout in that he was devoted to the Lord, and he diligently worshiped Him. Like Simeon, the first thing God wants from us is that we trust Him for salvation. If you haven’t turned from your sins and trusted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, nothing else matters. Without salvation, everything you do is temporary. If there is any doubt in your heart about your salvation, or your eternal destiny, it’s a good time to do what Peter wrote in 2 Peter 1:10, to “give diligence to make your calling and election sure.” Repent, ask forgiveness, trust God for salvation through the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Questions? Email me at LelandAcker@gmail.com.

Simeon also set an example for us in that he was devout. He diligently worshiped God, which means he placed priority on worship, and he put his energy and concentration into his worship. Often, we can fall short in this regard. Many times, church becomes something we go to if nothing else is happening, and often, when we are in worship services, our minds are elsewhere. Then, we leave, wondering why we didn’t get anything out of it.

God honored Simeon’s devotion by immortalizing him in scripture, allowing him to see the newborn Christ, and then giving him eternal life in the Kingdom. If we are devout, if we place priority on worshiping God, and do so diligently, God will honor that. God wants us to worship.

The last lesson we learn from Simeon is that we, too, ought to look forward to the return of Christ. Luke 2:25 tells us that Simeon was “waiting on the consolation of Israel.” He was looking forward to the arrival of Israel’s deliverer, their comforter. He was waiting on the arrival of Christ.

Scripture also teaches us to be looking forward to the return of Christ. In 2 Timothy 4:8, Paul wrote that the Lord would not only give him a crown of righteousness, but also “all them that love His appearing.” Faith can be measured by how much you are looking forward to the Lord’s return. Those who desire the Lord to return soon trust that He will establish His Kingdom on earth and bless us forever. Those who wish the Lord would delay are worried that Jesus will get in the way of something happening in the here and now.

Don’t make the mistake of placing the here-and-now before Christ. Look forward to the arrival of Christ, because his arrival will make your salvation tangible. It will set everything right. We look forward to the day when “the struggle” is over and we can live in peace and prosperity in His paradise.

So, let’s take a few lessons from Simeon. Settle your standing with God, worship him diligently, and eagerly await the return of the Lord. Do those three things, and watch God do big things in your life.

The House That Fell Off The Hill

10392213_1223651157239_4773849_n

A few years ago, while house shopping, my wife and I found what we thought would be our dream home. The house was two-story, four bedroom, two bath, and situated on the side of a hill overlooking town. Asking price? $89,000. Well within our range.

What a find! I had never dreamed I’d live in anything nicer than a double-wide on a quarter-acre subdivided lot. Yet, here sat this four bedroom dream home overlooking town, and I could afford it! Quickly, we drove to the real estate office to see about touring the home, and to make an offer.

“Leland, you do not want that house,” the agent told me. “It has foundation issues. The house is literally sliding down the side of the hill, and it will need tens of thousands of dollars invested to properly repair it.” In all honesty, I do well to keep the yard mowed, so, I had to bid farewell to the dream house. (God later blessed me with a nice home in which I am able to raise my family of nine.)

None the less, I was disappointed at the time. How could such a beautiful structure be in danger of falling off the hill? Who would overlook the important step of making sure there was a solid foundation?

The image of the house was brilliant. The stability of the house was in critical condition.

Such was also the case on the original Palm Sunday. You had the brilliant, glorious moment of multitudes of people lining the road into Jerusalem, proclaiming “Hosanna, Hosanna! Blessed is He that cometh in the name of the Lord!” The people were celebrating the arrival of their King, the promised Messiah, the One whom God promised in Zechariah 9:9, the one and only Jesus Christ!

The roar of the crowd was huge, and if the people would have held their peace, Jesus said the rocks would cry out (Luke 19:40). Israel had their King. They had their deliverer.

Yet, as Jesus approached Jerusalem, he began to weep, and lamented that Jerusalem did not recognize that this was their day. Indeed, Jesus knew that in just a few days, the same people celebrating his arrival would cry out to Pilate, “Crucify Him, Crucify Him!” With His foreknowledge, Jesus knew that the splendor of the people’s praise was merely surface beauty.

How could the same crowds that celebrated the arrival of their King one day, deny Him and call for His crucifixion another day? Simple. Their emotional response on Palm Sunday was not held up by the foundation of faith.

Serving and worshiping the Lord is an emotional experience. However, if one does not have a solid foundation of faith, that’s all it is… an emotional experience. Emotions without faith can leave one empty. Even worse, emotions without faith can lead one to Hell.

Do you have a solid foundation of faith? Do you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? Do you trust Him and follow Him daily?

Palm Sunday is about celebrating the arrival of Christ, and evaluating our own faith in Him. Let us all examine our own faith, and make our calling and election sure. May God bless you and keep you.

-Note: The owners of the house went on to repair the foundation, and sell the home. To this day, the house still sits on the side of the hill, proving that you can repair your foundation even after the downward slide has begun.