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Monthly Archives: March 2012

True Freedom

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today:

And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:20-23)

All these problems of humanity come from within. We likely won’t become adulterous because we ate a wrong type of meat; which is what Jesus is addressing here. Rather, all of this comes from our own heart, which is by its very nature, evil. From birth our little hearts are wicked. We don’t need a guide-book and a P.H.D. in attempting to manipulate our parents to do what we want from an incredibly young age. No, we do it automatically… Which creates the question, how can it be possible to not do those things? If our very nature is that of pride, how can we ever hope to be humble in anything? Well, the only answer is that our nature must be changed.

6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with,[a] that we should no longer be slaves to sin— 7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:6-7)

We, by nature, are sinful… Up, and until we turn to Christ. At which point, our nature that of obedience to God. When we turn to Christ, our old nature is as dead as a man nailed to a cross is. Does that mean we suddenly turn suddenly turn into people willing to be martyrs? Well, not per se. But it does mean a radical change, in which we stop having to sin. Instead, now we’re able to rely on Christ to be our salvation from temptation, as well as from Hell. And if we haven’t experienced that change yet, perhaps we should re-examine our walk with the Lord.

The point being this: there is true freedom in Christ! And if you haven’t yet experienced that, then I would ask you to, today, put your trust in Christ.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
 

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Lip-Worship

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” (Mark 7:6-8)

We’re presented here with one thing Jesus, rather self-evidently, hates: lip-worship. He hates when people praise Him only with their mouths and not with their actions. These are the people who prefer holding to the “traditions of men,” then to hold to what God wants. i.e. Those who, as a tradition, go to Church, yet don’t experience any change in the way they live their lives. Those who read their bibles every day, yet, as James put it, after looking in the mirror and seeing how dirty they are, walk away unchanged. Those who are ‘fake’, or merely external, Christians. It’s the same as if we were trying to love God with what we say, instead of what we do:

Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue but in deed and truth. (1 John 3:18)

Now please don’t get me wrong, I’m not condemning going to Church or reading the Bible! Those are very good things, and should be done regularly. But you’re wasting your time if you go to a Church, listen for an hour, then leave unchanged. Likewise you’re wasting your time if you read the Bible, but don’t do what it tells you to do, or just plain out read it with a closed mind… To put it another way: the Bible is useless to you, as is Church, as is meeting with other believers, if you don’t grow by it.

The point being this: either we must ‘do all things to the Lord’, by growing as Christians in doing them, or not do them at all.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 

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Relying on Christ

Hello again!

The following verses are during the “Feeding of the Five Thousand”. — This is what God gave me today in His word:

And when it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a desolate place, and the hour is now late. Send them away to go into the surrounding countryside and villages and buy themselves something to eat.” But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” And they said to him, “Shall we go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread and give it to them to eat?” And he said to them, “How many loaves do you have? Go and see.” And when they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” (Mark 6:35-38)

And taking the five loaves and the two fish he looked up to heaven and said a blessing and broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the people. And he divided the two fish among them all. And they all ate and were satisfied. And they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. (Mark 6:41-43)

Notice the first part of those verses; Jesus asks His disciples to give the people something to eat. Now, this may seem like nigh on sarcasm on Jesus’ part; obviously they couldn’t hope to feed so many people, and Jesus knew that. He told them to feed the people, not because He thought they could actually do so, but, even in this, to teach them a lesson. They only had some bread and a few fish to offer, yet Jesus can multiply the little. Jesus was trying to teach His disciples a lesson which we all must learn;  reliance on Him! We may think we’re great speakers, or great writers (etc.) all we want, the reality will still be that we’re unable to feed the crowd assembled before us.

Relying on Christ is our only hope. We can’t minister to anyone by ourselves. Is it not much better to, by listening to Him speaking to us through His word, and through talking with Him in prayer, to rely on Christ; the one who is able to not only feed the crowd, but have twelve baskets full of food left over?

The point being this: we must rely on Jesus; He’s our savior, He died for us, I’d dare to say He’s capable of helping us minister to the World around us.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 

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When Storm-winds blow

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. He said to them, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great fear and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:36-41)

A storm came on them; the boat started filling with water. The disciples no doubt thought there was a possibility that they may die. So, because of their fear, they cry out to Jesus! Yet… He rebukes them for doing so. Saying, “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” But wait, I thought we were supposed to run to Jesus; our strong tower, our shelter, and our defender! Why is Jesus rebuking His disciples for doing just that (running to Him when they were afraid)?

Because dying shouldn’t have worried them. God is all-powerful (something we can see clearly in that He rebuked the wind and the waves), He created life, it’d be no trouble for Him to Resurrect a couple of drowned sailors. But the disciples didn’t have faith that God, or even Jesus, would do that. More than that though, they didn’t have faith that Jesus would keep them safe in the storm. Yes, He was sleeping, but we can well assume that even while His body slept, He, as He’s all-knowing, knew what was happening around Him. In fact, He knew what was happening all over the World at that moment, had happened, and was going to happen. He likely wouldn’t have let anything actually happen to them. But, as was afore-mentioned, they didn’t have faith that He could do any of that.

But what about us? What do we do when a storm comes on us? What do we do when our car crashes, or when our dog dies suddenly, or when someone robs us blind while we’re away? … It makes the disciples lack of faith seem a little more reasonable. But, the reality is that God wont let us drown. Rather in like temptation, He’ll always make a way out.

Yes, Christ is shield. Yes, He’s our defender, and yes, He’s our strong tower. But we still have to have faith! We have to put ourselves in the tower, before we’re safe; we’ve got to have the faith that the tower will protect us, before we go in.

The point being this: faith is vital. When hard times come, and they will, it’s important to always know that they’re for a purpose, and will end at some point. As the saying goes, “If it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger.”

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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Fruitful Living

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

And others are the ones sown among thorns. They are those who hear the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches and the desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. But those that were sown on the good soil are the ones who hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.” (Mark 4:18-20)

Here, we can see both a warning, and an admonition:

  1. Don’t focus only on gaining money; yes, a job, and making money, is something of a requirement. But in all things, God should come first.
  2. We, if we really are the seed that’s fallen on “good soil,” should be bearing fruit, thirtyfold and sixtyfold and a hundredfold.”.

We’re Warned Against the Deceitfulness of Riches
13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13)

The deceitfulness of money, is that it seems that, if we just made a bit more of it, we’d be happy. If we just had a hundred thousand dollars, then I could finally relax. It starts trains of “if only” thoughts in your head. “If only” thoughts, which if ever realized, we’d find out they were lies… Thus the “deceitfulness of riches.”

Are We As “Fruitful” As We Should Be?

I suppose it depends on the definition of “fruit”, because its possible to be the pastor of a huge Church, with millions of converts, yet have only a few fruits of the Spirit in your life. Likewise its possible to have dozens of fruits of the Spirit (see: Galatians 5:22-23), yet have hardly made so much as a dent in the World around you… So, to which is Jesus referring? Or is He talking about both?

Well, remember, Jesus is talking about believers here. Specifically, He’s talking, right here, about believers who don’t/won’t fall away. So, if a believer multiplies, what do you have (1 + 1 = …)? That’s what Jesus is talking about here… But now, let’s not get too hasty here, surely God doesn’t want us to actually go to the Nineveh of the World and preach a message of reconciliation! No no no, God wants to shower us with an easy life and abundant blessings! Yeah, and with thinking like that, you’re likely to get swallowed by a big fish soon.

No, the reality is that God wants His people to bring others to Himself! No where does the Bible say God promises an easy life; He promises to provide what we need, and not more than that. As was said before, God doesn’t want us to focus on money, but on Him. Our goal in life should be to serve Him in whatever way we can. In this case, that means we should be living in such a way that we’re not just “one of the crowd,” but instead, it should be obvious to everyone that we’re one of the crowd.

How much fruit is your life producing?

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 26, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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The Sermon Today

Hello again!

Today, on dad’s week off from preaching at the Fountain of Grace, decided to go to a First Baptist Church, which was just down the road. The pastors main passage was Luke 23, but he also went to Mark 15 rather often. From those two passages, he saw four groups:

The Religious Group. i.e. the pharisees and scribes. The pastor brought out when he talked about this group about how, like the pharisees/scribes did, attempting to obey the law is trying to bypass Jesus, and get to Heaven on our own.

The Scorning Group. i.e. The criminal who mocked Jesus. He didn’t talk very long on this group, and he said that, ‘he doubted any were like that here’. However, he did point out the modern day “mockers”; atheists, etc..

The Worldly-Minded Group. i.e. The Roman soldiers who, while Jesus was being crucified, cast lots for His clothes. These are the people who may think of God on occasion, but largely ignore him in favor of focusing on gaining wealth.

The Believing Group. i.e. The other criminal who, even though he mocked Christ in the beginning along with the other criminal, repented and was saved. The pastor noted several things about this man:

  1. He understood his own depravity; he acknowledged that he and the other criminal deserved to be crucified.
  2. He knew understood Christ was king; otherwise he wouldn’t have asked Jesus to remember Him when He went into His kingdom.
  3. He wasn’t baptized… A slightly ironic thing for the preacher of a baptist Church to point out, but something which was nonetheless important. The pastor pointed out that, ‘though I’m a strong advocate for baptism, it isn’t necessary for salvation.’

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
2 Comments

Posted by on March 25, 2012 in Todays Sermon

 

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The Thief

Hello again!

Right before the following verse, Jesus has just finished delivering the “Parable of the Tares”, and the people around Him asked Him to explain it. Right now, we’re in the first part of that explanation. — This is what God gave me today in His word:

The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: the ones who, when they hear the word, immediately receive it with joy. And they have no root in themselves, but endure for a while; then, when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. (Mark 4:14-17)

Let’s look at the two explanations that Jesus gives here (of the parable He told a couple of minutes ago) separately:

Satan Comes to Steal

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10)

Specifically, it would seem, to steal the word from the hearts of believers. Now isn’t that a cheery thought? Satan can come and actually steal the word of God from you. He’s actually able to steal the meaning from you when you read the Bible, or, it seems, even steal your very salvation from you… Or, is that really so? Doesn’t the Christian, even if only a very new Christian, have protection against such things? Well, the reality is that we’re asking the wrong questions. Let’s review the verse we’re talking of:

The sower sows the word. And these are the ones along the path, where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them.

No, Satan cannot take away salvation. However, he can conveniently remind us that it’s about time for lunch, a minute before we start our Bible study, or any number of things that seem harmless enough, but distract us from what God wants us to do. However, one thing that we mentioned above that Satan can do, is take away the significance of “the word” when we hear it. Or, to be more exact, think of it in these terms:

You’ve just heard probably the best sermon of your entire life (hopefully that’s a weekly experience). You feel that the pastor really did an absolutely fantastic job of expounding on the Scripture he was talking about. But now you’re on the road, headed home… When, all of a sudden, you turn left, and find yourself in the midst of traffic which seems to stretch a mile or more. A moment later, you get a call that the reason for the hold up is that your son, who came in his own car because of his job, had a horrible crash in a pileup of about six or seven cars. Now then, how long do you think you’d remember the sermon if something like that had actually happened?

Now, we know that the Devil actually does have power, if God grants it to him first, to cause things like that to happen. Look at Job if you want to see what I mean; he lost his entire livelihood, and broke out in a horrible disease. Granted, that wasn’t for the reasons I’m putting out now, but the point is that the Devil was use every way within his power to take away the value of the word from your life. Which is why its important actually put on that armor we talked about earlier.

Satan Comes to Kill and Destroy

He tries to destroy the word of God, and its power, in our lives. Its one of the things that are on the top of his “to-do” list. Destroying the power of God in every way possible, is Satan’s single goal. He first tried to destroy God’s power by overthrowing Him, now he’s moved to trying to undermine his authority in His people; us. He does this, in part, by the moment someone turns to Christ, attempting to choke them out.

The Christians he uses this tactic on, are shallow. Their exuberant in their acceptance of Christ, yet there’s no change in their lives! Soon they’ll be choked by the troubles and pleasures of the World.

To summarize: the Devil really does have power, when its given to him, and isn’t some mythical being out there. Which is why we need to “clothe ourselves in Christ,” by always keeping Him the focus of our lives.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 

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Reponses

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

And he went throughout all Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and casting out demons. And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” But he went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him from every quarter. (Mark 1:39-45)

If you will, let me ask you a question: if Jesus Christ, God’s own son, healed you from a disease which would kill you in one of the most horrible ways possible, and then told you not to tell anyone what he’d done… What would you do? Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not encouraging anyone to disobey what Christ wants them to do; whatever that may be. However, we should be like the leper here, in that we shouldn’t be able to stop talking of Jesus. With that said, let me ask another question:

If Jesus cured you of a disease that would undoubtedly killed you, today, and not put any restriction on your tongue when He did so, what would you do? Well guess what, if you’re a Christian, you have been cured. But, another question here, is your response the same as the lepers? Are you telling others of the great physician, who is able to cure-all sin diseases?

“Well,” someone may say, “I honestly would tell people about Christ! I would share what He’s done for me, and tell others of His love… But there just isn’t any opening for me to do so. So, I’m waiting on God to open the door for me, then I’ll walk through.” Now this is just fine, it’s just the reality is that God has opened the door for us, and we’re just not noticing. Think of the former-leper for a minute. Now, do you think that Jews, the very people who later crucified Jesus, were all that receptive to hearing some random guy talking about someone who’d healed him. Yes, its true people possibly gave him more of an ear because it was clear he had been healed. But the same should be true of us; everyone should be able to see that we have indeed been saved by the change in our lives.

The point being this: we’ve been cured from a disease worse than the lepers. Not only that, but Christ hasn’t told us not to speak of what He’s done for us, but instead encourages us to do so. Should then, our response not be far greater than the lepers was?

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
 

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Temptation and Preparation

Hello again!

Today we’ve finished the book of Nahum, so we’re taking a slight break from the Old Testament prophets, and are starting on a book we’ve actually never done before; Mark. — This is what God gave me today in His word:

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. (Mark 1:9-13)

Now this is an extremely interesting story. First we Jesus baptized, then God declares that He is well pleased with Jesus… And then, seemingly out of the blue, Jesus is brought to be tempted for forty days and forty nights by Satan! Now, there are two things we can learn from this:

  1. That being tempted isn’t a sin.
  2. That after God really speaks to us in some way, we can expect to undergo temptation.

Being Tempted Isn’t a Sin

Everyone is tempted to something which is sinful, every minute of every day. Even if the temptation only comes in the form of wanting to not ‘mediate on Scripture’ (something which the large majority of people, for the large majority of the time, pretty much fail to do). But with that said, it’s not a sin to be tempted! People sometimes get the idea in their heads that being tempted to, as in Jesus’ case, test the Lord, is a sin in of itself. This isn’t true, and only serves to unnecessarily defiles the conscience!

Now, in some things temptation comes in the form of thinking angry thoughts towards someone else, and in that case, even just thinking those thoughts (whatever they may be) is a sin. There is an important distinction between temptation, and imagining doing something; ones just fine, while the other is a sin. The Devil will tempt everyone, even our High Priest, Jesus, who was without sin, “has been tempted in every way,”.

This may seem like a small matter, but in reality it’s very important. Thinking that temptation is sin can lead us to think we may not even be Christians for the amount of “sin” we commit every minute by being tempted.

If God Has Given Us a Special Revelation, We Can Expect Greater Temptation

To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. (2 Corinthians 12:7)

Yes, it’s true we are tempted often enough as is. Yet the Devil takes a special pleasure in tormenting the Christian who has recently had an intimate time with God, or been given a revelation of some sort in God’s word. We see this very clearly in Paul, who was taken up to the third Heaven, and afterwards was given a messenger of Satan to torment him… The point of saying that, being that if we feel God has given us some “great revelation”, we shouldn’t be surprised if Satan redoubles his efforts on us.

In general, this is what we should take away from this: being tempted isn’t a sin, and we can expect even greater temptation when God gives us even greater revelations; thus meaning we should put our security even more in God (the Christian equivalent of getting ready to deflect attacks).

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
1 Comment

Posted by on March 22, 2012 in Delivered Through Love

 

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Cutting Off Access

Hello again!

This is what God gave me today in His word:

And all for the countless whorings of the prostitute, graceful and of deadly charms, who betrays nations with her whorings, and peoples with her charms. Behold, I am against you, declares the LORD of hosts, (Nahum 3:4-5a)

Behold, your troops are women in your midst. The gates of your land are wide open to your enemies; fire has devoured your bars. Draw water for the siege; strengthen your forts; go into the clay; tread the mortar; take hold of the brick mold! There will the fire devour you; the sword will cut you off. It will devour you like the locust. Multiply yourselves like the locust; multiply like the grasshopper! (Nahum 3:13-15)

Here we can see first why it is God is angry with Nineveh, then how and where their punishment will take place; their problem was that they were falling to sexual sin, their punishment would be death… Now, the lesson we can learn from this is fairly obvious. We should prevent ourselves from having any access to something which would allow us to sin in that way. Neither should we deal with prostitutes (not to mention that doing so is against the law), etc.. However, this can also apply for other sins:

We may not all have fallen to sexual sin (though the Bible does say lust is the same as the act of sexual sin, see: Matthew 5:28). However, we likely all have fallen to the sin of murder; by getting angry at someone, which again, the Bible equates with murder. Or any number of things; the possibilities are literally limitless, as the moment someone seems to find all the ways to possibly sin, there’s another sin invented… Meaning, simply put, this: you, me, the man across the street, we all deserve to burn. Not very optimistic, I know, but it’s the truth. None of us deserve to live; life has been given to us (along with everything else that we “own”). Yet there is one massive difference between Nineveh and us: we get a savior.

Technically speaking, Nineveh got a “savior” of sorts too, Jonah. But after their initial repentance, they turned back, and were duly punished. But, the important thing is that our savior, Jesus Christ, both helps and prevents us from going back. Even though we may look like we have gone back for some time.

Now, in closing, I’d like to quickly touch on where it is Nineveh was going to be punished: when they were outside, strengthening their forts, applying mortar, etc.. Or, to put in another way: once they disobeyed God, they began trying to protect themselves. They started trusting in their forts, rather than in the fort; God. Once someone refuses the free offer of Salvation Jesus offers, they try to strengthen their own forts; try to save themselves. Something we’ve discussed numerous times, (just look two posts back) and which is very wrong; it tries to put God down while building ourselves up.

The point being this: we’ve all committed sin, and so we all are deserving of death. Yet Christ saved us, by dying for us… So now, lets cut off all access that we have to sin! It is for freedom Christ has set us free! Rather than fall to temptation (like Nineveh fell to sexual sin), we should cut off avenues where we may have opportunity to sin.

You are Loved!

Joshua Cleveland

 
 

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