Saturday, June 12, 2021

Faith Is The Key



Bobservations Column
By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

Faith is the key. Scripture tells us it is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). We read that salvation is for all, because we all need it; we all need a Savior, because we all fall short of God’s glory. “But wasn’t man made in God’s image?” Genesis 1:26,27 says “Yes.” But then sin came into the world, and by Genesis 5 sin-in-us had become the norm, inherited from Adam. Seth was made in Adam’s image, but Adam was made in God’s image (Genesis 5:1-3). That’s the problem, Adam had already sinned before Cain, Abel, and Seth were born.

Faith is the key. We have the capacity to bear God’s image, but only after we deal with the sin that changed us in the first place. The Bible points to Jesus as the Savior, God himself in the flesh. Animal sacrifices brought atonement, but they could not remove sin from the hearts of sinners. Can a leopard work towards changing his own spots? Of course not. And like a leopard’s spots, sin became part of us, inherited from Adam. Self-reformation is noble, but insufficient to purify the human heart, purging it from the desire to sin.

Faith is the key. Jesus our Creator (Colossians 1:15-19) came to offer salvation to all because the Father so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life (John 3:16)!

Faith is the key, specifically faith in Christ Jesus. He changes everything, His sacrifice not only covered our sin, but His Resurrection brings eternal life to those who believe in Him. That’s faith, blind faith, faith without necessarily knowing the how, where, when, and why of God. But we can know the Who, and that’s Jesus Christ, the anointed of God.
“But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness to him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:14).
Faith in Jesus is the key to understanding God’s words to us. Faith is a gift from God to us, and without it we cannot even speak the words “Jesus is the Lord.” But faith is a choice, nothing more. Without understanding it fully, we can still choose it! And if you desire understanding, then faith is the key.
“I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:”  Psalm 78:2

Today's Audio Message:

Matthew 13:1-23 - "Faith Is The Key"

Summary:

Beginning in Matthew chapter 13, Jesus is on the Galilee while large crowds began to gather around Him, and He begins to teach in parables. Confused by this, His disciples asked Him why He was teaching them in parables. 

The parable is a story or an illustration placed along side of a truth with the intention of explaining the one by the other.  An old definition says a parable is an earthly story with a heavenly meaning--some familiar thing of life on earth is placed alongside of some mystery of heaven, that our understanding of the one may help us understand the other.  Jesus drew from the common life of the people to explain some principle or teaching about the kingdom of heaven. In following this method a point of similarity is communicated, as well as a disparity between this life and the life in the kingdom
They are stories meant for every Spirit filled believer who has eyes to see, and ears to hear. He chose to use parables to begin to uncover the faith of true disciples, and to demonstrate judgment on those who refused to see and hear.  Parables are designed to communicate truth in every day terms. But the text says that they also conceal the truth from those who refuse to believe.

True disciples understand the things that Jesus is saying to them because they want to understand it, they believe Him and God has given them the power to understand it.  "He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given."  
Matthew 13:11

Others do not understand it because they do not want to understand it, they do not believe God, His Word, and so they reject their Savior.  God does not bless them with the power to understand it, because they refuse it.  They have no love God, they reject His Word, They love their own ways, not His.  Their hearts are hardened.  Therefore they are blind and deaf to spiritual things.  "For this people's heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest at any time they should...understand with their heart and should be converted, and I should heal them."  Matthew 13:15


Here is recorded the Parable of the Sower.  It is recorded in three of the four biblical Gospels – Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:1-15. The human heart is like receptive soil to the seed of the Word of God. Jesus used this analogy in the Parable of the Sower. The soil that the seed fell on represents four categories of hearers' hearts, four different reactions to the Word of God: 
  • The hard heart -  "...some fell by the way side"
  • The shallow heart - "some fell on stony places"
  • The crowded heart - "...some fell among the thorns"
  • The fruitful heart - "...some fell into good ground"
“A man’s reception of God’s Word is determined by the condition of his heart.” D.A. Carson

While the Sower sows the seeds of the Gospel to everyone, not everyone will put their faith and trust in the Lord. It all comes back to the heart.

That which falls on good soil represents those who hear the word of the kingdom, understand it, and produce fruit for the harvest.






Saturday, June 5, 2021

God's House Divided



Bobservations Column
By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

In the beginning of the chapter last week, we heard of Jesus breaking the Sabbath Laws regarding work, i.e., the exerting of energy to perform a task. The Pharisees were indignant when they heard Jesus teaching scripture to them. The result was they took council against Our Lord in order to destroy Him. This week we read of Jesus’ further works on that Sabbath.

If the Pharisees were indignant in last week’s study, they have gone “ballistic” as this study continues this week. They accuse Jesus of healing by the power of Beelzebub! Clearly, these Temple Leaders show us how much the House of God is divided: false doctrines abounded among the Temple’s teachers. God’s literal Word is brought into question for believability and truth. Last week marked a change in Jesus’ target audience: opening His Word to the Gentiles (Mt. 12:21). God’s only begotten Son has been accused of abandoning the Father! (And we know our God is one God.)

This is the result of legalism in any organization, but especially within the Church. But the love of God, and His grace can overcome division and pitting of people against one another.

I Corinthians 13:4,5 offers us a great exercise in our faith-walk with Jesus: “Charity suffers long, and is kind; charity envies not; charity does not vaunt itself, it is not puffed up. It does not behave itself in an unseemly way, it seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, or thinks evil. It doesn’t rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in truth.”  Your faith-walk with Jesus will be challenged with this exercise:

Read through the passage once; then a second time, replacing the word charity with the name of Jesus. Then lastly, read through it again, and where you read the name of Jesus, replace His name with yours.

To borrow from an old cliché/adage, we may “have come a long way baby,” but we have a long way to go. God’s love and grace can overcome all things. His is the truth in all things. Meditate on His Word. (Psalm 1:1-3)

“Shew thy marvellous lovingkindness, O thou that savest by thy right hand them which put their trust in thee from those that rise up against them.”  - Psalm 17:7 


Today's Audio Message:
 
Matthew 12:22-42 - "God's Divided House"

Summary:

Jesus had an escalating conflict with the Jewish religious leaders.   He
was preaching, teaching and doing mighty works by the power of the Spirit to bring the Spirit’s conviction of sin in their hearts so they might repent and believe. But these Pharisees disregard the call to repent. In fact they had already conspired to destroy Him. 

They are questioning the validity of Christ’s claim as God’s Son. While following the letter of the law, they elevated themselves above the people. They failed to see God's mercy and grace and therefore failed in their interpretation of scripture. They became blind in their pride, rejecting what the Spirit was revealing to the people about Jesus the prophesied Messiah, the One they should have known. Hardened hearts and haughty spirits have brought them dangerously close to blaspheming the Holy Ghost.  Jesus is having none of it and calls them out on it. 

How severe is their rejection? Verse [31], Jesus says, "
Wherefore I say unto you, All manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men: but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men."

They had come perilously close to crossing a line that would lead to their eternal damnation. The question, of course, is what was that line? The Pharisees were knowledgeable of the prophecies, but they refused to acknowledge the truth when they saw it. Not only that, they publicly rejected Jesus’ claims and said He was demonic. Jesus said that anyone who blasphemes the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. Blasphemy involves actively attributing the works of God to Satan, and doing so in spite of the facts and in unbelief.

It is willfully saying the truth is not the truth even though it has been made evident by the Spirit. The consequence of this willful rejection of what one knows to be true is a hardening of the heart, and scriptures warns us that it is the unforgivable sin.















Saturday, May 29, 2021

The Law In Practice


Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz


In the last two weeks we learned that Jesus could not win-for-losing when it came to the opinion of the Pharisees. They accused John the Baptist of having a devil. They accused Jesus of gluttony and being a drinker (Matthew 11:18, 19).

So black and white was the Law to the Pharisees, that there was no room for any exceptions. Jesus was accused by them of being a Law Breaker, and therefore just another sinner among the masses. They were incensed by His appeal to the people of Judaism who followed Him religiously.

This week we look at Jesus and the Apostles as they stretch the Law to fit practical, daily life. The Law allowed for many things in daily life that were abhorrent to the leadership of the Temple. Work on the Sabbath was forbidden, period, as far as they were concerned. And indeed it was, except when common sense prevailed and life, limb, or livelihood was in jeopardy. It did no one any good to not heal, cure, or save on the Sabbath if a person’s well-being was at risk. Grace was woven throughout “The Law,” allowing for those things.


Yet the Pharisees accused Jesus of breaking the Law whenever He healed a sinner, The Jewish Holidays and Sabbaths all point to the coming Messiah: newness of life, daily sustenance, joy, and celebration of life. But because these all were such “solemn” occasions, the Religious Leaders took a dim view of actually enjoying them. The Law became a duty to perform to the letter of itself. It became a burden, and not a joy of the heart.

Even in tithing, the Jews were to tithe of their spices and seasonings for various preparations. There was no room for grace and mercy under the Law, until Jesus taught the people otherwise! Love, grace, mercy, faith in God, compassion and empathy were the core of His teachings. God is not insensitive to the needs of His people! He is not insensitive to your needs either; He loves all His people both Jew and Gentile, and provides for all things.

“For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt-offerings.”1 Samuel 15:22


Today's Audio Message:

Matthew 12:1-21 - "The Law In Practice"

Summary:

Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath.

The Sabbath law was never intended to restrict deeds of necessity. Secondly, it was never meant to restrict service to God. And thirdly, it was never meant to restrict acts of mercy. The Sabbath was to bring rest, not hardship. The Sabbath was to reflect what the other nine commandments reflected: Love toward God and love toward your fellow man. And that’s what the Ten Commandments are all about. The first of the commandments talk about our love to God through loyalty, faithfulness, reverence, and holiness. The second group in the Ten Commandments talks about love toward our fellow man through respect and purity and unselfishness, truthfulness, and contentment.

Jesus honored the Sabbath, as did His disciples, insofar as God intended it to be honored. But the Pharisees had added so many things to the law that it became a heavy burden. In the Talmud, just in one section, there are 24 chapters listing all the Sabbath laws. One rabbi spent two and a half years trying to understand one of those chapters. Can you imagine?

Jesus did not comply with their heavy handed legalism, and the Pharisees begin to accuse Him. Jesus’ response is classic, "Have you not read in the law?"  The Pharisees who took great pride in the knowing the letter of the law get a lesson they did not expect, nor want to receive…instruction in the law, in the Old Testament scriptures.   He doesn't mince words, but gets to the heart of the matter.  Jesus connected the Sabbath with the heart of God - benevolence, mercy, kindness, goodness. That is the purpose of it all. Jesus came that we might enter into a relationship with God.

There are people today who are caught in systems of religion where they are trying, by their own works, to do what the Pharisees did. Laws upon laws and rules upon rules. All these man-made systems do is bury the heart of God under a pile of legislation, and He wants to give you a yoke that is easy and a burden that is light.

”Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30







Saturday, May 22, 2021

Hidden From The Wise


 
Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz


Jesus asked the people concerning John the Baptist: “What went ye out to see?”  It calls for an examination of their personal motives.  We open this week in verse 16 of Matthew 11 with Jesus giving an analogy of that generation: Crying out to their fellows like children in the marketplace. Neither entertainment, nor lament seemed to move them.  John was accused of having a devil when he would not join their “fun.” And when Jesus came, He ate and drank with them, and He was accused of being a gluttonous drunk! There’s just no winning!

As He called them to examine their own hearts, they remained steadfast in judging a book by its cover. And in spite of the visits He made, and the works He had done in a variety of cities, none repented of their sin. None weighed the evidence of John’s life, nor Jesus’.

Some said that the Son of man (Jesus) is Elias, though Jesus told them earlier that John the Baptist is Elias, if they would receive that word of truth. John was that voice crying in the wilderness, preparing the way of the Lord (Isaiah 40:3).

To say the least, confusion was the order of the day in Judaism and among the followers of John the Baptist.  Today though, Jesus’ Church is built, and in spite of that, confusion reigns among believers who all claim to be part of His Church.

As God’s teachings of old had been hijacked by the elite minds of the Priesthood and the Sanhedrin, it’s safe to say that today’s educated and elite Church leaders, have hijacked the pure, simple message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  It’s now more complicated, than ever with doctrines shifting in importance from one denomination to the next.

Bible footnotes, and human interpretation of the scriptures are not “the Word of God.” They follow human logic, but we know that God’s logic is far beyond human comprehension, so let’s update Jesus question;  “What did you come out to see at church today?”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my way, saith the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.” ~ Isaiah 55:8-9

Today's Audio Message

Matthew 11:15-30 - "Hidden From The Wise"

Today’s passage focuses on the people’s estimate of John and Jesus, and Jesus’ estimate of this generation.  

Jesus had been preaching the Gospel, and teaching the multitudes about the Kingdom of God expecting them to apprehend who He was and to believe on Him.  Instead they became dissatisfied and critical.  How incredible that these people who had every benefit and every opportunity, literally witnessing the fulfillment of prophecy before their eyes, would be so dull of heart as to not respond to the Lord.

God had sent them the greatest prophet, John the Baptizer, to prepare the way of the Lord.  He preached to everyone that they should repent and prepare themselves for the coming of the Messiah. Jesus, the Messiah is in their midst.  He healed them and the blind could see, the lame could walk, the lepers were cleansed, and the deaf could hear.  The dead were raised up and they all heard the gospel preached, yet they were unresponsive, indifferent and unrepentant.  It really makes you wonder why they hung around. 

What were they there for?  What are the looking for? What are you looking for?

We need to grasp what is at stake, they didn't. There are eternal consequences for trifling with the Gospel of Christ.   There comes a point in time that those who reject the Lord will face judgment. 

Finally, Jesus responds to their utter lack of concern about their spiritual condition and  importance of salvation.  Like spoiled children with a limited attention span, they are never satisfied, always moving on to the next thrill, and never finding satisfaction.  Woe unto you! They have seen Jesus' gentleness and compassion 
as He ministered to their needs, now they are seeing His severeness. Many believe that a loving God cannot possibly condemn anyone.  If that were the case, what was the point of Jesus' death on the cross? It is a terrifying truth that those who reject Jesus will find themselves under His judgment.

The Lord is calling out to you, to repent and believe on Him.  He offers salvation to all who come to Him on His terms.  “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (vs.28) The Lord will remove the heavy yoke of sin, and place His yoke upon you. His yoke is easy and His burden is light.  Jesus says, Come to me...take my yoke and learn of me.  Your weary soul will find rest in Him. 


 





Saturday, May 15, 2021

Jesus: The Hometown Tour


Bobservations Column

By Pastor Bob Lawrenz

After Jesus’ initial travels around the Galilee Region, He takes His message and ministry to the hometowns of the Apostles. They would have been with Him on the first trip around “Lake Gennesaret,” and those from the Apostles’ home cities might have realized that they had been missing from home for several weeks, or maybe months.

Now Jesus takes them back to their hometowns. In John 1:44, we learn that brothers Andrew and Simon Peter were from Bethsaida, but had apparently moved across the Jordan River to Capernaum, near the river’s inlet into the lake from the north. Philip was also from Bethsaida. Other parts of the Gospels tell us that Matthew was from Capernaum where he sat at the gate receiving taxes.

If Jesus were to call to the Apostles to follow Him today, I wonder if anyone would notice that they were missing from their neighborhoods. The folks in my neighborhood don’t know anyone beyond two or three houses on either side of and across, the street. Our world has changed! Our cities are overcrowded with families that do not know one another. And the current pandemic hasn’t helped! Wearing masks for the last 14 months has depersonalized us all, and kept us even from recognizing each other. But literally, society’s depersonalization has been going on for decades. One could very easily feel all alone in today’s world.

But take heart; God has known you from before the foundation of the Earth! His promises include, “I will never leave you, or forsake you.” “No man is able to pluck them (believers) out of my Father’s hand.”  “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips.”  Above all else, the believer is never out of God’s mind, and He remains faithful and just. Through Jesus Christ, we gentile believers are grafted in (Romans 11:17-24) to the Abrahamic Covenant applied to Abraham’s children: The family tree of God’s Chosen.

Revelation 2 and 3 reminds us to have on our spiritual ears to understand the scriptures through the Holy Spirit. “He that overcometh (sin and the world) shall…” have specific blessings in their lives. And in Revelation 21:7, the Holy Spirit writes:

"He that overcometh shall inherit all things;
and I will be his God, and he shall be my son."


Today's Audio Message

Matthew 11:1-15 - "Jesus: The Homeland Tour"

Summary:

In John 1:29, John the Baptist declared of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world.” John the Baptist also said of Jesus, “Whose shoes lachet I am not worthy to unloose." (John 1:27), and, “I have need to be baptized by thee, and comest thou to me?” (Matthew 3:14). It is clear that John the Baptist recognized Jesus to be the Messiah and had faith in Him.

However, later, as recorded in Matthew 11:3 and Luke 7:19, John the Baptist is in prison. He sends messengers to Jesus to ask Him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”  What happened? Why was John the Baptist doubting whether Jesus was the Messiah?

Jesus’ response is telling. He understood John's doubt, and instructed his disciples to go back and encourage John with what they heard and saw. He then encourages his disciples, pointing to the Old Testament, the prophecies concerning Him. Isaiah 35 couldn't be more clear, He would make the blind to see, the deaf to hear the lame to walk . . . no one need ever doubt the Lord at His Word.

It’s found repeatedly in prison stories where God's people are unjustly thrown, facing death, enduring awful conditions, and their faith is stretched in ways we can’t imagine. Fear, confusion, doubt, discouragement is part of the human condition. Yet faith is central to the whole Christian experience. Without faith it is impossible to please God. Faith is always found in the Person and work of Jesus. Those suffering for Christ's sake are at their most vulnerable when in the hands of God's enemies. But, this is exactly where God wants them, they are still in His hands. Faith tested through the furnace of affliction is where we must learn to trust Him, and where we are reminded of the precious promises of His Word. The Lord is faithful to His Word, and in all things.

God’s plans and purposes are not always what we think they should be. In fact, most of the time they are not. John may have expected Jesus to deliver Israel from their oppressors (which He will do at His second coming), but Jesus came to deliver us from our sins. Through his death and resurrection, Christ our Substitute, saves us from the eternal punishment and death we all deserve (mercy), while at the same time providing eternal life that we don’t deserve (grace).



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