Living In Uncertainty…

Proverbs 27:1 (NIV)

Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.

Our verse today speaks to the uncertainty of life. Too often, we assume that the physical life we experience in the here and now will continue without interruption and without interference.  But as we have observed over the past few months, the unknown continues to grab our attention and cause us to question what the future holds.  This proverb admonishes us not be too arrogant or make too many assumptions about our lives … because we truly do not know what a day may bring.

The Apostle James, perhaps, had this verse in mind when he wrote: 

James 4:13-16 (NIV)

13 Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” 14 Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. 15 Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogant schemes. All such boasting is evil.

I do not believe this passage is denouncing the purposes of “planning” for the future; rather, James is focused on an arrogant attitude and not being mindful of God in those processes.  It is the boastful, prideful attitude of an invincible spirit that James calls into question.  “Your life is but a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”  We need to keep perspective … a view of life that is dependent upon the grace of God working in us and through us.  Indeed, our “plans” should be aligned with God … with His Will and His Word as we attend to the purposes for which He created us. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2:10) This should be the basis of our planning – completing the good works which God created us in Christ Jesus to do. As King Solomon observed: “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails. (Proverbs 19:21)

Luke 14:25-33 (NIV) – Planning for the Cost of Discipleship

25 Now great crowds accompanied Jesus, and He turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple.

I think a key principle to planning for the future is to begin with the cost of discipleship. If we overlook what it will take to pursue a life solely focused on pleasing our God and Creator; we are probably hindered with excessive pride or arrogance. And the Apostle John addresses how to hone our focus: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (Cf. 1 John 2:15-17) So, yes, we need to be careful not to be deceived by the world and its desires.  We need the wisdom and discernment that comes from the Word of God to ultimately understand how to do HIS will in our lives.

So I believe, the application for us is to see the necessity of prayer and intimate time with God as we evaluate our hopes and plans for the future.  As the Prophet Isaiah advised:  “Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near.” (Isaiah 55:6) As King David reflected when he was in the wilderness of Judah: “O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” (Psalm 63:1) Indeed, it is a critical time to seek the face of God as never before … as we see the times and tribulation the world has entered. And not only should we seek and plan our lives in accordance with His purposes, but we need to trust Him with our whole heart. “Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord Himself, is the Rock Eternal.” (Isaiah 26:4) For He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Cf. Deuteronomy 31:6-8; Joshua 1:5; 1 Chronicles 28:20; Hebrews 13:5)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Suffering For The Gospel…

Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I wanted to share this verse from the other day, but I have held up because of time constraints and I wanted to add some context and comment.  The topic Paul addresses here is “suffering” and its intended spiritual purpose in our lives.  Paul shares his insight from the tremendous amount of personal suffering that he endured; especially after becoming a believer and follower of Christ. I thought we might put this passage in the larger context to better understand this purpose:

Romans 5:1-11 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And let us boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but let us also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 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.

Notice the end goal of suffering is “hope”!  And hope does not put us to shame. Why? Because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. It is our reconciliation with God through the death of His Son … through the atonement made by His blood … that produces the hope of eternal life within us.  It is this reconciliation through the suffering of Christ that demonstrates the power and depth of God’s love for us!  And this is the context in which we should view our own suffering in life. Paul indicates that we should glory in any suffering that is encountered for our faith in and devotion to Jesus Christ….

Romans 8:18-25 (NIV)

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. 21 For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There is an intricate relationship between suffering and hope for us to evaluate and to embrace. For we know that Christ Jesus, Son though He was, He learned obedience from the things that He suffered. (Cf. Hebrews 5:8) And Peter reminds us that suffering for doing good will be inevitable. Just as Christ Jesus suffered for us, we as believers have been called to follow in the example of His steps.

1 Peter 2:19-23 (NIV)

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. (See Isaiah 53 regarding the suffering of Christ)

So Paul enjoins us to “glory in our sufferings” for the sake of Christ.  For it produces perseverance of faith … Christ-like character … and affirms the hope for which we seek an intimate relationship with God.  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) And so, I think it follows that without suffering in our lives, we will not develop confidence in our hope or assurance through our faith.  In other words, suffering is part of a necessary process to attain a faith that pleases God. “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is believing God … and trusting Him even in the midst of our suffering….

So I pray that we as believers will come to place in our walk with God to embrace the trials of suffering that will come along in our lives.  As we have learned, suffering produces tremendous spiritual growth in us … deepens our faith and trust in God and His character … and ultimately produces the obedience that comes from faith.  And so, those are the worthy goals that accompany the suffering and affliction. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

2 Timothy 1:6-13 (NIV)

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of GodHe has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel. 11 And of this Gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

To Live Is Christ….

Philippians 1:21 (NIV)

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.

We have an interesting statement from Paul this morning.  What does it mean “to live is Christ and to die is gain?” Well, let’s look at the entire context and gain some insight.  We need to remember, that Paul wrote this letter while in prison … in chains.

Philippians 1:19-26 (NIV)

Yes, and I will continue to rejoice, 19 for I know that through your prayers and God’s provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance. 20 I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! 23 I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; 24 but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain, and I will continue with all of you for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that through my being with you again your boasting in Christ Jesus will abound on account of me.

To live is Christ – This simply means that everything you do in this life should be for Christ. If you go to school, it’s for Christ. If you work, it’s for Christ. If you get married and have a family, it’s for Christ. If you serve in ministry, play on a team, whatever you do, you do it with the mindset that it is for Christ. You want Him to be exalted in every aspect of your life. As Paul taught in Colossians 3:23, “Whatever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord and not to men.” The reason this should matter is because by exalting Him with your life, you can be intentional and create opportunities for the Gospel to go forward. When Christ is exalted in your life, it can open the door for you to share Him with others.

To die is gain – What could be better than living for Christ, being salt and light to this world, and winning people to the kingdom of God? As crazy as it sounds, Paul asserted death is better. Look how Paul stated it in Verses 22-24: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.” If you can really grasp what Paul is saying here, then you will truly understand the meaning and context of Verse 21. For Paul to keep living would be beneficial for the Church and everyone else to whom he ministered. He could keep serving them and be a blessing to the Body of Christ. (That’s to live is Christ). 

I think we should bring into the context the sufferings Paul endured. Remember Paul was in prison when writing this letter; and with all of the challenges and suffering he faced, Paul probably felt that as great as it is to serve Christ in this life, it was better to die and go be with Christ forever. Yet, I think even this supposition should be balanced with what Paul stated in Verse 20: “I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death.”  Do you see the hesitation? This is not doubt, but there is always an element of fear.  It is really a prayer for “sufficient courage” that Christ would be exalted in his body, whether by life or by death. He does not want to be ashamed either way; rather, Paul wants to be bold in either situation that might transpire under the circumstances. So this does not mean you should want to die, it just means that your ultimate desire is for Christ to be exalted in you whether by life or by death.  Indeed, we are to die to sin, and we have to understand that physical death for a Christian is not the ending, but the beginning of a new experience to be in the tangible presence of Christ in eternity.

Anyway, these are provocative thoughts; and I encourage you to look further into your own sense of what it means to live for Christ Jesus and to die for Him.  My prayer is to align with Paul … to hope that I will not be put to shame in anything, but that with all boldness (courage), Christ will always be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Reverence For God

2 Corinthians 7:1 (NIV)

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

Paul gives us a great and timely message regarding our pursuit of holiness out of reverence for God.  To me, the point being made is that our motivation for obedience is to be based in reverence and not merely obligation or duty.  Let’s look at our passage in the larger context.  Since 2 Corinthians 7 begins with the word “therefore,” we need to understand what it is there for.  So, we will need to go back to 2 Corinthians 6 to get a better idea:

2 Corinthians 6:14-18 (NIV)

14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? 15 What harmony is there between Christ and Belial (Satan)? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said:

“I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Cf. Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 32:38; Ezekiel 37:27)

17 Therefore, “Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” (Cf. Isaiah 52:11; Ezekiel 20:34, 41)

18 And, “I will be a Father to you, and you will be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.” (Cf. 2 Samuel 7:14; 7:8)

Corinthians 7:1 (NIV)

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.

So as we look at the larger context, we see Paul admonish us regarding the nature of our walk with God.  His concern is about our pursuit of holiness as temples of the living God.  And from this perspective, we need to look at how to keep our lives clean and righteous.  To that end, Paul stresses that believers should not seek a “yoked” relationship with unbelievers because there is an inherent spiritual incompatibility that ensues from the relationship. He is saying we should not “bind” ourselves in such arrangements where spiritual conflict is inevitable.   He asks what does righteousness and wickedness have in common?  What fellowship can light have with darkness?  What agreement is there between the worship of God and the worship of idols?  The answer, of course, is there can be no harmony between two opposite or opposing forces. There is a natural separation in this realm.  And so, Paul takes us to the higher reality that we (the church) are the temple of the living God.  We are the Body of Christ through His indwelling/abiding Spirit within each of us….

So with this view in mind, Paul sets out to address the scriptural promises that God has made with His people; believers whom He has called “out of the world” and who represent His temple.  God says, “I will live WITH them and walk among them.  I will be their God and they will be my people.”  God calls us out of the world and says to be separate … sanctified (holy) and set apart for service to God. And in another place, God says, “I will be a Father to you.  You will be my sons and daughters.”  How wonderful are His thoughts toward us!  How miraculous is it that the Creator of the universe expresses such a passionate desire to have intimate relationship with His people … those who have consecrated themselves to Him?

Therefore, since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.  Now our verse makes perfect sense!  When we separate ourselves from the things of the world and commit ourselves unto the Father, we prepare ourselves for Him to enter into relationship with us.  For it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (Cf. Leviticus 11:44-45; 19:2; 1 Peter 1:16) So Paul urges us to purify ourselves from EVERYTHING that defiles our bodies and our spirits. And the reason we want to do so is because of our reverence for God … our reverent fear of Him.  This is more than a “have to” motivation. (Law) This is a “want to” motivation. (Spirit)

It is clear that the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ desire to have intimate relationship with us. The question is: “Do we want to have an intimate relationship with God?”  If so, then we need to do those things with separate us from the world.  The Apostle John taught: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:15-17) These are the three avenues of temptation for us, and so we need to consider our spiritual strategies for separation from the world. Our greatest tool (spiritual weapon) is the Word of God! We need to read it, understand it, and put it into practice! I believe the more we engage the Word of God in our lives, the more we will find, feel, and express reverence for God.

In His teaching on intimacy with Him, Jesus used a vine and branches metaphor to help His disciples understand the necessity of abiding in Him in order to “remain in His love” and to “Love one another as Jesus has loved us.”  He goes on to reflect: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”  Do you see it?  Jesus said, “I have chosen you OUT of the world.”  The Church, His Body, are known as “the called-out ones”. This is our call to holiness and sanctification in Christ! In His High Priestly prayer to the Father, Jesus affirmed, “I have given them your Word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.  My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.” (Cf. John 17:14-16) And as the Psalmist wrote: “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” (Cf. Psalm 119:11)

So, I think the application for our Verse of the Day is self-evident. We have been chosen “out of the world” by Jesus Christ.  We have received a great honor and privilege to enter into His sanctifying work through the Spirit in order to be separated from the world unto the Father.  And the promise is that God will receive us in Christ Jesus.  God Himself will love us and be a father unto us. He will dwell among us. He will be our God and we will be His chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light! (Cf. 1 Peter 2:9) This is why we pursue holiness and righteousness in our lives. Consecration is our expression of reverence for Father God who sent His Beloved Son to rescue us from darkness … to redeem us from sin … to release us from captivity … to reconcile us to Himself and to restore us to reverence.  Let these things be our prayer this morning with all thanksgiving for the great mercy shown to us … that we would be CHOSEN to be separated and to have intimate relationship with our Creator.  Amen.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” ~ Apostle Paul (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

“Sanctify them by the Truth. Your Word is Truth” ~ Jesus (John 17:17)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Whoever Has Ears…

Revelation 3:14 (NIV)

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the Creation of God.

We have a timely word for us this morning, and I want us to really consider all that has been said in this prophetic message to the Church in Laodicea.  Before we begin, I think it might be interesting to have some geographical and historical information on Laodicea:

Laodicea was an ancient city located on the Lychus River in the Hellenistic regions of Caria and Lydia in Asia Minor (now modern-day Turkey). It was one of three cities in the Lychus River Valley (the other cities were Colossae and Hierapolis); and we know that churches were founded in each of these three cities, probably by Paul’s convert named Epaphras (Cf. Colossians 1:17; 4:12-13). It was founded by the Seleucid ruler, Antiochus II, who named it after his wife, Laodice, in 250 BC. In 188 BC, the city passed to the Kingdom of Pergamon.  After 133 BC, it fell under the Roman Empire and later became the Roman Province of Phrygia. It was located on a major east/west trade route and noted as a banking center. The surrounding area was a fertile agricultural and pastoral region, especially suited for raising a special black sheep for which it became famous worldwide. It was Antiochus III who transported 2,000 Jewish families to Phrygia from Babylonia, so Laodicea had a very large Jewish population. It, like Pergamum, was a center for the worship of the healing god Asclepios. The city was the site of a medical school which was noted for its ear and eye salve.

With its large Jewish community, very early Laodicea became a seat of Christianity and a bishopric The Epistle to the Colossians mentions Laodicea as one of the communities of concern for the Apostle Paul. It sends greetings from a certain Epaphras from Colossae, who worked hard for the Christians of the three Phrygian cities of Colossae, Laodicea, and Hieropolis. Asking for greetings to be sent to the Laodicean Christians, Paul requests that his letter be read publicly at Laodicea (Cf. Colossians 4:16) and that another letter addressed to the Laodiceans (a lost epistle of Paul) be given a public reading at Colossae. Some Greek manuscripts of the First Epistle to Timothy end with the words: “Written at Laodicea, metropolis of Phrygia Pacatiana”.  So the historical and scriptural manuscript records confirm the existence of Laodicea, the church that was founded there, and give us additional context for the prophetic message to this church community found in the Revelation 3.

I do not pretend to be an eschatologist or a trained scholar of church history; but what I do contend is that the words in this passage from Revelation 3 reveal truth for us to consider in the light and context it has been presented to us by the Apostle John.  As he instructed in another epistle: “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray. As for you, the anointing you received from Him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as His anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in Him.” (Cf. 1 John 2:26-27) And so I pray the anointing of the Holy Spirit will fill us with wisdom, discernment, truth, and understanding of what John has recorded in this revelation.

Revelation 3:14-22 (NIV)

14 “To the Angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. 

We have already learned about the historical church founded in Laodicea.  What I simply wish to draw our attention to is the author of this passage: “These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation.

These are the words of Christ Jesus who IS the “Amen.”

The word “Amen” is derived from the Hebrew word which means “certainty,” “truth,” and “verily”.  “Amen” is often used at the end of a prayer to mean “so it is” or “so be it”. It is a declaration or affirmation of what has been spoken. So, I believe in this context the word can be understood as “truth”.  These are the words of “The Truth”.  Jesus claimed, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  No one comes to Father except through me.” (Cf. John 14:6)

These are the words of Christ Jesus who IS “The Faithful and True Witness”.  This is understood and supported by the “testimony” Jesus gave of Himself:

John 5:36-38 (NIV)

36 “I have testimony weightier than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to finish—the very works that I am doing—testify that the Father has sent me. 37 And the Father who sent me has Himself testified concerning me. You have never heard His voice nor seen His form, 38 nor does His word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one He sent.

John 8:12-19 (NIV)

12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” 13 The Pharisees challenged Him, “Here you are, appearing as your own witness; your testimony is not valid.” 14 Jesus answered, “Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going. But you have no idea where I come from or where I am going. 15 You judge by human standards; I pass judgment on no one. 16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me. 17 In your own Law it is written that the testimony of two witnesses is true. 18 I am one who testifies for myself; my other witness is the Father, who sent me.” 19 Then they asked Him, “Where is your father”? “You do not know me or my Father,” Jesus replied. “If you knew me, you would know my Father also.”

John 10:35-37 (NIV)

35 If He called them ‘gods,’ to whom the word of God came—and Scripture cannot be set aside— 36 what about the One whom the Father set apart (sanctified) as His very own and sent into the world? Why then do you accuse me of blasphemy because I said, ‘I am God’s Son’? 37 Do not believe me unless I do the works of my Father.

John 12:48-50 (NIV)

48 There is a judge for the one who rejects me and does not accept my words; the very words I have spoken will condemn them at the last day. 49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken. 50 I know that His command leads to eternal life. So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say.”

Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

These are the words of Christ Jesus who IS “the Ruler of God’s Creation”.  The NKJV translates this sentence: “the Beginning of the Creation of God”.

Genesis 1:1 (NIV)

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.

John 1:1-3 (NIV)

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made.

So we find in this list of “attributes” a clear description of the Lord Jesus Christ as the author of the words and the message being communicated through the Apostle John to the Seven Churches – and specifically to the church at Laodicea.  He is the Truth … He is the Faithful Witness … and He has power and authority over all creation. This means Jesus is sovereign over us! So now, let’s look deeper into the message:  

15 I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16 So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.

Here we understand the omniscience of Christ … “I know your deeds.” And Jesus describes their state of ministry as neither cold nor hot … but lukewarm. It is probable that there is no “love one another as I have loved you” going on with the people in this church. To me, it is clear that Jesus is referring to their works … their ministry; and His displeasure with them is quite evident from the tone. The language used is the Jesus would “vomit” them out of His mouth.  The metaphor indicates that lukewarm, apathetic, indifferent followers make Jesus sick to His stomach.  If you and I are not “on fire” for Christ and being witnesses of the Gospel in both word and deed, this warning of “rejection” should catch our attention for sure….

17 You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.

As we discovered in our background above, this could be an allusion to Laodicea as a center of banking; a center for black wool; and a medical center for eye salve.  The tragedy of their prosperity was that they thought they had so much when, in reality, they had so little in terms of the true riches of Christ (Cf. Ephesians 2:7; Ephesians 3:8; Philippians 4:19; Colossians 1:27; Colossians 2:2). The same judgment was made of the Church in Sardis when Jesus admonished: “I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God.” (Cf. Revelation 3:1-2) Again, the issue is dead or nonexistent works (deeds); works that are unfinished and should be fulfilled.

18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see.

This is an interesting statement: “I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire….”  The metaphor may be an allusion to Isaiah 55:1-3, and it brings to mind another passage as well:  

Isaiah 55:1-3 (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. 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. 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.

1 Peter 1:3-9 (NIV)

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These (all kinds of trials) have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Perhaps, the gold refined in fire is FAITH….  And to possess faith in Jesus Christ is to possess the true riches.  I am reminded of the counsel Jesus had already given through His teachings:

Matthew 6:19-21 (NIV)

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matthew 13:22 (NIV) – From the Parable of the Sower

22 Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful.

Luke 16:10-12 (NIV)

10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

James 2:5 (NIV)

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?

Jesus counseled them to “buy from me white clothes to wear so you can cover your shameful wickedness”.

Revelation 19:6-8 (NIV)

Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride (the Church) has made herself ready.Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)

Revelation 19:11-8 (NIV)

11 I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice He judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his Head are many crowns. He has a name written on Him that no one knows but He Himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and His name is the Word of God14 The armies of heaven were following Him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of His mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.” (Cf. Psalm 2:9) He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On His robe and on His thigh He has this name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Jesus counseled them to “buy from me salve to put on your eyes, so you can see”.

Psalm 146:6-8 (NIV)

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them— He remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.

Isaiah 42:16 (NIV)

I will lead the blind by ways they have not known, along unfamiliar paths I will guide them; I will turn the darkness into light before them and make the rough places smooth. These are the things I will do; I will not forsake them.

Mark 10:51-52 (NIV)

51 “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him. The blind man said, “Teacher, I want to see.” 52 “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

John 9:24-25 (NIV)

24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether He is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

John 9:39-41 (NIV)

39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” 40 Some Pharisees who were with Him heard Him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

Jesus counseled His Church to examine themselves and to consider their lack of fruitfulness. Though members of His Body, deception of their true spiritual condition had drawn them into idleness, indifference, and attachments of darkness.  The shame of nakedness (the sinful human nature) refers to our spiritual poverty and defeat. But Jesus wants His people to be victorious over our sinful nature. He wants us to come and obtained from Him the true riches of faithfulness and steadfastness; perseverance in love and care for one another; and the joy of His salvation. There is no other source for what we truly need to live effective and productive lives in Him. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness, through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3)

19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. (Cf. Proverbs 3:12 and Hebrews 12:6)

Jesus declares His affection for the Church.  He has rebuked them in righteousness and judgment.  He has spiritually disciplined them.  So He is expectant of prompt repentance from the people!  The members of His Body there need to receive what Jesus revealed and give full consideration to what Jesus has exposed in the condition of their hearts. While this message was for the Church in Laodicea, I think it could be directed at the modern church of our generation … especially the Western Church … the American Church … which has said, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But we do not fully realize how this spiritual attitude has rendered us wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked….  Indeed, in this present hour, we are being called to humble ourselves and to repent … to turn from our wicked ways and to seek His face … and then Jesus would restore and heal us.

20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Jesus said to the Church: “Here I am!”  I am available to you … even standing at the door of your heart and knocking. The implication is potential but not certain action.  The person or the church must respond! So, we need to hear His voice … as the voice of a Shepherd.  We need to open our hearts to His rebuke and disciple.  For Jesus does so because He loves us and wants us to stay the course of faith and to do the good works which God prepared for us in advance to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) If we open our hearts to Him, He will enter and initiate fellowship with us. Eating a meal together has long been a sign of covenant, friendship, and fellowship. Yes, we will experience the intimate relationship with Jesus that He desires for us to have with Him but we must respond to His invitation….

21 To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on His throne.

This concept of being victorious is repeated through the messages to the seven churches in the Book of Revelation.

Church in Ephesus:

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.” (Cf. Revelation 2:7)

Church in Smyrna:

The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the Second Death.” (Cf. Revelation 2:11)

Church in Pergamum:

To the one who is victorious, I will give some of the hidden manna.  I will also give that person a white stone with a new name written on it, known only to the one who receives it.” (Cf. Revelation 2:17)

Church in Thyatira:

To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nation – that one will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery” – just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give that one the morning star. (Cf. Revelation 2:26-28)

Church in Sardis:

The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the Book of Life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and His angels. (Cf. Revelation 3:5)

Church in Philadelphia:

The one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name. (Cf. Revelation 3:12)

Church in Laodicea:

To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I was victorious and sat down with my Father on his throne. (Cf. Revelation 3:31)

When I look at this list, those who are victorious are those who have kept their first love; those who have endured hardships; those who have overcome afflictions and poverty; those who have persevered in suffering and persecution; those who have not denounced the faith or followed false apostles; those who have served God and others. These will receive the rewards Jesus has promised to them in these messages to the churches, and there is great reward in faithfulness with God, and Jesus wants us to know so….

1 Corinthians 15:56-57 (NIV)

56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

1 John 5:3-5 (NIV)

In fact, this is love for God: to keep His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

22 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”

This phrase is repeated within the message delivered to each church as well. It is an invitation to take note and to heed the rebukes and disciplines administered.  It is a call for repentance and the renewal of faith … even in 2020 as we observe the signs of the times.  He knows our deeds … our works … any many of us are found “deficient” because faith without works is dead faith.  It is through our deeds that we profess and live out our faith in Jesus. There are warnings against idolatry and sexual immorality … to which we will be held accountable. So Jesus wants us to wake up … pay attention … and listen to the Spirit of Truth.  He is our Advocate:

John 16:13-15 (NIV)

13 But when He, the Spirit of Truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on His own; He will speak only what He hears, and He will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that He will receive what He will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what He will make known to you.”

Well, I know this has been quite lengthy, but I just felt led to expound on this message … to this particular church.  I believe in some ways the lukewarm church in Laodicea reflects the modern church of our generation. We need to heed the rebukes Jesus spoke to this church and to repent if we individually and communally want to be effective witnesses in these latter days.  I hope this study will prompt us to dive deeper into the Word of God and allow it to penetrate even to the dividing of soul and spirit, joints and marrow, and to judge the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts. (Cf. Hebrews 4:12) We should not be deceived, but be reminded that God will not be mocked. A person will reap what they sow. (Cf. Galatians 6:7) Because as we have seen, there is nothing in all creation hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. (Cf. Hebrews 4:13) And as Paul wrote: “Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5)

So let us be earnest and repent! Let us get on fire and make a difference in these days that God has granted us to live! Let us each complete the works God prepared in advance for us to do! Let us be faithful and true witnesses ourselves! Let us open the doors of our hearts and invite Him into the intimate place of our souls.  Let us persevere and be victorious in our confession and practice of faith! And let us hear what the Spirit says to the churches!  In Jesus Name I pray, Amen!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Delighted in You…

Psalm 149:4 (NIV)

For the Lord takes delight in His people; He crowns the humble with victory.

What an incredible thought for us this morning! The Lord takes delight in His peopleHe crowns the humble with His salvation!

Sometimes I find it difficult to believe that God would take delight in me. It seems too improbable … knowing that I fail Him more often than I dare to confess. But maybe His delight is something that I should consider. Perhaps, God delights in His people even when their performance falls short, yet there is willingness to receive correction and discipline. King Solomon wrote: “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline, and do not resent His rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those He loves, as a father the son he delights in.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:11-12) And I am reminded that God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Cf. Romans 5:8) So, maybe it should not surprise us that the love of God moves Him to delight in those He has called to salvation….

I did a word search for “delight” in the Bible, and I found the following Scriptures that share how God delights in His people.  To be sure, there were plenty of verses that discuss how believers should delight themselves in the Lord, but I am more interested in what moves God to delight in us … to find great pleasure in us. Look at these passages and see if you find a common theme:

Deuteronomy 30:1-10 (NIV)

1 When all these blessings and curses I have set before you come on you and you take them to heart wherever the Lord your God disperses you among the nations, and when you and your children return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and with all your soul according to everything I command you today, then the Lord your God will bring you back from captivity and have compassion on you and gather you again from all the nations where He scattered you. Even if you have been banished to the most distant land under the heavens, from there the Lord your God will gather you and bring you back. He will bring you to the land that belonged to your ancestors, and you will take possession of it. He will make you more prosperous and numerous than your ancestors. The Lord your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love Him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live. The Lord your God will put all these curses on your enemies who hate and persecute you. You will again obey the Lord and follow all His commands I am giving you today. Then the Lord your God will make you most prosperous in all the work of your hands and in the fruit of your womb, the young of your livestock and the crops of your land. The Lord will again delight in you and make you prosperous, just as He delighted in your ancestors, 10 if you obey the Lord your God and keep His commands and decrees that are written in this Book of the Law and turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

1 Samuel 15:21-23 (NIV)

And He (God) sent you on a mission, saying, ‘Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; wage war against them until you have wiped them out.’ 19 Why did you not obey the Lord? Why did you pounce on the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?” 20 “But I did obey the Lord,” Saul said. “I went on the mission the Lord assigned me. I completely destroyed the Amalekites and brought back Agag their king. 21 The soldiers took sheep and cattle from the plunder, the best of what was devoted to God, in order to sacrifice them to the Lord your God at Gilgal.” 22 But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. 23 For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has rejected you as king.”

Psalm 51:15-17 (NIV)

15 Open my lips, Lord, and my mouth will declare your praise. 16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.

Psalm 147:10-11 (NIV)

10 His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse, nor His delight in the legs of the warrior; 11 the Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.

Proverbs 11:19-21 (NIV)

19 Truly the righteous attain life, but whoever pursues evil finds death. 20 The Lord detests those whose hearts are perverse, but He delights in those whose ways are blameless. 21 Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished, but those who are righteous will go free.

Proverbs 12:22 (NIV)

The Lord detests lying lips, but He delights in people who are trustworthy.

We see in these passages that God delights in those who obey Him and keep His commands. God does not take pleasure in sacrifices as much as He delights in obedience.  And when we approach God with a broken spirit, with humility and contrition, it demonstrates to Him our acknowledgment of His holiness, righteousness, and justice as the Sovereign Creator. Yes, the Lord delights in those who fear Him – those who reverence and worship Him.  He delights in those who desire to walk blameless before Him; and that is why atonement through the blood of Jesus Christ is required for salvation. We are not blameless. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Cf. Romans 3:23-24) Even Moses affirmed that God will circumcise our hearts so that we may love Him with all our hearts and with all our souls! Indeed, it is His workmanship in us, created within our hearts, that bring us to covenant relationship with Him through Jesus Christ. And, yes, our love for His Son, is His greatest pleasure and delight!

One final thought is the wisdom that Moses shared with the people of God found in Deuteronomy 30 regarding their response to his prophetic word. And upon reading it, I was reminded that the Apostle Paul quoted this passage as well in Romans 10. The message is straightforward, and I think we should look at it:

Deuteronomy 30:11-14 (NIV)

11 Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. 12 It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 13 Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” 14 No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.

Romans 10:1-13 (NIV)

1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. Moses writes this about the righteousness that is by the law: “The person who does these things will live by them.” (Quoting Leviticus 18:5But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” (Quoting Deuteronomy 30:12-14that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaimIf you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him will never be put to shame.” (Quoting Isaiah 28:1612 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses (takes delight in) all who call on Him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Quoting Joel 2:32)

So does God delight in those who believe Him? I think so because we have declared with our mouths that “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in our hearts that God raised Jesus from the dead. This profession of faith produces a righteousness that comes from God alone. It is His work from beginning to end … and it is the culmination of obedience to His commandments. Paul refers to this as the “obedience that comes from faith.” (Cf. Romans 1:5; 16:26) Indeed, it is not too difficult or beyond the reach of anyone. His Word is very near … in our mouths and in our hearts.  And this is the message we are to share with others:

Romans 10:14-17 (NIV)

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Quoting Isaiah 52:7) 16 But not all the Israelites accepted the good news. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Quoting Isaiah 53:117 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ. 

Lord Jesus, how awesome it is to know that you take delight in your people … that you find great pleasure in those who love you and place their faith in you. So we delight ourselves in you! We take great pleasure in your Word … in your promises … in your passionate love for us! May our hearts be circumcised so that we may love you with all our hearts and with all our souls! May our hearts desire the obedience that comes from faith.  For we put our hope in your unfailing love! Thank you Lord for all you have done to bring us to you and to the Father! We love you and praise you forevermore. In your name we pray. Amen….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Perseverance…

Philippians 3:14 (NIV)

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Perseverance.  Pressing on. This appears to be the theme for us this week … and with good reason.  The forces of evil have garnered quite a stronghold on our nation, and the battle rages on…. So we need to keep perspective.  God is on the throne. And Paul shares with us his example to follow:

Philippians 3:12-21 (NIV)

12 Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. 15 All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. 16 Only let us live up to what we have already attained. 17 Join together in following my example, brothers and sisters, and just as you have us as a model, keep your eyes on those who live as we do. 18 For, as I have often told you before and now tell you again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who, by the power that enables Him to bring everything under His control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like His glorious body.

Oh, indeed, there is a greater hope that we possess despite all the tribulation we see. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Cf. John 16:33) And Paul shared a similar perspective when he wrote: “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Though we see what is coming upon the earth, we should not lose heart.  On the contrary, Jesus said, “When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (Cf. Luke 21:28) This makes perseverance in faith even more important! We need to press on and do the work of evangelism in the midst of tribulation.  Let us look at the opportunities rather than the obstacles. And, most of all, let us continue in prayer before the altar of God … interceding for our governing and civil authorities to make righteous decisions and judgments for all people. It is the will of God for us to do so!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Cloud of Witnesses…

Hebrews 12:1 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us…

Sometimes we can struggle with our faith … wondering if God is listening or even cares about our situations and circumstances.  We face difficulties and challenges with illnesses, finances, relationships, etc.  How do we keep things in perspective and trust God to be with us during these times? 

Our verse today reminds us that we are surrounded by a great number of witnesses.  Hebrews 11 is filled with the stories of people who persevered in faith despite the hardships and sufferings that they faced in life. And so, we can be encouraged by their examples.  “All these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise. God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.”  (Cf. Hebrews 11:39-40) The promise is received in Jesus Christ.  The promise is eternal life with Him….

The inspired writer urges us to put aside anything that hinders us … and the sin which so easily ensnares us.  What could that be?  Well, it could be strongholds of sin, attachments of darkness, etc.  But I think the sin of “unbelief” is what so easily ensnares us in our journey of faith.  We simply begin to doubt or fail to trust God at His Word.  Our adversary, Satan, is a liar and a deceiver.  And if he can lure you into questioning the truth of the Word of God, he will do whatever it takes to make you question God, His love, and His promises….

So we are admonished to stay the course … to persevere and finish the race of faith. You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. (Cf. Hebrews 10:36)

As the Apostle James wrote, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” And,  “Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (Cf. James 1:3-4; 12)

And remember, we should always be looking to Jesus … fixing our eyes upon Him who is the author and finisher of our faith. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) For we know and are confident that He who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (Cf. Philippians 1:6)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Powerful Word of God…

Romans 1:16 (NIV)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.

When I read this familiar passage, so many thoughts come to mind about the importance of sharing the Gospel … the Good News about Jesus Christ … to whosoever will listen and believe.  Why is this so important? Well, Paul answers that question: “Because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes.”  There are two key points here regarding the Gospel: Power of God and Salvation! The power of God is His Word. He spoke creation into existence! (Cf. Genesis 1) And so, in order for a person to come to faith and receive salvation, the Word of God (the message about Jesus) must be heard and understood. I think of salvation in this context: “For 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) So, this is how are we created in Christ Jesus – it is through the Word of God … spoken through the prophets and in these last days through His Son.  (Cf. Hebrews 1:1-3)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. (John 1:1)

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.(John 1:14)

For the One whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit. (John 3:34)

The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing.  The words I have spoken to you – they are full of the Spirit and life. (John 6:63)

Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death. (John 8:51)

There are a multitude of Scriptures that emphasize the creative power of the Word of God; but we can begin to see with just these few I have shared that true life is received in Christ Jesus.  Life … eternal life is formed in us as we hear His words, listen to them, and apply them to our hearts.  And I love this pronouncement from God through the Prophet Isaiah: “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Cf. Isaiah 55:11) Indeed, God has ordained that His Word … His Son … shall bring forth salvation.  As Jesus affirmed: “I know that His command leads to eternal life.  So whatever I say is just what the Father has told me say.” (Cf. John 12:50) So the issue is believing and trusting the Word of God … coming to a knowledge of the truth … and placing our faith in Jesus Christ.  And faith comes from hearing the message as Paul shares in Romans 10:

Romans 10:9-17 (NIV)

If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. 11 As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in Him (Jesus) will never be put to shame.” (Quoting Isaiah 28:1612 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on Him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Quoting Joel 2:3214 How, then, can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” (Quoting Isaiah 52:7) 16 But not all the Israelites accepted the Good News. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed our message?” (Quoting Isaiah 53:117 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Oh, I hope that I am carefully articulating this train of thought for someone here who has been trying to connect the dots. I pray a veil is being lifted right now for you to comprehend that it is the Word of God that creates you in Christ Jesus. “For you will be born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God.” (Cf. 1 Peter 1:23) You become a new creation in Him!  The old has gone and the new is come! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17) This is how Jesus will encounter you and reveal Himself to you because you believe the Gospel and come to Him in faith!  Oh, I pray that you will believe this report … that you will experience His light piercing through the veil so that you “see Jesus” … that you experience His zealous love for you …  that an intimate relationship is forged! Yes, and know that today a multitude of prayers are being offered up for you … that intercession is being made for you. And I decree these words over you: “The Lord your God in your midst, The Mighty One, will save; He will rejoice over you with gladness, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing.” (Cf. Zephaniah 3:17) Even so, Amen!

Lord Jesus, you have the words of eternal life. (John 6:68) You are the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through you. (John 14:6) So, I pray your Word will go forth and accomplish the thing for which you have sent it.  I pray that your Word will speak new life into the one here who is diligently seeking you with their heart.  Reveal yourself to them.  Encounter them as only You can do, and set them free. Let doubt and desperation turn into peace and joy.  Let your presence and your love overwhelm them.  Let them hear you singing over them.  Let your Spirit bring assurance to their heart.  Let them know that they are saved! In Your Mighty Name, I pray.  Amen….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Remain in My Love…

John 15:10 (NIV)

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.

A simple message of obedience … wrapped in a greater context if we want to consider HOW we can keep His commands:

John 15:1-17 (NIV)

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to youRemain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “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. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 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. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

I want to outline some of the salient points that Jesus made in this passage using the vine and branches metaphor to guide our understanding of His Word:

1.       God the Father is the gardener!  He is the One who planted the True Vine! Jesus is the True Vine!

Isaiah 11:1-5; 10 (NIV)

1A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist. 10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious.

Revelation 5:5-6 (NIV)

5 Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals.”Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, that is, the seven-fold Spirit of God sent out into all the earth. 

Revelation 22:16 (NIV)

16 “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star.”

2.       We (those who believe in Christ Jesus) are the Branches of the Vine!

This means that believers emerge from the vine.  We are an integral part of the Vine.  We have no existence or life except that the Vine has produced us and we are an inherent part of its growth.  It is from the branches that flowering buds will emerge, fruit will be set (borne), and a harvest will come forth … from ALL the branches that have formed from the Vine.  I believe this is the image of the metaphor Jesus has used to illustrate not only our relationship to Him and the Father, but also to manifest the depth of His life-giving love for us. Always remember that God the Father “tends” to the Vine.  He observes the branches and their well-being.  The Father notes those branches which are producing fruit and He prunes in order for them to produce even more fruit. Branches in Jesus that do not produce fruit, He cuts off. And what is the key to fruit production? Abiding in the Vine! ALL the resources we will ever need and utilize to produce fruit will come from the roots and through the Vine. Jesus said, “If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (Verse 5) So each individual branch must understand that nothing less than an intimate relationship with Jesus will be able to produce the harvest that the Father is looking to receive from His Vine….

3.       If we keep (obey) His commands, we will REMAIN in Jesus … we will abide in Him and remain in His love.

Jesus states that He is the example of obedience for us.  As we visualize the obedience of Jesus to the Father, we see that His intimate relationship with the Father stems from HOW Jesus lived in obedience.  His relationship was that of Son. What did Jesus say? “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you.” (Verse 9) As Jesus bore the image of the Father, so we are conformed to the image of Him. The inspired writer of the Book of Hebrews gives us some additional insight into how we too can become empowered for obedience:

Hebrews 5:7-10 (NIV)

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission. Son though He was, Jesus learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him 10 and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

First we observe the prayer life of Jesus.  He offered up prayers and supplications with fervent cries and tears to God! Note the intensity described here….  Second, the prayers of Jesus were heard by the Father because of His “reverent submission.”  I truly believe from this verse that “reverent submission” is the most important element of prayer.  As the Prophet Isaiah noted: “Our iniquities have separated us from God, and our sins have hidden His face from us, so that He will not hear.” (Cf. Isaiah 59:2) But Jesus was filled with the Spirit of the knowledge and the fear of the Lord. He delighted in the fear of the Lord.  And I think we are to have the same mindset if we desire to obey His commands and for His love to remain in us.

As Jesus learned obedience through the things He suffered, I surmise that we must enter the same “winepress” in the pursuit of obedience. Sometimes God refines us in the furnace of affliction. (Cf. Isaiah 48:10) So as I ponder the idea of suffering in order to learn obedience, I am reminded by the thought that suffering will be manifested in the natural realm … in our bodies as we die to sin. (Cf. Romans 6:2) It is inevitable! Sin itself will not die; rather, we have to die to it!  And the process of sanctification will often feel like suffering as addictions are withdrawn … as strongholds of bitterness and unforgiveness are uprooted … as the iniquity of the tongue is tamed …  and as a myriad of temptations are resisted and escaped. Yet, “In our struggle against sin, none of us have resisted to the point of shedding our blood.” (Cf. Hebrews 12:4) But that is the course we must pursue if we are truly serious about holiness in our lives. “Therefore, since Christ suffered in His body, arm yourselves with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin.” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:1)

4.       My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 

If we are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, then we will all the more need to prepare for the suffering that accompanied His love for us! As Jesus shared His heart with the disciples, He told them that He was willing to lay it down for them.  Jesus called them friends!  And this is important to see: “You are my friends IF you do what I command”. This is my command: Love one another! “And this is love: that we walk in obedience to His commands.  As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.”  (Cf. 2 John 1:6) Since by the example of Christ Jesus we know that the love of God is sacrificial, our love for one another will manifest as sacrificial as well. And we need to understand that sacrificial love will bring some degree of suffering into our lives … suffering that we will be challenged to endure unless we abide in the Vine through reverent submission to Him. Still, through suffering we learn obedience; the obedience that comes from faith (Cf. Romans 16:26) … the obedience that leads to righteousness (Cf. Romans 6:16) … and the obedience that accompanies our confession of the Gospel of Christ. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 9:13)

Love requires an emptying of ourselves.  It challenges us to be servants to others.  As Paul admonished, “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.”  (Cf. Romans 12:1) Paul goes on to instruct us to be devoted to one another in love; honor one another above yourselves; share with the Lord’s people who are in need; live in harmony with one another; live at peace with everyone; and do not take revenge. (Cf. Romans 12:9-21) And Paul wrote similar instructions to other churches: “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.” (Cf. Philippians 2:3-4)

Well, I have tarried here a while, but I hope that something has been said that will inspire you to look at the condition of your branch within the Vine.  Is your branch healthy?  Is it growing?  Is it producing fruit?  Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.”  Is the Father being glorified through your life and mine?  These are important questions to ask ourselves in order to cultivate and nourish our intimacy with Christ. It is imperative that His Word abide in us … that we are fervent in prayer … and that we pursue reverent submission to Him in all aspects of our lives.  This is HOW we will be equipped to “keep His command” to love one another as He has loved us.  This is how we will bear fruit … fruit that will last.  Indeed, I pray that we will hear these words of Jesus and put them into practice…. 

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!