Give Your First and Best to God

If the dough offered as firstfruits is holy, so is the whole lump, and if the root is holy, so are the branches. 

(Romans 11:16).

There is a principle here, which may be applied to many areas of life. If God blesses the root, then the rest is blessed too. Apply this principle in the area of your finances. If you take the first of your paycheck and give it to the Lord, the rest of the money will be blessed.

“Honor the LORD with your wealth and the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine” (Prov. 3:9-10).

This is why we tithe. The tithe is not just 10% but the first 10%. God will bless you with abundance as a result of your faithfulness, not just in the things you need, but in what brings you joy. God will also protect you and your family from the financial destroyer when you tithe.

“I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts.”  The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. (Malachi 3:11).

This means car breakdowns, house repairs, costly illnesses, lawsuits, and other unpredictables. If it happens that the car is in need of repair, the LORD will provide. If the kid gets sick, the LORD will heal.

Giving my first to God is demonstration that I’m not serving money; instead, I dedicate my money to serve God. That’s what “In God We Trust” on our US currency is intended to guard against. “You cannot serve two masters, Jesus said, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Give first and you’ll guard against the tendency to love your money, which leads to every kind of evil.

But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.”   The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. (1 Tim. 6:9-10)

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Spiritual Stupor

“God gave them a spirit of stupor, 

eyes that would not see 

and ears that would not hear, 

down to this very day.”

The quotation is from Isaiah 29:10 as used by the Apostle Paul in Romans 11:8. For those who have been around church and heard teaching from the Bible again and again, yet failed or refused to do anything about it, this verse is a stern and fearful warning. The more you hear and fail to respond, the harder your heart will become.

In Mark’s Gospel Jesus quotes from Isaiah (6:9-10), which has a similar meaning.

And he said to them, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that “they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.”‘”

This passage uses hyperbole. To quote FF Bruce, it demonstrates “the Hebrew tendency to express a consequence as though it were a purpose….” It means, in effect: “Go and deliver my message, but don’t expect them to pay any attention to it. The effect of your preaching will be their persistent refusal to accept what you say, to the point where they will have rendered themselves incapable of accepting it.”  (Bruce, The Hard Sayings of Jesus, p. 100)

In his foreknowledge God realizes who will reject his word when it is preached, which is why these prophetic expressions seem to be God’s purpose, rather than consequences of personal human response. While we rightly think of those in Christian lands as being blessed because of the many benefits afforded them by virtue of a historically dominant Christian ethic, there is also a downside. Those who hear the Gospel again and again but fail to believe it become calloused to the things of God. Jesus taught using parables for many reasons, but one was so that unbelievers wouldn’t understand. However, parables are memorable, and not just for the faithful who do understand. Even an unbeliever will remember the story, and if that person becomes interested in pursuing faith at a later time, the Holy Spirit, who is at work within their heart will give them understaning concerning the parable.

God doesn’t capriciously choose to make some people receptive and harden the hearts of others. Rather, it is the willingness or unwillingness on the part of each individual to pay attention and believe, or reject and disbelieve God’s Word that results in a harder or more receptive heart. Those who choose not to believe will become increasingly insensitive to God’s Word when it is preached. “They trip over the stumbling stone, as they were destined to do” (1 Peter 2:8). In other words, unbelievers will naturally stumble over the Gospel of Christ, because being offended by Jesus is the natural destiny of those refuse to believe God’s Word, and who disobey its plain teaching. We see this regularly in our world today.

The more you listen and fail to heed, the less you will be able to hear, understand and remember. Call this spiritual Alzheimers. Dementia and Alzheimers may be slowed by persistently exercising your brain: read and write regularly, solve puzzles, think! Physical exercise helps slow this process as well. Mental and physical inactivity allows the brain to die. The same may be said of the spiritual: we need to exercise by listening, studying, memorizing and above all obeying the Word of God.

Jesus said, “Pay attention to what you hear: with the measure you use, it will be measured to you, and still more will be added to you. For to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. (Mark 4:24-25).

The more attention you pay, the more that investment pays dividends of further revelation from God. The less attention you pay, the less you will understand, or care to. Eventually, your lack of faith will result in great loss. What you once knew will be in doubt to such a degree that you forget it. You will become spiritually insensitive and replace that with sensuality. “Having lost all sensitivity they have given themselves over to sensuality, so as to indulge in every kind of impurity with a continual lust for more” (Ephesians 4:19, NIV). Sensuality may take the form of sexual immorality, pleasure or thrill seeking, and drug or alcohol addiction. All this because you failed to pay attention to the Word of God and believe what you heard.

Fitness or Fatness Accumulates

Over time anything will accumulate: lint, dust, garbage, fat, money, skill, fitness.

I hit my mid-life crisis at 50, not 40. At the time I was nearing the big 5-0 mark I was also working with a small group of young teenagers, who had more energy than sense. I wanted to keep up with them. Additionally, I was experiencing what many in our country suffer with: back pain. These forces combined to convince me that I needed to get into shape. I had accumulated an excess of fat and a decline in health.

I got back to the gym, and I started running. I hate running. I ran, quite slowly at first, and not very far, but I kept it up. Fitness improved, and the accumulated extra fat disappeared. By the time I hit my 50th birthday I was at 7.5 % body fat. Not bad for an old guy.

However, this was not easy to maintain. I had been working out twice a day toward the end of my fitness plan, and my diet was strict. It was a healthy and sustainable diet, but there was no room for doughnuts and pie; in fact, I didn’t eat bread either. Why was I doing this again? Oh, yeah, energy, health, and vanity.

Now, here’s something they don’t tell you in the gym. Not everybody is happy when you get this fit. In fact, I have to say that I encountered not a little jealousy and resentment. I think some folks prefer a fat preacher. That way they aren’t convicted about their own lack of fitness and self-discipline. Did I mention that I believe there was vanity involved here, a bit of narcissism on my part. When you get that into your own body, it’s unavoidable. Then I injured myself. First, my shoulders, then I broke my clavicle, which I never had fixed.

All of these forces led to a dramatic decrease in both the quantity and quality of workouts. I stopped running. I compromised on my strict diet, still healthy but a doughnut here and a muffin there. Over time my fitness level declined, and my fat percentage went up to 19.5%. My skinny jeans didn’t fit any more. I know, I know, you’re probably glad about that. Why is this old guy wearing skinny jeans, anyhow? Hey, my waist was at 29; I was out to prove something. I had gotten into the best condition of my entire life. Now, I’m back to being a lumpy old guy.

Everything accumulates over time, and fitness is no exception. Today, I started running again. I never quit going to the gym: I just haven’t been serious since my injury. Don’t know that I’ll be able to lift like I used to, not without surgery. What I know is this: I need to get back in condition. I need to lose some flab. It’s not necessary to get back to 7.5% bodyfat, but I need to drop about 10% of what I’ve accumulated in order to be healthy.  I am meeting myself where I am, and I’ll keep going. I’ve returned to my diet, mostly. It’s going to take time, but if I stick with it, and fitness will accumulate, body fat will decrease, and I’ll be healthy again.

What Is Evil?

The sixth century Christian theologian and church leader Augustine of Hippo defined evil as a “privation of the good”— that is, an absence of good, or its reduction in something. Pure evil (if that is possible) would be the complete absence good. Darkness is the absence of light. Death is the absence of life. Nothing is the absence of being. God created everything good. Evil is when the good in something is in some way diminished.

“When, however, a thing is corrupted, its corruption is an evil because it is, by just so much, a privation of the good. Where there is no privation of the good, there is no evil. Where there is evil, there is a corresponding diminution of the good. (Augustine, from the Enchiridion)

So, could it be that there is evil in the world due to the absence of a good God? This is not a way to circle back around and say that evil proves God doesn’t exist. He must or nothing else would. And, as I’ve shown, if there’s no God, then there’s no objective good or right either. For a short time there were a small but vocal group of thinkers who proposed God is dead. The idea here is, the creator may have existed, but doesn’t any longer. There are many problems with this idea, not the least of which is that God is self-existent and the sustainer of existence. God cannot die, and without God everything would cease to exist.

However, could God choose not to be present and/or refuse to take any action the world? Deists believe that God is no longer involved with his creation, and probably has little or no concern with our world. I don’t believe we need to go that far in order to recognize that God could elect to remove his manifest presence from the world. Would this limit God’s omnipotence and/or omnipresence? Not at all. God could remain everywhere, but refuse to make his presence felt and known. Most importantly God can choose not to intervene in the world.

“Behold, the LORD’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save, or his ear dull, that it cannot hear; but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.”
(Isaiah 59:1–2, ESV)

Sin separates human beings from God’s presence, even though God continues to surround everything and everyone. “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Sin limits us, not God. Sin interferes with our ability to perceive God and enjoy his manifest presence. Sin deprives us of communion and communication with God. In a very real sense every sin reduces good, both in our individual lives and in the world, because it separates us from God, who is good. This is why, although all sin is not equal, all sin is evil because all sin separates us from God’s presence. The absence of God’s manifest presence results in the manifestation of all kinds of evil.

I believe evil is more than a privation, however. Evil is also a perversion of God’s purpose for the world. Over and again in the Bible’s first creation account we read the refrain, “And God saw that it was good.” Then, when God finished creating everything we are told: “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). Evil is a distortion of God’s design, a disruption of the created order. Let me offer two examples. I would ask you to look past how politically charged each has become. Try to understand how each illustration exemplifies human perversion of God’s purpose and distortion of his design.

God created the earth to renew itself. As an example, humans and animals breath in oxygen and breath out carbon dioxide as a byproduct. Carbon dioxide can poison us, but plants use it to create energy and life for themselves. They take in sunlight and carbon dioxide and create oxygen as a byproduct through the process of photosynthesis. This is an amazing partnership. Rainforests help control excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which makes up the majority of so-called greenhouse gasses, which most scientists agree contribute to climate change. When human beings wantonly cut down rainforests they are disturbing the amazing balance of God’s design for our environment. The consequences are many and varied.

God created sex, gender and marriage. God designed human beings to be male or female. Sexual immorality of all types is a perversion of God’s design for human intimacy and procreation. Jesus reaffirmed this when he quoted from Genesis account of creation in his teaching about marriage.

“He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”” (Matthew 19:4–6, ESV)

Many people are perverting God’s design in this critical area. Sexual perversion has become more common because many forms have become socially accepted, even celebrated.

Evil is the opposite of good. God is good. Thus, anyone or anything opposed to God would be evil. Anything that perverts God’s purpose and design is evil.

The Wrath of God

God may still pour out his wrath on people who have rejected his Son and persist in doing evil.

Many times our first impulse is to think that God is punishing people by sending natural disasters such as tornado, hurricane or earthquake. It is never that simple. It was once the province of Christians to speak of God punishing or judging groups of people for their sin, but now we have celebrity prophets. The latest to offer an opinion is Jennifer Lawrence, who believes that hurricanes are hitting southern states because Mother Nature is angry with Trump voters. Apparently Ms. Lawrence is a priestess of the Great Mother.

There are many other reasons why disasters occur, and the primary purpose is to bring people to the point of hope in God and his promise of heaven. God may also use trouble to correct his people, and test our faith.

However, we cannot dismiss the possibility that God may still punish people by pouring out his wrath. Salvation is first and foremost salvation from God’s wrath. What happens when people continue to reject God’s solution for sin? What happens when they persist in doing evil? What happens when they call evil good and good evil? We see all of this happening in the USA today. Are we foolish enough to believe that the Judge of all humankind will fail to act? This is the God who destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their perverse sexual evil. This is the God whose “soul hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11:5). This is the Righteous Judge who clearly states that he feels indignation every day because of violence and evil (Psalm 7:11). This is the God who inspired the Apostle Paul to write in his letter to the Romans:
“The wrath of God revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth” (1:18, NRSV).
The wrath of God IS revealed.

Jesus Christ died on the cross to turn away God’s wrath from all who will believe. Since Christ’s resurrection we have been in an age of grace. That is why God’s wrath is not yet poured out in full strength on all evil and injustice. However, there are times when God acts. We must not automatically make the assumption, the oversimplified assumption, that God is angry with a community because they face a disastrous storm. However, we cannot automatically dismiss the possibility either. God is sovereign and just. He should be feared. The biggest problem today is that people do not fear God.

“a time to plant and a time to uproot what was planted…” (Ecc. 3:2)

Let’s look at the case of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. It would be easy to assume that the debauchery of the Big Easy provoked God to pour out his wrath on the city. I am no prophet and am unwilling to state that that was God’s primary purpose for Katrina. However, neither am I willing to dismiss the possibility. I will say that many who were in extreme poverty in New Orleans were driven out of the city and have settled other places such as Garland Texas, where I live. Many of these folks were given new lives and fresh starts as the result of Katrina. Perhaps most would rather the storm never happened. It is likely many would have preferred staying in their city to being forcibly uprooted. God had a plan. Perhaps the Sovereign Lord disciplined the city. If so, did anybody learn? Have they turned away from sin and evil. Where is the fear of God?

God may also send or allow disaster or tragedy to bring us to our knees to repent and seek him. Jesus addressed this very issue, and it is recorded in the Gospel of Luke.

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2016. (Luke 13:1-5).

So, as America faces the second catastrophic hurricane within a week, as major wildfires burn in four western states, do people recognize a need to repent? I believe Jesus would say, “Do you think the people of Houston are worse sinners than other Americans? Do you think the residents of Montana are worse sinners than other Americans? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, this may happen to you.

The most powerful earthquake ever to hit Mexico struck a few days ago, killing 64 people. Do you think the people of Mexico, or the city of Juchitan in Oaxaca state, where 36 died and a third of the homes collapsed, are worse sinners than people in North America, or other nations in Central or South America? To this Jesus might well say, “I tell you, no, but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”

You and I live in a dark, dangerous, cursed world. Certainly we see the beauty and order of its origin. The weather in north Texas is beautiful today, Fall is coming, the air is cooler. A couple of weeks ago we saw the perfection of God’s original creation via the solar eclipse. However, two years ago a tornado swept through Garland and Rowlett, destroying hundreds of homes and taking half a dozen lives We’ve been hit with destructive hail and floods in recent years. Did we learn what God was trying to teach us? Have we had a change of heart and mind as a result of our own calamity?

Do you realize that although God’s original creation is perfect, this is a fallen world, which lies under God’s curse. Are you still seeking fulfillment here? Do you still love this world? “Do not love the world or the things in it! If you love the world, the love of the Father is not in you!” (1 John 2:15, cf. James 4:4) We need to be saved, my friends. We need to become part of the new creation and the coming kingdom of God. And we need to live our lives as exiles and strangers here on earth (1 Peter 2:11). This old creation longs to be set free with the children of God.

“For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, no willingly, but because of him who subjected it in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.” (Romans 8:19-22, ESV)

Are you one of God’s children? Have you received the Lord Jesus?
“To as many as received him, those who believed in his name, he gave the right to be children of God” (John 1:12). One day there will come a great renewal of the earth and sky, and we who have been made new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), will live forever the presence of God in his new creation. This isn’t heaven, friends, but heaven is coming!

If you have faith in Jesus Christ, the suffering here is as close to hell as you’ll ever get. If you don’t believe, the beauty here is as close to heaven as you’ll ever get.

What about our nation? Is God saying something to America right now? I believe the Lord has always protected this great nation, because it was founded on faith in Christ. It has always been imperfect, but God has kept us safe because of the faith of his people. Today, America has moved further and further from her founding principles, fewer and fewer people have genuine faith in Jesus. God briefly lifted his hand of protection from America on September 11th, 2001, and evil came rushing in. Do we realize how often God turns evil away from our nation? Do we understand how blessed we’ve been? How often does God intervene and keep disaster, tragedy and evil from befalling us?
America, America!
God shed his grace on thee!
Why have you turned your back on your God? Get ready for more disasters, more tragedies, more evil.

What must believers do? We must pray. We must believe in a good, loving and just God, who is angry with wickedness, violence and injustice every day. We must all repent. Everybody needs to be saved! In an age of grace God’s goal is always for all people to turn to Jesus Christ. especially when he chooses to allow or send calamity upon a community,
“… not wishing for any to perish but that all come to repentance”
(2 Peter 3:9).
“There is therefore no condemnation for those that are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).

To escape God’s wrath of God, fear Him, repent of your sins, run to our good and loving Father, receive Jesus Christ into your heart now. Put your hope in God who promises that you will never be separated from his love, no matter what (Romans 8:28-39).

Pray for our nation to repent, and hide yourself in Christ until the wrath of God passes by.

“Go, my people, enter your rooms and shut the doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until his wrath has passed by. See the LORD is coming out of his dwelling to punish the people of earth for their sins. The earth will disclose the blood shed on it; the earth will conceal its slain no longer” (Isaiah 26:20-21).

Children of Illegal Immigrants 

Question: did you decide who your parents would be? Did you decide where you would be born? Did your parents care for you? Is there anything they would not have done to make certain that you could not only survive but succeed?

President Trump has cancelled DACA, a remedy for the children of illegal immigrants put in place by President Obama. This would be catastrophic, except it does not go into effect for six months, providing Congress with an opportunity to give children of illegal immigrants a chance to remain in the United States legally.

Our nation has the right and responsibility to control its borders. Those who come here illegally are in violation of the United States sovereignty and laws. However, the motives of those individuals may be good. Certainly, their children, who have been raised as Americans, and who are contributing citizens, should not be deported to a country that they do not know.

So what do we do? We must follow rule of law, and although my compassion would dictate that we retain the children of illegal immigrants, I believe we must obey the law. That said, Congress now has the opportunity to change or make laws which would permit the children of illegal immigrants who are contributing citizens of this country to remain here legally. It is right and good that our lawmakers should do just that.

Several organizations have concluded that removal of the children of illegal immigrants would open up thousands of jobs for those who are here illegally. That may or may not be true; however, I want you to put yourself in the position of one of these children. Do you remember what life was like when you were five or eight years old? How much control did you have over your life as a child? Did you have any say about what your parents did with you, where they took you,  or where they put you in school?

Thousands, even hundreds of thousands, of children were brought into this country illegally by well-meaning parents. They have been raised as Americans; they are contributing citizens; they pay taxes. Except for official documents they are, in fact, Americans. Now, some have the idea that because their parents brought them here illegally these innocents should be sent back to a country that they have little or no memory of.  This is simply wrong.

I believe that we need to enforce our borders and control who enters this country. I believe that illegal immigration is wrong. I also believe that we need to have a clear path for those outside this country who long to come here to obtain citizenship. I believe that we need to provide opportunities for those who are willing to work in this country to work and pay taxes. We need to stop our present schizophrenic approach to immigration, wherein the US officially denies entry, but has various cities and counties that provide sanctuary for violators.

The answer to this mess is to fix our immigration laws. Give children of illegal immigrants the opportunity to remain here legally if they were brought here before they were capable of making any determination of their own, and if they are successfully pursuing an education, or are working a job and contributing to this country.

There Is a Time and Purpose for Everything 

The Teacher in Ecclesiastes states that there is a time and a season for everything. 

 “a time to be born, and a time to die; 

  a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

  a time to kill, and a time to heal; 

  a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; 

  a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

  a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; 

  a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

  a time to seek, and a time to lose; 

  a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 

  a time to tear, and a time to sew; 

  a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

 a time to love, and a time to hate; 

  a time for war, and a time for peace.” 

(Ecclesiastes 3:2-8)

“Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God would allow something bad to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.” -Tim Keller
That there is an appointed time or season implies God has a purpose and a foreordained plan, even if he is not the direct cause of something. God may intervene in nature or in history and order something to occur, or he may allow an event due to the free will of people, or the blind operation of nature’s laws. Since God has the power to intervene, we rightly see him as ultimately responsible. 

God has a purpose, which is being worked out in the world. You and I have free will and the responsibility to seek God and discover his will, and the way he intends things to be.

God “works all things after the counsel of his will” (Ephesians 1:11). God’s will is bound to his character, and God is love. Therefore, nothing God wills is outside his love. God always has a reason and a purpose for causing or permitting things to happen. We call this Providence.

God is not the direct (efficient) cause of severe weather events like Hurricane Harvey, but he is the final cause. That is, God has a reason for creating the world, and the laws by which it operates, and for giving humans a will and permitting them the freedom to exercise it. He has a reason for permitting humans to sin, and for placing the entire earth under a curse of separation from his immediate life-giving care. God has a reason for subjecting the creation to futility and bondage to corruption (see Romans 8:20-21). 

God’s plan has always been for the present creation to be temporary. Even before the fall, Eden was not intended to be the final state. God realized that human beings would sin, and that has always been part of his plan. God is not the efficient cause of sin, but he has a purpose for permitting it.

The final cause, the purpose for every event that takes place under heaven, is the hope of eternal life with God. This hope involves God’s plan to adopt believers as his children and make them like his only begotten Son. This hope extends to the recreation of heaven and earth. God’s purpose for creating everything is so you and I may have a relationship with him as Abba-Father for all eternity.  What an amazing plan!  So, hang on: This ain’t heaven… yet. But heaven is coming!

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation. 21:1-5).
For now, there are events that take place in our world and in our lives for which God does not reveal the an immediate purpose. 
However, we can be assured that a good and just God has good reason for what he does, and the ultimate purpose is to make the saints holy like Jesus, and to bring many sons and daughters to His glory (Heb. 2:10, Rom 8:29-30)

We can be assured, then, that whatever happens will result in our good and God’s glory (Romsns 8:28).