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.