“Perception is Reality.” – Lee Atwater – “Is Mr. Atwater’s statement a Perception or Reality?” – Jim McNaughton

According to perception, Jesus was a failure.  He was tortured, mocked, beaten, and spat upon.  His followers ran.  One of His friends had turned Him over to His enemies.  His only defense was to validate the charge against Him.  One of those closest to Him, denied that he ever knew Him, in order not to experience His fate.  The thousands that had heard Him preach and experienced His miracles didn’t show up.

He was buried and His own disciples didn’t expect Him to rise from the dead as He had claimed He would.  Guards posted at His tomb said His disciples stole His body.  No reputable government official ever saw Him after that.  It was over.  It was finished.  It was done.

Yet the reality is that Jesus won the ultimate victory for all time!  He conquered death when He was raised from the dead.  His followers stopped running and, once filled with His Spirit, risked their lives boldly proclaiming that He was alive, that only He was King, and forgiveness of sins is found only in Him.

His message of God’s unconditional love for everyone has never stopped growing.  Though many have tried to stop Jesus and His love, they have all met with or will meet with, ultimate failure.

Jesus said, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away”.

And so, in the end, Jesus words, the words of the Bible, are the only Reality.

From nothing to everything

God, the Father of Jesus, respects us, His creation, made in His image, so much, that He does not force us to love Him.  In fact, He has created this world in such a way that we can go through our whole life denying His existence and His rightful claim on our life.  God does not demand worship.  He is love, and love does not force others to love.  In fact, love cannot be forced.  He simply loves us continuously from before we are conceived until we die; and He orchestrates circumstances and relationships in hopes that at some point we will see that He loves us and that as a response we will freely choose to love Him in return and others as ourselves.

But, why would God send good people to hell?  What if no one ever told them about God?  God would be unfair to reject someone who was never told about Him, wouldn’t He?

Romans 1:18-20, NIV:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,
19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.
20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

Before I knew Jesus and surrendered my life to Him I was scared to death of dying.  Occasionally, I thought the rapture (Jesus taking all of His people from the earth) had occurred and that I was left behind.  When I thought I was going to die, or I thought I was left behind, I had a brief moment of clarity.  I knew God was holy, I knew I was sinful, and I knew He was just to reject me.  And after those brief moments I rejected what I knew to be true and “closed my eyes” and went back to my life as usual.

I knew God was real but I didn’t care.  I had no love for Him.

But God had love for me.

He gave me mental illness, which might seem like hate, but it was really love.  The mental illness struck at my biggest source of pride and self-sufficiency: my brain.  I was paranoid and could not think logically and I could not emotionally relate to others.  Because of my mental illness I was rejected and alone, even in a crowd of friends and family.  After ten years of this “hell” I was still rebellious toward God and still did not respect or love Him.

But He loved me.

And, when I had absolutely nothing left to lose, God offered me a relationship with Him.  And it was only when God had taken away everything the world had to offer: intellect, money, jobs, cars, friends, family, that I grudgingly accepted Him; specifically because I had absolutely nothing left to lose.

Thinking that I was naturally “pretty good” I could not have been any more disrespectful to God.  And He humbled Himself and endured me until I accepted Him and His love.  He has transformed me from someone who hated love to someone who rejoices in love.  I have been forever changed by Jesus’ love and all the credit goes to Him.

If you want to know Jesus the way I do all you have to do is to reach out for Him with all that you are.  He said He will be found by you.  Tell Him that you have sinned against Him and that you are sorry and that you accept that His death on the cross paid for your sin debt in full.  Then tell Him that you believe He rose from the dead on the third day to make you just, forgiven, and holy.  And tell Him that He is now your Lord and Master and that you will follow Him for the rest of your life when at last you will meet Him face to face.

Next, tell someone what Jesus has done for you.  And find a church that believes and preaches the Bible.  Find someone who is farther along in their walk with Jesus and who’s life is worthy of imitating and ask them to mentor you.  And always read the Bible and pray, because God loves you most of all and He can help you most of all.

Wait a minute, what is "tithing"?

It suddenly dawned on me that you may not know what tithing is.  A “tithe” is a tenth of what God gives you.  In the Old Testament God says that the tenth is His.  You may say, that is an Old Testament law and that you are not under law but grace.  That is true, we are under grace and are led by the Spirit of God.  And the Spirit of God has led me to tithe and receive God’s blessing by His grace.  The New Testament says to save up to give to God in proportion to the increase God has blessed you with.  So, ask God what He wants you to give.  And then give that and don’t worry whether it is a literal tithe or not.  In fact, one pastor suggested that you give anything but a tenth.  He said that this would force us to go to God and hear from Him to find out what He wants us to give.  Whatever you give, give with thanks and a grateful heart.  Gods best blessing is the “hilarity” we feel when we give out of love for Him.

God protects more than crops and fruit!

Malachi 3 NIV

6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings.
9 You are under a curse —the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me. 
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. 
11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit, ” says the LORD Almighty.  
12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

 I interpret Malachi 3:11 to mean that God is interested in protecting more than just my crops and fruit (I don’t have either).  I interpret the verse to mean that if I honor God with my tithe He will protect, among other things, my cars from rusting and wearing out.  I know they won’t last forever but they each are over ten years old, each have over 120,000 miles, and each have very little, if any, rust.  The 2002 Pontiac Montana needs a perennial repair of the heater core thermostat (or something like that, I’m not a mechanic) and may need an engine gasket replacement in 40,000 miles.  The 2003 Toyota Camry has only had the tires, windshield wipers and battery replaced; (but soon needs something like a timing cover gasket replaced).

What I think is most significant is that God has protected ME!  God has kept me safe and free from accidents that were my fault.  I have been in two accidents that were not my fault since I gave my self to Jesus, and He saved me from much harm in both.

You will only find out how God will bless you if you accept His challenge and put Him to the test by tithing.  Try it and see!

Putting God to the test?

Malachi 3 NIV

6 “I the LORD do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.
7 Ever since the time of your forefathers you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty. “But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’
8 “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ “In tithes and offerings.
9 You are under a curse —the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.
10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit, ” says the LORD Almighty.  

12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty.

Until you experience the blessing God gives in response to tithing you may be reluctant to give God back His ten percent of what He gives you.  At least that’s what I think my sons are experiencing.

Several years ago I challenged my older son when he was about 12 years old, to test God and see what God would do if my son tithed. My son tithed seven dollars and we watched what God would do.  God said to test Him in this and so we did.  Within a few days I was given four free tickets to a first run major kids’ movie.  God blessed not only my son, but his brother and mom and dad.

I didn’t stick with teaching this to my son and now, ten years later,  my son is not interested in tithing.  I don’t plan on giving up on teaching him and his younger brother though.  My wife and I are going to double tithe and ask God to bless my wife and I doubly (so that we doubly don’t have enough room for it) so that my sons will see that God can be tested and also see that God comes through on His promises.  This test will be for the month of September 2013.  I will report back with developments.

We can trust God’s Heart

Jeremiah 29 (NIV)

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.
11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.
13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD,
 “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

God is always seeking our best.  And loving God, loving Agape Love, is the best thing for us.  God’s Word tells us how to do this.  Trust Jesus and obey Him.  But this is hard to do on our own.  I naturally want to take the quick and easy path of sin to meet my God-given needs.  Sin is fun for a little while, but the problem is that the fun doesn’t last long.  And the pain of sin is much greater than the pleasure and can last much longer.  And sin hurts me, others and God.  That’s why God calls it sin.  God wants us to meet our God-given needs His way.  And that takes patience for God’s timing and trust in His character and possibly some amount of effort.

The beautiful thing is that we don’t need to depend on our own strength to follow Him.  If we agree with God that we have had wrong attitudes and actions in the past (sin), if we believe that God the Father raised Jesus, God the Son, back from the dead, and if we surrender control of our lives to the One who loves us most, Jesus promises to meet our needs and give us strength.

And with Jesus in our heart, we will be able to love supernaturally, and God will give us joy.  The way may not always be easy though.  Satan used to ignore me but now that I follow Jesus, satan attacks me much more than before Jesus saved me.

But, Jesus said, “Take heart, for I have overcome [satan].