Friday, September 17, 2010

Testimony: God's Grace Is For All Who Will Accept It

My growing up years were turmoil for me, because my dad was in the Navy, we had to do a lot of moving.  I would say that I went to 5 different Elementary schools, one Jr. High school, and two High schools.  For an already shy, and reserved person, having to start over all the time was quite difficult.  My parents, for a good part of my growing up years were not Christian.   My parents sent my brother and I, and for a while, my sister, to Sunday School, and Vacation Bible School for a long time. And, although I memorized some scripture and participated in all the activities, it didn't really mean anything to me.  I really wasn't sure there was a God, and I really didn't know much about who this God was anyway.

When I was about 11 or 12, I played on a basketball team. I wasn't very good so I didn't get to play a lot. I was frustrated, because I wanted to play.  I didn't want to be a bench warmer.  I started making bargains with God. I would say "if you let me play more in the next game, then I'll believe in you", and in the next game I would get to play more. I did this several times, but I just wasn't sure yet. I still didn't really know who this God was, or why I would need to believe in him in the first place.  During this time my parents started going to church with us regularly. I became involved in the youth group at this church. I started to learn more about God and what he did for me, but I still didn't understand what he was all about, but I did  become more aware that I was being tugged toward Him.  Why?  I didn't understand though.  So he died on a cross for my sins.  What have I done that is so bad that I would need him to die for me.  I didn't understand that he died to cleanse me from the human condition called sin, that I was born with from the beginning.

When I started Jr. High School I started the two most difficult years of my life.  I was used to being made fun of, because I was used to always being the new kid, but what happened these two years was more than I could handle.  I was abused physically, mentally/emotionally, and sexually by my peers, and I didn't know how to deal with it.  I decided to put God to the test again.  Ok, I'll try turning the other cheek, and see what happens.  I didn't see any fruit from this, and I was in tears almost every day, not to mention the English class in the 8th grade that I almost failed because I couldn't deal with what was going on. 

The Summer after my 8th grade year, in August of 1977 my parents sent me to a Christian Camp called River Valley Ranch.  Not only was it refreshing after such a hard two years of Jr. High School.  I actually felt loved by the staff, and the other kids.  They actually accepted me.  God was really drawing me now, and I was beginning to understand the depravity of my human condition, which made it necessary for a savior.  One evening at camp I invited Jesus into my life.  I remember it being such an emotional release, that I cried, which is something I never allowed myself to do in public before this time.  I really didn't understand what I'd done, and no one was there to disciple this new babe in Christ, so I didn't grow much after this time.

When I was 18, we moved out to the Seattle area and I became involved in a church where I learned that I needed to do more if I wanted Jesus to be more than just an acquaintance. I needed to read the Bible and I needed, most of all, to talk to Him. I needed to pray. I learned how to praise the Lord also. I started to do all of these things, and I was daily trying to get closer to the Lord, because I wanted more than what I had.  This is when I believe I really started to grow and know Jesus as not just my savior, but as my friend and my Lord.

I wont say that everything has been easy since I met the Lord, but I will say that it would have been a lot harder without him there to come along side me and help me through.

Mark 8:34 Deny Yourself

Mark 8:34
And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow me."

Have you ever wondered what it meant by deny himself...?  In the original Greek it says, "to disown and renounce self, to disregard all personal interests and enjoyments".  Wow, that packs a punch.  It seems like an awful lot to ask, but that's what is required.  If we are going to follow Jesus, we need to put self away, and forget about our own wants and desires.  I'm not saying it's easy, but with each act of obedience we are becoming more like Jesus, and less like our old worldly selves.

What does it mean to pick up our cross and follow Him...  Well, when I looked up the word cross in the original Greek it says, "to undergo suffering, trial, punishment; to expose oneself to reproach and death."  Huh... What did that say?  Am I reading that right?  Yes, but with all of this comes an eternal reward.  Denying one's self, and picking up our cross and following Him isn't the easiest thing to do, but God never said it would be easy.  He did say it would be worth it.

Ok, now all we have to do now is follow Him.  What does that mean?  In the original Greek the word follow means, "To be or become the disciple of anyone as to faith and practice, to follow his teaching."  Ah, I get it.  If we want to become a disciple of Jesus, then we have to follow his teaching.  Jesus constantly denied himself every day, and he literally took up his cross, and died for us.  So, would it be too much for Him to ask his disciples to do the same?

As I'm thinking about this, there is no way a person can do this unless they have the Holy Spirit living in and through them, and the only way that the Holy Spirit can live and work through any person, they have to have invited him to do so.  When we invite Christ into our lives, and we are cleansed of our sins, the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our heart, and our lives, and when we actually are obedient to what The Lord wants, He can work through us, and help us to deny ourselves.  He can help us to bear our cross so that we can follow Him.  The Holy Spirit is there so that we can have the power to overcome our flesh, and to become more like Jesus.  Of course, the Holy Spirit gives us power over darkness, and Satan also.  But, we've got to be drawing our power from the Holy Spirit, because we can do nothing in our own power, but in His power we can do All things... As it says in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Unfruitful Fig Tree: Matthew 21: 18-22

18 Now in the morning as he returned into the city, he hungered.  19 And when he saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only, and said unto it, "Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever."  And presently the fig tree withered away.  20 And when the disciples saw it, they marvelled, saying, How soon is the fig tree withered away.  21 Jesus answered and said unto them, "Verily I say unto you, If ye have faith, and doubt not, ye shall not only do this which is done to the fig tree, but also if ye shall say unto this mountain, Be thou removed, and be thou cast into the sea; it shall be done.  22 And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing ye shall receive."

Ok, we have the part of this passage which goes into having faith and not doubting, and if you have such faith you can also do what Jesus did to the fig tree, and you can say to this mountain be removed, and cast into the sea and it will happen.  God is saying in this portion of scripture that if you have faith then you can do things that seem impossible, because of your faith.  I don't think he is talking of literal mountains, although he could be, but, I think he could also be referring to our trials which could seem like giant mountains to us.  As it says in Philippians 4:13  I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.

I think there is also something else of significance here which I learned through reading the footnotes in my Hebrew - Greek Key Word Study Bible.  It said that Jesus didn't curse the tree just because it failed to provide food for His hunger.  He cursed it because it had leaves and no fruit.  Then it went on to say that fig trees in that area bear fruit year round in the region where Jesus was.  But the significance of the fig tree goes much deeper than that.  It was symbolic of Israel, which produced leaves but bore no fruit.  He was entering Jerusalem where He was going to experience his final public rejection by Israel.  Even though Jesus had shown the people that he was God incarnate through His teaching, and everything that he did, they would still refuse to accept Him as such.  The withering fig tree illustrates the result of the Jews as a people rejecting Christ as their Messiah.  I wonder if that could also illustrate those non Jews of today who are rejecting Christ as their Messiah?  How can we pray for them, and lead them to Christ?  Will they come, or will they continue to reject Him?  Only with much prayer and Faith on the part of believers will they come, and accept Him as their Messiah.