No More Condemnation…

John 3:17 (NIV)

For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him.

Our Verse of the Day is perhaps the greatest news we could share with anyone who is struggling with their past failures and feeling unworthy of the redemption and reconciliation Father God has offered to the world through Jesus Christ! Self-condemnation can be a vicious stronghold to break if our concept of a God is one of judgment and wrath alone. To be sure, Scripture reveals both the judgment and wrath of God … but both are reserved for those who reject Christ Jesus and do not place their faith in Him. Indeed, this verse declares the kindness and love of God so that each person is given the opportunity to repent of their sins and failures. Let’s look at this verse in the surrounding context:

John 3:16-21 (NIV)

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

God sent Jesus to be the atonement for the sins of the world. That is the purpose for which God gave Him to us. It is the atonement of His blood that we are to believe and receive … to place our faith in Him and to proclaim His self-sacrifice as all-sufficient to pay our sin debt and to redeem us from the condemnation of sin. Whoever believes in Him is no longer condemned! Believers have been set free … forgiven … released. Believers are no longer under the law of sin (Cf. Romans 7:23-25) … but now abide under the law of liberty! (Cf. James 1:25) So the application here is to believe! Believe the testimony of God regarding His Son whom He sent to be our Savior. “Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? (Cf. Romans 2:4) As the Apostle John expounded: when we reject the testimony of God about His Son, Jesus, we have in essence called God a liar….

1 John 5:9-12 (NIV)

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

God does not want us to live under the weight of condemnation, but God has made it clear that each human must make their personal decision about Jesus. Believe and receive eternal life OR reject and remain in condemnation. God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8) A person is not condemned for what they have done … the sin they have committed … or their failure to live up to the moral law God has decreed; rather, a person remains under condemnation for rejection of God’s grace … for refusing the forgiveness and redemption He has offered to us through the death of His Son. Think about it a moment! God willingly sacrificed His One and Only Son for the sin of the world. Jesus is the only atonement God would accept because of His own holiness. The blood of an animal sacrifice is insufficient to purge sin. (Cf. Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 66:1-4; Hebrews 10)

So, when a person rejects what God has done … what has God ordained for true life in Him … He allows that person to remain in condemnation because they refused to receive the propitiation provided on their behalf. When a person rejects Jesus Christ … they reject the Father as well. (Cf. John 5:22-24; 1 John 2:22-23) It is not a loving God that sends a person to hell; rather, it is a loving God who makes provision for a person to be saved from the condemnation and wrath of sin. That provision is His Son … Jesus!  And this is the message that we who are ambassadors of Christ are called to share.  As Paul asserted: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, that person is a new creation. The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And He has committed to us the message of reconciliation.We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making His appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17-20)

Romans 8:1-10 (NIV)

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set us free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, He condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

Do you know anyone who feels condemned or has fallen into self-condemnation? Share this good news with them! God has made provision to remove all condemnation through Christ Jesus. Let condemnation be replaced with conviction! Yes, let conviction bring confession … so that we agree with God that His Word and righteous decrees are holy and just. Oh, there is hope for the sinner who feels condemned! There is freedom for the captive and the broken-hearted! For the kindness of God is intended to lead us to repentance! God sent His light into the world, and His light has overcome the darkness! (Cf. John 1:5) I pray we will share that light with whosoever will listen; and pray God will grant them the gift of repentance and bring them to a knowledge of the Truth….

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Nor can the gift of God be compared with the result of one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ! Consequently, just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous. ~ Romans 5:15-19

Forgive Each Other…

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

Our Verse of the Day continues to address the subject of interpersonal relationships; and the issue of forgiveness is a prominent target….

If you think about it, forgiveness is one of the most important ways that we express and demonstrate love in our relationships.  Indeed, forgiveness is the most fundamental way that God demonstrated His personal love for us.  Romans 5:8 affirms that “God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And the Apostle John declared:

1 John 4:9-11 (NIV)

This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

It is evident that God’s expression of love is inseparable from His act of forgiveness of our sins; and I believe we would do well to keep that principal in mind.

Colossians 3:1-14 (NIV)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Is there someone in your life that you need to forgive … someone with whom you need to be reconciled?  Think deeply about that question for a moment because the depth of our need for reconciliation and healing can extend far into our pasts … even to the moment of our births.  Past physical, emotional, and spiritual wounds, if not forgiven and released, WILL develop into roots of bitterness that can lead to anger, rage, and other behaviors that can constrict or inhibit the healing we so desperately need. Unforgiveness will lead our own hearts into sin because we have in essence rejected the command of Jesus to love as we have been loved.

When we harbor unforgiveness in our hearts, it will lead to inward thoughts that precipitate behaviors which manifest themselves as addictions and all kinds of self-harm. Roots of bitterness and unforgiveness can ultimately manifest themselves in physiological and neurological disorders.  If feelings of stress can debilitate a person’s body, it should come as no surprise that feelings of bitterness and anger can do the same. Our emotions are embedded in our bodies and souls. They are the expressions of our inner beings. So, we simply cannot underestimate the immeasurable toxic effects of unforgiveness on our bodies, spirits, or souls.

Father God wants us all to experience healing and deliverance in our lives … to receive the fullness of joy and peace in our lives … to be healthy and whole in our spirits, souls, and bodies. I am reminded of what the Apostle Paul prayed in intercession: “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:23-24) So, this is my prayer for us, that the God of peace … the God of reconciliation … the God of all comfort … the Father of Compassion … would instill in each of our hearts the transformative power of forgiveness! If we do not walk in forgiveness … we do not walk in love.

My friends, I am convinced that forgiveness is integral to the process of healing! It is the path that will lead to peace with others and within ourselves! And, again, let me remind you that forgiveness does not condone, excuse, or undo the sin or harm that was done; rather, it means we release the debt that person owes to us for the trespass committed.  Just as the Lord Jesus paid our debt through the cross for our sins and released (redeemed) us from the penalty (death) required for our offenses; we are commanded to do the same in our relationships with one another. This is what is means to be forgiven … to be set free! Therefore, I encourage you to release those who have sinned against you. Set them free from their debt to you. For in doing so, you will set your own body, spirit, and soul free at the same time! I cannot explain how this happens; I just know that it does. Healing is the supernatural power of God, and we can experience it in our lives if we would obey His command: “Forgive, just as in the Lord Jesus, God forgave you!”

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

If My People … Pray

2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV)

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

Our Verse of the Day continues with the focus on prayer this week … and with good reason. Today is our National Day of Prayer! There is a desperate need for believers to spend more time in prayer, in intercession, and in spiritual warfare. More than most of us realize. When we are admonished to “pray without ceasing” there is a reason: “for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:17-18).  And so, I sense the Spirit is calling us to gather as believers before the throne of heaven in order to align us with the will of God.

I think the context of 2 Chronicles 7 is important for us to review today. Beginning with 2 Chronicles Chapter 1, we learn about the heart of King Solomon and his prayer for wisdom. God granted the request along with wealth, possessions, and honor. Then beginning in Chapter 2, the narrative shifts to preparations for the building of the Temple, and construction begins in Chapter 3. The furnishings are reviewed in Chapter 4, and the entire work was completed in Chapter 5 when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into the innermost sanctuary (Holy of Holies) of the temple. There were sacrificial offerings and worship, and the manifested glory of God filled the temple as a cloud…. I invite you to read this historical account when you have the time….

But it is Chapter 6 that sets the stage for our call to prayer. Here, Solomon addresses the assembly to bless them and then offers a public prayer of dedication. He expounds that the Temple cannot contain the God of Heaven; but Solomon asks that God be attentive to the prayers and supplications offered before Him there, and to hear from heaven … to forgive, to judge, to heal, to restore, and to show mercy. What you will note in his prayer, is the acknowledgement that people will sin against God – for there is no one who does not sin. (Verse 36) But the holiness of God has to address the issue of sin. There is an expectation of repentance on the part of people and forgiveness on the part of God. And it is this interaction that occurs during our time of prayer. God judges the sin … but He is sovereign to justify the repentant sinner….

In Chapter 6, as Solomon prayed, there is a list of the judgments or afflictions that he shared as examples:

1.   When anyone wrongs their neighbor and is required to take an oath before the altar

2.   When the nation is defeated by an enemy because they have sinned

3.   When the heavens are shut up and there is no rain because your people have sinned

4.   When famine or plague comes to the land; blight or mildew; locusts or grasshoppers

5.   When enemies besiege in the cities; whatever disaster or disease

Solomon goes on praying, asking the Lord God to be responsive to prayers offered:

1.   When the foreigner (outsider) come and pray toward the Temple, grant their prayers for Your glory.

2.   When the nation goes to war against their enemies; grant their prayers and uphold their cause.

3.   When people sin and repent; forgive and restore them.

Beginning in Chapter 7, when Solomon finished praying, the text states that “fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple! What a powerful manifestation … revelation of God in response to prayer! The people saw the power of God fall, knelt with their faces to the ground, worshipped, and gave thanks to God. And then an incredible time of sacrifice and worship followed these events for the next seven days. It is this scene that sets the stage for our Verse of the Day:

2 Chronicles 7:11-16 (NIV)

11 When Solomon had finished the temple of the Lord and the royal palace, and had succeeded in carrying out all he had in mind to do in the temple of the Lord and in his own palace, 12 the Lord appeared to him at night and said: “I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices. 13 WHEN I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, 14 if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. 15 Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. 16 I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there.

Did you note the word “when” in Verse 13? It indicates that God will engage or allow His natural creation to bring affliction to His people. We could view the ensuing suffering and consequence as judgment for sin; but perhaps, the purpose of God is to recapture our attention. Maybe these things “happen” because of our sinful nature and transgressions. Perhaps, God wants us to recognize we have offended Him; that we have transgressed His commandments and need to repent. He desires us to repent, to seek forgiveness, and to receive restoration. The issue is not about what God allows to happen to us; rather, it is about our response to God’s correction and discipline! It is about the inclinations of our hearts … our sorrow for disobedience … our reverence and love for God and His mercy. Whatever happens … whatever we observe or encounter in our physical life … it should prompt reflection and repentance and restoration in our spiritual life. As Solomon prayed:

2 Chronicles 6:28-31 (NIV)

28 “When famine or plague comes to the land, or blight or mildew, locusts or grasshoppers, or when enemies besiege them in any of their cities, whatever disaster or disease may come, 29 and when a prayer or plea is made by anyone among your people Israel—being aware of their afflictions and pains, and spreading out their hands toward this temple— 30 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place. Forgive, and deal with everyone according to all they do, since you know their hearts (for you alone know the human heart), 31 so that they will fear you and walk in obedience to you all the time they live in the land you gave our ancestors.

On this National Day of Prayer, we need to consider the insight and wisdom that King Solomon offers within the broader context of intimacy with God.  What you and I do through prayer, how we respond to God in whatever situation or circumstance He brings into our lives, impacts our relationships with Him and reflects our faith in Him. It means that we should keep a humble spirit and attitude. It means that we should realize we are not perfect and need to repent and confess our sins to Him. God wants us to carefully observe His commands … and to endeavor to fulfill His will in our lives. (Cf. Deuteronomy 4:6; 11:22) And when we fall short, we need to see it! We need to recognize it and respond in humility and transparency. As the Apostle John affirmed: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9)

My friends, Father God wants us to enter His presence and to seek Him. He is willing to hear … willing to forgive … willing to heal. But His response is conditional. It is conditioned upon our willingness to humble ourselves; to pray; to seek His face; and to turn from our sinfulness. I believe this is the key to effectiveness in prayer. God wants the attention and hearts of His people; and it is clear that He will allow adversity to accomplish His desire. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Bearing The Gospel…

Acts 4:10 (NIV)

Then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.

As enter the season of preparation to celebrate the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Gospel message we bear within ourselves should be a light for all to see. So, I would like to look at our Verse of the Day in its surrounding context in order to understand how we “image” the transformation of the Gospel in our lives:

Acts 4:1-14 (NIV)

The priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to Peter and John while they were speaking to the people. They were greatly disturbed because the Apostles were teaching the people, proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection of the dead. They seized Peter and John and, because it was evening, they put them in jail until the next day. But many who heard the message believed; and the number of people who believed grew to about five thousand. The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annas the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ (Citing Psalm 118:22) Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” When they saw the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus. But since they could see the man who had been healed standing there with them, there was nothing they could say.

To me, this passage affirms that the role of the Holy Spirit in the declaration and demonstration of the Gospel is essential. The Holy Spirit healed the man who was lame. The Holy Spirit gave Peter both the words to say and the courage to say them without reservation before the religious authorities. There was no hesitation or concern about the possible outcome (punishment) that might ensue. The religious authorities had been provoked; their religious paradigms had been challenged. And yet, “there was nothing they could say.” Sometimes I wonder why the Church today no longer seems as effective in the declaration and demonstration of the Gospel. Are we afraid to operate in the divine power we have been given? Does the Church, at large, simply ignore the Holy Spirit and His reality?

Maybe we should go back to the Day of Pentecost and review the powerful, prophetic word delivered by Peter. The events that took place are captured for us in Acts 2:1-21, and I encourage you to click on the link and read it have context for the following commentary. I believe you will see there is a definite connection between salvation and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. His indwelling presence produces in us the power of testifying and proclaiming the “wonders of God” and the “works of faith.”

Romans 15:18-19 (NIV)

I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me in leading the Gentiles to obey God by what I have said and done— by the power of signs and wonders, through the power of the Spirit of God. So, from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum, I have fully proclaimed the gospel of Christ.

Hebrews 2:1-4 (NIV)

We must pay the most careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For since the message spoken through angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard Him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will.

Proclaiming the Word of God and the Good News of Jesus was confirmed by signs and wonders through the power of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, as the writer of Hebrews explained, it is God who testifies and affirms the truth of His plan of salvation through Jesus Christ with signs, wonders, various miracles, AND by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to His will. HIS testimony is not conjured up by the will or power of people. Further, the Holy Spirit was sent to indwell every believer in these latter days as Joel prophesized and as Jesus promised and as Peter affirmed has been fulfilled. The gifts of the Spirit were not solely for the Apostles as some bible scholars purport. It is evident that the Holy Spirit indwelt disciples who served under the Apostles; and there are many other instances of people being filled with the Spirit recorded in the Book of Acts.

Acts 6:3-8 (NIV)

Brothers and sisters, choose seven men from among you who are known to be full of the Spirit and wisdom. We will turn this responsibility over to them and will give our attention to prayer and the ministry of the word.” This proposal pleased the whole group. They chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit; also, Philip, Procorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas from Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them.  So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith. Now Stephen, a man full of God’s grace and power, performed great wonders and signs among the people.

Acts 11:15-18 (NIV)

“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as He had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized in water, but you will be baptized in the Holy Spirit.’ So, if God gave them the same gift He gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?” When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, even to Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

Through the transformation of faith and spiritual rebirth, God created us in Christ Jesus to do good works – which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) And Jesus declared, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Cf. John 15:5) So it follows that believers are filled with the Holy Spirit in order to abide in Jesus and to bear the fruit of the Spirit through good works. This is the heart of the Gospel. Yes, this is the message we should declare with the boldness and power of the Spirit God gave us. (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7) We should be obedient to operate in the gifts of the Holy Spirit we have received … as distributed according to His will … as a testimony of the salvation we have received by grace through faith.

My friends, I believe that in order to BE the Gospel, in order to have credibility before an unbeliever, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit must be manifested in us – demonstrated through a sanctified life and through signs, wonders, various miracles, and the gifts we have received. And since these are “distributed” to us by the Holy Spirit, we have His credibility. I ask us to consider: “Do we display our credentials?” “Do we exercise our giftings? Do we operate in the power of the Spirit? Or do we quench Him? In order for the Body of Christ to be effective in proclaiming the message of salvation through Jesus, we must collectively exercise our individual Spirit-filled gifts. Indeed, it should be “natural” for us to operate in the supernatural….

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

But as for me, I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, and with justice and might, to declare to Jacob his transgression, to Israel his sin. ~ Micah 3:8

Follow God’s Example…

Ephesians 5:1-2 (NIV)

Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Our Verse of the Day brings a challenge to us as believers in response to having placed our faith in Jesus. We have been born again of the Holy Spirit; and we have been GIVEN the right (authority) to become children of God and to receive “adoption to sonship”. (Cf. John 1:12-13; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4:5; Ephesians 1:5) And because we love the Son, we love the Father who sent Him. This is why we are dearly loved children of God. But this love did not originate with us; rather, it is our response to His love for us. (Cf. 1 John 4:19) And so we are called to walk in the way of love – in the same manner as Christ loved. Then, Paul goes on here to briefly summarize how His love was demonstrated: “He gave Himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

This theme reverberates throughout the New Testament writings of the apostles. Paul wrote, “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Indeed, it is central to our response to the grace of God and a commandment of Jesus Himself. In John 13:34, Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” Likewise, in John 15:12, Jesus said, “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.” There is no ambiguity here. His command does not require theological research or debate. But maybe the guidance of Paul to give us descriptive and practical ways of demonstrating love to one another would be helpful….

As I thought about the many passages in which Paul addresses the demonstration of love, I kept coming back to the guiding principle where he wrote, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-3) You see, love is rooted in mercy. It is in the light of mercy that we see love manifested. Think of a new born baby. It is completely helpless and defenseless upon entrance into the world. Yet mercy demands that care and nurture to be provided – behaviors we would consider a profound demonstration of love. The “living sacrifice” of parents becomes evident from the moment of birth. So, in the same way, God cares for us. “As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103:13)

Paul will continue through Romans 12:3-21 to bring full definition to love in action; but I think the conclusion for us is that love in its highest expression is sacrificial. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4:10) Love begins with sacrifice. It means to give something of higher value in return for something of lesser value. It means to suffer loss. This was the principle of the sacrificial system of the temple – where the people would present a highly valued animal (first born, unblemished) to be slaughtered as a sin offering to God according to the Law. Yet, incredibly, in His mercy for our helpless sinful human condition, God decided to sacrifice His best … His all … His only begotten Son as a sin offering for us … to fulfill the righteous requirement of the Law. (Cf. Romans 8:3-4)

Jesus is God’s example of love.  His love is merciful … it is gentle … it is kind and considerate … it is compassionate … it is forgiving.  Paul explained the excellence of His love in this manner: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8) And Jesus explained: “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in His love.” (Cf. John 15:9-10) And so we see that our love for Jesus is rooted in our obedience to Him … just as He was obedient to the Father.

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

1 Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

So, what is the application? If you want to love others as God in Christ Jesus has loved you, then your life too must be sacrificial. And, further, your sacrifice must be your very best! Love must be sincere … not half-hearted. Love is the most excellent way! Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did. (Cf. 1 John 2:6) Yes, I believe this is what God is calling us to do in our generation … at this appointed time in history … as His remnant church! We are called to be “living sacrifices” to those who are helpless; to those who are defenseless; to those who are orphans and widows; to those who are abused and mistreated; to those who are prodigal; those who are lost and without God. Yes, “This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus.” (Cf. 1 John 4:17)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. ~ 1 John 4:8

Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. ~ 1 John 4:20

A New Year … A New Creation…

2 Corinthians 5:17

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

As I read our Verse of the Day, I thought, “Wow!” What a great message to share with anyone who does not know Christ Jesus! It is a New Year! What a great time to become a New Creation! The old has gone … the new is here! It is a great time for Second Chance Church … to be a light to those in live in darkness … to be the Body of Christ we were called to be. It is a great time to affirm that we are God’s handiwork … created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) And the ministry we have been called to do is bring the message of hope … of healing … of deliverance and freedom to those who are in the captivity of sin. Indeed, Jesus is the light we need for this dark and deceived world….

But then I thought, this New Year will be a great opportunity for each of us to examine our own devotion to the Lord Jesus … to renew our hearts in Him. This thought led me to the Letter to the Church in Ephesus:

Revelation 2:1-7 (NIV)

“To the angel of the church in Ephesus write:

These are the words of Him who holds the seven stars in His right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands. 2 I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. 3 You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. 4 Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. 5 Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place. 6 But you have this in your favor: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. 7 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.

Christ Jesus commended the believers at this church for their hard work, perseverance, and enduring hardships for His Name. Still, He said, “I hold this against you … you have left your first love.” If nothing else, I challenge myself and each of us to consider whether we have drifted or left the love for Jesus that we had at first … when we were first born-again of the Spirit. Have we too become wearied, burdened, or heavy laden such that we have lost our passion … our direction … our genuine love for God? Have we begun to settle for less than what Jesus has called us to do for His Kingdom? Jesus said, “Repent and do the things you did at first.” He said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Cf. Matthew 11:28) The Year of the Healing and Deliverance is not just for those outside of the Church … it is for those within the Church as well. We all need to self-examine and turn our hearts to the Lord Jesus as we did at first! We need to read Psalm 139 and let it penetrate our quiet time in prayer: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me to the way everlasting.”

I believe this is what the call to participate in the “Daniel Fast” is about! It is a focused time of deep reflection … a time of self-denial … a time of repentance … a time for us to return to our first love. This is what the Holy Spirit has placed on my heart for the next 21 days. How I pray we will all spend intentional time before the Lord during our corporate fast to find out what He desires for each of us as His servants … so that we might fulfill the Great Commission … so that we might love others as Jesus has loved us … so that we might worship Him in Spirit and in Truth … so that we might reach those who are in the captivity of sin and shine as a light in the midst of darkness.

I am excited about the call on Second Chance Church to be a “deliverance” church … to be a spiritual hospital for the sick … to minister to those who need healing of the brokenness they are suffering. This vision … this mission … is something that has been resonating in my heart for the past few weeks. It can mean many things, of course; but the context for me is to reach those in bondage with the life-giving truth of the Word of God. This is nothing new for sure; but if we are going to be the church that we have been called by God to be in these latter days, then we are going to have to be intentional in our approach. This is the purpose of this blog … to be a constant reminder to return to our first love….

Our generation has been given a “second chance” to become the church Jesus first commissioned His followers to form. So, I believe we need to revisit the lives of the first Apostles … their transformations … their teachings … their courage … and their approach to ministry and discipleship. There is a call to renewal … to reformation … within the Universal Church itself to rediscover how to function and to be effective. We need to return to the organizational structures developed to minister to the lost. We need to afford believers freedom to exercise the spiritual gifts Christ has given each of them for the benefit of the church. Yes, we need to embrace and embody the apostolic example we have been given in Scripture.

The message of the Gospel is powerful and rests upon the teaching of Jesus Himself when He explained to a man named Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again (from above) he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” As Nicodemus questioned Jesus about this teaching, Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” (Cf. John 3:1-8)

When we are born-again of the Spirit, we become new creations through the Spirit! And I believe this is the foundation of New Covenant … when the Lord puts His law within our minds, and write His law on our hearts. (Cf. Jeremiah 31:31-33). Jesus once shared a metaphor that I think is quite relevant to this point:

Luke 5:36-38 (NIV)

He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins.

We are called into the “new” through Jesus!  He wants us to have a new faith … a new perspective … a new purpose … and a new anointing to enter the Kingdom of God that He establishes within us!  Perhaps His parable was even prophetic when His disciples were gathered on the Day of Pentecost, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. In response to this outpouring, the text states: “And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, “What does this mean?” But others mocking said, “They are filled with new wine.” (Cf. Acts 2:1-13)

My friends, as we begin a new year with a renewed resolve to be more disciplined in our walk with the Lord Jesus, I pray that we will keep in mind how our born-again experience has transformed us into new creations … being conformed to the image of Christ. I think the Apostle Paul does an excellent job giving us insight into this process:

Romans 6:1-7 (NIV)

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? We were buried therefore with Him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with Him in a death like His, we shall certainly be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old self was crucified with Him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free (justified) from sin.

Romans 7:4-6 (NIV)

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Ephesians 4:17-24 (NIV)

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, and they are full of greed. 20 That, however, is not the way of life you learned 21 when you heard about Christ and were taught in Him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Colossians 3:5-10 (NIV)

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.

And so, I pray that we will begin this New Year with the convictions of faith deeply rooted in our hearts.  May we find within us the discipline to stay in prayer … to study the Word … to fast for healing and deliverance … and to labor with boldness in the harvest field this year. The new creation has come! The old has gone, the new is here! This speaks not only to each of us as individuals … it speaks to the Body of Christ itself. Yes, let us return to our first love … let passion and compassion overtake us in our mission.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

And He who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new. And, write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true. And He said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.” ~ Revelation 21:5-6

A New Year … A New Thing…

Isaiah 43:16, 18-19

This is what the Lord says— He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.

Happy New Year! Our Verse of the Day is a great one to start not only the New Year … but the new vision of ministry for our community. Look at what the Lord declares through His prophet, Isaiah, to us:

Speaking to the descendants of Israel (and to us as well), the Almighty God who worked miraculous signs and wonders among the people to free them from slavery in Egypt, declares: “Forget about those former things … and do not dwell upon the past.” What? God … the Great Deliverer … who saved His chosen people is telling their descendants to give those incredible deeds no further thought? But, why? The “stories” of God’s power … His presence … His protection … His provision … should be remembered, right? They should be “seared” into our collective memory. They should be revisited and recounted as a memorial. God spoke through Moses and said to the people: “Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.” (Cf. Deuteronomy 4:9) And He spoke through King David to admonish the people: “My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old — things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done.” (Cf. Psalm 78:1-4)

Yet, centuries later, God spoke through Isaiah and said, “Forget the former things and do not dwell upon the past.” I said to myself, “There has to be something I’m missing here. So, I decided to look at the passage in its surrounding context….”

Isaiah 43:1-21 (NIV)

1 But now, this is what the Lord says— He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel:
“Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Sheba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” 8 Lead out those who have eyes but are blind, who have ears but are deaf. 9 All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.” 10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I Am He. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am He. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?” 14 This is what the Lord says— your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel: “For your sake I will send to Babylon and bring down as fugitives all the Babylonians, in the ships in which they took pride. 15 I am the Lord, your Holy One, Israel’s Creator, your King.” 16 This is what the Lord says—He who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, 17 who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick: 18 “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 19 See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland. 20 The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen, 21 the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.

Oh, I see the broader lesson now … because the context is the Babylonian Captivity that God brought upon His people because of their rebellion, sin, and disobedience! They had broken His covenant with them; and so, they were taken from the land of their inheritance … from the city of Jerusalem … from the temple of God’s presence. The people knew God! They knew His power! They knew His holiness! They knew His statutes and ordinances! They knew His great love and outstretched arm bidding them to return to Him! Yet, despite the faithfulness of God, they refused to worship Him and keep covenant with Him. God allowed them to go into captivity for their sin and judgment for their unbelief. Still, God, in His unfailing love, announces that His former covenant … manifested through the Law and commandments and sacrificial practices … would soon fade away. Behold, He is doing a new thing! He is forming a new covenant … manifested through His Spirit! And this announcement was affirmed through the Prophet Jeremiah as well:

Jeremiah 31:23-34 (NIV)

23 This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “When I bring them back from captivity, the people in the land of Judah and in its towns will once again use these words: ‘The Lord bless you, you prosperous city, you sacred mountain.’ 24 People will live together in Judah and all its towns—farmers and those who move about with their flocks. 25 I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.” 26 At this I awoke and looked around. My sleep had been pleasant to me. 27 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will plant the kingdoms of Israel and Judah with the offspring of people and of animals. 28 Just as I watched over them to uproot and tear down, and to overthrow, destroy and bring disaster, so I will watch over them to build and to plant,” declares the Lord. 29 “In those days people will no longer say, ‘The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’ 30 Instead, everyone will die for their own sin; whoever eats sour grapes—their own teeth will be set on edge. 31 “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. 32 It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. 33 This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. 34 No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

What are the former things to forget? What is past that we should not dwell upon? I think, perhaps, it is the captivity that sin brought into our lives. And I think the captivity experience served a greater spiritual purpose to bring us closer to God. It warned of judgment and consequences. It revealed our need for deliverance and freedom from the darkness and oppression of sin. Jeremiah 31:3 recalls, “The Lord appeared to us in the past, saying: “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness.” And Paul affirms this same truth in Romans 2:2-4: “Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So, when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on others and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?”

Yes, the lovingkindness of God brings us to the realization that He does not want our sin, rebellion, or disobedience to rule over us or to imprison us so that we are separated from His presence. We were powerless to escape our captivity! Why? Because we remembered the former things … our worthless deeds … our trespasses … our rebellion and ungodliness. In self-condemnation, under the Law, we were powerless to be judged righteous before a Holy God! We were imprisoned by the thoughts of wrath held in reserve for those oppose God. But God said, “I will reveal a better plan … and unfold My plan of redemption!” It is His love … His mercies … His kindness … His New Covenant … that will prevail:

Romans 5:6-11 (NIV)

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Romans 8:1-10 (NIV)

1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh (sinful nature), God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so, He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. 6 The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. 7 The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. 9 You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness.

Please forgive my long-windedness! If you have read this far, “God Bless You!” I felt like I needed to establish a foundation for the application … an application for such a time as this … for the year of Healing and Deliverance! To me, this passage is really about those who have left God … who have wandered … who have left home … who have squandered their inheritance. God is NOT telling the wayward or the lost to forget about His power … His presence … His protection … His provision over their life … or the lovingkindness that He has shown them; on the contrary, He is saying forget the former things that sent you into captivity. Understand that the Old Covenant was powerless because it was weakened by your flesh. “See, I am doing a new thing,” declares the Lord. I am making a way for you through the wilderness you have traveled! I am bringing you water in a dry and thirsty land! Come to Me all you who are burdened with your past … your guilt and shame. Forget it! I will give you rest for your soul. “For I desire mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.” (Cf. Hosea 6:6) Jesus said, “If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (Cf. John 8:36) And Paul affirmed: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus!”

O Lord, how I pray that your servants will diligently go out into the streets, alleys, roads, and country lanes to share Your word of hope and encouragement … your forgiveness and reconciliation … your power of healing and deliverance … the freedom of your everlasting covenant of love. Only through you, Jesus, can we receive the Holy Spirit that does not make us slaves to fear again … the Spirit that brings about our adoption to sonship so that we can in truth become children of God who cry out, “Abba!” “Father!” Oh, I pray Lord Jesus, that your people would be vessels of your kindness … leading others to repentance … so that whosoever is captive will come to You and find rest for their souls. Lord, may they hear Your voice saying: “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland! Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Come To Me and Rest…

Matthew 11:28 (NIV)

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

As the New Year approaches … a year declared to be a time for deliverance and healing, I believe our Verse of the Day aligns our thoughts with this mission of the Church.  Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Cf. Matthew 11:28-30) Yes, what every soul needs the most is to rest in Jesus!  He will lift the burdens of life from our shoulders. His yoke is easy; and Jesus will exert the greater strength when pulling that wearisome load with you.  You do not have to carry the burdens of life alone….  He is Healer! He is Deliverer! He is Redemption! He is Salvation! He is Restoration! He is Peace! He is Resurrection! He is Rest!  Indeed, the true compassion and love of God for you and I will not be found anywhere else other than Jesus!

Is this not the most perfect verse for the Church to summon those who have grown tired, burdened, and weary? Is that not the state of the unbeliever? Is that not the state of every prodigal? Herein lies the message of the Church to a lost world … the message we should declare to everyone who has wandered … to every lost and scattered sheep! Our Great Shepherd … the Good Shepherd … is calling His sheep to come home. Jesus says to each one: “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest….

This brought to mind the Prophet Isaiah and his prophetic invitation to reconciliation with God:

Isaiah 55:1-4 (NIV)

1 Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. 4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.

And this is the message Isaiah foretold us to take to the unbeliever, the lost, and the wayward:

Isaiah 55:6-11 (NIV)

6 Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on them, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is My Word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

This is the word that God has sent for us to declare to those who are burdened and wearied and captive to thoughts of futility … to thoughts of unworthiness … to overwhelming thoughts of guilt and shame. God declares that His thoughts are not those thoughts. God declares He will have mercy on them … and will freely pardon! God declares His ability to overcome our inability. And His Word will not return void of accomplishment. Behold, we ourselves are fruit of the Gospel! For Isaiah foretold this great hope of healing:

Isaiah 57:15-19 (NIV)

For this is what the high and exalted One says— He who lives forever, whose name is holy: “I live in a high and holy place, but also with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite. 16 I will not accuse them forever, nor will I always be angry, for then they would faint away because of me— the very people I have created. 17 I was enraged by their sinful greed; I punished them, and hid my face in anger, yet they kept on in their willful ways. 18 I have seen their ways, but I will heal them; I will guide them and restore comfort to Israel’s mourners, 19 creating praise on their lips. Peace, peace, to those far and near,” says the Lord. “And I will heal them.”

God knows all. There is nothing hidden from His sight! God has seen their ways, but He will heal them. He saw us and healed us! The Lord abides with the one who is contrite and lowly in spirit. He will revive! He will restore! Yes, He will heal the brokenness in each of us! He will remove the deception and disillusion of sin! He will provide salvation! He will give eternal life! All these benefits – all these blessings are found in Christ Jesus! (Cf. Psalm 103) These are the messages of hope we must speak to those who are lost, isolated, and in need of His unfailing love….

It all starts with an invitation! Jesus said, “Come!” He was sent to seek and to save that which was lost. That is you and me. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23) It is the open invitation God has ordained for us to share with the poor in spirit … the broken-hearted … the spiritually blind … and the weak in faith. We are commanded to go out into the streets, alleys, roads, and country lanes to find the wayward … the lost and scattered sheep who are weary and burdened and seeking rest for their souls. There is no rest apart from Jesus. There is no reconciliation except through Him. This is the appointed message we need to share. “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (Cf. John 3:16-18)

So, I pray that we will be faithful in our resolve and relentless in our mission to bring hope to those who are without hope. I pray that as healing and deliverance become our focus for the coming year, we will discipline ourselves to be studying the Word of God … growing in the knowledge of His will. Indeed, His will is for us to rest in the finished work that Jesus accomplished on the cross for us. Oh, may we help others to experience the rest that we enjoy as believers…. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Do Not Forget His Benefits…

Psalm 103:1-2 (NIV)

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name. Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits—

Our Verse of the Day has stirred my heart this morning. I cannot think of a better starting point for intimacy than PRAISE. Our Lord Jesus is worthy of all praise! Yes, with my inmost being, I will praise His holy name and remember His lovingkindness towards me. And with praise comes thanksgiving and a time of prayer … a time of solitude in the quiet place where there are only two voices. Indeed, for me, there is no better time than when I first awake in the morning to be alone with God … to read His Word and to let His presence breathe life and light into my soul. “O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You in a dry and thirsty land where there is no water.” (Cf. Psalm 63:1)

Psalm 103

Praise the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, praise His holy name.

Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all His benefits—

who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,

who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,

who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

6 The Lord works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.

He made known His ways to Moses, His deeds to the people of Israel:
The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse, nor will He harbor His anger forever;
10 He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on His children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him;
14 for He knows how we are formed; He remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass, they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear Him, and His righteousness with their children’s children—
18 with those who keep His covenant and remember to obey His precepts.

19 The Lord has established His throne in heaven, and His Kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the Lord, you His angels, you mighty ones who do His bidding, who obey His Word.
21 Praise the Lord, all His heavenly hosts, you His servants who do His will.
22 Praise the Lord, all His works everywhere in His dominion. Praise the Lord, my soul.

I love the opening verses of this Psalm … and I love its message: Praise the Lord and do not forget all of His benefits! It reminds me of a similar verse which reads: “Blessed be the Lord, who daily loads us with benefits, the God of our salvation! Selah (Psalm 68:19 – NKJV)

All too easily, I think, we can slip into complacency and take for granted all of the benefits and blessings God has given us to enjoy. We can readily forget God’s everlasting faithfulness and His covenant of love which He remembers for a thousand generations. (Cf. 1 Chronicles 16:15) And so the David recognizes that praise and worship are always in order … and he reminds us to never forget the gracious and merciful love of God. As I pondered on this reminder, I reviewed some passages that its writers determined were crucial to not forget:

Deuteronomy 4:5-6; 9-10 (NIV)

5 See, I have taught you decrees and laws as the Lord my God commanded me, so that you may follow them in the land you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” 9 Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them. 10 Remember the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb, when He said to me, “Assemble the people before Me to hear my words so that they may learn to revere Me as long as they live in the land and may teach them to their children.”

Deuteronomy 8:10-14 (NIV)

10 When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land He has given you. 11 Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe His commands, His laws and His decrees that I am giving you this day. 12 Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, 13 and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.

2 Kings 17:35-39 (NIV)

35 When the Lord made a covenant with the Israelites, He commanded them: “Do not worship any other gods or bow down to them, serve them or sacrifice to them. 36 But the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt with mighty power and outstretched arm, is the One you must worship. To Him you shall bow down and to Him offer sacrifices. 37 You must always be careful to keep the decrees and regulations, the laws and commands He wrote for you. Do not worship other gods. 38 Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. 39 Rather, worship the Lord your God; it is He who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.”

Psalm 78:1-8 (NIV)

My people, hear my teaching; listen to the words of my mouth. 2 I will open my mouth with a parable; I will utter hidden things, things from of old— 3 things we have heard and known, things our ancestors have told us. 4 We will not hide them from their descendants; we will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done. 5 He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which He commanded our ancestors to teach their children, 6 so the next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. 7 Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands. 8 They would not be like their ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, whose hearts were not loyal to God, whose spirits were not faithful to Him.

I’ll stop there with these Old Testament passages for us to consider. The theme I keep reading is do not forget the deeds of God on behalf of His people nor forget to observe the commands of God in order to enjoy the life He intends for us. Further, I see the obligation to recount the deeds of God and to teach His commandments to our children and to their children so that “they would put their trust in God and would not forget His deeds but would keep His commands.” So, I think we should be diligent to read and know for ourselves all the counsel of God’s Word in order to live it and to share it with generations to come. It is the deeds of God that demonstrate His power and sovereignty – His worthiness of honor and worship. And it is through our obedience to His commands that we demonstrate our reverence and love for God.

Yet, I feel like “do not forget” is a negative approach to fellowship with God. To me, it speaks of a passive faith … an “afterthought” faith. If we are diligent in our reading of the Bible and prayer time, then our intimacy with God should cause us to “remember” His deeds, His covenant, and His benefits as an active, integral part of our relationship. We would be ever mindful of His faithfulness, His trustworthiness, His grace, love, peace, patience, gentleness, kindness, and forgiveness. In fact, when I switched my concordance search to the word “remember” I discovered a call to exercise my faith in a more proactive manner:

Exodus 20:8

Remember the Sabbath Day by keeping it holy.

Numbers 15:39

Remember all the commands of the Lord, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by chasing after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes.

Deuteronomy 8:2

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands.

Deuteronomy 8:18

Remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your ancestors, as it is today.

Deuteronomy 15:15

Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord your God redeemed you. That is why I give you this command today (to be generous).

1 Chronicles 16:12

Remember the wonders He has done, His miracles, and the judgments He pronounced….

Psalm 77:11

I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.

Psalm 119:52

I remember, Lord, your ancient laws, and I find comfort in them.

Isaiah 46:9

Remember the former things, those of long ago; I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me.

Lamentations 3:19-23

I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall. 20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me. 21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope: 22 Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for His compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.

2 Corinthians 9:6

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

2 Timothy 2:8

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal.

Hebrews 10:32

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering.

Hebrews 13:1-2

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Remember to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:7

Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.

James 5:20

Remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.

Jude 1:17-18

But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold. 18 They said to you, “In the last times there will be scoffers who will follow their own ungodly desires.”

Revelation 3:3

Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.

I realize that I have been exhaustive with these verses of “remembrance”; but I wanted to make a point for myself and to share it as well. There is so much to remember in our walk with the Lord Jesus; and I think that draws attention to the necessity of intimacy with Him. We must be actively engaged; fruitfully abiding in the Lord … if we want to see the harvest of faith that He desires to produce in us. We all need constant reminders … daily encounters with the Lord to stay focused. We need to hear His still, small voice amidst the noise of life … and that requires a time of quiet and purposed silence if we are to remember who we are in Christ … if we are to receive instruction, wisdom, and power to accomplish the good works which God prepared for us to do.

So, I encourage each of us to “remember” to spend purposeful time with God each day … both alone and in community with fellow believers. Let this be our resolve as we enter the new year. I firmly believe that God is calling us to greater intimacy with Him … not only to receive His “benefits” but to share these blessings with the lost sheep of this world. Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. As His heart, hands, and feet in this world … we are commissioned make that happen. Let’s get to work!

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

I AM The Good Shepherd…

John 10:14-15 (NIV)

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.

Related to the “I AM” claim of Jesus we studied yesterday; our Verse of the Day develops the parable even further.  Jesus first declared Himself to be the point of entrance (gate) into the good pasture (heaven) for the sheep; and now He claims to be the Good Shepherd who leads the sheep into the pasture. In addition, we see another figure in the story, the Gatekeeper, who opens the pasture gate for the Good Shepherd and His sheep.  Thus, again, we understand that it is the Father who ordained and sent Jesus to be both shepherd (the way) and gate (the truth) into the pasture (the life). It is an exclusive claim! No one can come to the Father (gatekeeper) except through Jesus (the gate) … as the Good Shepherd leading the Way into eternal life. (Cf. John 14:6) To me, the parallels of these pictorial teachings are quite remarkable!

John 10:11-18 (NIV)

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So, when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

The concept of God as the Shepherd of Israel can be traced back to Genesis 48:15-16 when Israel (formerly Jacob) was bestowing his blessing upon Joseph and his two grandsons: “Then Israel blessed Joseph and said, “May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked faithfully, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm —may He bless these boys. May they be called by my name and the names of my fathers Abraham and Isaac, and may they increase greatly on the earth.” The role of Shepherd was applied to the leaders of Israel as a nation … with King Saul and then David after him. The Lord said to David, “You will shepherd my people Israel, and you will become their ruler.” (Cf. 2 Samuel 5:2; 1 Chronicles 11:2)

Yet, David, would declare like his forefather Israel: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall want for nothing.” (Cf. Psalm 23:1) And then we are introduced to the priests, prophets, elders, and teachers of the law appointed as shepherds (spiritual leaders) over the Jewish people. As Jeremiah prophesied: “Then I (the Lord) will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will lead you with knowledge and understanding.” (Cf. Jeremiah 3:15) But Jeremiah would soon pronounce woes upon the shepherds of Israel; and this prophecy would not be wholly fulfilled until the arrival of the righteous Branch … King Jesus … The Lord Our Righteous Savior! (Cf. Jeremiah 23:1-7)

I want to insert here some excerpts from Ezekiel 34 which prophesied the identity and role of Jesus as the Good Shepherd.  His inspired words were similar to those of Jeremiah

1The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock?

“‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.

And so, we see this pattern of spiritual leadership being attached to shepherds who are ordained by God to oversee the spiritual well-being of the sheep (people). They are to be guides as well as protectors of the flocks assigned to them by God.  As Jesus asserted: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. Unlike other shepherds, Jesus demonstrated His love, care, and concern for the sheep.  He knew them and called them by name! And Jesus passionately loved them … willing to protect them from those who would ravage them … to give His life for them as the Father had commanded Him to do. Indeed, Jesus is that Great Shepherd sent from heaven to seek and to save those who are lost and return them to the Father…. (Cf. 1 Peter 2:25)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen. ~ Hebrews 13:20-21

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the rulers of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be Shepherd over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” ~ Micah 5:2