PW 282 The Big Pcture
The New Year is upon us. It is the end of one year, but it is also the beginning of a new one. Times change, things come and go. Speaking of which, after twenty years of ministry in the UP and thirteen years of writing Pastor’s Window articles, the time has come for us to hand off the baton. Just as Pastor Larry Shetenhelm passed this ministry on to me thirteen years ago, I am now doing the same. Venita and I have been appointed to be the new district representatives for Village Missions for the Eastern United States. After the first of January we will be on our way out there to care for other Village Missionary pastors and their families, like ourselves, and to represent Village Missions to churches and Bible colleges there. Beginning with the next issue, Pastor Steven Washburn of the Bruce Crossing Bible Church will be taking over this role. He is a Moody Bible Institute graduate in pastoral studies. He and his wife, Grace, have one child with another on the way. I know he will do an excellent job of ministering to your souls through this ministry. I know you will be blessed by him.
These articles are called Pastor’s Window based on how we, as pastors, look out at the world today and bring God’s Word to bear on situations people are facing. Sadly, there are those in pulpits today that proclaim the thoughts of man, rather than the Word of God. The world follows after them because they say what their itching ears desire to hear. In these articles, I have endeavored to bring God’s truth, despite the spin doctoring of so many political pundits and other false teaching. We can easily get things backwards in our thinking. People refuse to believe in God by saying, “If there is a God why doesn’t He do something about all the pain and suffering in the world?” Truth be told, He has. He has sent His only Son, Jesus, to come into this world, to live a sinless life, and to die a cruel death on the cross as the only sacrifice that can atone for the believer’s sin. He has made a way to heaven and eternal life in Jesus. It is sin that has messed things up. The trouble is that we fail to see ourselves as selfish, sinners. We justify ourselves by comparing ourselves to the other guy and not God’s standard. We often love our sin more than God.
God has never said that we would have an easy life. The false teachers of our age promise this but God doesn’t. God uses our suffering to give evidence to our faith (cf. James 2:18, 1 Peter 1:6-7). We have a tendency to focus so much on our individual lives that we miss that God is working on a much grander scale. He sees the big picture. He is preparing us for the next life. In the days of King Solomon, as work progressed on the temple, all the blocks were cut and made to fit at the quarry (1 Kings 6:7) so that no hammer, chisel or iron tool was heard in the temple. In a similar way, God is making every believer into living stones to make a spiritual house, fit for the Lord. There will be no more work of fitting us on the other side. We all have times when we cry and complain about difficulties and hardships. “Why does this have to happen to me?” Yet as the old saying goes, “You can’t chisel granite with rose petals.” Our old nature can’t be done away with as long as we coddle it and make allowances for it. Throughout the New Testament we find it has to be put to death.
It has been said that the last things said by a person can be the most profound. The only profound thing I can say to you is that we all are sinners, separated from God and Heaven, but He has made a way to Himself by His grace through faith in the atoning work of Jesus His Son. None of us is good enough on our own to go there, we can only enter through the saving work of Jesus. Each person must call upon the Lord believing He will save them. Once we have done this, we must let His life work itself out in our lives, making our call and election sure. Many today, are like those Paul spoke about to Titus, They profess to know God, but in works they deny Him, being abominable, disobedient, and disqualified for every good work. (Titus1:16). Don’t believe every spirit, but test them. These people say they are believers (aka Christian) but they don’t do the things that Jesus did. How can we say we follow Christ and not live as Christ lived?
Believers are to no longer live for themselves, but for Christ who saved them. The writer of Ecclesiastes closed by saying, Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is man’s all. For God will bring every work into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil. (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14). There is a day of accounting that awaits for each one of us. For the unsaved it will deal with their eternal destiny. For the believer, it will deal with their rewards in heaven.
The LORD God is a loving, gracious, merciful God who desires each one to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth, but each of us has to respond to His offer of salvation solely by His grace through faith. We are then to give evidence of that faith by living out that new life each day to God’s glory. Have you called upon Him to be saved? If so, can you say your life is giving evidence to that faith and new life you profess? Can you point to places in this past year, where you can see the old man has been put to death and you have been dead to sin and alive to Christ. We must see the Big Picture. Know I am praying for you!
PW 281 Don’t Let The Grinch Steal Your Christmas
As I write this the holidays are just beginning. At Christmas time many of us no doubt have traditions that we try to do every year. It may be decorating, attending Church services, caroling, or a number of other things. It wouldn’t seem like Christmas without them. One of our family’s traditions is to sit down together and watch various Christmas programs. One of our favorites is Dr. Suess’ “How the Grinch Stole Christmas”.
The Grinch, if you don’t know, is a cruel rascal who lives a hermit lie existence on a mountain. He hates all the joy and celebration done by the people in the village that is in the valley below, especially at Christmas.
He wants to stop Christmas from coming, so he decides that he will disguise himself as Santa and sneak down to the town on Christmas Eve and steal all the presents, decorations, and even the food and instruments the people had to celebrate with. Having succeeded in this endeavor, he races up the mountain to dump all the pilfered items. Dawn begins to break and he pauses to listen for the wailing of the people as they awoke to find all their stuff gone! Instead of crying and fussing, he hears them singing! Slowly he begins to realize that Christmas wasn’t about having all the decorations and presents that he had stolen. He began to realize that Christmas was something much more. A change of heart begins to take place and after having to rescue the sled that almost slide off the mountain ledge, He returns to town and gives back all their stuff. There the people forgive him and even let him take part in their feast!
Sometimes it is easy for Christmas to become about finding all the right gifts or the trappings or our traditions. We can turn ourselves inside out trying to do them all, only to find ourselves wondering like the Grinch, “Is Christmas something much more?” It isn’t just about gift giving and getting. Ultimately it is about love, forgiveness, reconciliation, and restoration. It is about God in His love for us, fulfilling His plan. Providing us forgiveness and reconciliation, and restoring us to a right relationship with Him, so we might obtain eternal life in heaven.
There are only two ways to receive eternal life. One by being entirely perfect and keeping every command of God from birth to death. No doubt, we see that can never happen. We all sin and disobey God at times. The Bible tells us that there is none righteous, no not one. We all have sin and fall short of God and His glory in heaven. The payment or punishment we owe for our sin is death. Yet the Bible tells us that God doesn’t want us to perish, but to have everlasting life. So He gives us a gift. This is why Jesus Christ came. He came to be the Savior of the world. In order to save people from God’s judgment there has to be a death. In Old Testament times, an unblemished lamb was sacrificed. This ultimately pointed to the sacrifice that Jesus would one day make as the Lamb of God, by dying on the cross. Understand that just as sin entered the world by one man’s sin, namely Adam, it could be removed by the righteousness of the one Man, namely Jesus. Sin and death passed on to each of us for we were all hidden in Adam. It is easy to see that we all have a sin nature. No good parent teaches their child to lie or to be selfish, yet they seem to figure it out for it is in their nature. Yet just as sin and death is passed on to each one by Adam, so can salvation and life everlasting be given by Jesus’s righteousness.
In 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. The payment for sin required a death as I have already stated. The death of an innocent, unblemished life. Sadly, every one of us has sin. Thus God the Father sent Jesus the Son, to come in the flesh for the express purpose of dying in our place. He died so that anyone who looked to Him in faith could be saved. They could find atonement for their sins and everlasting life.
If Jesus had been born as an act of man and not a divine act of God, He couldn’t die for our sin. Since He is born of God, by an act of the Holy Spirit, He is God in the flesh. The very nature of God wrapped in flesh. He is fully God. He is the unblemished, sinless Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. We must move beyond the manger in Bethlehem to the cross of Calvary. The bad news is that we are all lost and separated from God by our sins. The Good News is that God provided a way apart from our efforts that we might be saved. This is the essence of Christmas: God extending His gift of grace. Our response is to thankfully embrace what He has given.
How do we embrace Jesus Christ and His gift? It’s through belief. John 3:16 says that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. You know, even though God loves the world, not everyone loves Him. There are those who don’t believe . . . who won’t believe. John 1:11-12 says: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God – to those who believe in His name.”
Belief is far deeper than some head knowledge that God, back some 2000 + years ago, sent His Son to die to pay for a person’s sins . . . yada . . . yada. Belief means we put our trust and confidence in Him. That He alone can save us.
Believing is both trusting His Word as reliable, and relying on Him for the power to change our lives to be more like Him. What a great hope! No matter how bad our sins may be, there is hope of forgiveness and cleansing through the Lord Jesus Christ. In Isaiah 1:18 it says, “:… though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.”
No matter how badly you may have sinned, the Bible tells us that God’s grace abounds beyond it. The birth of Jesus that night in the manger was part of God’s rescue mission. It began in the manger and ended on the cross. Jesus came to bring salvation and everlasting life to the believer. If you have never called upon the Lord to be saved, why not receive Him right now? Admit to Him you are a sinner in need of His Salvation. Tell the Lord that you believe that Jesus died to save you from your sin, ask Him to forgive you, and from now on confess Him from as your Lord and Savior. Receive His forgiveness for your sin and the new life in Him.
On Christmas morning, I know that there won’t be an unopened gift left in our house. Everyone will be received. I hope in your home . . . and in your life . . . you’ve received the most precious gift of God . . . His salvation by His grace through faith in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I hope you know His forgiveness for your sin and have that new life in Him. I hope you have trusted on Him for your eternal salvation. Know I’m praying for you.
PW 280 Flight Delays and Misses
The holidays are just around the corner. Many will be traveling during them. If you have traveled much by air, you know that delays and missed connections are part of it. Still when it happens to us, it isn’t much fun. A few weeks back, my wife and I had such an experience. It was Friday and we were waiting to get on our flight from Portland, OR to Chicago. While waiting we learned that our flight into Chicago O’Hare was 45 minutes late. I went to the person at our gate, to find out about our connecting flight, because we had only had an hour between them. The lady told me it would be no problem. The concourse where we were coming into was right next to the concourse we would be flying out on. She assured me that they knew we were coming. Upon landing we had to race to our next gate and arrived eight minutes before our flight was due to take off. Unfortunately, the airlines have a policy of closing the gate 10 minutes prior to departure, so we couldn’t get on our flight. We then learned that our airline had no more flights heading out to the small airport we were going to until late Sunday afternoon, two days away! So we asked if they could get us on another airline. They checked and told us that there was another flight heading to our connecting airport and it was leaving in just under an hour. They took our boarding passes and three airline personnel began working on getting us and another couple on that flight. Since it was another airline we had a ways to go to get to their gate. The airline people hurried our paperwork and told us to hurry. We were able to catch one of those airport golf carts and it got us there just as they were beginning to board. Whew! We made it! Or so we thought. Upon arriving at the gate we found that we had only been given the paperwork for the other couple, none of it was for my wife and I. The other couple boarded and we were left behind. No more flights were leaving Chicago for our airport for the next 24 hours. If you have ever had this type of experience, you know it can be very stressful and full of anxious moments. While I didn’t understand why this had to happen to us, I knew that my heavenly Father still loved me and He knew where we were.
This got me thinking about a parable Jesus told about some people who were waiting for the bridegroom to show up and they got caught napping and unprepared. When they finally arrived, they found the door closed and unable to enter in. Jesus said this is how it will be at His coming. In their case, they thought they were ready, but they were unprepared and missed out on the kingdom of heaven. How important it is to be prepared for the time of the Lord’s coming, be it when we pass from this mortal life or at His return. Sadly, some people will put it off and it will be too late! They may have meant to do it but never got around to it. They were caught up in the cares of this world, the deceitfulness of riches, or just desiring other things over God. This delay will cost them eternal life in heaven. How terrible it will be to reach that day and to be found wanting.
Another tragedy will be for those who reach that day and think they have the proper “paperwork” to allow them through the gate only to find that what they have is insufficient. Many people are trusting their own goodness, some religious rituals they have performed, or spiritual gifts they have used. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matthew 7:21-23). Many people may call Jesus Lord, but they haven’t done the will of the Father, which is to believe on His Son, Jesus, for their salvation. They continue in lawless practices, totally missing God’s commands that they are to obey. If we have truly come to trust in Jesus Christ and received the Holy Spirit as a guarantee of our redemption, we will make our call and election sure. Is our hope of heaven based on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God’s perfect Son, on Calvary? It is only by that sacrifice one can be saved. Like our well-meaning airline personnel, others may assure us that we will be able to get in or that we have the right “paperwork” to get into heaven, but Jesus tells us that the only way to the Father and heaven is through faith in Him.
Are you trusting in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross that He is the perfect sacrifice for your sin and have you called upon Him to be saved? Is God the Holy Spirit bearing witness in your life that you are a child of God? If not, now is the time to prepare. Admit you are a sinner (for each of us is one). Believe that Jesus’ death atones for your sin. It is the only sacrifice God requires or will accept. Lastly, call upon the Lord to be saved. From this point on, live your life for Him, not to be saved, but because He has saved you and you now have new life in Him. This shows proof that you are truly saved. Don’t end up at Heaven’s gate and not be able to go through it. Know I am praying for you.
The holidays are fast approaching. These can be times when we try to squeeze more into our days to meet holiday expectations along with daily routine. In the Disney movie, The Mighty Ducks 2, Emilio Estavez plays Coach Bombay of the US Junior Olympic Hockey Team. He has the daunting challenge of trying to get his old team to mesh with new players from all across the country. At the same time, he is under a media and advertising blitz. Much of his time is taken up with interviews and doing commercials. It almost becomes his undoing. In his apology to his team, he picks up a life size card board cut out of himself and says, “This is a distraction.“ He lights a match and throws it in a barrel, saying, “This is a fire in a barrel.” He then tosses the cut out into the barrel. This is a distraction on fire in a barrel.”
In the book of Luke, we find two sisters, Mary and Martha. They invite Jesus into their home for a visit. Martha gets all caught up in all the meal preparations, while Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to Him. Finally, feeling frazzled and frustrated, she complains to Jesus about Mary, "Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me." And Jesus answered and said to her, "Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her." Luke 10:40-42 (NKJV). Martha had let the cares of daily living distract her from the One who is the Life (cf. John 14:6). She was distracted. Sometimes even good things can be a distraction and keep us from what is really needed.
In our lives we are driven to distraction. I dare say that most of us deal with distractions that are pulling at our lives and keeping us from the things that are really important; family, church, and most of all, the Lord. Even as I write this, I’m convicted of an area where I’ve been distracted. There are more things out there in our world than a normal person could do in a dozen life times. Like Martha, the daily duties and cares of life have a way of distracting us from choosing that good part that will not be taken away. We get so caught up in caring for the outer things and we neglect the care of our souls. It is good to think about the things that are truly needful, and say “NO!” to the tyranny of the urgent, those things that scream at us to be done, but have little eternal or spiritual benefit. How much alone time have you spent with the Lord lately, just the Bible, Jesus, and you? Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Matt 6:33 (NKJV). How much time have you spent in true fellowship with God’s people? Let’s never forget that the Lord is building His church, not just you or me. When we neglect our fellowship with the people of God, we hurt ourselves. When we move away from our heavenly Father, we remove ourselves from the place of His blessing. One thing that happens is, like Martha, we blame the Lord for not caring, when in reality we have been lying to ourselves, putting our efforts into things that don’t matter or matter little in the big scheme of things, and going in our own strength and understanding.
What is distracting you right now? What excuse is keeping you from worship of the Lord, instruction in the Word, fellowship with the Body, and sharing the gospel with others? Why not confess it and purpose before the Lord to manage your distractions better with His help. You’ll be glad you did. If you are not sure if you are a believer, ask yourself if you can recall a time where you truly responded to God’s call in your life, confessed to God you are a sinner, and welcomed Him into your life as Lord and Savior. If you never have, you can pray to Him right now where you are. Then find a Bible believing church where you can be baptized and grow in God’s grace. Know I’m praying for you.
The Blaze Orange Nightgown
Years ago when my sons were very young, my father-in-law, my sons, and I were in a sporting goods store looking at some things to get ready for the hunting season, when one of my sons comes walking up holding a blaze orange night gown. “Look at this, Dad!” he said, “Who goes hunting in the bedroom?” We all had a good laugh and made a few good natured comments of how business must not be so good so they took on a new sideline. Where this is humorous, something that isn’t so humorous is that is the way some Christians and churches are. The Christian life isn’t as exciting as it was or attendance is dropping, and all of a sudden we need something new to tickle our fancy instead of truly examining what is going on in our own hearts. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
In Revelation 2, Jesus writes to the church in Ephesus. He tells them He knows their works; how they have labored, dealt with evil, and persevered. But then He chastens them for leaving their first love! How quickly we will leave the love of Jesus for other things, even good things... sometimes religious things. Before we know it we are choked by the cares of this life and that vibrant faith we once had has dried up. We are overcome by the tyranny of the urgent. We fill up our lives with so many other things and neglect what truly is important. Does that sound like you?
If this is you, stop for a moment and ask yourself, “Do I want to remain this way?” What are you doing to restore the joy of God’s salvation? Are you seeking Him with your whole heart? The New Testament exhorts believers to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together. We do this in order to stir one another up to love and good works in Christ. Are you meeting with other believers on the Lord’s Day and in small groups to help you grow? How easy it is to slowly move from the things of God and get off track. We fool ourselves into thinking we are okay. How are you helping to fulfill the great commission to make disciples for Jesus Christ? Have you missed your mission? What’s your attitude towards His Word? Many today claim to believe in Christ, but not His Word - the Bible. This makes me wonder what they truly believe about Christ or if they truly believe at all! It is no wonder that they end up chasing after experience, and not Jesus. Some of the things may have the “Jesus” label.
Believer, know that the Lord does love you. He wants you to seek Him. When we seek Him and His Kingdom first, all the rest of our needs will be taken care of. Christ needs to be central in our lives as Christians. He wants you to recall from where you have fallen, return to your first love... your love for the Lord. Have you taken on too many sidelines that are hindering you? Why not seek Christ right now and receive His help to make the necessary adjustments you need to make? Know I’m praying for you!
PW 279 Making Your Pastor’s Job a Joy
October is Pastor Appreciation Month. My wife and I have been so blessed over the years by the shows of appreciation given or expressed by our church family here in Watersmeet. There have been appreciation meals, cards, and gifts that have meant so much to us in our twenty years of ministry to this church family. Recently, upon announcing our upcoming move and change in ministry, the expressions of appreciation have been nearly overwhelming. We can only give all that praise to our Heavenly Father, for all He has done to minister through us for His glory. It is so great to share in this joy!
Something I think that brings me the most joy, is seeing people come to know and grow in their walk with Jesus Christ. In all the years that my wife and I have served here, it has been a joy for us. Granted there have been those unpleasant moments as happen in any church. After all no believer is perfect thus no church will be this side of heaven. Believers are being transformed into the image of Christ and are putting on the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of Him who created him. This is why we all need church leaders, especially pastors, to shepherd us. In Jeremiah we read, “The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our hearts can deceive us and trick us into thinking we are okay. We need the external source of the pastors and teachers God has blessed us with to help us to see what is true and help us to navigate the days in which we live.
Hebrews 13:17says, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” A couple things to grasp about our pastors are, one, God has provided them to watch over and care for our souls; and two, a pastor’s care for us and our obedience to their godly council is profitable for us. In the secular world it seems that people want to do whatever they want, and the only thing that is wrong is to say that something is wrong. Just like a doctor who sees a patient who is neglecting their health, pastors have a responsibility to address areas in our lives. If we balk at this, it is proof that we are not walking by the Spirit but the flesh.
Often Christians today miss that God hasn’t called us to just be saved and go our own way. We are called to be holy as He is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Believers are told to exercise ourselves toward godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). We are to be set apart for the LORD. If God says we are to be holy, we must be able to be holy with His help. Ask yourself, what consumes my life right now, the things of God or the things of the world? What is being manifested in our lives, the works of the flesh or the fruit of the Spirit?
Our heavenly Father has given us pastors and teachers to equip us for the work of the ministry. Their work of the ministry is to equip the each of us to minister both in the local church and the world for the good of the body of Christ and God’s glory (See Ephesians 4:11-16). So let’s walk in the Spirit and deny or flesh. Don’t forget to let your pastor know how much you appreciate him. Let’s make their job a joy! Know I’m praying for you.
PW 278 Preparing for Winter’s Coming
Oh, how I enjoy fall. The weather is getting cooler (at least for the most part), the trees are beginning to change their color, football, hunting season, and the holidays are just around the corner. Yet even as enjoyable as this season can be, most of us who live in the UP know what is coming. This time of year finds many of us preparing for winter. Raking yards, cutting firewood, putting away summer stuff, closing camps or summer homes, stocking shelves and freezers are just a few of the many tasks to prepare for winter’s coming. It is a good thing that we can read the signs, or we might end up like the grasshopper in the fable of the grasshopper and the ants. You recall that story don’t you? The grasshopper merrily played away the summer and fall days; all the while the ants diligently stored up food. When winter came, the ants ate and lived well but the grasshopper froze to death.
Jesus rebuked some religious leaders for being able to read the physical signs to predict the good weather or bad, but they couldn’t read the spiritual signs. It seems that it wasn’t so much their inability to understand the signs as it was a willful refusal to accept them. When Jesus was asked by His disciples about the signs and times of His coming He told them, “Take heed that no one deceives you. For many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not troubled; for all these things must come to pass, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines, pestilences, and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of sorrows. Then they will deliver you up to tribulation and kill you, and you will be hated by all nations for My name’s sake. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another. Then many false prophets will rise up and deceive many. And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold.” (Matthew 24:4-12
Paul also told Timothy what things would be like in the last days, “For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power.” The last part is particularly troubling. These people have a form of godliness - meaning they may say the right words, claim to be Christian, or do some outward acts that may pass themselves off as “Christian” – but it is all done in the power of the flesh, not by the leading of God. Those of us who claim Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior need to understand that Christ has not saved us so we can merrily go on our way. He has saved us so we may bring glory to His Name. If a person is truly saved, or “born again”, the fruit of the Spirit will be increasingly evident in their lives. Galatians 5:22-24 says, But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. These are in direct opposition to the people in the world mentioned by Paul. The false teachers and prophets of this world tell us that in order to get to heaven we just have to live a good life. The problem with that flawed philosophy is what is the standard of good they use? The rules of man that change with a whim when it doesn’t suit us? Or the rule of God? The Bible tells us that “All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes” and we each declare our own goodness.
Winter is coming and we need to be ready for it. In a similar way, Christ is coming again. Are we prepared for His coming? Let’s examine our lives in the mirror of God’s word. Have we confessed that we are sinners and called upon the Lord to be saved? Is our trust wholly in the fact that Jesus came to die to take the punishment for our sin and to make us right with God? Have we been cooperating with God the Holy Spirit and the Word of God to allow this fruit to develop in our lives? Do we love God more than the passing pleasures of this world? Are we exercising ourselves for the purpose of godliness as God desires for us to do? Look back just at this past week, can we say we have lived more Godward or worldly? It is important right now that every person who calls him or herself a Christian to consider their ways and to get serious about following Jesus. It is time to be preparing for His coming. Know I’m praying for you!
Jesus Christ is Building His Church
Today from time to time, I run across people who say they love Jesus, but they don’t need the church. This is sinful, self-interested thinking. This thinking really seems to have its roots mostly in the self-centered and commitment-less society of the world than the kingdom of God. How can we truly love and know Jesus and not care about and love the body of Christ, His church?!! Where we know that Jesus Christ’s church is universal in scope, encompassing people from all over the world and also those who have already passed on, I hope that we can see that being a part of a local church is important. Just as your arm or leg can’t fulfill its function apart from the body, neither can you and I. God has gifted us to be a part of a local body. Church is not an option. Nor is it some idea that man came up with. The church is Jesus’ idea. It matters to Him. In Ephesians 5:25-32, we have the scripture about husbands loving their wives as Christ loved the church. We use this passage a lot when we deal with marriage, yet this passage indicates to us that marriage is to illustrate Christ’s love and commitment to His church. When Jesus asked who the disciples thought Jesus was, Peter responds with “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” On the heels of that, Jesus tells them He is going to build His church. Do we really understand that Christ is interested in building His church and not just individuals? The church is Christ’s chosen vehicle through which He chose to bring the gospel to every nation. Now we may understand this in our heads, but do we really grasp this in our hearts?
In sports, when a player is at the end of their contract they can enter into what is called free agency, and their services are open to the one who makes them the best offer. Well folks, I’m here to tell you that Jesus doesn’t believe in free agency! We need to understand that the church is His idea and He hasn’t given up on it yet. You may have, but He hasn’t. Don’t miss for one second that the Apostles went around establishing local churches. Why? So they could provide sound theology/doctrine, to oversee the commands of Christ, and to be sure that the practices He had ordained were carried out. The local church exists for God’s glory, the salvation of lost souls, and the building up of God’s people. Every believer needs the local church. This is the crucible so to speak that the Lord has created for us to live out our Christian life. Too many date the church, rather than commit to it. No matter how those individuals try to sugar coat it, that thinking is self-centered, independent, and often critical.
In the New Testament, the local church existed to practice baptism - our covenant sign, the Lord’s Supper - our covenant meal, and when necessary - discipline. After all, how can a person make their calling and election sure without a local church to examine our spiritual health? The local church is there to verify or prove false our claims to be a Christian. The church is to look out for our spiritual health, but how can they when we don’t acknowledge them as God’s authority in our life.
Most of us go to the doctor. Why? Because they have more knowledge about the body and we need them to give us a checkup and to a clean bill of health. When a doctor tells us we are healthy we can have a lot more confidence than to just think we are healthy. It can be risky to think that we are right with God on our own. Our hearts can really trick us at times.
One of the most practical steps we can take as a believer is to join a local church. Again, we can take a great lesson from marriage. It takes very little for a guy and a girl to live with each other. There’s no commitment, certainly not a selfless one. The primary reason they live together is to fulfill some personal need. Their relationship isn’t primarily about the other person. They leave themselves an out. Marriage takes more courage than living together. It takes real commitment.
Along with this let’s not forget that the church has been central throughout the centuries and it has been central to the proclamation of the gospel. After all, once you lead someone to Christ where are you going to take this new saint to grow in their relationship to God and the body of Christ?
Has the Lord been dealing with in your heart regarding how you view His church? For some of it may be that He wants to heal that past offense that has been just festering in your soul for weeks, months, even years. Others of you He is showing you that you need to be more diligent about the body of Christ that you have joined and using your gifts in it. Lastly, for some of us, the Lord is getting our attention about how we are guilty of just dating the church and our need to truly commit and join your local church. If you are looking for a “sign” from God, this is probably it. Let’s all be passionate about our Lord, our faith, and our local churches. Jesus is building His church. Are you part of His work? Know I’m praying for you.
In our lives there have no doubt been times when we feel that we have been mistreated. We smart from some wrong we have suffered. We want to get back at the person or persons who have insulted us or injured us. Sometimes the justice we may want meted out goes beyond the wrong done. Those of us who are Christians are not immune to these feelings, but we must not forget that we all have a choice in how we will respond to those feelings. It is not wrong to want “justice”, but many times our call for justice is really motivated by a desire for revenge and to make people pay, especially when the desire for justice is for us.
Under the Old Testament law, we find the establishment of “an eye for an eye or a tooth for a tooth”. This wasn’t intended a person to go out and get the full “pound of flesh”. This was set down so that the punishment that would be enacted wouldn’t go beyond what the misdeed deserved. It would be so easy for things to escalate. Sometimes when children are playing, one child may wrong another. Rather than enlisting an adult to deal with a situation, they will try to take matters into their own hands, this usually ends up with the second child creating an offense that exceeds that of the first child and both incur a punishment.
For those of us who profess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the days ahead are going to be difficult for us. When we stand for our Christian beliefs, others will attack us. They will go beyond what the perceived insult or injury warrants. The world will vilify us. It may be hard to “turn the other cheek” as Jesus has told us to do and allow them to inflict even extra injury or insult on us. It will also be difficult to do good, when others do evil to us. The Apostle Paul writes, Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:15, 17-21). Jesus tells us as believers to “treat others like we would want to be treated”, not how we are treated. This is really good advice. From the time we are kids, it is easy to overlook or justify something we do. The best way to find out if it is really okay is to ask, “What if this was done to me, would I still say it is okay?” It’s so easy to rationalize. Maybe you are even doing it as you read this.
When we are misunderstood or mistreated for our faith, it would be good to recall the words of the Apostle Peter, Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you; but rejoice to the extent that you partake of Christ’s sufferings, that when His glory is revealed, you may also be glad with exceeding joy. If you are reproached for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. On their part He is blasphemed, but on your part He is glorified. (1 Pet. 4:12-14)
Along with this, people will vilify us when we choose to forgive other people’s sins they find unforgiveable or we come alongside those who repent and want to live for Christ. This often shows that they don’t really understand their own sin and guilt, and how God has forgiven our sins against Him. Boy, how we really are in denial about how bad our sins truly are in His eyes. Again, I am not downplaying other people’s wrongdoing, but trying to get us to see that we can hide our own evil and vengefulness under a veil of “justice”. Christians, we must never forget that we represent a greater kingdom, one that is not of this world. Let’s guard our hearts against vengefulness and rather choose to find ways to do good, even to those who mistreat us. Don’t forget that God has said that there will be a blessing that will result toward us. Know I’m praying for you.
Where's Your Home?
Throughout the summer months we have seen the return of those who winter outside of the U.P. and North Woods of Wisconsin. Some have summer homes; others come for their annual vacations. I can’t imagine why they would want to miss out on all the snow, but they have their reasons. It’s great to catch up with them and get reacquainted as they come up to open summer homes or stay at various resorts. They really are a boost to our communities, businesses and our churches. Yet this is not their permanent home. How quickly the weeks and months will fly by and they will be gone.
This got me to thinking of a verse in the Bible that says; “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body,” (Philippians 3:20-21). This world is not our home; it is just a place to prepare us for where we will spend eternity. For the believer in Christ our home is in heaven. Yet so many professing Christians live like the here and now is all there is! They forget that there is something much better that awaits.
Our western culture tells us that the “abundant life” is in the material things: possessions, money, popularity, and position. It’s a serious mistake to think that worldly prosperity equals faithfulness to God or that this means God is pleased with us. The Bible tells us, “...for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.” (Luke 12:15). You may not have very much here. Things may not always go the way you’d like them to go. You may face one trial after another. All these things Jesus uses in a believer’s life to shape their character and transform them into His likeness. We were made for eternity. Don’t be too attached to the earth. It is passing away far too quickly for each of us. When we live for eternity, our values change. What Christ thinks becomes of greater importance. I know when I reach heaven’s gate I don’t want to find I had spent too much time on things that were so temporary or of trivial importance.
How have things been for you lately? Are you grasping after the things of this life, only to see them fade away? Is the Lord Jesus Christ calling to you to have eternal values and not temporal ones? People’s souls, even those who may disagree with us, are important to Christ. He came to seek and save those who are lost. Where is your home? You may be thinking, “Well, I don’t have too much time to think about this right now.” Will you really have time later? Think about this; you always have time for the things you put first in your life. Know I’m praying for you.
The TSA Check
Several times recently, my wife and I have had to make some trips that involve air travel. For anyone who is familiar with boarding at an airport, you no doubt know that they recommend you arrive an hour early for your flight, as you will have to go through the TSA screening. They check your ID and match it with your boarding pass. They scan your bag and other items as well as yourself. They ask you if you have any liquids. It is important that you don’t have more than 3 ounces and that they are all stored in one quart sized zip lock bag. One recent flight out of a Wisconsin airport asked if we had any cheese or sausage in our bags. I suppose some people might be taking home some souvenirs. All this screening is done for the safety of all those who are taking flight. You are not allowed in the gate area until you have gone through this check.
As I was going through this on our way out to the east coast recently, I couldn’t help but wonder am I this careful when I am approaching the Lord. Do I prepare as carefully as I do for an ordinary plane flight, making sure I leave early enough to get there with plenty of time to examine my heart? Do I even think about what I look like to Him? Do you? I admit there are times where I rush into my devotional times trying to “catch the Lord” before I start the day.
First Peter 2:5 says, “…you also, as living stones, are being built up a spiritual house, a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” In Old Testament times, God’s priests had many things they had to do as they prepared to minister before the Lord. All the outer preparation should lead to an inner preparation of the heart. Here, Peter is telling Christians that we in essence are part of a holy priesthood. The way that a Christian can come before God and bring acceptable worship is through being in Jesus Christ. Jesus’ sacrifice was acceptable to God. His was the one that all other sacrifices prior to His death looked toward. Just as I needed a boarding pass to get on my flight, no one can get to God the Father and get into heaven apart from Jesus. Jesus tells us plainly, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father accept through Me.” (John 14:6). Jesus wants people to know the way to God the Father and heaven is only through Him. There are people who have many thoughts about heaven, but only the One who has come from there can truly tell us the way to heaven. If you were to come to our church building on Sunday morning, you might come from any one of several directions, but I tell you this you won’t get in but through the door.
In another place, Paul tells believers to carefully examine themselves as they come to take the Lord’s Table. Just as with the TSA check, the first thing to check is our identity, are we in Christ? Have we trusted in Him as our Lord and Savior? To partake of the elements without a belief in what they are to remind us of is pointless. We are saying we have received Christ’s sacrifice for our sin and that we are a partaker of His death and by His blood we have received His forgiveness of our sin and have new, everlasting life in Him.
Just as the TSA check is the only way to the gate, so is Jesus the only way to God. The next time you go to church, prayer, or just your personal quiet time with the Lord, take some time to examine your heart. Have you called upon the Lord to be saved? Are you thankful for all Jesus accomplished for you through His sacrifice for you on the cross? Do you have any sin that you need to confess? Remember you are working on having a relationship with the Lord Jesus not just a ritual. Know I’m praying for you.
Years ago, when I was an associate pastor in a small rural church in Maine, there was a mighty move of the Lord. People were getting saved and we held a baptism every week that summer. People who were into drugs and other sinful activities were added to the Church almost daily. As exciting as these things are, there can be difficulties. Hair, dress, and other behaviors, not to mention that most of them hadn’t been “churched” yet, tended to stretch a lot of the comfort zones of those in the church. Yet over time most people began to accept this as part of what the Lord Jesus was doing. These new “babes in Christ” had a love and a desire for the Lord, and over time matured as He cleaned up the outside of the cup as well as the inside.
In Luke 15, a lot of sinners were coming to Christ. The Lord wasn’t just putting up with them, He was embracing them. This didn’t sit well with the religious set. So Jesus begins to tell those gathered there the parable of “The Prodigal Son”. For those who aren’t familiar with it, let me summarize it. A young son demanded his inheritance from his father. After receiving it, he took off from home. Arriving in a far country, he squandered it on wasteful living. When hard times came, he had no food, no money, nor “friends”. He got a job feeding pigs. He was so hungry that he considered eating the pigs’ food. Coming to his senses, he decided to go home, ask his father to forgive him; and hire him as a servant. Upon confessing his sin, the father embraced his son; restored him to the family; and held a celebration. When the older son found out, he was cross that his dad had gone to all this trouble when the son had treated his father so terribly. So much was his anger, he refused to come into the house. Both sons were missing out on the father’s joy and fellowship. Don’t miss how the father reached out to each of his sons in love.
Many of us may see the need of the forgiveness the father gave the prodigal. The sad thing is that there are also those of us out there that fail to see how we can be like the older son, too! We have been saved and in the church most of our lives, and haven’t gone off track. We, like the Pharisees, know the Scriptures and the need for purity. Unfortunately, we have forgotten the over- arching trait of love. Without love we have nothing. Jesus wanted the religious people to understand his love for those who had strayed, however willfully.
In almost three decades of pastoral and lay church ministry, I have seen so many who have strayed from Christ. I have also seen the difficulty they have once they have repented and try to come into the church. People hold their past, even that which happened before they trusted in Christ, against them. The Bible tells us, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold all things have become new.” How believers need to live in the reality of who they are now and not what they once were. We need to speak the truth, but to do it out of love. We need to consider our own lives and how we haven’t always gotten it right. Those of us in the church need to be careful not to put any stumbling block in the way of those coming or returning to Christ. The Prodigal shows us the kind of love and patience God the Father has with each of us, lost or found. Do you need to return to the Father and His household today? Do so without delay. Do you need to receive a lost or wayward one into the church family? Forgive and enter into your Lord’s joy. The Lord is watching for you. You’ll be glad you did. Know I’m praying for you!
Several years ago, they repaired the highway in front of the church. First, they had to get rid of the old road by taking it down to the concrete. Once this was done, they took care of the cracks in the concrete before putting on the new pavement. We then had a nice new highway out front that would be smooth for the foreseeable future. I wonder what would have happened if they didn’t take time to do the job right and only covered the highway with just another layer.
It made me think about the first “cover up” in the Bible, that of Adam and Eve when they sinned. If you aren’t familiar with the biblical account, let me briefly bring you up to speed. God created Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden. One of the commands He gave this first couple was to not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. He told them if they did, they would die. To make a long story short, they gave in to the devil’s temptation and didn’t obey God. Seeing that they were exposed, they sowed fig leaves together to try to cover their nakedness. At this point they were operating on a source of knowledge outside of God. When they heard God walking in the Garden, they went and hid. Which was really foolish when you think about it. The Lord knows the thoughts of a man’s heart. They couldn’t hide a thing from Him. How long did they think those fig leaves would last anyway? When the painful truth came out and their sin and blame laying dealt with, the Lord provided them with a better, more lasting covering.
Today, some Christians are like this. They think they can smooth things out by covering up their sin; blaming others; or putting up a good front. Maybe they think they can hide by moving to other churches. Yet the Lord still sees. Sadly, they miss out on the real, deep, abiding work Jesus wants to do in their lives. Their attempt at “change” won’t last. Soon the sin will come through the “white wash” of lies they have told to cover the truth. Proverbs 28:13 says, “He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy.”
First John 1:8-9 tells us, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” True spiritual healing can come when we confess our sins and stop sinning in that area. To confess it as sin on Sunday and do it again on Monday, isn’t true confession and repentance, nor will it bring real change in our lives. Is there sin you are “covering up” with the “fig leaves” of your own wisdom? Why not stop hiding and take it to God? Jesus wants to give you a better covering. When you do, you’ll be cleansed, forgiven, and really changed. Know that I’m praying for you!
Why Am I Here
Some years ago, we traveled through Canada while we were on vacation. When we crossed the border they asked us various questions to ascertain: where we were from, where we were going, and what we were going to do in Canada. I think about this as I sit here at the computer, and I realize that those are the same questions that a number of people are asking today in regards to their lives. “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?” and most of all, “Why am I here?” So many are trying to “find themselves” or redefine themselves. God answers all of these questions in His Word, the Bible. The problem is so many have left the Lord out of the equation and it is no wonder that things don’t add up, especially when we consider the question, “Why am I here?”
In Ephesians 2:10 we read, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Many people, including Christians are out there trying to “find themselves” or get what they can out of life. It isn’t what we can get or take away from life (this is our consumer mindset getting in the way.) it’s what we give or add to life. God created us to give something back! That’s why so many people go away from worship services empty, they are looking for what they can get. They become the center of focus and not Christ. It has become a worship “serve us” rather than “service” to the Lord. Often people go to church so they can be on God’s good side and He’ll have to save them. We are not saved by our service to God. We are saved for His service. We were made to glorify the Lord God along with the rest of creation. First Corinthians 6:19-20 says, “…do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.”
We’ll never find our purpose, place or role in life as long as we are looking out for ourselves and missing whose we are. All the people we encounter in the Bible that the Lord used were people who had stop serving themselves and started serving God and others. This includes all the sexually immoral, the prostitutes, the thieves and every other sinner. Are you looking for purpose in your life? Are you asking, “Why am I here?” Look to Jesus Christ. He’s the one who made you and He knows why He made you. Trust in and follow Him and your purpose will become clear. Why not make plans to worship Him on Sunday? Know I’m praying for you.
Contributing to the Victory
Right now the NBA Finals are taking place. Suppose someone went to the players on the Warriors or the Cavaliers and guaranteed them that they would win it all. Do you think LeBron James or Stephen Curry would be content to sit on the bench and go out and take an occasional shot? No, of course not! Why? Because they know that it will be their efforts that will help contribute towards that victory. Likewise, so do your efforts and my efforts as Christians contribute toward the future glory we’ll have in heaven. As believers, we must live for eternity and the kingdom of heaven, not just for the present. Living with eternal values in view is what makes the Christian life meaningful today. In 1Corinthians 5:7 it says, “For we walk by faith and not by sight.”
It is so easy to take the path of least resistance. Many Christians face this dilemma. Many believers, confident in the fact that they will go to heaven, spend their time on earth sitting on the bench. They may attend church services, but pass up opportunities to serve the Lord. Some are more occupied with studying the Bible but rarely stretch themselves beyond their comfort zones to do what it says or to tell others what they have come to believe about Jesus Christ and His salvation. Some may view God’s Word as merely suggestions or nice thoughts, but they think, “You can’t expect me to do them.” This isn’t how Jesus viewed the Scriptures. He saw that man did not live by bread alone, but by every word that came from the mouth of God. He then went on to use it to defeat the devil and win the victory. He knew He had to do what it said. He knew He was in a great battle to redeem people’s souls.
What will you and I do? Will we run hard, go all out, and take risks? Will we talk about the Lord Jesus Christ and His salvation and share the gospel with the unsaved? Or will we be content to just sit on the bench, content in the knowledge that we are on the winning team?
In 2 Thessalonians 1:11-12, Paul prayed for Christians who were suffering for following Jesus and not the world. It wasn’t easy for them to go against the flow of worldly wisdom or possibly even family and so called friends. This is what he said, “Therefore we also pray always for you that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness and the work of faith with power, that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and you in Him.” Where our works don’t save us, will we be counted worthy of God’s calling us into His kingdom by how we live each day? Will we fulfill all the good pleasure of His goodness? Will we work hard and live for Him, so that Jesus will be glorified in us when He is revealed in heaven and comes to be glorified in His saints and to be admired by all who would believe? Christians have a future hope and victory. Know I’m praying for you.
“Good Life or Godly Life?”
In recent years, I have been trying to be more diligent in watching what I eat and getting regular exercise. It takes effort, but the longer I do it, the more I realize the benefits from it. Paul wrote to Timothy to “...exercise yourself toward godliness. For bodily exercise profits a little, but godliness is profitable for all things, having promise of the life that now is and of that which is to come.” (1 Timothy 4:7b-8 NKJV). In short, this tells us that physical exercise has a benefit for the life we live here, but godliness has a benefit for both here and eternity.
Our culture constantly preaches a message of the “good life”. We see it in magazines. It is in TV ads. It is in movies and books. Take this pill and you’ll have the “good life”. Drive this car or truck and you’ll have the “good life”. Take this vacation and you’ll have the “good life”. I think you get the picture.
Sometime ago, I was listening to a person who tongue in cheek made the observation that people in western culture were either in therapy, coming out of therapy, or they were in denial. What I believe he was getting at was that many people in western culture view life as a “self-betterment” project. For some, even church and Christian faith are just another part of this self- betterment project. Sunday morning church and Christian belief are viewed as another form of therapy! It’s true that as people come to saving faith in Jesus Christ and walk daily with Him, they may find some areas in their lives getting better, but that is a by-product and not an end in itself. People fail to understand that life isn’t about them, it’s about God! Loving God, knowing Him, giving Him glory, and seeking His coming again, is what Christians are looking towards. This is why God the Father through Jesus Christ, His Son, created us and died to redeem us. It’s for His glory! Thus Christians should not live self-centered lives, but godly lives.
I’m concerned that Christians are living for the “good life” and not a godly life. Even some so called “preachers” use the allure of the “good life” to get people to listen to and receive their “gospel”, but it is another gospel. It’s not a gospel that saves people for eternity; for their trust, their focus, their affections are on the here and now; and not Christ and His saving work at Calvary. Peter wrote, “...As He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct,” (1 Peter 1:15) We are made holy due to our position in Christ, but there is also that progressive aspect of holiness when we allow what is on the inside to work its way out in our lives. The question to ask is, “Am I living a life that is set apart for the Lord Jesus Christ and His glory?” Where it may not always be perfect, there should be an evidence of progress if we are truly in Him. Are you living for the “good life” or a God pleasing life? Know I’m praying for you.
Some years ago, I was out at our camp the mowing the grass and dealing with some brush and old limbs when I noticed the bass were picking off dragonflies like crazy! Now I know some readers may not be able to identify with what goes on in the head of a person who enjoys fishing, but I just had to grab my rod and pitch a power bait out toward those fading ripples. Even the bluegills wanted a piece of that bait. Being an avid hunter and fisherman, I’m always interested in the newest lures, jigs, and calls that are out there. I want to know what people are using so I can attract the game to my hook or stand. Often though, I’ve found that some of the deadliest lures are those old simple tried and true ones that I’ve used for years. I’ve heard some fishermen call these “confidence baits”, because they bring results consistently.
Watching those fish chase that bait as it neared the dock, never realizing there was a hook hidden inside ready to snare them, got me to thinking about someone else who offers tantalizing morsels with hidden hooks in them. That someone is Satan! 1 Peter 5:8 says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” He, too, has some deadly lures ready to hook us. Often they are disguised in innocent packages, but they are no less deadly. From the time that he lured Eve in the Garden to this day, he lies to us and tries to trick us. He comes along the vein of our appetites and desires. “But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, brings forth death.”
(James 1:14-15) He gets us to focus on the promise of pleasure and immediate gratification, all the while missing his hook. With Eve, he got her to question God’s rule and to focus on the desire of the fruit in front of her. All the while she couldn’t see the terrible price - death and separation from God - that awaited her.
Today he gets us to focus on the momentary pleasure and promise of that bottle, that drug, that immoral relationship, etc. Too often we miss the hidden cost to our health, our wealth, our families, and our souls. Are you being tempted by some deadly lure? Are you counting the cost, not only to you, but your loved ones and friends as well. The cost of sin is always too great; but know this, God has sent Jesus to die for your sin. He is willing to pay the price to save you and to set you free from eternal punishment. Yes, there may be some pain involved to remove that hook. Sin does have consequences; but never forget that Jesus didn’t die just to pay the penalty for your sin, He also lives to set you free from the power of that sin, to break the hold it has on you. Call on Him. Admit your sin and seek His forgiveness and help. While there is life, there is hope. Know I’m praying for you.
People Say the Darnedest Things
Those of us who are older may recall the TV show hosted by Art Linkletter, The Linkletter Show. He would interview kids and ask them loaded questions and listen to the fanciful responses. He wrote a book titled, Kids Say the Darnedest Things, with illustrations by Charles M. Schultz. In it he recalls asking children where they thought babies came from to one of his seeming favorites, “What did your parents tell you not to say before coming onto the show?” It was hilarious!
Just as those children said some of "the darnedest things", so do people today. In our post-modern world there seems to be the idea that it is wrong to question things people say, even if they say the “darnedest” things. Granted the way we should do this is with gentleness and respect, the point is to help them think through and arrive at what is true and what isn’t. I have heard people who wanted to dismiss the early accounts in Genesis say, “Where did Cain’s wife come from?” Maybe you have heard this too. This may seem pretty obvious, but I am surprised at how many believers can’t answer this. The answer is she was his sister. In Genesis 5, we find a brief statement of how Adam lived 130 years before Seth was born and then lived 800 years. It also includes almost as an afterthought, “and he had sons and daughters.” (Genesis 5:4 underline mine). Adam’s family was not limited to just Cain, Abel, and Seth. They are just key individuals in the narrative.
Another area for believers to become more aware of is science. There seems to be the idea that religion and science are mutually exclusive. Sadly, on TV and other media, the secular scientist is seen as a bastion of reason, while the religious person is often portrayed as backward and unintelligent. Some people seem to think that science is only secular or for the secular world. The reality is that many times science has gone a long ways in giving evidence to things the Bible already said. Archeologists, both Christian and non-Christian, have made great discoveries based on places and things mentioned in the Bible. One thing for all of us to recognize is that science studies cause and effect. As the saying I heard not long ago says, “Science doesn’t say anything, scientist do.” Data has to be interpreted. Am I saying that scientist may have biases? Yes. One example of these can be seen in the life of Albert Einstein. A couple of things I have read about Einstein and a recent History Channel program, all spoke of how Einstein was attached to the idea of a static universe – one that was infinite and unchanging, even though his theories fit better to one that had a beginning. He even came up with a whole elaborate theory to try to explain why the universe didn’t collapse in on itself. In their own way, scientist can be pretty dogmatic and close minded. I’m not sure they always follow the evidence where it leads. In a You Tube documentary done by Ben Stein titled Expelled! Intelligence Not Allowed, we find that scientists that advocate Intelligent Design lose tenure, have difficulty getting grants, etc. These scientist were not advocating any particular religious belief, but simply pointing out that there seemed to be an intelligent design behind the cosmos and genetics that goes beyond natural means and mere happenstance. Don’t just take my word for it, check it out for yourself. Scientists can be controlled by pressure of other scientists just like anyone else.
Speaking of saying “the darnedest things”, some Christians say you can be a Christian, but not believe the Bible, especially the first 11 chapters, the virgin birth, and other miracles. The Bible is a believer’s authority for all faith and practice. We are not to check our minds at the door, we need to study and live out our faith. A Christian’s faith is not meant to be a blind faith. Faith is not only the ability to believe, but knowing what we believe in. The Apostle Peter writes, “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15). Sadly, as Christians, some can be very negligent in knowing what we believe and why. When asked they can’t give a reasoned response. We need to be Christian in our actions as well as in name.
Peter goes on to write in the next few verses, “…having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.” (1 Peter 3:16-17). Though others may say “the darnedest things”, even about us, we must speak the truth and share the hope we have in Christ. Know I’m praying for you.
Christians are Followers of Christ
This morning as I was getting ready to begin my day, I heard a TV news report of terrorists attacking a college in Africa. The gunmen were asking if students were Christian and if they said they were, they were killed. Many Christian students died in that assault. What a tragedy! How could this happen? The writer of Hebrews in Hebrews chapter 11 is addressing the area of faith. For the first part of the discourse, we read of how all these believers were rescued or were blessed for holding onto their faith, then the writer goes on to list those who weren’t. Many had to endure great suffering, deprivation, persecution, and even death for their Christian faith. The writer puts it this way, “…of whom the world was not worthy.” (Hebrews 11:38a). Those believers who were murdered are some of those of whom the world was not worthy.
This has me thinking, are we who call ourselves Christian willing to die rather than deny our faith in Jesus Christ? Wow, now there’s a thought! We are called to follow the One whom we said we have put our trust in, Jesus Christ, and to be like Him. Jesus said, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” It’s easy to say we are believers when it doesn’t cost us anything, but what if it does? It can be easy to justify selling out or denying Christ if our life is on the line or our livelihoods are threatened. Yet how will it be on that day when we stand before our Lord in heaven? What if your life or my life was to be played back for the Lord’s glory and this shows up before Him? How would it be then?
As I write this our Good Friday remembrance is tomorrow. Do you remember Peter’s promise to be faithful yet he denies Him three times? Even though he would later receive Jesus’ forgiveness, he was heartbroken over the realization of his denial when the rooster crowed. Sometimes we can be like Peter, someone makes fun of Christians, their faith, or the Lord Jesus Himself, and we clam up or go along with the crowd. True faith requires that each one not only believe that God exists, but that He is God and Lord. Along with this we choose to willingly obey and follow Him.
How I pray that the Lord Jesus will bring comfort to the families of those who gave their lives rather than deny Him. Also, I pray that I too might not deny Him as I go through my day, especially when I am faced with lesser threats. Just an aside here, from time to time I hear people question, “If there is really a God, why doesn’t He do anything about all this evil in the world.” One thing to realize is that He did, He provided a way of salvation and the hope of forgiveness with Him through His Son, Jesus, so we can get right with Him. I think it might be good to realize that if God began to deal with evil, what about the evil we have done? None of us is without sin. It is easy to see sin or evil in the other person, but dismiss it in us. Could we be guilty of demanding that God do something for us, or feel entitled to having God’s blessing, when we often don’t give a thought of Him until difficulties arise?
Following Christ and being a Christian, is not only about practicing some religious rituals or giving an occasional nod to something Jesus said or taught. Being a Christian requires that we believe that Jesus Christ is God’s Son who has come to die and provide a sacrifice that satisfies God’s wrath against our personal sin. It is about daily denying ourselves and following Jesus. We aren’t to be just hearing God’s Word, but to be living it out. Whether they agree with it or not, the world needs to see a difference in Christ’s followers. If we haven’t set apart Jesus Christ as Lord in our lives, others will have difficulty in seeing any difference. Whether in life or death, let’s follow Christ Jesus that we may “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.” (1 Peter 3:15-16). If we have denied Christ or failed to follow Him, know that the same Lord who died to save you, is willing to forgive you when you confess your sin to Him. Christians are to follow Christ and to be like Him. Let’s not just say we are Christians, let’s live like Christians. Know I’m praying for you.
He Arose to Give Hope to the Hopeless
At Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Now there are those skeptics who claim that Jesus didn’t really die. There are all sorts of “conspiracy theories” out there. Let’s think about it for a moment. Consider that the Roman soldiers who performed the crucifixion were well-trained. These were professionals. When Governor Pilate asked if Jesus was dead, he believed the Roman centurion’s report. Now these Romans were thorough. They did crucifixions all the time. They weren’t likely to be fooled by someone faking – playing dead so to speak. All the speculation that Jesus fainted or that He was drugged and only required an antidote that was administered immediately after being taken down from the cross is foolish. Remember, one of the soldiers had pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a flow of blood and water. The verdict: Jesus was dead! The Pharisees, Scribes, and other religious rulers, who had the most to lose from a resurrection, were satisfied that Jesus was dead. Along with this it would seem that the rulers and the Roman guards were satisfied that Jesus’ body was still in the tomb. Remember, this was a new tomb, so the only body in there would be Jesus’.
Other skeptics say Jesus died, but never rose again. One of the things to remember is that the leaders asked for the tomb to be secured and a guard set to watch it. Again, these were Roman soldiers (See Matthew 27:65). After the resurrection, there was this weak story concocted by the leaders, where they told the soldiers to say that Jesus’ disciples stole the body while they were sleeping. That is incredulous! These are professional soldiers, for them to be derelict in their duty by falling asleep would bring terrible repercussions, not to mention could you imagine a handful of scared disciples coming against armed soldiers? These are all weak suggestions or reasoning, yet when we hear people say these things it can shake the faith of some. The reason is because they haven’t been building their faith and working to be those believers who rightly divide the word of truth. They are not able to give a defense for the hope that they say that is in them. Believers, we need to be prepared to offer a better defense for our faith in Jesus than “He is in my heart.” We need to think about what we believe and why, so we can fight the “paper lions” that raise up against us. Do you know that there are non-Christian, historical writers of that time who record these New Testament events?
The resurrection is the greatest day in history! In one miraculous moment, gloom and sorrow, despair and defeat are blown away. That morning, Jesus’ followers were fearful, discouraged, and without hope. What changed that these believers would risk their very lives to proclaim His message? Jesus arose just as He said! His resurrection offers hope to the hopeless. Both the crucifixion and the resurrection are important. It wasn’t enough just for Jesus to die. He had to overcome the power of the grave so that we might have eternal life. Do you know why the stone was rolled away? It wasn’t so Jesus could get out, but to let a lost world look in. God wanted everyone to know Jesus was alive. He wants you and me to know it.
Jesus died because we all have sin – every man, woman, and child – and this causes us to fall short of God’s glory. Do you and I understand that Jesus came to give you and me heaven, not hell? It can be so easy to focus on hell and not heaven. Truly, hell is a terrible place. If it wasn’t, why would Jesus want to die to save us from it? But to preach hell without hope of heaven would be cruel, and God the Father is far from cruel. In fact, Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:16-19). Condemnation comes because sinners refuse to believe – to put their trust in Jesus Christ and His death, shed blood, burial, and resurrection as payment for their sin. The Bible tells us that the wages – the payment due – for sin is death. A separation from God forever. Because each person has sin, we each stand accused before God. Jesus, in rising from the dead, not only paid for our sin, but was brought forth for your justification . . . my justification. That word “justification” means we’ve been acquitted. We’re declared “not guilty” of what we were accused of. Yet only if our belief is found in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and what He did at the cross. Jesus died because no one has a hope of heaven apart from Him.
Is there sin in your life? Maybe you never viewed yourself as a sinner before, but today you have become aware that you are. You realize that the guilt you have felt is real and you need Jesus and the forgiveness He offers you through the cross. Call out to Him in faith, believing in Him for your cleansing and hope of eternal life. He has said, “The one who comes to Me, I will by no means cast out.” He wants you to trust Him as your Lord and Savior. He wants to give hope to the hopeless. This is why He died and rose again to offer everlasting life to all who will believe
Possibly you have called upon Him. You know Christ’s forgiveness and hope of everlasting life, but you have walked away or fallen into sin. Know that He still loves you. He wants you to turn back to Him. No matter how bad you’ve been or how far you’ve gone or how long it’s been, nothing can surpass His great love and grace to you. He is looking and waiting, ready to receive you back to Himself with rejoicing. He gives hope to the hopeless. Receive that hope this Easter. Know I’m praying for you.
Close Doesn’t Count
Do you ever remember as a child the saying, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”? How many times have you ever said, “I was so close”? Maybe it was in regards to winning a game or just missing out on some good thing; whatever it was it didn’t happen.
In looking forward to our church’s remembrance of the crucifixion and the celebration of the Lord’s resurrection, I have been reflecting on some of the events that took place surrounding it. Probably one individual that sticks in my mind is Judas Iscariot. He would be someone who was so close to the truth, yet missed it. In Matthew 26:17-35, we have the account of the Lord Jesus Christ celebrating the Passover meal with His twelve disciples. Picture the scene, they are reclining around this low table, enjoying their meal, and Jesus drops a bombshell, "Assuredly, I say to you, one of you will betray Me." (Matthew 26:21). They begin to ask, “Is it I?” Jesus says this in vs. 23, "He who dipped his hand with Me in the dish will betray Me. In Middle Eastern custom, there would be a bowl with sauce that the diners would dip bread or meat wrapped in bread. Jesus’ act of giving it to Judas was symbolic of friendship, thus increasing Judas’ treachery. It also shows that he was sitting close to Jesus physically. Something I find interesting to notice here is the rest of the disciples call Him “Lord”, which means supreme authority. Judas only calls Him “Rabbi”. This is a title of respect of a Jewish teacher, yet it falls short of who Christ was. Where the other disciples acknowledged Jesus’ headship and Lordship, could it be that Judas only saw a good teacher? This is the view of many in the world today, they only think of Jesus as a good teacher, and they fail to acknowledge Him as Lord and Savior. Truly, Judas took who Christ Jesus was far too lightly. I pray that none of us will do that and miss out on salvation. He was so close and yet missed the mark.
Actually, that is what sin is, “missing the mark”. The Lord God has set the standard of righteousness before Him and none of us measures up. You may do better than me or I do better than you, but we all miss the mark. Romans 3:20 says, Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. No one can stand before God and say they’ve kept the whole law, that they have been entirely righteous. In truth, the law condemns us. Just as committing one crime makes a person guilty, so does committing one sin. Have you ever told a lie? What does that make you? A liar. Have you ever stolen anything? That makes you a thief. It doesn’t matter whether you got caught or not. Have you ever taken the Lord’s Name in vain? That makes you a blasphemer. So just three sins can make a person a lying, thieving, blasphemer. Thankfully, God the Father has made a way we can be justified apart from our own righteousness and goodness. That way is through the death, burial, and resurrection of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Strong, self-sufficient people have a difficult time to see their need for Christ. Oh, they may understand the concept of sin, but not their true need of a Savior. It is easy to play fast and loose when it comes to Christ. You can go to church, hear solid preaching, perform Christian work, support Christian causes, take of the Lord’s Table, be baptized, and still perish in your sin if you are not truly born again, Judas did! Judas is in Hell today. Think of it. You can be as close to Jesus as that and still be lost in your sin. Or you can call upon the Lord Jesus Christ in faith, confessing you are a sinner, and trusting His sacrifice to make you right with God. You can know the hope and forgiveness His sacrifice brings. Know I am praying for you.
The Myth of Relative Truth
As I am writing this we have entered into the time of year when Christians begin to focus on the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In John’s gospel account, Jesus is standing before the Roman governor, Pilate. Pilate asks Jesus if He is the King of the Jews. Jesus’ response is, “You say rightly that I am a king. For this cause I was born, and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” (Bold mine) Pilate said to Him, “What is truth?” Like Pilate, there are those who are not sure what truth is or if there is anything that is absolutely true. They hold that all truth is relative. They may reveal this by saying “That may be true for you, but it’s not for me.” This is something people use to deflect some really important questions to think about, similar to what Pilate does above. The TRUTH IS there is no such thing as relative truth. Webster’s Dictionary defines truth as “Conformity to fact or actuality. A statement proven to be accepted as true.” If something is true, it is true for all people, in all places, at all times.
Take the “It’s true for you but not for me” statement that we hear from time to time in our world. Is that statement true just for the person making it? Or does it apply to everyone? The law of non-contradiction is a basic law of all thought. It is a law of logic. This law is a basic principle that opposite ideas can’t both be true at the same time and in the same sense. Someone might say, “No one has the truth.” How can a person say that? They are making a truth claim. Do you see it? A person cannot say, “You can’t know truth” without first knowing what truth is, thus they contradict the very thing they are saying.
In another article I wrote recently, I spoke of the increasing amount of information that is available to us. It is difficult to sift through it all. It is even more difficult, if we don’t have a standard of truth by which to measure all the thoughts and opinions and knowledge out there. In our post-modern world, things are often viewed as relative or judged by how they make a person feel. Growing up, we sit in grade school and college classes and our teachers impart all sorts of information. As adults, we sit in front of TV screens and our computers, sifting through all sorts of data, thoughts, opinions, and news items. We have learned to take in information and spout back what we have heard, but have we learned to think about the information itself? Do we truly think about and even throw out any of this, or do we try to mash it all together and come up with some sort hodgepodge worldview?
We need to be seeking truth and examining the evidence. Sadly, there will be those who suppress the truth despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The people who brought Jesus before Pilate hated Him. Why? Because He exposed their sin and their error. His popularity threatened their position and their prestige. Though convinced otherwise, Pilate even sacrificed his integrity and caved to popular opinion. In washing his hands, he condemned Christ by his inaction. Of course this was all part of God’s plan, that innocent and sinless Jesus would die as an atoning sacrifice for the sin of each person who will believe on Him. Every believer in Christ knows that had to happen. Yet how often do similar things happen with us today? We are called to discover the truth, but though the evidence may convince us otherwise, we go along with the crowd or don’t say anything, which is really not being truthful to ourselves.
Christians, people may not want to believe what's true. They may not want to change the way they live. They may mock you, and say all sorts of things that are not true about you. Some of these may be very intelligent people. In Jesus’ day, there were religious leaders, lawyers, and politicians that didn’t like to hear the truth, so they stirred the people up. It is those in the crowd today that I am concerned about. They mouth what those who suppress the truth have told them to say, but they have not really thought it through themselves nor have they taken any real time to examine the evidence. It is important for each of us as Christians to know what we believe and why we believe what we do. To state it simply, to know truth. Christians have no right to be uniformed or ignorant concerning their faith. Along with this, we must not cave to this myth of relative truth.
Believers, we need to pray for all of these and to be patient with those who don’t agree. Don’t go at them with guns blazing, but calmly present the truth and trust the Lord to work and bring the illumination. Contrary beliefs are possible, but contrary truth is not possible. For those who may read this article and be opposed to a Christian worldview, have you truly examined the evidence, is the truth you hold to something you have come to know or what others have told you? Know I’m praying for you.
From time to time we have family and friends from out of town come to visit. Whether their stay is a night or a couple of weeks, activity begins around our house long before our guests arrive; beds are changed, groceries are stocked, meals are planned, and cleaning is done. We do this for two reasons: one, it ensures the house is ready to welcome our guests and make them comfortable, and two, it frees us up to spend time with our guests. After all, that’s the purpose of visiting in the first place.
We live in such a fast pace world where we can get to feeling concerned that if we slow down for a moment we will be left behind. We are caught in the “tyranny of the urgent” trap. It is no wonder that our relationships become so superficial and strained.
In the Scriptures, we find a similar situation with two sisters, Mary and Martha, who were friends with Jesus. In Luke 10:38-42, we find that they had invited Jesus to their home. Now Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word, but Martha “was distracted with much serving.” She approaches Jesus about the apparent inequity of the situation, it would seem that she was hoping to have the Lord tell Mary to help her. Jesus answers her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
I want to encourage you, dear reader, to reflect on this in your life. Have the cares of life become overwhelming? Are you troubled and worried about many things? Be like Mary and chose to spend time listening to the Word of Christ, be it godly preaching from the pulpit at church or just reading your Bible and listening to the Holy Spirit in your home. Jesus wants to visit with you. Will you open the door and let Him in? (Rev. 3:20) Know I’m praying for you!
PW 269 Think About What You Are Thinking About
While attending a webinar recently, I was introduced to a new principle that is in our society today. That principle is the “don’t ask me to think principle”. This comes into play any time we ask a person something that requires them to put effort into thinking beyond simple things. If it isn’t simple then forget it. Part of the reason for this, as I understand it, is that people have so much more they are thinking about today, than at any other time in history. Basically we have information overload. Look at how much we have to process on a daily basis. We have so much information coming at us from social media, the internet, TV, you name it. Add to that, the stress that you or I might have if we might miss some important piece of news or information. Years ago at a conference I attended, a keynote speaker told us the sum of human knowledge up to the 1960’s doubled from 1960 to 1980. It doubled again by 1990, and by 1995 it had doubled again! No wonder there is information overload. If you were to do an online search, you’d probably discover articles that speak of that doubling anywhere from every 5 years to every 12 months depending on whether you are considering information in general or in a specific area! Think about that! (Or maybe we don’t want to.)
I say all this because it is easy to get into not thinking too deeply about anything. Our attention doesn’t stay focused for very long. Someone says something and we can just buy into it, especially if that person is viewed as a so-called “expert”. Though there is a lot of information out there, it doesn’t mean that it is all good or should be given a priority. We need to give more thought about things that pertain to health or future finances more than possibly what this or that celebrity is wearing to a certain event. We should be aware of regurgitated rhetoric, especially when it comes to thinking about spiritual things. For Christians, this means the Word of God, the Bible.
I’m amazed at how few people read and think about the Bible. I have heard folks say how it is just an old book or it is just a bunch of myths, and such. I can’t help but think that they are just spitting out some nonsense that they heard someone else said. Oh, it sounded good, but they probably have given little attention to it. Not everything that is new is right; nor is everything that is old irrelevant. We teach our children to read, so that they can know one day that the deed they have on their homes, really says that they own it. We teach them math so they can see that their bank accounts really show what they have put into them. Otherwise they can only guess that what they have is true. They have to rely solely on what others say or believe. I find people give little thought about what they buy into regarding heaven, hell, or salvation. I tell the people in our church all the time to check out what I say, I don’t expect them to just take my word for it. In the book of Acts, there was a group of people known as the Bereans. They heard what Paul said but they also went home and searched the Scriptures to see if it was so. We need to think more deeply about God, who He is, and what He has said, just as the Bereans did.
There are blessings for the people who give real thought to what the Bible says and then do what it says. Joshua 1:8 says, This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. The Lord told Joshua to think about the Law of God all the time if Joshua was going to have success. From time to time I have heard of pastors and teachers who give people the idea that reading the Bible is too hard and not to do it. Nothing could be further from the truth. Paul writes to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:15-17, “…from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (NIV). Timothy could understand the Scriptures since childhood. Proverbs 22:17-19 says, “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise, and apply your heart to my knowledge; for it is a pleasant thing if you keep them within you; let them all be fixed upon your lips, so that your trust may be in the LORD…” We need to give thought to what we are letting in our heads.
Let me encourage you to give thought about what you are thinking about. Think about your eternal soul and where you stand with the Lord. Think about what you believe about God, sin, heaven, and eternal life. Search God’s Word, you will find it and Him to be true if you will search with all your heart. Know I am praying for you.
PW 268 God Is Good All the Time
The other day I sat reflecting over the past year. Besides the injury and surgery to my knee, we dealt with all sorts of vehicle problems and a number of unexpected expenses and various difficulties. Maybe your past year was a rough one as well, or as you and I go into the New Year, we may run into other difficult times. There may be times when we are anxious. Times when we experience discouragement or struggle with frustration. These times can come in like waves at the seashore.
Often the reason we struggle with these things is we forget that God is always good. Remember that none of the things that beset us are a surprise to Him. Nothing you or I will face, will be more than we can handle with His help. Even when we are tempted to doubt. First Corinthians 10:13 says, No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. The God that Christians worship is not a hands off God, but a God who is active in our lives. One thing I have learned about Him is He isn’t a puppet that operates or dances to our dictates. We are His creation, not He ours. Even when difficulties come into our lives, we must remember that God is good all the time and all the time God is good. Even when I haven’t always understood why at the moment, often I will find out why later on. Even if I don’t, I have experienced Him enough in my life to trust Him and His goodness.
Back this spring, when I was recovering from my knee surgery, one of our summer residents sent me this little story entitled The Good Servant. It goes like this:
A king who did not believe in the goodness of God, had a slave who, in all circumstances would always say, "My king, do not be discouraged, because everything God does is perfect. He makes no mistakes!"
One day, they went hunting and along the way a wild animal attacked the king. His slave managed to kill the animal, but could not prevent his majesty from losing a finger. Furious and without showing his gratitude for being saved, the nobleman asked, "Is God good? If He was good, I would not have been attacked and lost my finger." The slave replied: "My king, despite all these things, I can only tell you that God is good, and he knows why these things happened. What God does is perfect. He is never wrong!" Outraged by the response, the king ordered the arrest of his slave.
Later, the king left for another hunt, this time alone. He was captured by savages who engaged in human sacrifices. On the altar and ready to sacrifice the nobleman, the savages discovered that their victim did not have one of his fingers. According to them, only a whole person with all his/her parts intact could be offered to the gods. The king without a finger was deemed an abominable sacrifice for their gods. So, they released the king.
Upon his return to the palace, the king authorized the release of his slave. He received the slave affectionately. "God was really good to me! I was almost killed by the wild men, but for lack of a single finger, I was let go! But I have a question: If God is so good, why did he allow me to put you in jail?" The slave answered, "My king, if I had gone with you on this hunt, I would have been sacrificed instead because I have no missing finger.
Often we complain about life, and the negative things that happen to us, forgetting that nothing is random and that everything has a purpose. As we go into this New Year, let’s keep in mind that God is good all the time, even when we don’t understand why, He has a purpose. He works all things together for good. (Romans 8:28). Know I’m praying for you.
Why Jesus Was Born
In the past year or two, our church was been able to celebrate the arrival of a couple babies. One was just recently. We even have a family in the church that is expecting another early next year. It is fun to watch these young lives and to wonder who or what they will be. One of my friends was kiddingly telling his infant son he could be a baseball player or even a basketball player when he got older.
On December 25th, Christians celebrate the advent, the first coming and birth of the Son of God, Jesus Christ. His first coming was foretold. Isaiah writes, Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14). And Micah wrote, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.” (Micah 5:2). The LORD God announced to Adam and Eve in the Garden, that He would send the Seed.
Where we can only speculate at what these babies in our church may become, Mary and Joseph are told. Jesus came to be the Savior of the world, but to do so required Him to give His life. Jesus was born to die. Yet not just to die, except for the Lord’s return, we all will die someday. Jesus came to die as a sacrifice for our sins. The angel told Joseph that Mary’s Son would save His people from their sins. From the very beginning, sin has separated people from God. The Bible tells us “Whoever keeps the whole law yet stumbles in one point, he is guilty of all.” (James 2:10). Sin condemns a person and we all have contracted it. It is worse than any pandemic for it effects all of us; and worse than that it reaches beyond this life and into the next. You or I may not be a murderer or an adulterer, but have we ever lied? Have we ever disobeyed our parents? Have we ever just once taken the Lord’s name in vain or stolen? What does this make us? A lying, rebellious, blaspheming, thief. Just as one crime makes a person a criminal, so too, one sin makes each of us a lawbreaker and sinner.
You may think, “Boy, Pastor, that’s pretty rough, especially for a Christmas message.” I say this, because I have found it is very easy to dismiss sin in our lives these days. Sin has become something that someone else does. We judge it from our frame of reference and not God’s. Because sin is so serious, God the Father had to send His only Son to offer Himself to be a sacrifice for our sin, so we wouldn’t perish and be separated from Him. (See John 3:16). All of us have been tainted by sin, thus no ordinary man can be a perfect, unblemished sacrifice for sin. Only Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, Emmanuel, who was in the very nature God, could fulfill that role and take our place. He could take our sin and give us His right standing before God. He gives us peace with God. Paul wrote, “…having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1). This is the peace spoken of by the angels on the night of the Lord Jesus’ birth. The believer in Christ is no longer an enemy, but has become a child of God.
Many liberal theologians and scholars try to water down the message of Christmas and the gospel. They try to make Jesus only a good and moral man. He is so very much more! He is the Son of God, Christ the Savior. He came to do the will of the Father. “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s (Jesus’) obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19).
The message of Christmas is one of hope and salvation. There is forgiveness and cleansing for the one who repents and believes. God gave us something we needed and didn’t have. A perfect Lamb without spot or blemish. He gave us an opportunity to get right with Him and provided access to Him as sons and daughters . . . joint heirs with Christ. He was born to die, so as to save each of us. This gift we can never repay.
Has there been a time when you called upon the Lord Jesus to forgive your sin and to be your salvation? Have you received His gift of everlasting life? Do you believe on Him for your everlasting life in heaven? If not, make this Christmas the time that you do. Let’s not let the coming of Christ to save us get lost in the trappings of this season. Let’s also look ahead with great joy and anticipation to His future coming to take us to be with Him in heaven. Merry Christmas and know I’m praying for you!
Missing the Meaning of Christmas
As I look out the window, snow is falling and I am reminded that Christmas is just around the corner. Sometimes as this time of year approaches, it is easy to forget the true meaning of Christmas. For some, this Christmas may be less than joyful. Christmas won’t be the same this year. Christmas may dredge up pain and heartache. Some may have lost a loved one. Others have a family member serving in the military far from home. Others may have experienced financial or physical setbacks this past year. It is easy to say that Jesus is the reason, but it is more of a cliché we have learned to quote than a real belief.
Christmas is a time of hope. Hope is something we all need, especially in these days. Hope is what Christmas is all about. The Hope of all the ages – past, present, and future – came to the earth. Galatians 4:4-5 says, “But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons”. At just the right time, Christ came to be born of the virgin.
In Luke 2:1-7, we find Caesar Augustus, Emperor of the Roman Empire, calling for a census. This is more than our censuses we take today. The purpose of this census was to raise taxes and an army to control his vast empire. I point this out to help us see that things were less than ideal even in that age. We have this young couple from Nazareth, having to make the journey to Bethlehem to register. There’s Joseph, a new husband, and Mary, his young wife, 9 months pregnant. Joseph is dealing with having to take a trip – one that may end up pressing him into military service, and at the very least, raising his taxes. Add to this the fact that Mary is traveling, 9 months with child. Though Mary knows the Child is conceived of the Holy Spirit, people still view her as an immoral woman. Thinking about this, I felt Mary and Joseph’s possible sense of frustration, I wonder if that first Christmas was less than the ideal we see on the cover of our Christmas cards. Understand they don’t know the rest of the story as you and I do. Add to this, the fact when they get to town, there’s no room for them to stay. One difficulty on top of another.
As we come to this Christmas season, there are those in similar situations all around. As I’ve said, some face the possibility of a loved one being called to active duty and being deployed overseas. Taxes are coming due on property and income. These can be compounded by the daily pressures and trials of life, amplifying them to possibly unbearable levels. How important it is for us to refresh the hope that we have in Jesus Christ. It’s time to fill up our hope tanks. First Peter 3:15 says, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;”
Often we can look at life’s adversities and want to give up – at least I do at times. God may be using them for a greater good. It’s at these times that we need to look up and not give up. To fix our eyes on the Author and Finisher of our faith. He’s in control. Not one thing is happening in your life, Christian, that God isn’t fully aware of and at work in to accomplish His greater purposes in and through you. There’s hope!
The eternal significance of Jesus’ birth isn’t in when or where He was born. What is important is that Jesus was born. That God laid aside His glory and all the benefits of His deity and humbled Himself as a man, lived a perfect life, and died on a cruel Roman cross for our sins, and arose again 3 days later, obtaining everlasting life for all who would believe and trust in Him!
The angels announce good tidings to all men. In His first coming, Jesus is identifying with every man, woman, and child – Jew or Gentile; slave or free. He has come as Savior. What hope that is for us, to know we too can be partakers of Christ’s salvation! It is a message of peace. The peace promised here is peace with God for those who trust in Jesus Christ.
After the shepherd hear this message, they hurry to look for God’s gift of hope. Here we have the first Christmas rush. How we need to make haste and come to Jesus. Will our running around these next few weeks find us coming to Jesus? The Scriptures tell us they found what they went searching for – Jesus. The Bible says that if we’ll seek Him with all our heart, we will find Him. Have we found Jesus Christ? Have we found Him as our Lord and Savior? Do we know that inner peace with God despite our outer circumstances? Does having found Him cause us to testify of what we have seen and heard and our hands have touched regarding the Word of Life?
My hope is that we have come to that Living Hope of Christmas. May this hope be renewed in each of our hearts and grant us a fresh desire to share the Good Tidings of great joy and the Hope of Christmas. Know I’m praying for you.
“Setting Your Sights”
Several years back before the start of hunting season, I had sighted in my rifle before the season and made plans for getting a deer. During the opening week, I sat in my blind and watched several deer. Soon one came within range. I set the cross hairs, pulled the trigger and missed! I couldn’t believe it! The deer moved off a ways and then gave me another shot. I missed again! This time the deer wasn’t waiting around to flirt with death a third time and high tailed it into the swamp. Back at camp the next day, I took a couple practice shots and discovered that the scope was off and I was shooting 5" to the right and 5" down. Somehow during all the activity at camp, the sights had gotten out of adjustment.
The Lord had a lesson for me in this as I stewed over my missed opportunity. He spoke to my heart about the importance of my spiritual sights. The writer of Hebrews tells us: “...let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith...” (Hebrews 12:1b-2a). How easy it is to start out with our spiritual sights aligned only to have them get knocked out of whack by the daily activity of life if we’re not careful. If our sights are not aligned with Jesus, things become a lesson in futility. This life can quickly get our love out of whack, too! A little bitterness and lack of forgiveness...a little haughtiness, boastfulness or sinful pride...a little sexual “indiscretion” and we no longer are “shooting straight”. It is important to examine our lives before the Lord just like Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 11:28, which says: “but let a man examine himself...”. Now I know some of you may say this has to do with partaking of the Lord’s Table. True! Yet is the reason the people were weak, sick and dead, physically and spiritually only because they partook of the Table in an unworthy manner or is it because they failed to examine themselves for sin in the first place? It’s imperative that we examine our focus daily, and even throughout our day, to make sure we’re seeing things as Jesus Christ would have us see them. Let God the Holy Spirit bring the light of truth to bear on our hearts. The Scriptures promise that He has come to convict of sin, and to lead the believer into all truth, this includes the truth about ourselves and who we are in Christ. The Lord chastens us because He loves us and wants us to hit the mark, to be holy before Him.
Have you taken time recently to examine yourself? Do you need to realign your “sights”? Have you lost your focus on Jesus and gotten ensnared by “every weight and sin”? Why not confess it to the Lord right now in prayer? Know that I’m praying for you.
“Content in Trying Times”
Over the years, our little church fellowship has faced a lot of adverse situations. At times, I find even myself lamenting the conditions and circumstances that have so rudely intruded into my life and the ministry here. Recently I was reading Philippians 4, where Paul writes: “Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Paul had learned to be content whether things were going well or not. He had learned to draw on Christ’s power for strength and to trust His supply.
I don’t know about you, but at times I find I like to dictate to the Lord Jesus how things should be. When we find ourselves this way, it is evident that we haven’t learned to be content in every circumstance, that we aren’t fully surrendered in all of life to Christ. Like Job in the Old Testament, I am learning that I really lack the ability and wisdom to truly grasp the intricate workings of this life. I’m finite. Jesus Christ is infinite. More and more I’m convinced that part of the problem comes from our inheriting the knowledge of Good and Evil. It is easy to see how evil can plague the human condition, but what about the knowledge of good? This works a bit more subtly, yet the knowledge of good gets us into fixes just like the evil does. Having a sense of moral right is good, but often that sense goes in the opposite direction so that we won’t settle for anything less than balancing the scales of justice, even better if they get tipped a little in our favor. Thus we miss out on the Divine. We can lose the ability to forgive, to show grace and mercy; to love.
Surrendering ourselves and those trying circumstances to the Lord isn’t denying the problem exists. It isn’t “hiding our heads in the sand”, as some may think. It’s just denying our right to feel wronged or offended. It’s choosing the high road. It’s denying our right to dictate how our circumstances should be. I’m beginning to see that until I stop dictating how things should be in my “utopian view”, I won’t grow. God orchestrates even those painful circumstances so we can grow and learn and even see whether or not our hearts are truly surrendered to Him.
Are the ebbs and flows of life right now seeming to be ebbing more than flowing? Are you feeling discontent or upset that things haven’t gone your way? Check your surrender. Is Jesus Christ really Lord in every area of life? Have you learned to be content whatever comes your way? Know I’m praying for you.
PW 265 Have Faith Not Fear
I almost hate to watch the news these days because I’ll just hear of another senseless killing, kidnapping, or tragedy. There are wars and conflicts across the globe. Terrorists and other rebel groups enter homes or communities in Africa, the Middle East and other areas, kidnapping children and committing other atrocities. Recently, I received an e-mail that told me that one of these groups was demanding children to renounce their Christian faith and when they refused, they would put them to death. Truly, the world is not worthy of these young souls. This really challenges my faith, how about yours?
We can wonder, “Why are all these terrible things happening?” Some may be tempted to blame God or wonder where He is. Some of us may be thinking, “Pastor, I don’t like to think about this stuff. Why don’t you write about something else?” I write this because it is often too easy to become complacent, to be caught up in the “bread and circuses” of life. As long as we are fed and entertained, we turn a deaf ear or a blind eye to the real issues and what is happening all around us. We are content with our little “forms of godliness” and religion. We are happy with a god that we have made in our image and likeness, one that demands little or nothing from us, and not the one that is Lord and God. Sadly, when bad things happen, these forms can’t bear the load and they crumble. We lose faith. Maybe, we never have had true faith in the first place.
Sometimes terrible things take place because we neglect or fail to obey the laws of God and of men; thus, we reap the consequences of that violation. We have gotten our eyes off of Jesus Christ and have lightly esteemed God. We fail to realize that God allows these to happen to cause us to repent and turn back to Him, seeking His forgiveness and mercy. Yet at other times, things happen not due to any sin or unbelief on our part; they may even happen when we do what we know is right. Jesus never sugar coats the life of faith. He said, “These things I have spoken to you, that you should not be made to stumble. They will put you out of the synagogues; yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service. And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me. But these things I have told you, that when the time comes, you may remember that I told you of them…These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:1-4, & 33). Jesus doesn’t say, “You may…” He says, you will have tribulation in the world, yet our hope and joy is in the fact He gives us the victory.
The Christian life, the choice to follow Jesus, assumes a willingness to face and go through hardships for His Name’s sake. Can you imagine joining the armed services and then being surprised at the demands of boot camp or the conflicts you are called to? Peter wrote, “…for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,” (1 Peter 1:6b-7). The Lord allows trials so as to temper and strengthen our faith. The unbelieving world thinks this is strange and even stupid. Yet the Holy Spirit bears witness to the believer that these things are true.
Do the things that are happening frighten you? Have you called upon the Lord Jesus, believing He died and rose again to provide forgiveness for your sin and salvation for you? If not, now is the time to get things right with Him. He wants to hear from you, to forgive you, and to save you. When you do this, no matter what happens in this world, you have a secure hope of a home in heaven with Him.
For those who are believers, have you been struggling with doubts lately? Are there hardships that are trying to shipwreck your faith? Do you need to confess your complacency and get serious about following Christ? Why not pray to Him about that right now? Set your eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ who is the Author and finisher of your faith. Know that He is using those things to strengthen your faith for people’s good and His glory at His coming. Don’t let fear and trials destroy your faith, let them strengthen your faith. Know I’m praying for you.
PW 264 Good Foundation
Our church just got through doing some major upgrades to the parsonage in an endeavor to make it more energy efficient and maintenance free, along with proactively taking care of any future problems. Many people have commented on how great it now looks. What isn’t readily apparent is the work that was done beneath the surface, small adjustments that were done to help with the rest of the building project. If these things weren’t done, it would have affected the repairs and upgrades down the road. I’m sure we all would agree that it is important to have a good base on which to build.
In the Bible the Apostle Paul speaks of another foundation or base on which to build in 1 Corinthians 3: 10-15, “According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
Paul first shares the need for the right foundation. That foundation is salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and the work of the cross. This is a gift of God that comes by His grace through faith. It isn’t of our works but God’s grace. In Titus 3:5 we read, “…not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us”. This is where I find believers can have some confusion. Our salvation and eternal life in heaven is a gift. We receive it when we come to faith in Christ. We realize we are sinners, who are separated from God and heaven. We cannot reach heaven on our own for the only way to make heaven on our own is through living a sinless life, which none of us can do. You may be a better person than I or I may be better than you, but that isn’t the objective. The objective is to be sinless. So we both fall short. Thus we all need something, or better yet Someone, who can bridge the gap between each of us and God. That person is Jesus Christ. The Bible promises that whoever confesses Jesus as Lord and calls upon Him in faith for the forgiveness of their sin and new life in Him, they will be saved.
Salvation is not a reward. Rewards are given for something we do. Gifts are given as a result of what someone else has done. Think of it this way, you receive a gift at Christmas or your birthday, what work did you do to earn it? Nothing. Someone gave it to you out of their love for you, all you have to do is receive it. On the other hand a reward may be a trophy or a medal or even a weekly pay check. You receive these for something you have done. Once a person has come to trust on the Lord Jesus Christ and is saved, the works they now do should give evidence that they are one of Christ’s followers, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10). Those works we do in obedience to God bring Him glory, do good to others, and earn the believer rewards in heaven. Know that the works that a believer does right now will be tested for what sort it is.
Let’s work so our reward in heaven will bring God glory and help others to find Him and grow up in Him. Let’s remember that the only safe way to build is to build on that foundation that Jesus laid through His death, burial, and resurrection. Only those things built on Him will last. Jesus said, “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock: and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it did not fall, for it was founded on the rock.” Know I’m praying for you.
Some years ago, my sons and I were looking at a story about “camel spiders” they had come across on a web site. These things looked and sounded nasty until we did a little more research and found the article was an “urban legend”. In case you don’t know what an urban legend is, it is a story that is widely accepted as true – possibly even sounds true – but when examined closely, has no basis in fact.
This brings to mind what the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, “…remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.” (1 Timothy 1:3-4) People in Ephesus were getting caught up in all kinds of false teaching. In Paul’s letters to Timothy, he tells Timothy to “give attention to doctrine” and to “rightly divide the word of truth”. Paul’s desire was that God’s people would have sound doctrine – healthy teaching. In Acts 2:42 we read, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.” The early church continued in four things: the apostles’ doctrine, fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. First and foremost was the apostles’ doctrine or teaching. The primary activity of the church is sound doctrine, proper teaching of God’s Word. The Great Commission instructs us to teach believers to obey what Jesus taught. The Apostles and disciples saw the need to commit themselves to studying God’s Word.
From time to time, I meet people who have a hodgepodge of ideas that have no Biblical basis nor adhere to Biblical principles. How important it is that our pastors and preachers exhort and teach us regularly from God’s Word and guard what is committed to their trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge – by professing it some have strayed concerning the faith. In the book of Acts, the Christians in Berea didn’t take the preaching of Paul lightly, but searched the Scriptures to see for themselves if it was so.
Are you caught up in the “urban legends” that are in some churches? Let me encourage you to examine what you believe and why you believe it? Does it line up with God’s Word – the Bible? It is written, “the truth shall set you free.” God’s Word is truth. Know I’m praying for you.
Code of Conduct
I was watching a sports news program the other morning. One of their segments dealt with the many professional players who had been given fines and suspensions for testing positive for drugs or had other criminal issues brought against them. Even one team owner had a 6 game suspension for a DUI! This is all a result of the NFL having a code of conduct policy for its players and owners that goes beyond that of the public. They recognize the responsibility they have to set a proper example and standard.
The same holds true for Christians. We must remember that we are to be held to a higher standard. We are Christ’s witnesses, ambassadors, and His representatives in this world. I like that title “ambassador”. It is a good reminder to believers that we are called to be representatives of the Kingdom of God to this world.
Today, there is a false teaching going around that has infiltrated the Christian church. It basically tells people that we are free to say and do what we want. It leads us to believe that as long as we perform a few religious rites, pray, or attend church on occasion, we’re okay with God. I am not saying that these aren’t good to do, but we are not to put our hope in them as getting us right with God. We can have a buffet approach when it comes to our Christian faith. What I mean by this is that we tend to pick and choose what we want in our faith and end up with one eclectic mess. Terminology has also added to the confusion. We may be using terms that mean very different things. Take for example, “believe in Jesus”. We may readily accept it when a person says that they believe in Jesus, yet we never delve deeper to find out if the “believe in Jesus” that people say is the same thing as the belief that Christians down through the ages have had. When people say that they believe in Jesus, are they saying that they believe He existed, they believe He had some important things to say? In the Bible, belief is a sure conviction that Christ is the Son of God, that He came into the world, lived a sinless life, and died in our place to satisfy God’s wrath against your sin and mine.
Another term is “personal relationship”. Christians need to personally receive Christ as Lord and Savior, and to enter into a new, living relationship with Him by God’s grace through faith. Many wrongly interpret this personal relationship as being a “private” matter between us and God, so they don’t speak of it. This goes against all the Scriptures that speak of Christians as being witnesses and ambassadors.
In Ephesians, we are told to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Ephesians 4:1-3). We are “to walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2) and to “look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.”(vs 15).
If we call ourselves Christian, which means follower of Christ, we need to hold to His higher moral standard and to live wisely. If we expect people to truly believe in Christ as Jesus intends, we need to be good examples of that kingdom and to do our best to live like we believe. This will strengthen our faith, as well as other people’s faith. It will strengthen our churches, and may even help those who have yet to trust in Christ to believe that He died in their place for their sin as Christ did for us. Christians, we must see we have a code of conduct that the Lord will hold us to. Know I’m praying for you!
Good Guilt and God’s Grace
Years ago, before I went into fulltime ministry, I worked as a night manager for a supermarket, and from time to time we would catch shoplifters. I recall one situation where the mother brought her crying, young child to the store manager and had the child tell us what he did. He had stolen a candy bar. I really like how the store manager handled it. He didn’t tell the little boy that it was okay, as some managers I had worked for had done. He made sure the boy understood that he had done wrong. By doing this he awakened guilt in the boy’s life. He asked the boy if he was sorry for what he had done and would promise not to do it again. The boy apologized and promised not to do it again. The manager told the boy that he was forgiven.
Guilt is a good thing. Do we see that we need to own up to our sin and acknowledge it is wrong? When we do this, grace and unmerited favor can be shown, forgiveness given, the problem resolved, and the broken relationships can be healed. Without it, the guilt and the sin just lies dormant and will surface at some other time. Good parents not only want their child to admit their sin, but they want him or her to turn from that sin. It is good to see that sin first and foremost is against God the Father Himself. Godly guilt comes from sensing the hand of God at work to bring to surface our wrongs even years later. It is good to know that God’s hand is at work not to destroy you or me, but to bring us to where we should be - repentance. Guilt undealt with can make us weak. It can undermine us. Yet godly guilt can bring us to a place of true sorrow and repentance. It can bring about healing in our relationship with God and with others. It can bring about the blessing of grace. When it comes to receiving salvation and forgiveness for our sin, none of us can demand it nor do we deserve it, this is where God’s grace comes into play. When we realize the true extent of our sin and how bad it is, we can really appreciate the grace God extends to the believer in Christ.
Have you ever been really thirsty especially on a hot day? Then someone hands you an ice cold bottle of water to drink. That water probably seemed like the best in the world because it satisfied a deep felt need in your life. It is the thirst that made the water taste that much better. It is the acknowledging our guilt that makes the grace of God so much sweeter, too.
God not only wants to forgive our sins, but He wants to deliver us from sin’s control and to prepare us as His people for His kingdom work. Yes, we may not be perfect, but we can get past the guilt that haunts our lives due to our unresolved sin. When we see the depth and extent of our sin, how much more we can realize the greatness of God’s grace to us. Too often we quickly brush aside our sins, as not being that bad, and end up cheapening God’s grace, taking it far too lightly. Guilt causes us to take a look at our sin and to be more thankful for the gift of God’s grace.
Are there any areas of guilt you are experiencing? Do you want to really know healing? Be ready to admit your sins and ask forgiveness. Let guilt do the work of leading you to the blessing of God’s forgiveness and not haunt you and crop up later in your life. Let it open you up to the full awareness of God’s grace and His salvation. Know I’m praying for you.
Beware of Snakes
Living in the North Woods and the U.P. we don’t face too many dangerous animals, especially poisonous ones. Recently, I read two separate stories dealing with pythons. The first took place in the early 1980’s, with a man in Missouri. He had a sixteen-foot long, hundred pound, Burmese python that he had the habit of playing with on the bed. One day his wife came in and found him crushed in the deadly coils of this so-called tame pet. “That guy was crazy!” you might be thinking, “I’d never do that!”
This got me to thinking about snakes in the Bible, and how often they are associated with sin, be it in the Garden of Eden, or with God’s people in the wilderness. Satan, himself, is likened to a serpent. Sin is a lot like those pythons. We play around with it enough and before we know it, we are caught in its evil coils, be it alcohol, drugs, illicit sex, or something else, that area of sin that we thought we were in control of or could escape from actually has ensnared us.
The second story I read about told of a South African man that had a python drop on him in the jungle back in 2001. The man bit the snake below the head and kicked and punched it until it released him.
The Bible tells us that Jesus Christ didn’t just die to save us from the penalty of our sin. His death and resurrection gives every Christian believer victory over the power of sin and to no longer live in it. Romans 6:12 says, “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts.” There is an ongoing war with sin in every believer’s life; and unless we fight back with the Spirit of the Lord’s help, we will remain in sin’s grip. Are you caught in the grip of sin? Are its deadly coils crushing the life out of you? Turn to the Lord in faith, confessing your sin and asking His help to put that sin to death. It’s high time for believers to get serious; put to death the sins that war against our members and keep us from true freedom in Christ. Know that I’m praying for you.
PW 260 Caring for Spiritual Injuries
Recently, I had surgery for a severely torn ACL and a slightly torn meniscus. I have had to do therapy, and it has gone pretty well. I am truly thankful to the Lord Jesus for my doctor, the surgeon and his team, and my physical therapists. They have been a major help on my road to recovery. From the beginning, they mapped out goals for me, even telling me things that I could expect along the way, including being tempted to overdo and go beyond their prescribed recovery method.
One of the men in our church asked me why I thought this happened to me, especially since I injured it while in the church building. I’d like to say right here, that being a pastor doesn’t make a person invulnerable to accidents or other misfortunes. Bad things can happen even to the best of us. One thing I’ve noticed is that it is in those times I learn things about God and myself that I wouldn’t have ordinarily. I even get to see the things that God has worked into me over the years; such as, being a bit more patient and disciplined. It says in Romans 8:28, “…that all things work together for good to those who love God…”
In our western culture, we can have a strong resistance to any adversity. Where no one likes having bad things happen to them, it is in those times we can see what we are really made of. Difficulties can refine us, purify us, and make our faith stronger. Peter wrote this to some believers who had been experiencing some hardships: “…now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” When difficulties or hardships come, will it make us bitter or better? Will our response bring praise to Jesus when He comes? Often God has to turn up the heat so those bad and impure things come to the surface; and so we will deal with them.
With my physical injury, having doctors and therapists is helping me towards a full recovery. Following their prescribed instructions for my healing and not going beyond what they say has helped immensely. Also, the fact that prior to my injury, I was regularly working out has aided my recovery as well. In a spiritual sense, when we are wounded or have been in conflict with others, God has given us churches, pastors, and leaders to help us through these times. (See Ephesians 4:11-16). God has mapped out in His Word how to recover when others sin against us or deeply hurt us. We run into problems when we ignore His Word and try to deal with things in our own way, and it may even cause further damage to us or others.
One further benefit is the discipline of personal Bible study and prayer, having our hearts open to God. If we are practicing this before that “spiritual injury”, it will help us to recover more readily. I’ve learned that where we cannot choose how, when, or where we are wounded, we can choose how, and if, we will heal.
Do you have Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? If not, that is the first area of healing you need. Admit you are a sinner and your sin separates you from God. You need His forgiveness. Next, believe that Jesus died in your place to pay for your sin so you can get right with God. Thirdly, confess Jesus as Lord in your life and walk in that newness of life He has obtained for you.
If you are a follower of Christ, are you dealing with a wounded area in your life? Christ can bring healing in your life. Follow His therapy for spiritual wounds. Chose to forgive those who may have injured you and enlist the help of those whom God has in place to help you. Know I’m praying for you.
Justice and Grace for All
Does it bother you to see people who commit crimes and get off on a technicality or some other loophole? A person molests a child, or abuses their spouse, or murders someone and they seemingly get away with it. We may cry, “Where’s the justice?” Possibly, this may explain the popularity of crime shows, court TV, and police dramas. We want to see justice somewhere.
The interesting thing about this is that it is not a new thing. In the 73rd Psalm, Asaph, a Levite and the chief musician in the house of the Lord, laments over how it seems that evildoers seem to prosper, and even boast about their violence and thumb their noses at God Himself. He wonders why he bothered to live a godly life. He just couldn’t understand it, until he went into the house of the Lord. There he saw the end and the destruction of those who do evil in the Lord’s sight. As I meditated on this, I also began to realize that as a Levite, the people that he was lamenting about could very well have been God’s own people! Even today, we see “professing Christians” commit terrible acts with seemingly little or no regard for God or justice. Sin has a way of doing that. Part of the process of sin is deception. We even lie to ourselves, but that’s another issue.
Well, what do we do? We want to see justice. Understand that this desire is right. God is a God of Justice. This is where our hope must be. Nothing escapes His eyes. “Well, what about grace?” you may say. Let’s not forget that God never offered grace until His sense of justice was met. Thank God that it was met through the death of his Son, Jesus Christ. On that cross, God poured out His entire wrath against our sin – think of it! The sin of the whole world, your sin and mine! Because justice has been served, grace and mercy can be had. Now some may cheapen grace by saying, “Oh, God will forgive me.” And they keep right on sinning. Or they laugh off their sin or crimes by frivolously saying; “I’m living in sin.” The scary thing is they miss the terror that awaits them. The apostle Paul wrote that he made it his aim to be well pleasing unto God. Why? Because of what he writes in 2 Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” Let’s not forget that there is a judgement, even for believers. Our works will be tried and we can suffer loss (1 Cor. 3:15). How sad that sometimes believers will sacrifice their eternal rewards for some momentary pleasure or avoidance of sin in this life.
As I write this, I realize that some readers might be victims. A family member may have molested you. You may be an abused or your spouse may have had an affair and left you. You may be a victim of some other crime. Let’s forgive, lest our souls become causalities as well. Rest in the firm assurance that the Lord will bring all things into the light. We don’t need to hold onto it. This only keeps us a victim and not a victor. Also, pray for those who have done those evil deeds, for they are on shaky ground. Some who read this may be convicted of your wrongdoing and sin. Let me encourage you to confess it and do the right thing. In the long run you’ll be glad you did. May there be justice and grace for all. Know I’m praying for you.
As I write this, the U.P. is experiencing a much larger than normal manifestation of mosquitoes. It is getting to a point where many don’t even want to go outside and enjoy the few warm days of summer we have. Even riding in our cars or sitting in our homes isn’t a guarantee of a safe haven from these little nuisances. I have heard people describe it as reaching biblical plague proportions. Most of us realize that these days will pass and the mosquitoes will be gone, but at the moment they are troublesome. Some have asked why did God ever create mosquitoes or why doesn’t He do something about them?
Sometimes there are greater issues that press in on us in our world; but like the mosquito issue, we cry “Why?!” We hear of or read of wars, terroristic acts, atrocities, shootings, diseases, and natural disasters. We question God and even blame Him. We accuse Him and charge Him with wrongdoing for various tragedies, wondering why He didn’t protect us from them, when in reality we have not even given Him more than a passing thought except in difficult times. The truth is we don’t always know why God does what He does. In the Bible God tells us, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says 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). God’s plans and purposes are often far beyond our understanding.
Why certain things are the way they are, we may not always fathom or understand, but in the things I do know I have found God to be good. The Psalmist writes, “For the word of the LORD is right, and all His work is done in truth. He loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD.” (Psalm 33:4-5). As Christians, we are called to believe on Him and know that the Lord He is good. We need to filter our thoughts through truth and not our subjective experience. Often we can be guilty of judging God by our momentary perceptions and not rightly, as if any of us is truly worthy and capable of judging Him! When I was little I didn’t like my doctor when he gave me shots, I judged him by my hurt and not what was right. I often thought badly of my teachers in school who disciplined me when I acted up or gave me extra homework, but now as an adult I see I looked at them from the wrong point of view. We often do the same thing with God.
When we see or experience tragedies here on the earth, let’s be careful not to curse or unjustly accuse God. Instead, let’s seek Him with humble and even repentant hearts, crying out to Him for He is good and He is just. Let us confess any known sins that may be hindering our prayers from being answered. Know that justice delayed doesn’t mean justice denied. Have faith in the LORD and His timing. Jesus said, “And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:7-8).
When we experience trying times, personally or in our world, let’s seek Him, let’s trust in Him, and let’s thank Him for His goodness. Realize that these days will pass, and one day all the trials and testing will be no more. May He find faith in those of us who call Him Lord and Savior! Know I’m praying for you.
Everywhere we go these days, we see symbols of patriotism; flags hung from homes or as decals in windows or yellow ribbons on trees and light posts, to name a few. How touching it is to see the homecomings of our servicemen and women as they surprise their spouses or children. Memorial Day, Flag Day, or Independence Day are all reminders to us of the great cost of freedom and liberty. May we never forget the great sacrifice and convictions of our fellow countrymen that laid aside personal safety and staked their lives and fortunes for the freedoms we enjoy every day, freedom and liberty cost.
Do you know that there is One who laid aside His personal glory and gave His life for your sake and mine? His name is Jesus Christ. He came to set us free from the greatest of terrorist threats, sin. Sin destroys countless lives each day.
Sin enslaves us, controls us, dominates us, and dictates our actions. Jesus Christ came to
free us from the slavery that keeps us from becoming all God intends for us to be. Sin
takes us captive and keeps people from God. Isaiah 59:2 says: “But your iniquities have separated you from your God; and your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear.”
No matter how moral or upright we may be, we all have sinned. The greatest of these sins is not believing in Jesus Christ, the One that God sent to make a way of atonement for our sin and receiving His salvation. The good news is that God the Father wants to reconcile with us, and is willing to forgive us, if we will turn to Him from our sin and trust in Jesus Christ and what he did at Calvary.
Watching many of the shows and documentaries that have been on recently, it strikes me as I hear the numbers of those who lost their lives. Let us never forget that freedom costs. It cost God dearly to make a way of salvation for all who will believe in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
I marvel at the unselfish dedication of our police, fire fighters, and servicemen and women and what they go through to keep us free. I also marvel at the amazing grace of God that He would send His own Son to die a cruel death on a cross so long ago to make me free indeed. Jesus says, “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
Have you called upon the LORD, trusting in Jesus Christ for the gift of salvation and eternal life in Him? If you are in Him, you are free indeed. Know I’m praying for you.
A Little Light
Here in the U.P. I’ve observed that as the days get longer it seems to lift people’s spirits. Of course there is the physical benefit of vitamin D, but a little more light also allows us to get out and do more. Speaking of light, some years ago, my family and I were out in South Dakota. We visited some caves. While down there, they turned out the lights. That had to be the greatest darkness I had ever physically experienced. You knew people were around you, but you just couldn’t see. A recent television ad states that the human eye can detect the light from a single candle from ten miles away. Yet there wasn’t one bit of light there in that dark cave. How important light is to us!
There is a saying that goes like this: “It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.” We live in a world that has a lot of spiritual darkness. Every day we read of terrible things happening to children. Lovers and married couples plot to and even do kill the other person whom they once supposedly loved. Corruption exists in business. The list goes on and on. Morality and goodness seems to be in a constant state of flux. It is easy to curse the darkness. I believe we must recall that darkness only exists in the absence of light. You can’t turn on darkness physically, but you can turn on the light. Physically and spiritually, darkness flees in the presence of light.
Jesus says to every follower of Christ, “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:14-16) Believers in Christ are called to be lights. It doesn’t matter how spiritually dark things may seem in the world, we need to let the true light of Christ shine. We can see sin and corruption all around us, yet we are not to let these things keep us from shining. Just prior to Jesus saying that His followers are to be light in Matthew 5, He speaks about how there will be those who will revile us, speak false things about us, and even persecute us for our faith and belief in Christ. We must not let this deter us from shining the light of God’s truth. Often, Christians can be guilty of complaining about how bad things are, but those same people withdraw rather than engage. All this does is to keep the light of truth from those who are perishing, those who are heading for an eternity apart from God in heaven. The Apostle Paul writes, “…if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who commanded light to shine out of darkness, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Corinthians 4:4-6). It is easy to hide the light of truth because people attack us or reject us. We miss that this is part of being counted worthy to suffer for Christ’s name sake.
One caution I do have for every Christian, be sure that you don’t fight the darkness with the weapons of this world. Don’t get angry or argumentative, rather be as Paul writes, “…be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth,” (2 Timothy 2:24-25). It is about saving souls, not just winning arguments and creating strife
Our job is to shine the light and show the true love of God to others. In this act, God is glorified in us. Even a little light can be seen in the darkness, so don’t hide it. Keep shining forth the gospel, the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and the blessing of keeping His commands. Know I’m praying for you.
Spring is a time to begin getting outdoors. (Though sometimes, spring in the U.P. looks a lot like winter). Along with the warm weather come the annual tasks of clean up and yard work. There was a day years ago as my sons and I were raking, I was sharing how it is important to fill in the areas that have been torn up from plowing and to rake up all the pine needles, fallen limbs, dead wood, bark, or stones so the grass can grow green and healthy. It can also help us to not have problems later in the year when we do other tasks. Several years prior to that conversation, I recall not raking. The grass grew tall and the time came to mow. During the process of mowing, a chain that lay hidden in the grass caught the mower blade and damaged it beyond repair. Taking care of those things when they can be seen is so important.
This illustrates a spiritual principle in regards to sin. In the Old Testament every so often a king or ruler would come along to help restore the worship of the Lord God and to call God’s people to turn back to Him, “but the high places were not removed”. What this means is that though the people feared the LORD, they still hadn’t dealt with all the sin in their lives. They still worshiped other gods along with the LORD. They didn’t do what was right in the sight of the LORD. It wasn’t long before the gods of this world crowded out the worship of the LORD. The writer of Hebrews writes, “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith...”
When we don’t deal with our sin before the LORD, it has a way of tripping us up and ensnaring us at a future occasion. The Apostle Paul wanted believers to know “... that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin.” (Romans 6:6-7). He also told believers that to whom we present ourselves to obey we are that one’s slave, “whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness...”
The message of the New Covenant is not only forgiveness of sin, but freedom from sin! Sin no longer has to reign in the believer’s life. He desires to clean us up and set things in order. Have you called upon the Lord Jesus Christ in faith believing? Are you walking in the newness of life in Christ? Is there any place in your life that is ensnaring you and you need to lay aside? Know that the LORD wants to forgive and set you free from all your sin. He desires you and me to turn to Him. Why not talk to Him about it right now. Know that I’m praying for you.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the Passion, not the movie but the real thing. Surrounding the release of this film so many years ago, there were questions as to who is responsible for the death of Jesus Christ? The answer is simple: you and I are. “What!?” You may cry, “I wasn’t even born. How could I be responsible?” The Holy Scriptures state that every person is unrighteous, and a sinner before a holy God. In Psalm 53 says,
“The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity; there is none who does good. God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are any who understand, who seek God. Every one of them has turned aside; they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.”
We are all guilty. Examine your own life, can you say that you have kept all God the Father’s commands completely and sincerely? If we are honest the answer is “No.” Sin separates us from the Lord who made us and loves us. Even if we’d like to, none of us can measure up, but praise God that not only is He just and holy, He is also wise, loving and compassionate. God the Eternal Father made a way through Jesus Christ the Eternal Son that we could be reconciled. That way is apart from our own efforts and goodness. The Bible says that all our righteousness is filthy rags. That way comes not in having faith itself, but in fully trusting in the saving work of Jesus Christ at Calvary. He is the object of our faith. His death atoned for all our sin. His shed blood obtained forgiveness for our sin. He died in our place the death we deserved to die. He took the punishment our sin deserves. His resurrection proved once and for all that He is LORD, and that He has power over death and the grave! Now that’s Good News!
This Easter as you attend services and partake of the Lord’s Table reflect on what the Passion is about. God’s love for the world that He sent His Son, to die to save all those who will trust in Christ. Reflect on the fact that those elements represent what God in Christ did to show His love for you and make the Way of escape for you. Are you right with God and trusting in Jesus Christ? I hope so. If not, why not take care of it today? Know I’m praying for you.
PW 256 Behold Jesus!
We are approaching the Christian celebration of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet many often fail to see what Calvary was all about. They have a skewed look of the cross. In John 19:5, Pilate says, “Behold, the man.” The word “behold” here means to be aware, to gain an understanding, to pay attention to the details. Several times, Pilate tries to get the mob to see, to reason, to get all the facts, and to judge fairly.
Who is this man? This is the first thing we have to consider when we look at Jesus. Even in His day, folks had a lot of speculations of who He was. Elijah, John the Baptist resurrected, or one of the other prophets. He is also known in the Gospels as a friend of sinners, a teacher, a miracle worker, Mary’s son, and the carpenter of Nazareth. Yet Jesus is so much more. Jesus is the Son of God, the mediator between earth’s humanity and heaven’s holiness. He is the Lamb that was slain from the foundation of the world - the sacrifice for your sin and mine. Pilate did not know to whom he was calling attention to, but we do. Pilate was questioning Jesus and says, “What is truth?” He didn’t understand that the Truth was standing before him.
Pilate could find nothing wrong with Jesus. He could see that this man was innocent. He had no guilt. He assumed that the people would make an intelligent choice. Yet they cry for the release of Barabbas, and to crucify Jesus Christ. The people chose guilt over innocence. We should wonder how they could have made this decision. They simply did not care to consider all the facts. Here they have brought Jesus before Pilate, accusing Him of being an evil doer, a criminal; yet they present no evidence, other than they want to kill him, to kill an innocent man. If there is any doubt about Jesus’ innocence, listen to Pilate’s words in verse 18:38. “I find no fault in Him at all.” In 19:4, “I find no fault in Him.” And verse 6, “I find no fault in Him.” Jesus is judged by the Roman governor and proclaimed innocent. Not once, not twice, but three times. Yet they refuse to change their hearts. Barabbas had rebelled against the authority and had even committed murder. Here we see that he was set free and innocent Jesus was crucified. It’s interesting to note the physical illustrating the spiritual here . . . the rebel, the lawbreaker, the sinner was going free; and Jesus was dying in his place. Jesus is the substitute for all law breakers, including you and me.
The Bible declares us all guilty. “There is none righteous,” “The soul that sins it shall die.” Or “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What punishment Jesus took for you and me! Verse 3, tells us that after they had mocked Him and put a purple robe on Him, they struck Him. That’s putting it mildly. They beat Him to a pulp. There was a game that was played by the Roman soldiers, where they would show the prisoner their fists, blindfold him, and then all but one would strike him as hard as they could; and if the prisoner was still conscious, they’d remove the blindfold and ask him to guess which one didn’t hit him.
Pilate brings Him out. You’d think that upon seeing the horrible brutality, they’d have changed their minds. Yet they cry all the more, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Pilate saw an innocent man, but He was more. He is the Son of God, the Lamb that was to take away the sin of the world, your sin and mine. In writing this Gospel, John tells us that these things were written so that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that in believing, you might have life in His name.
Pilate knew the right thing to do, but he caved in to the pressure of the crowd. One of the oldest of Christian creeds remembers this when it says that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate. How about us today? Do we cave in to the pressures of this world, rather than to declare who Christ is? Are we trusting Him as Savior and Lord in our lives? If not, why not use this season leading up to our remembrance and celebration of Christ’s death and bodily resurrection to call upon the Lord confessing our guilt and trusting in His sacrifice as atoning for our sins and making us right with God? Know I’m praying for you.
Your Life Is Not A Fluke
Have you ever tried to hang a picture only to find out that the hook isn’t strong enough to support the frame? Been there and done that. Often people can get caught up in trying to be someone or trying to determine their purpose in life. People seem to be looking for something to latch onto. Unfortunately, they hook up to something that is too temporal in nature. It may be a possession, a job or a relationship. Like that old country song goes, “looking for love in all the wrong places”. This can even happen in our lives as believers. We miss that our lives can have purpose and meaning because God made us. How important it is for you and I to remember that everything begins and ends with God. As the Scripture says, you and I have been made by God and for His purpose. (Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18) If we’d take that in for a minute, maybe we’d see that is pretty special. That as believers God’s hand is upon us. (READ: vs. 13) Think about it, every strand of DNA was designed by the Lord as He wanted it to be. He knows every nuance, every fear or concern. God is interested in every detail. He’s not a God that is just out there somewhere. In Jesus Christ we find our meaning. We need to be in a true love relationship with the Lord, which He offers by His grace through faith in Him, no matter the circumstances that come into our lives.
Sometimes it is difficult for us to comprehend that everything that happens in our lives is not just mere happenstance, even unpleasant times are used by God for our good. They are there to turn us to the Lord and to help us grow in trust of Him. There are no illegitimate people. The circumstances that surrounded your birth may have been unplanned or illegitimate, but you aren’t. You are very special to the Lord as Psalm 139 tells us. You are wonderfully made! One of the things that happen is that we can get into dictating how things should or shouldn’t be in our lives. Now that would be okay if we were our own and could truly control our destinies and those around us. The reality is that it isn’t about you or me, it’s really about the Lord and His Kingdom. The center of the universe isn’t us, but Him. We are created in His image and He is intimately concerned about us. We were created to bring the Lord glory.
Let’s begin by confessing we haven’t. Let’s call upon Him in faith, believing that He died for our sin and wants to fix that broken relationship with Him. Christianity isn’t just about a bunch of religious rituals and clichés, it is about entering into a new life and a new relationship with God. If you have called upon the Lord to be saved, let’s continually remind ourselves that life is really about living for the Lord and not self. Know that I’m praying for you.
As a pastor, I have two great burdens on my heart. One burden is to win the lost, so they hear the gospel message and come to put their faith firmly in the saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ at Calvary. My second burden is to win the saved. What do you mean by that, Pastor? What I mean is that among believers, whether individually or corporately, there are times when we seem to fall away from the Lord, and that first love for Him has waned. Sometimes we need a fresh encounter with the Lord to remind us of our calling.
We find this in Isaiah 6. Why not take out a Bible and turn there. Here Isaiah is caught up in a heavenly vision. He sees the Lord enthroned in all His holiness and glory
(vs. 2-4). Sometimes we get so side tracked by other things, even angels and visions themselves, that we miss the true focus of our worship, the Lord and His holiness. Once Isaiah experienced the Lord’s holiness, he saw his own uncleanness, and he acknowledges his own lack of holiness and sin (vs. 5). One thing we shouldn’t miss here is that he also saw the unholy living of the people he dwelt with. Often we mistake this as the world in general, but this prophet of God is speaking of God’s own people. We live in a day of easy believe-ism and cheap grace, where we barely bat an eye at unholy living and brush aside sin with just a quick word, but inwardly no change or real purifying takes place. Now look at what happens as a result of his confession, the angel takes a coal from the altar and Isaiah’s sin is taken away and atoned for (vs. 6-7). Having experienced the Lord’s forgiveness, he hears God’s call for a messenger to be sent, and responds with unabashed enthusiasm, “Here am I! Send me!” (vs. 8)
Maybe you have never known that you need a Savior. That you have sin and it separates you from the holy God who created you, loves you, and has a purpose for you. Maybe you have never come to the place where you have heard you need to place your faith - the full weight of your confidence and trust – in the saving work of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. If that is you, why not call upon the Lord and ask His forgiveness for your sin and that you are trusting in Jesus Christ’ sacrifice at the cross as paying the price for your salvation.
Maybe you have trusted in Christ, but you’ve become apathetic and/or see your own lack of holy living and sin. Why not truly confess it and receive the Lord’s purifying touch in that area of your life that has been unclean. Let Him do a work in you that not only puts a bit a spiritual salve on your guilt, but one that wins you back to His call in your life. Once you know His cleansing in your life, may you enthusiastically respond to Him with “Here am I! Send me!” Know that I’m praying for you!
PW 255 Spiritual Diet
There are so many infomercials and TV ads out there that speak to our need of a proper diet. They tell us that we need to eat foods that have various fat burning qualities, fiber, etc. It isn’t just about caloric intake or how many calories we consume, but having those that will promote good health and wellbeing. We have probably all heard of people or are one of those people who go to the fast food chain and buy burgers, fries, and other dessert items, then buy a diet soft drink hoping to balance poor dietary choices. Understand, I’m not being critical of people who have done this; the good Lord knows I struggle with this, too. I just want us to see that we are guilty of deceiving ourselves. I find a similar thing takes place in people’s lives in regards to their spiritual diet. As much effort as we put into our physical health, we need to look at what we put into our spiritual lives, too.
Recently, I read a story of a man back in the gold rush days in Alaska. Every Saturday night, the men would gather to bet on a dogfight between to evenly matched dogs, one black the other white. The owner of the two dogs would always bet last and he always bet on the winner. Some weeks the black dog won, other weeks the white dog won. Finally, the people pressed the man regarding how he always knew on which one to bet. The man told them, “I know which dog to bet on because the week before the fight, I feed one and starve the other.” The winner was always the dog that got feed.
When the Lord created the world, He established a life principle that we reap what we sow. In Galatians 6:7-8, it says,
Don’t be deceived: God is not mocked. For whatever a man sows he will also reap, because the one who sows to his flesh will reap corruption from the flesh, but the one who sows to the Spirit will reap eternal life from the Spirit. We fail to understand that there is a battle that takes place between our flesh and the Spirit in our lives. As long as we exist in this world, we will be confronted by this battle. Often we fool ourselves into thinking that when the time comes, we will be able to do the right thing, remain morally pure, or withstand the temptation we face. It won’t happen if we haven’t been fortifying ourselves with the proper things. Like the dogs in the story above, the winner will be “the dog” that is fed.
Jesus quotes the Old Testament when He says, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” It is the pure milk of God’s Word that can nourish our souls and help us resist temptation. When we let the Word of God dwell in us richly, we will be able to stand and do what is right in God’s eyes. Yet we need to be aware of self-deception. In a spiritual sense, we can be like the person in the diet scenario above, thinking that occasionally sowing to the spiritual part of ourselves, will counteract a buffet of impure intake and poor choices. Let’s understand that what we take in we become enslaved to. The Apostle Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that if you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of that one you obey—either of sin leading to death or of obedience leading to righteousness?” (Romans 6:16) Who or what will we obey and serve? If you aren’t sure and want to find out, think back to the last time you were tempted to do something God wouldn’t desire. Did you resist it or give in to it? Every person was created by God to serve. It just remains to see what it will be. What do we give ourselves over to? Do our attitudes and appetites reflect the things that God desires? What do we want to sow to, the things of the Spirit or the things of the flesh? Are the things that we watch on TV or look at on the internet spiritually nourishing? What are the things with which we fill our thoughts? Are they truly nourishing to our souls?
If you are a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit dwelling in your life to help you and lead you into all truth. He is in the life of a believer to remind of them of what Jesus taught. He will help you to pray as you struggle with areas of temptation. If you have not called upon the Lord believing upon Him for your salvation, you can do so by admitting to God that you are a sinner; believing that Jesus Christ took the punishment and died for your sin; and confess Him as Lord in your life. He will send the Holy Spirit to guide you and help with your spiritual diet. Know I’m praying for you.
PW 254 Learning to Pray
Prayer is one of the most powerful ministries in any believer’s life. We can do it anywhere, time, and no matter how young or old we may be. The old saying goes, “We don’t pray for the work, prayer is the work.” How often do we mouth the words of the “Lord’s Prayer”, yet miss that the object of the prayer is for the good of Christ’s Kingdom and His will being done. I think we need to ask how often do we pray seeking what the Lord wants to do? How much heartache we could spare ourselves?
In Luke 11:1-12, the disciples come to Jesus and ask Him to teach them to pray. Often, we can think that prayer should just be natural as falling off the proverbial log. After all isn’t prayer just talking with God? It is that, but it is also more than that. Some today, believe that we shouldn’t recite the Lord’s Prayer. This due to what Jesus taught and we read about in Matthew’s gospel, chapter 6, verse 7, which says, And when you pray, do not use vain repetitions as the heathen do. For they think that they will be heard for their many words. It is good to note that Jesus doesn’t condemn repeated prayers or learned prayers, but the term vain repetitions means “to repeat idly”. This means to use meaningless and mechanical phrases, without any real thought to what we are saying. Truth be known, many of our impromptu prayers (i.e., thank you for this day, God bless, God do this) may, I say may fall into this category of vain repetitions.
The first thing that Jesus teaches His followers is to have a paternal focus, meaning that it is towards our Heavenly Father. The term that Jesus uses is a very personal term, the word Abba, a term akin to Daddy. An even better rendering would be Dearest Daddy. Does this fill and fuel our awareness as we pray that it is more than a universal fatherhood, but a personal one?
Next, Jesus says “hallowed be Your Name.” His Name is worthy of honor and respect. Jesus is telling us to pray that God’s essence as Father would be held in reverence by the one praying to Him. How do we honor our earthly parents? Many times by the way that we live. Do we show them respect? Do we obey the things that they say? This ties in nicely with the next thing, Your Kingdom come, Your will be done. It is the Kingdom that God’s followers are told to seek first. Matthew 6:33 says, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. Ultimately, what we do as Christians is to be about Christ’s Kingdom and not our church or our personal interests. Do we truly seek these first?
Next we come to three petitions in prayer. First, “Give us this day our daily bread.” Notice that God’s supply is daily. There is a daily reliance on Him. Bread here can refer to either material or spiritual needs. We not only can bring the big things to the Lord, but even the smaller, common things. God doesn’t intend for us to bear our burdens alone. Next it says, forgive us our sins. True believers forgive and are forgiving. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be times when we struggle or wrestle with forgiving others. It is difficult to maintain a forgiving spirit. Sometimes we may even wonder if we will ever get it right. Let’s not become discouraged. This struggle is evidence that the life of Christ is at work within our hearts. Otherwise, we’d just give into hatred. The most important reason to forgive is that it is for our own good. Jesus said that if we don’t forgive others their sin, the Father won’t forgive our sin. Not to mention the physical, emotional, and spiritual damage that things like bitterness and unforgiveness bring into our lives. The church is weak today because of the unwillingness of God’s people to forgive. If we are to seek God’s Kingdom first and His righteousness, it means we are to forgive.
The third petition deals with temptation. I want to make a distinction between temptation and sin. Where often temptation is to sin, being tempted isn’t a sign of sinfulness on the part of the person being tempted. Don’t forget that Jesus was tempted, but He didn’t sin. In James 1, we learn it isn’t sin until that temptation is mixed with our own evil desires and we are drawn away into it. What we are praying about in regards to this prayer concerning temptation is that our Father would deliver us from the temptations that would overpower us and seek to undo us. These 3 petitions are not meant to be used in some rigid order or form, but they should help us to shape our prayer lives and move us beyond the God bless and God give me. They are meant for us to take a deeper look at our spiritual lives and what is taking place there.
When we pray, let’s remember that we are not praying to some distant God that lives somewhere out there. We are praying to our loving Father, our Dearest Dad, who cares about us more than we care about ourselves. God will always answer our prayers that are in accordance with His will. After all it is about His kingdom coming. He will hear our petitions as we confess our sins and choose to forgive others - letting go of our anger, bitterness, and malice. He will keep us from temptation, for no temptation has overtaken us that isn’t common to man, along with that He will provide the way of escape. (1 Corinthians 10:13) Think of it, you don’t have to succumb to temptation!
Let’s persistently approach Him, having a strong and firm confidence in Him, knowing that we have what we ask, when we ask according to His will. Know I’m praying for you.
PW 253 Satan Vs The Ten Commandments
Recently, I came across an article about how a satanic church wanted to put up a satanic statue next to a monument of the Ten Commandments outside a public building in Oklahoma. They basically were citing religious freedom for their proposal. What really hit me was that there were people actually seeming to advocate it!
Today, we seem to face so much knee jerk reaction. So often we encounter people who feel they should be able to do whatever they desire, citing rights, or fairness, or freedom. It seems like anything goes except questioning if something is right. Sometimes even Christians can get caught up in this.
First of all, where the Ten Commandments are often related to Christian and Jewish religions, they have an added historical significance in our country, too. The Ten Commandments are also a document upon which much of law and order are based; and even some of our own nation’s historic documents are based. In the Bible, the Ten Commandments are known as the moral code. They are not just a religious symbol, but a testament to morality and that which is good. The symbols of the Ten Commandments are even found on the Supreme Court in Washington D.C.! Nowhere is our government forcing a religion or practice on us. It is recognizing the Ten Commandments as a source of law and order.
Second, when we think about Satan, he is associated with that which is dark and evil. Granted, he was the anointed cherub, ministering before the throne of God (Ezekiel 28:13-15). The Bible speaks of his beauty and how he even disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Jesus Christ tells us that he is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). He often offers power and ease, but at a price that corrupts (or at least tries to corrupt) that which is good (See Matthew 4). Do we want to honor that which is good or that which is evil? Isn’t it important that we recognize and have an objective standard of what is right and what is wrong?
Sometimes when it comes to being understanding of others and showing fairness, we need to be careful not to reverse morality for we will reap the consequences. In Isaiah 5:20, it says, “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and shrewd in their own sight!”
Desiring to be understanding and showing fairness are good things, but we need to be careful not to confuse or sacrifice moral distinctions in the name of fair play. The evil one is good at putting a spin on things, and we need to be asking for God to give us discernment. The Prince of the Power of the Air is good at blinding the eyes of people. Christians don’t need to be defensive, but be ready to share what we believe and why we believe it. This isn’t surprising. Paul wrote to Timothy, “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will. But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good.” (2 Timothy 2:24-3:3) Know I’m praying for you.
“How Will You Finish?
A New Year is here! Talk is set on goals and resolutions. Many of these noble ideals usually end up on the rocks of good intentions before springtime. Why is it that we can begin well, yet fall so short? Maybe it has to do with the fact that we live so much for the moment and don’t set our sights toward the goal. Anyone can start out well, but then the initial desire cools or we burnout. Trials, setbacks, and the allure of other things all war against our goals. Many times we are not committed to the long haul.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “…Run in such a way as to get the prize.” What he is telling us is to be purposeful in how we live the Christian life. It is easy to fall into a rut, and lose sight of our objective. Hebrews 12:1-2 tells us, “…let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus’ life had one objective, the cross and the salvation of those who would trust in Him. He wasn’t pumped about the cross and what it entailed, but the joy He knew that would result afterwards. He didn’t let things of this life distract Him from His goal.
In the verse above, it says to lay aside every weight. Now these don’t have to be sinful, but they are things that hinder us in reaching our goal. They can be jobs, possessions, or other cares of this world. I’m surprised at the number of Christians that seem to forget that this life is not all there is. This life is just the first letter at the beginning of the great novel of eternity. This is God’s staging ground for a person to first trust in Jesus Christ, and then use the things He has blessed us with for His glory and our rewards in heaven. As we enter this New Year, let’s live intentionally. Don’t forget that this life isn’t about us, but the One Who Created us. It is only in Him that our true purpose can be found; so in the end we can hear Jesus Christ say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” How will you finish? Know that I’m praying for you!
252 Two Ingredients for a Happy New Year
Over the holidays my wife bakes many tasty goodies. I really look forward to them. Yet I know that those goodies wouldn’t be so tasty if she didn’t put in the right ingredients. As we approach the New Year, I’d like us to consider 2 important ingredients we need as we journey into it.
First is the Bible. You and I can’t neglect the Bible and find true prosperity and joy. Joshua 1:8 says, This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. God promises us the same things He promised Joshua, if we’ll seek Him and His will first. The whole secret is putting Him first. God is willing to give us true prosperity if we’ll willingly listen to and follow Him. Not just on Sundays, but every day of the year. This Book helps you to meet the toils, stand the dangers, and overcome the temptations of life. If you, like Joshua, read and heed the Bible daily, you will be able to lead a clean, courageous, and strong life. It is a safe Book to live by. You can build your life on God’s Word with more assurance than if you build it on any other foundation of this world. Other things will all fall away, but God’s Word will stand. It has sustained men throughout the ages, and it will sustain us.
Second Timothy 3:16 says it is profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness. One of the best uses of the Bible is to help in straightening out our lives. When a builder takes his level and places it on a wall or a stud and discovers it isn’t level or plumb, does he throw the level away? Of course not! He straightens the piece of lumber. When we read God’s Word and see our lives don’t line up or are out of whack, we are not to throw out the Bible; we are to straighten out our lives. If the truth be known, in some people’s lives they love their sin more than they love the Lord. How sad!
The Bible is also a photographer. In the olden days a story is told of a king who was ashamed of a mole on his face. He called in an artist to paint his portrait. When the picture was finished, he saw that it was an excellent likeness; but the mole was still there. The king was angry with the artist; but the artist replied, “Sire, I painted you as you are, and not as you would like to be.”
The Bible does just that. Read it with an open mind and compare your life to it. Where you see that your life is out of line, straighten it up. God have mercy on the Christian who is satisfied with himself and never feels the need to change. The Bible shows us where we need to change.
The second ingredient is prayer. To have spiritual life, you must pray; for prayer is the believer’s vital breath. You and I can never have a strong Christian walk unless we spend time alone with God. We are weak; God is strong. As we journey into the unknown this year, there will be many difficult ways; there will be many burdens to bear; and there will be many temptations to overcome. We can’t have victory without prayer.
Look at Jesus. He prayed when He was popular and prayed when He was unpopular. He prayed after His busiest days. He prayed all night. He prayed in the early morning hours. He prayed when He fed the five thousand. He prayed when He called Lazarus from the grave. He prayed in Gethsemane. He prayed upon the cross. If Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, needed to pray, how much more do we sinful creatures need to pray. If Jesus, who had power to still the storms and to create worlds, needed prayer; how much more do we weaklings need it.
Let me urge you to dust off your Bible. Let it be your guide and stay this coming year. Take time to get alone with the Lord Jesus in prayer. Know I’m praying for you.
Not too long ago, I received a flyer in the mail offering pastors a free gift of a Bible program. In order to receive this gift all I had to do was call or go on line and request the gift. Now to say the least, I was a little skeptical. Usually you end up having to buy something or subscribe to some periodical. Yet once at the web site, I discovered that this was a genuine offer; it was really free! Any pastor who responded to the offer got the program and it is a good gift.
I dare say that some pastors probably got the card in the mail, but didn’t respond for whatever reason. They missed out. This makes me think about the gift that the Lord offers us. It is free to all, but only those who respond in faith will receive it. Jesus Christ paid the price at the cross for all your sin and mine. He offers forgiveness of sin, eternal life in heaven with Him, and a right relationship with God. God in His sovereignty requires that each of us respond to His offer.
In Mark 1:15 Jesus says: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the Gospel.” Both Peter and Paul preached a similar message of repentance to God and faith in Jesus Christ. Entrance into the kingdom of heaven requires a two fold response.
One is to “repent”. This means we have a change of mind about our sin, which should lead to a change of purpose and action. If a person says they repent of their sin and they keep doing it, it could mean that they really weren’t sorry in the first place. More and more I find people who think that they will go to heaven because they are basically good. Not to God we aren’t. The Bible says each of us has sinned and misses the mark; that even if we sin just in one point, we’re guilty of law breaking. Remember Adam and Eve’s fellowship with God was hindered by their one sin. Let’s say you sin just once a day, be it a “fib” or gossip or just speaking unkind to someone, that doesn’t sound too bad does it? Yet by the end of a year, you’d have 365 sins! By age 40, you’d have racked up almost 15,000 sins! I hope we see things as God sees it.
The second response is “believe in the gospel”. Gospel means good news. The good news is that God has provided a way to get right with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. It is Jesus’ death on the cross that provided a way for our debt of sin to be canceled and to give the believer a new life in Christ. To “believe” is both an acceptance and adherence to that which is true.
Do you know where you’ll spend eternity? Do you believe the gospel? Are you trusting Jesus Christ’s sacrifice at Calvary as paying your debt of sin? Have you had a change of mind that has led to a change of purpose and action? I hope you have, but if not, let me encourage you to respond to Christ’s offer today. It’s available to you. The Bible says, “Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Receive the gift of God that is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. He is God’s Christmas present to you and to all who will believe. Know I’m praying for you.
PW 251 Christ is Christmas
Christmas is just around the corner. As I write this I have just learned that there are only 41 days shopping days left. With all the shopping and holiday pressures, it is easy to forget that Christmas is about Christ. In Luke 2, we find the account of the Lord Jesus being born in Bethlehem. The Angel told the shepherds, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11)
When we hear a baby has arrived, we want to see him or her, don’t we? We go to the hospital or to the home of the proud parents. In Luke 2, we find the shepherds are no different. Once they hear the angels announce the Savior’s birth, they say, “Let’s go see the baby!” So they went with haste. They didn’t dawdle. They ran! They left what they were doing. They knew this was an important event and didn’t want to miss out.
In our modern, busy world are we like the shepherds? Are we as eager to see Jesus? Will we put aside our business, what is occupying our time to spend time with Him? We live in a world where everything revolves around our comfort. If there is a show or movie that folks aren’t all that interested in or anxious to see, they will say, “I’ll see it when it comes out on DVD.” What they are saying is, “I’m not going to fight the crowds or make the time to put myself out.” “I’ll do it later.” These shepherds weren’t like that. Everything was put on hold until they saw Jesus.
Once we have heard that Jesus Christ the Savior has come for us, to die for our sins, and we have experienced the Savior’s birth in our lives – to use that old reliable term once we are born again – knowing His forgiveness for our sin and having the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in our lives, there should be a desire to share what we have come to know and believe. Further on in Luke 2:17 it says, “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. “ Now does it say that they told just a few friends? No, they spread the news. This was too good to keep a secret! Have you and I found this to be true? Is Jesus Christ too good to be kept a secret, to be kept to ourselves?
The Word of God tells us that not only did Jesus Christ, the Son of God, come that first Christmas…it tells us that He is coming back again to receive into His kingdom all those who have placed their faith in Him for their forgiveness of their sins and their salvation. "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father's house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1-3).
Are you ready? Are you sharing the Good News like the shepherds so that people can hear? This can be difficult at times, but that is why He has given us God the Holy Spirit to help us to share. As we focus on the Lord and not detractors, we can share.
This Christmas let’s keep Christ in it. The shepherds left Jesus, glorifying and praising God. This is what believers celebrate this time of year. Luke 2:19 says, “…Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” Like Mary, let’s take time to ponder in our hearts what God in Christ did for each of us who have come to trust on the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation. Let’s reflect on what God did for those who would place their faith in the Son that He sent and all that it means.
Will you make time for Christ this Christmas? Have you trusted in Him as your Lord and Savior? Do you really know His forgiveness for your sin? If not, why not confess you are a sinner and need His salvation. Let God know that you are now trusting in His Son’s sacrifice to make you right with the Father and by faith receive the gift of eternal life He so freely gives to all who will believe. Know I’m praying for you.
PW 250 How to Have True Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is probably one of my favorite holidays; the smell of a turkey roasting in the oven or pies cooling on the counter. It’s a time for food, family, and fun. Today, I’d like us to think about how to have Thanksgiving. Now this is not an article you’d find in Good Housekeeping, nor something Martha Stewart might share. I’d like us to remember what is important about Thanksgiving is not the turkey, nor the stuffing, nor the little bitty garnishes that grace the table; but it is giving thanks and having a thankful spirit. Psalm 92:1 says: It is good to give thanks to the LORD, And to sing praises to Your name, O Most High;
When we think about thanksgiving, the Pilgrims come to mind. Many of us can recall that they came for religious freedom and to make a new start in the New World. We know about their encounters with Squanto and the feast that they celebrated. But we mustn’t forget that they had several tough years prior to this. They had a terrible ocean crossing, they lost about half of the original settlers, and they had struggles with starvation. Still they proclaimed a feast to give thanks to the Lord. They recalled His goodness. Thankfulness is therapeutic. Trouble doesn’t discriminate between good people or bad people. Healthy people die for no apparent reason, while those who abuse their bodies with drugs, alcohol, or tobacco live to ripe old ages.
Being thankful is good, for it keeps us mindful that Jesus Christ is the source of all we have and are. Paul wrote, it’s in Him (Jesus) we live, and move, and have our being. It can help us keep our hearts and minds on the plus side of the ledger of life. It is so easy to be pessimistic, isn’t it? Especially when circumstances have been going contrary to how we would like them to go. Yet over and over the Bible tells us to be thankful. The Bible doesn’t teach us that we should thank God for everything that happens to us, but in everything give thanks.
God’s Word never is telling us to be thankful for the loss of life, or contracting cancer, or having to undergo surgery. Rather, the Lord wants us to know that when evil strikes or when bad things happen, we can still be thankful for God’s presence in those times. James writes: My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. James 1:2-3 (NKJV)
For those of us who seek God’s face and recognize His presence in the midst of trouble and trials, we will discover that the Lord isn’t surprised at all by their arrival. As a matter of fact, He has a plan on how to use them for our benefit. Our loving, heavenly Father will use these troubles to refine and shape our lives into the likeness of His Son.
The pain of trials or heartaches can reveal to us some things that we won’t see otherwise. Or, as with surgery, some things in our lives can’t be removed or changed without a good amount of pain. We can “be thankful in all things” . . . “in everything give thanks” . . . “count it all joy” because we know God is working it for our good. Thankfulness understands that He is God and knows what He is doing in and with our lives. Hebrews reminds us of His words by saying this: For He Himself has said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you." Heb 13:5 (NKJV) Thankfulness helps us to grasp the words of God spoken to the prophet Jeremiah. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Jer 29:11 (NKJV)
Know, Beloved, that whatever trial you or I may be facing, God will use it to refine us and make us better. We can be thankful. Yet if we resist, we will only end up bitter. Let’s recognize that His grace is abundantly sufficient to bring us through. Let’s learn to have true Thanksgiving by having a thankful heart to the Lord. I’m hoping in that right now. And I hope you are, too! Know I’m praying for you.
Why am I Here?
Some years ago, we traveled through Canada while we were on vacation. When we crossed the border they asked us various questions to ascertain: where we were from, where we were going, and what we were going to do in Canada. As I think about that as I sit here at the computer, I realize that those are the same questions that a number of people are asking today in regards to their lives. “Where did I come from?” “Where am I going?” And most of all “Why am I here?” God answers all of these in His Word, the Bible. The problem is that so many have left the Lord out of the equation and it is no wonder that things don’t add up, especially when we consider the question, “Why am I here?”
In Ephesians 2:10 we read, “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” Many people, including Christians are out there trying to “find themselves” or get what they can out of life. It isn’t what we can get or take away from it (this is our consumer mindset getting in the way.) it’s what we give or add to life. God created us to give something back! That’s why so many people go away from worship services empty. They are looking for what they can get. They become the center of focus and not Christ. It has become a worship “serve us” rather than “service” to the Lord. Often people go to church so they can be on God’s good side and He’ll have to save them. We are not saved by our service to God. We are saved for His service.
We’ll never find our purpose, place, or role in life as long as we are looking out for ourselves. All the people we encounter in the Bible that the Lord used were people who had stop serving self and started serving God and others. This includes all the sexually immoral, the prostitutes, the thieves and every other sinner. Are you looking for purpose in your life? Are you asking, “Why am I here?” Look to Jesus Christ. He’s the one who made you and He knows why He made you. Trust in and follow Him and your purpose will become clear. Why not make plans to worship Him on Sunday? Know I’m praying for you.
Have you ever watched one of those TV court shows? Does it amaze you at some of the things that people think and the things they try to pull to justify their wrongdoing? They’ll stand there and even argue with the judge!
This got me to thinking how people do the same thing when it comes to the things of God. I’ve found that whenever Christians say that something is right or wrong, or whenever they speak out against immoral or destructive behavior, we get the line. “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Meaning that it is okay for a person to do whatever they want and no one should say otherwise. As a matter of fact, it seems that the only wrong behavior is to say that something is wrong or sinful. Many believers are shut up because they don’t know all that Jesus was saying here. Now did the Lord Jesus mean that we weren’t to judge at all? Obviously not, or He wouldn’t have spoken about judging later in His sermon, nor would the apostles tell the believers to judge.
What the Lord Jesus is dealing with here is the type of standard we use in judging. Sometimes people have one standard that they use for themselves and a different one when it comes to dealing with others. To judge rightly, we need to have judged ourselves first. When we deal with the sin in our lives, then we will see clearly to help the other person. If we don’t, we are apt to view the standard with marred vision and misinterpret the standard by which we are to judge. We may judge with partiality, which the Bible tells us not to do.
More importantly, we need to have the right standard. Too many judge by what seems right in their own eyes. This standard is too susceptible to change. The standard that Christians are to use is the unchanging Word of God, the Bible. The Psalmist writes: “The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9) Let me illustrate it this way. When a police officer stops a person for going 10 miles over the speed limit, he or she is using an established standard. They don’t make up the standard but they follow it. Then it isn’t just the police officer that is judging, but the law or established standard that judges that person’s conduct. When a Christian speaks out against some immoral or destructive behavior, the desire needs to be to help the person. That the person may see that they are in danger of being judged by God Himself. Believers are just agreeing with what the Lord has already said, and that is good judgement. Let’s use good judgement and a godly standard to govern our own lives, then we can help others. Know that I’m praying for you.
Have you ever had one of those times when you are coming in from outside, and as hard as you may try, you can’t help tracking in a little mud or dirt? You stomp and stomp. You rub and wipe your feet on the mat, yet there are still tracks in the entry, across the rug, or the kitchen floor.
Thinking about that reminds me of the story of a little boy whose parents were having guests coming over. As his mom and dad busied themselves with cleaning and getting the house and meal ready, he went outside and began to play in the dirt and mud. Soon it was time for the guests to arrive and the little boy wanted to come inside. His mother met him at the door and told him he couldn’t come into the house as dirty as he was. The tyke tried as he might to get the dirt off, yet he only succeeded in making it worse, spreading it all over his face and his clothes. The boy wanted to go in, but all his efforts were in vain. Then he cried out, “Mom! Dad! Will you help me?” His parents, knowing his dilemma, came outside to him with a basin of warm water, soap, a towel, and a change of clothes. Soon, washed and dressed, he was allowed to enter the house.
The boy’s problem is one we all face in a spiritual sense. We all have sin that separates us from God and heaven. Romans 3:23 says, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Sin always causes us to fall short and separates us from God. It did it in regards to Adam and Eve, as they were forced out of the presence of God and the Garden of Eden; and it happens to all of us today. Our sin keeps us from knowing God as He wants us to be known and it keeps us from His blessings which He desires to bestow on us. It also taints all our efforts to try to get right with Him on our own. Adam and Eve thought that they could deal with their sin and get right with God by putting on some fig leaves. The trouble is our ways are not the Lord’s ways, not our thoughts His thoughts. If we took a hard look as ourselves, we’d see how we almost always slant things our way, when we walk apart from Christ.
Yet the Good News is that God the Father has made a way of salvation through faith in God the Son, Jesus. It isn’t by our efforts, but God’s grace and undeserved favor. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Like the boy, we need to recognize our sin and call out to God the Father in heaven, trusting that the Lord Jesus Christ’s sacrifice was sufficient to pay the debt of our sin. It is written, “If we confess (agree with God about) our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9).
More and more I am concerned about people’s souls and that they get things right with God so they can have a right relationship in the here and now; and know the assurance of entering into His kingdom one day. Have you called upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save your soul? Have you asked Him to wash away the stains of sin in your life and have you received His righteousness? Know I’m praying for you.
No Free Agency
I am a bit of a sports buff and from time to time I hear about free agency. For those who aren’t familiar with free agency, it is a situation when a professional sports player is free to sign a contract with any team. It can be difficult for sports fans to see a star player from their favorite team to go into free agency, especially if it is for a rival team.
Thinking about this in regards to Christians, there is no free agency. Some may think, “What about our liberty in Christ?” The qualifier there is in Christ. Even in the early days of the Christian church there were problems in this regard. Paul wrote, “…do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh,” (Gal 5:13) and Peter says to live “as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God.”(1 Pet 2:16)
One thing that is easy to miss is that all of creation is to glorify God, this includes people. When Paul writes to the Christians in Corinth in First Corinthians 6, they were having a problem with wanting their own way, taking fellow believers to court, and being involved in various sins. Paul knew that he had certain liberty, especially in regards to what types of food he could choose to eat or not eat; he wouldn’t let it control him. The Corinthian believers seemed to believe that now that they had become Christians they were free to do what they wanted. They held to a philosophy that may be akin to dualism. They believed that the spiritual and the physical were separate, so whatever they did physically, didn’t matter spiritually. Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is they are connected; therefore, what a person does with his or her body effects their spiritual life as well. The truth is our behavior reflects our true beliefs.
Christians are called to represent Christ, this includes in our bodies. We are free in the sense that we have been set free from sin’s penalty and sin’s control by God’s grace through faith in the saving work of Jesus Christ, but we are not free to live as we want. We are free to choose to do things with our bodies that will bring glory to Jesus Christ. We are free, but not free agents. In 1 Corinthians 6: 20 it says, “For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.” From this verse we see that both body and spirit belong to God and are to be used to glorify Him.
From time to time I find it good to look at my own life and ask, “Am I using the members of my body to glorify the Lord Jesus?” Are the things that we look at, listen to, talk about, or use our hands and feet for glorifying self or God? We can justify these things so easily and forget we represent Christ. Even if no one else sees, God does. We can have blind spots.
How have you used your body in the last 24 hours? What things have you done with your eyes, your mouth, your ears, and your hands? Do these glorify Jesus or self? If you find any that haven’t honored Christ, take a moment right now to confess it. Even if there isn’t anything that you are aware of, why not take a moment to consecrate and set apart the parts of your body to glorify Christ. You and I are free in Christ to be all He wants us to be, but we are not “free agents”. Know I’m praying for you.
Back To School Spiritually
It is hard to believe it is time to turn our thoughts to fall and going back to school. Going to school brings a promise of learning new things as well as being reminded of old habits. I was recently reading about some research that had been done on the benefits of having school all year long. The thinking behind this study was a concern over students losing some of the knowledge they had before school had let out for the summer, and the time it took to get students back up to speed when school resumed after the long summer break. This had me thinking about our spiritual learning. I think it is very easy to forget when it comes to dealing with our Christian faith, especially if we haven’t been putting it into practice. It is good from time to time to go back to school spiritually speaking and revisit some of the truths we should already know.
One thing we can forget is that we are in a spiritual battle. The Bible tells us that believers are to be renewed in their minds, to put to death the old sin nature, and to put on the new man which is renewed in knowledge according to the image of Jesus Christ who has created us. (See Colossians 3). In our struggles with sin, it is important that we cooperate with the Lord in this regard. Often people can want to change, but due to their inward struggles they see little success. Has God failed them? No. The problem most likely lies in their understanding of saying no to ungodliness and worldly lusts. It is good to want to change, but to pray and ask God to change you and to do nothing to move towards the things you say you want is foolish. A couple years back when I first saw that I needed to make some changes in my diet, it wasn’t enough to just pray that God would take away the weight, I needed to take a look at my food choices. I could pray, exercise, and attend meetings all day long; but if I continued to eat in ways contrary to weight loss, I would never lose the weight or, in the very least, I would go from success to setbacks. From time to time people will tell me, “Pastor, I prayed about this area of sin, but God just didn’t do anything. Maybe it isn’t God’s will.” Something I have found, especially in dealing with deep rooted or besetting sin, is that people focus more on the sin than the Savior. Take my dieting example. If I wanted to lose weight, but all I thought about or focused on was the chocolate cake or the pizza on the counter, sooner or later I’m going after that cake or pizza. I needed to replace that desire with a good choice.
When it comes to sin, on one level we say we don’t want the sin, but on a deeper level we like it or think it holds some benefit and don’t truly want to stop. When we keep toying with sin, we shouldn’t expect God to set us free. The Bible says, A double minded man is unstable in all his way. This means his soul is divided between the things of God and the world. This person may say he or she believes in God at times, but fails to trust Him when trials, testing, or temptations arise; thus this person receives nothing. Again, it’s about renewing our minds. It is about setting our minds on God things and not worldly things. Setting our minds on things above and not on the earth will help us to not give in to sin.
Another thing to recall is that sin never begins with God, nor is it the will of God. Sin begins in our hearts. We need to get serious about God, believe His way is best and for our good, and set our affection on Him. Christians often forget that God has called us to be holy and set apart for Him. We must not only sweep out the dregs of our old life, but fill our lives with Him; after all, it is God who works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure. Do you need to go “back to school” spiritually speaking? Do you need to be reminded of what you once knew and how you are called to be dead to sin and alive to Jesus Christ? It may be difficult at first, but know as you set your mind on Christ He will be your strength in weakness. You can know victory not only in regards to the penalty of sin, but its power in your life. Why not talk to Him today? Know I’m praying for you.