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 Lord Is Faithful

2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NIV)

But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.

I found our verse this morning to be a timely word for those who believe … a confirmation of the trust we must place in the Lord our God.  Either we believe the Lord is faithful, as He has wholly demonstrated through His great mercy and love, or we in essence do not believe He has spoken with truth.  The Apostle John cautioned about the theological implication of unbelief: “We make God to be a liar.”

1 John 5:9-11 (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. 10 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. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

God has not been ambiguous in the revelation of His will or His love. “But God demonstrates HIS OWN LOVE FOR US in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:8) “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (Cf. 1 John 4:10)

Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

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.

If we accept the testimony of God … if we believe in His Son, Jesus Christ … then we can trust Him at His Word! The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.  And now, let’s read the verse in the context:

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (NIV)

1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with youAnd pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Again, our mission … the task of the Church … is to share the testimony of God and to spread the message of Jesus Christ – His Son.  This is why we pray … pray for strength and pray for protection from the evil one. And this is His faithful promise to those who are at work and not idle in these times.  It is necessary for each of us to “release” whatever hinders us or binds us in unbelief.  Yes, right now, I pray in name of Jesus, for “RELEASE” of whatever stronghold, whatever attachment, whatever sin, whatever doubt or fear, that abide in our hearts and keep us from TOTAL TRUST in our Lord and Savior.  I declare, “RELEASE!”

Why?  “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:17)

1 Peter 4:12-19 (NIV)

12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (Quoting Proverbs 11:31) 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Wait Upon The Lord

Isaiah 40:31 (NIV)

But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

I have always loved this verse from Isaiah 40.  There is a “old” praise and worship chorus we used to sing at the church where I was saved that was based on this passage:

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength.

They shall mount up with wings as eagles.

They shall run and not be weary – they shall walk and not faint.

Teach me Lord … Teach me Lord to wait.

Let me put the larger passage in here:

Isaiah 40:27-31 (NKJV)

27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel: “My way is hidden from the Lord, and my just claim is passed over by my God”?
28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.
29 He gives power to the weak, and to those who have no might He increases strength.
30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall,
31 But those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Isaiah concludes his message with an exhortation to completely trust in God for all things … even when we feel weary of life or when we feel God does not hear us or intervene in the circumstances we feel are beyond our control.  Isaiah wants the people of God (in all generations) to KNOW the Lord, the Creator, our Father God is eternal.  He neither sleeps nor slumbers. He neither faints nor is weary. So we are moved by this knowledge to simply trust that God knows everything going on in the world and in our lives collectively and individually. Indeed, His understanding is unsearchable!

But I think to fully understand the “conclusion” of trust, we need to see the larger context of why trust is encouraged … why faith in God is necessary for our well-being.  So I strongly urge you to read the entire Chapter 40 and discover what God moves Isaiah to declare about His “working” in the lives of His people; how God WILL comfort His people! Indeed, the desire of God has been to comfort His people.  As Paul shared: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4) So, Isaiah opens this message with, “Comfort, yes, comfort My people!”

The prophetic word Isaiah was given to declare is so uplifting as you read it through the lens of history and fulfillment.  Verse 3: “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.” And then we see John the Baptist, the man God sent to preach the work of repentance for us. Verse 10: “Behold, the Lord God shall come in strength, and His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His recompense accompanies Him.”  And then we see Jesus, the One whom God sent to complete the work of salvation for us.  And, oh, how Verses 12-26 serve to afford us greater perspective on the power and majesty … the divine nature and character of the God who comforts … and how we should understand our total dependence upon Him for everything because of who He is!  God has been faithful to His people … to His creation in all things!  And Isaiah enjoins us to trust our Heavenly Father….

So I pray this morning that you and I will receive this word and let it inspire our faith today and always.  God the Father has already comforted us with the gift of eternal life through His Son, Jesus Christ.  He has already prepared a place for us.  He is coming again to receive us.  So do not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap a harvest if we do not lose heart. (Cf. Galatians 6:9) Yes, do not grow weary in doing good and what is right. (Cf. 2 Thessalonians 3:13) Rather, wait upon the Lord!  Rest in Him!  Renew your strength through the knowledge of what He has already done for you! For we have a work to do in these latter days … the work of comforting others as we ourselves have been comforted by God.  We have the work of reconciliation to complete. So let us run and not be weary … let us walk and not faint. Yes, let us keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus … the author and finisher of our faith.  Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

His Watchful Eye….

Psalm 121:7-8 (NIV)

The Lord will keep you from all harm— He will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.

I am glad this verse came up this morning as the events of this world unfold and fear continues to be a dominate influence over our lives.  Perhaps our collective perspective should shift from what we see to what we do not see.  For this is the essence of our faith … the assurance of our faith … what the Spirit enables us to see through Christ Jesus our Lord:

Hebrews 11:1

“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (NKJV; KJV)

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (NRSV; ESV; NASB)

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (NIV)

It is not with physical eyes only that we can see what is happening in our world. Through faith, we are able to see with spiritual eyes … the eyes of our hearts having been enlightened with the Word of God … that we might see what God has revealed to us.  And God appointed Paul to expose and articulate the ongoing mysterious and deceptive work of Satan (even within the Church) since its inception during Pentecost:

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 (NIV)

1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to Him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come. Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness (Sin) is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt Himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that He sets Himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming Himself to be God.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper timeFor the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of His mouth and destroy by the splendor of His coming.

The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, 10 and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing.  They perish because they refused to love the Truth and so be saved11 For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie 12 and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.

Powerful words for us to consider!  Powerful revelation as to what lies ahead … as physical, natural forces merge with spiritual forces of darkness to rusher in the coming of the lawless one!  Even now there are public displays and satanic marches in our cities to promote and hasten this coming “One World Order” that has been prophesied.  Is it true?  Did they actually occur yesterday with the solar eclipse? Are these stories just made up? Well, in the context of what has been happening already this year, you will have to determine for yourself what is real … if you can with so much deception being purveyed in the mainstream and social media outlets….  Where is TRUTH when you need it most?

When Jesus prayed for His disciples and for those who would believe in Him through their testimony, the Gospel of John recorded these words:

John 17:13-21 (NIV)

13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 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. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them to live in accordance with the truth; Your Word is Truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified. 20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

Yes, we have been sanctified … set apart for service to God.  We have been equipped with the Truth of God’s Word and His indwelling Spirit.  This is “how” we are no longer OF the world … and this is also “why” we have not been taken out of the world. Jesus empowers His people and sends them to be the light of the world … HIS Light! And did you notice that He prayed for the Father to “protect us from the evil one.”  And does His prayer not align with the prophetic word of King David who wrote the Psalm 121 that we are receiving today? Even now, I am reminded again, and I encourage you to read the entire Psalm 91: “Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most-High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.  I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” (Verses 1-2)

When we dwell in the shelter of the Most-High God … when we abide in Jesus Christ and He in us … we have a refuge and a place of rest! We do not have to be or feel distressed.  We have a strong tower and a fortress.  Indeed, Father God is our Protector, our Provider, and our High Priest! He is protecting us from the evil one … the lawless one who is coming … so that we will not be deceived or receive powerful delusion to believe the lies of Satan!  We have been sanctified by the Truth!  And God has not given us a Spirit of fear but a Spirit of power and love and self-control! (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7) And I emphasize “self-control” because if we reactively engage with those who are blinded to the truth … those who manifest themselves with malicious, riotous, and destructive behaviors after the pattern of Satan … we will not shine as light in the darkness if we fail to exercise self-control over our own emotions. “Instead, let us be speaking the Truth in love … so that we will grow into become in every respect the mature body of Him who is the head, that is, Jesus Christ.  From Him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” (Cf. Ephesians 4:15-16)

Romans 2:6-11 (NIV)

God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” (Cf. Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, He will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

Romans 12:16-18 (NIV)

16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Ephesians 6:11-13 (NIV)

11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Remember, Jesus has already declared, “I will build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” ~ Matthew 16:18

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

FAITHFUL IN PRAYER

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. ~ Romans 12:12

Perhaps our verse is a timely word … as events continue to unfold that bring us ever closer to our day of full redemption … complete salvation.  Paul urges us to be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. I cannot think of any greater advice for believers in these days of disorder and darkness.  For what we sense in our spirits is very real; and Paul explains these feelings in some detail … that we might understand and find comfort in the love of God who will work all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose:

Romans 8:18-28 (NIV)

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us19 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. 26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And He who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, with those who have been called according to His purpose.

While all three of these exhortations are important to practice, I especially want to encourage all of us to be faithful in prayer.  Yes, be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and allow Him to pray for you when you are not sure what to pray or how to pray.  For the Spirit Himself intercedes for us through wordless groans … but God understands what is being said and what is in your heart so that your prayer will be in accordance with His will.  And His will is to cause all things to work for our good. What has been meant for evil … God Himself will work for good in your life and mine.  Yes, the Lord Jesus will bring us through this present darkness and fulfill His promise.  He will come! He will return for us! At the right time … when all hope might seem lost … Jesus will appear and we will meet Him in the air. Those who have died will be resurrected … and those who are alive will be changed.

John 14:1-6 (NIV)

1 “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in Me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with Me that you also may be where I amYou know the way to the place where I am going.” Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.”

John 11:21-27 (NIV)

21 “Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.” 23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.” 24 Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” 25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; 26 and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?” 27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.”

1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 (NIV)

13 Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. 14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in Him. 15 According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Luke 21:25-36 (NIV)

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. 26 People will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. 27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.29 He told them this parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees. 30 When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. 31 Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32 “Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened. 33 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away. 34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. 35 For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. 36 Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”

Yes, Jesus told us to ALWAYS be on the watch … and to pray two petitions:

1.         That we may be able to escape all that is about to happen

2.         That we may be able to stand before the Son of Man

Jesus also taught us to “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.  The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Cf. Matthew 26:41) And Paul urge believers to: “Devote yourselves to prayer – being watchful and thankful.  And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message … so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ….” Yes, we need to be faithful in prayer for those who preach the Gospel … for those who will be persecuted and imprisoned for preaching the truth in love … for those who will be sharing the light of God with others … that each will articulate and proclaim it clearly!  And we should be wise in the way we act towards non-believers and make the most of every opportunity we have to share the love of God.  Our conversation should always be full of grace and seasoned with salt so that we may know how to answer everyone.  (Cf. Colossians 4:2-6)

Indeed, the day is approaching.  It is a time for faith to triumph over fear.  It is a time for us to be faithful in prayer for the prodigals … for the wayward and the lost.  It is a time for harvest … for the Word of God to be preached … for the message of Christ to accomplish faith unto salvation. “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:17) So let us heed these words of Jesus:

Luke 12:35-40 (NIV)

35 “Be dressed ready for service and keep your lamps burning, 36 like servants waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when He comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for Him. 37 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them watching when He comes. Truly I tell you, He will dress Himself to serve, will have them recline at the table and will come and wait on them. 38 It will be good for those servants whose master finds them ready, even if He comes in the middle of the night or toward daybreak. 39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. 40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Romans 12

Living Sacrifices to God

12 I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Serve God with Spiritual Gifts

For I say, through the grace given to me, to everyone who is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think soberly, as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, but all the members do not have the same function, so we, being many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

Behave Like a Christian

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil. Cling to what is good. 10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; 11 not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; 12 rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation,  continuing steadfastly in prayer; 13 distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. 16 Be of the same mind toward one another. Do not set your mind on high things, but associate with the humble. Do not be wise in your own opinion. 17 Repay no one evil for evil. Have regard for good things in the sight of all men. 18 If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men. 19 Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance  is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Lord. 20 Therefore, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

My Redeemer Lives….

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth. Job 19:25

We have probably read or heard this verse from the oldest inspired text of the Bible … and I think it might be a word for us to revisit this morning.  We know the story of Job … the incredible losses that he suffered; the intense physical and emotional anguish inflicted upon him; and the deep lessons of faith that he learned as he persevered through the experience.  In the midst of this time of great pain, we find these comments which expressed the hope Job found within his soul … the hope of vindication … the promise of redemption … a confident assurance of resurrection … and a prophetic knowledge of a literal face-to-face meeting with the Lord at the end. 

Job 19:23-27 (NIV)

23 “Oh, that my words were recorded, that they were written on a scroll, 24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead, or engraved in rock forever! 25 I know that my redeemer (vindicator) lives, and that in the end He will stand on the earth. 26 And after I awake, through this body has been destroyed, then in my flesh I will see God; 27 I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

Job addresses not only the resurrection, but he declares we shall see God … with our own eyes!  And I think, “How my heart yearns within me!”  And, yet, is there not an element of “fear” that accompanies that thought?  When He stands upon the earth, and I stand before Him, what happens next?  I think about the Apostle John who personally witnessed the resurrection and the later ascension of Jesus … and while in exile on the island of Patmos He sees the Lord Jesus again and writes: “When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.” (Cf. Revelation 1:17a) I believe that is probably what will happen to most of us. There will be the undeniable reality (not faith) of what we have believed all these years standing right before us!  Oh, I think many of us will be filled with awe and wonder … and gripped with a certain element of fear.  There will be a long, hard gulp … a skip in our heartbeat … and intense reverence to worship Him.

I imagine there will be a swell of thoughts crashing and foaming in that moment.  Perhaps, a common thought will be: “Did I accomplish what I was created in Christ to do?”  “Did I miss His will … His call?” “Was I faithful at all times … in all circumstances during my life?” And yet, are those not questions we should be asking ourselves right now?  If we lived with Jesus in full line of  “sight” each moment, how would that change us now? Oh, how my heart longs to see Him now as I ought…. Oh, how my ears need to hear His voice now ….  Oh, how I need to do what I have been created in Christ to do now … what was prepared in advance for me to do.  (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) If we all lived as righteous Job, I believe there would be more confidence within each of us when we stand before God on that Day. Yes, we can be about the Father’s business right now … for He has equipped us to do so! “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.” (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7)

We know that our redeemer lives! But do we live in this awareness?  The Apostle John brings us this guidance for introspection: “We know that we have come to know Him if we keep His commands. Whoever says, “I know Him,” but does not do what He commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys His word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did. (Cf. 1 John 2:3-6) Perhaps, we should all ask ourselves: “Do I live as Jesus did?” “Do I love others as I have been loved?”  “Do I forgive others as I have been forgiven?”  “Do I see others as I am seen by the Father?”  If we feel conviction with our answers, then we need to look deeper within ourselves. Consider this passage: “For we know Him who said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ and again, ‘The Lord will judge His people.’ It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Cf. Hebrews 10:30-31)

Well, a short verse from the Book of Job can challenge us if we let it. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Cf. Hebrews 4:12) And so, I pray that we will always endeavor to apply the Word of God to our hearts … to change our thoughts and attitudes … so that we might have confidence and assurance when returns to the earth and we see Him as He is….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Job 19

1 Then Job replied:

“How long will you torment me
    and crush me with words?
Ten times now you have reproached me;
    shamelessly you attack me.
If it is true that I have gone astray,
    my error remains my concern alone.
If indeed you would exalt yourselves above me
    and use my humiliation against me,
then know that God has wronged me
    and drawn his net around me.

“Though I cry, ‘Violence!’ I get no response;
    though I call for help, there is no justice.
He has blocked my way so I cannot pass;
    He has shrouded my paths in darkness.
He has stripped me of my honor
    and removed the crown from my head.
10 He tears me down on every side till I am gone;
    He uproots my hope like a tree.
11 His anger burns against me;
    He counts me among His enemies.
12 His troops advance in force;
    they build a siege ramp against me
    and encamp around my tent.

13 “He has alienated my family from me;
    my acquaintances are completely estranged from me.
14 My relatives have gone away;
    my closest friends have forgotten me.
15 My guests and my female servants count me a foreigner;
    they look on me as on a stranger.
16 I summon my servant, but he does not answer,
    though I beg him with my own mouth.
17 My breath is offensive to my wife;
    I am loathsome to my own family.
18 Even the little boys scorn me;
    when I appear, they ridicule me.
19 All my intimate friends detest me;
    those I love have turned against me.
20 I am nothing but skin and bones;
    I have escaped only by the skin of my teeth.

21 “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity,
    for the hand of God has struck me.
22 Why do you pursue me as God does?
    Will you never get enough of my flesh?

23 “Oh, that my words were recorded,
    that they were written on a scroll,
24 that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
    or engraved in rock forever!
25 I know that my redeemer lives,
    and that in the end He will stand on the earth.

26 And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;
27 I myself will see Him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me!

28 “If you say, ‘How we will hound him,
    since the root of the trouble lies in him,’
29 you should fear the sword yourselves;
    for wrath will bring punishment by the sword,
    and then you will know that there is judgment.”

Suffering For Christ

Philippians 1:29

For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him…

There are some powerful theological considerations for us in our verse today.  Let’s put our verse in some additional context:

Philippians 1:22-30 (NIV)

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. 27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you. This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him30 since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.

In this chapter, Paul has been recounting the struggles and suffering he has endured on his missionary journeys in the preaching of the Gospel.  As a prisoner, most likely in Rome at the time this letter was written, Paul shared his thoughts about all that had happened to him; and he wanted to encourage the believers at Philippi to have courage as they faced the same tests of their faith.  Uncertain of his future physical survival (as we all are), Paul contrasted his potential demise with the hope of restoration from the current isolation and suffering imposed on him.  So Paul instructs the believers to conduct themselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ … no matter what happens.  And then he makes an interesting statement:  “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him.”

God “grants” … God gives you and I two things: the hearing of faith and the suffering of faith.  And both have been granted to us on “behalf of Christ.”  In English, this translation has a profound application.  It does not say “in behalf of Christ” … which would mean “helping for the benefit of” or “acting in the interest of” Christ; rather, it states “on behalf of Christ” … meaning “in place of” or “as the agent of” or “as representing” Christ.  It follows that our faith and suffering is not meant to “manifest” in the interest of Jesus Christ; rather, I believe the implication is that our faith in God and the suffering that accompanies faith is now “in place of” or “a continuation of” the sufferings of Christ. We are enduring the struggles of faith and suffering now as Christ in the world … as His Body … as His Church.  I think Paul is saying that both faith and suffering should be viewed as a “privilege” given to us by God! In His sovereignty, God granted us the privilege (the grace) not only to believe in Him through Jesus Christ … but also the privilege (the grace) to suffer as Christ did in order to refine and mature our faith.  As Hebrews 5:8 points out: “Though Christ was the Son of God, He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.”  Likewise, the obedience of faith will be formed in us through hardship and suffering….

Did not Jesus Himself explain this would happen? You can find context for the suffering that comes with faith in Matthew 10:16-26 when Jesus sent out His disciples and followers into the towns of Judea to proclaim the Gospel.  In Matthew 24:3-14, we can see the suffering that comes with faith in the latter days should be expected as well. In John Chapters 15-17, when Jesus speaks about His imminent departure from the earth, He prays not only for the disciples to remain steadfast in faith, but also for those who will come to faith based on their testimony,

Matthew 10:21-22 (NIV)

21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

Matthew 24:9-13 (NIV)

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, 11 and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. 12 Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, 13 but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved.

John 15:18-21 (NIV)

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 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. 20 Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ (Reference John 13:16) If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. 21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the One who sent me.

John 16:1-4 (NIV)

1 “All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them.

John 17:14-18 (NIV)

14 “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. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

What these passages indicate is that suffering for our faith in Jesus Christ is inevitable.  And I believe the suffering we will experience “on behalf of Christ” is the suffering that He said we would endure in the world.  We are in His place now … in the world.  We are His Body … the Church.  We are His agents … His ambassadors.  And like Jesus, we will suffer ridicule, persecution, hate, violence, and even death for our faith in Him. So, I think it is important to note that as believers, we have the Holy Spirit living within us so that we can persevere in faith and hope.  Through Scripture, we are exhorted to persevere:

Hebrews 10:32-39 (NIV)

32 Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. 33 Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. 34 You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. 35 So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. 36 You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what He has promised. 37 For, “In just a little while, He who is coming will come and will not delay.” (Cf. Isaiah 26:20) 38 And, “But my righteous one will live by faith. And I take no pleasure in the one who shrinks back.” (Cf. Habakkuk 2:3-4) 39 But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed, but to those who have faith and are saved.

James 1:12-18 (NIV)

12 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. 13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. 16 Don’t be deceived, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. 18 He chose (granted) to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.

Verse 17 states that “Every good and perfect gift is from above….”  You see, God has granted those He chose in Christ Jesus to believe in Him for salvation. And He granted the gift of suffering as well … to test our faith and to produce perseverance.  We need to recognize that “the cross comes before the crown”.  Both faith and suffering work in tandem to produce in us the kind of faith that God desires … a sincere faith that will remain steadfast when tried and tested.  Why?  Because that kind of faith will grow to the size of a mustard seed.  It will be empowered to move mountains!  Nothing will be impossible for us! (Cf. Matthew 17:19:20) Indeed, God wants us to be effective and productive through an ever-increasing faith. (Cf. 2 Peter 1:1-9) God wants our faith to grow so that we can accomplish the works He prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) And a faith that endures all things is necessary for us to accomplish the will of God!  Truly, it is His divine power at work to heal the sick, to mend broken hearts, to free those who are captives, to release people from darkness, and to proclaim the Gospel! But most often, the Holy Spirit works through us … through those who believe in Him and suffer for His Name sake!  That is our purpose … our role as the Church!

David reflected: “Yes, my soul, find rest in God; my hope comes from Him. Truly He is my rock and my salvation; He is my fortress; I will not be shaken. My salvation and my honor depend on God; He is my mighty rock, my refuge. Trust in Him at all times, you people; pour out your hearts to Him, for God is our refuge. (Psalm 62:5-8) So, my prayer is that we will see and understand the “privileges” we have received from God.  Let Him be praised for His grace … for His gifts!  May these truths from His Word penetrate our hearts and equip us … empower us … to be His Church in these latter days! For it has been granted to us, on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for Him….  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Trust and Be Blessed

Jeremiah 17:7-8

“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

The Lord tells us, through the Prophet Jeremiah, that blessing and cursing are determined by where; or rather, in whom we place our trust.  The ones who trust in themselves … in their abilities as humans or the abilities of other people … whose hearts are not turned toward … God will not be blessed but left desolate.  But the ones who trust in God … who place their full confidence (faith) in Him … will be blessed.  They will be as a tree planted by the water and kept alive and bear fruit!

Psalm 1:1-3 (NIV)

Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on His law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.

Jeremiah 17:5-8 (NIV)

This is what the Lord says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who draws strength from mere flesh and whose heart turns away from the Lord. That person will be like a bush in the wastelands; they will not see prosperity when it comes. They will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives. “But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, whose confidence is in Him. They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”

In the context of the current Coronavirus Pandemic sweeping across our nation, we need to keep historical experience and perspective in mind. World-wide pandemics and pestilences have plagued humans over the millennia of human history. Famines, droughts, swarms of locust, earthquakes, powerful weather systems, etc. have occurred; and it is probable they will continue to do so.  History is filled with wars, violence, and other human conflicts ever since Cain and Abel.  But God has always taken care of those who trust Him with their whole hearts.  His care does not mean we will be free of hardship or suffering.  But we can be sure … we can be confident … that WHEN the heat of trials and difficulties comes, we will be watered.  We will be refreshed.  We will have the peace of God that surpasses all understanding; and He will keep our hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Cf. Philippians 4:7)

So we need to remember that God will work every circumstance in our lives to grow our faith in Him … to help us become more rooted in His Word, more transformed in our thinking, and more fruitful in our lives. His desire is to conform us (those who love Him) to the image of Jesus, His Son. Considered what Paul affirmed in this regard:

Romans 8:28-39 (NIV)

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose29 For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He (Jesus) might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified. 31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all—how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who (or what) shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword (or Coronavirus)? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Quoted from Psalm 44:22) 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

What we can see in this passage is the sure promises of God through our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Whatever happens in the days ahead, we KNOW that in ALL things, God works for the good of those who love Him … for the good of those who have been called according to His purpose.  We do not have to be afraid; rather we should believe Him at His Word.  As with Joshua, I believe we too can hear the voice of God saying: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous!  Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Cf. Joshua 1:9) As Paul asked, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  And, “What shall separate us from the love of Christ?”  And his conclusion? Our conclusion?  “No, in ALL these things (that we WILL endure in life) we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.”

Note that our troubles and trials will not only be the physical realities of hardship and suffering that will test us; there will be spiritual challenges and battles in the midst of this tribulation as well.  The Coronavirus not only has the potential to disrupt our health and well-being, but Satan will attempt to use it to disrupt our faith … plant seeds of doubt … and entice us to question the love of God.  But, thanks be to God, we have Jesus!  Jesus said to His disciples: “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace.  In this world you will have tribulation.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Cf. John 16:33)  “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.” (Cf. 1 John 5:4-5)

So how can we build our faith during this time of trial?

1 Peter 1:22-25; 2:1-3 (NIV)

22 Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.  23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God24 For, “All people are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.” (Peter is quoting Isaiah 40:6-8) And this (the living and enduring word of God) is the word that was preached to you. 1 Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.

 Here, Peter emphasizes the power of the Word of God to produce the new birth that we experienced when we came to faith in Jesus Christ.  As Paul explained it, “Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Cf. Romans 10:17) And it follows, that upon our spiritual birth, we must begin to nourish ourselves with the Word of God in order to grow.  Peter uses the metaphor “pure, spiritual milk” to signify that as newborn babies in Christ, this is where we start our path of spiritual maturation.  The point is that we must know the Word of God in order to grow in our knowledge of His will through all wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. (Cf. Colossians 1:9) And as we have already studied this past week, we are to add to our faith – qualities in increasing measure so that we can be effective and productive in our knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Cf. 2 Peter 1:1-12)

 Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power. 11 Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13 Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. 14 Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, 15 and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. 16 In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people. 

Here, Paul emphasizes the power of the Spirit of God to produce perseverance and to expose the real war … the real battle that is going on.  I believe what is happening in our natural world is a reflection of what is going on in the heavenly realms … the Kingdom of light at war with the powers of this dark world. … with the spiritual forces of evil.  The Coronavirus can be viewed as a metaphor of this battle in this: we are in a struggle for our lives against something we cannot even see … at least not with our natural eyes.  Yet, we can see in the natural that we are fighting an enemy; and I pray that more believers will now begin to see with spiritual eyes that the we are fighting a real enemy of our minds and hearts … our souls.  And so we need to be equipped!  We need to be strong in the Lord and in HIS mighty power.  All of the spiritual armor serves its purpose to protect us … to defend us from the onslaught; but do not overlook that we have an OFFENSIVE spiritual weapon.  That weapon is the sword of the Spirit … which is the Word of God.  To go on the offense, we must know and wield the Word of God … the Word of Truth!

Jesus declared the identity of our opponent:

John 8:31-47 (NIV)

31 To the Jews who had believed Him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. 32 Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” 34 Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. 35 Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever36 So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. 37 I know that you are Abraham’s descendants. Yet you are looking for a way to kill me, because you have no room for my word. 38 I am telling you what I have seen in the Father’s presence, and you are doing what you have heard from your father.” 39 “Abraham is our father,” they answered. “If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did. 40 As it is, you are looking for a way to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. Abraham did not do such things. 41 You are doing the works of your own father.” “We are not illegitimate children,” they protested. “The only Father we have is God Himself.” 42 Jesus said to them, “If God were your Father, you would love me, for I have come here from God. I have not come on my own; God sent me. 43 Why is my language not clear to you? Because you are unable to hear what I say. 44 You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, not holding to the truth, for there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies. 45 Yet because I tell the truth, you do not believe me! 46 Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don’t you believe me? 47 Whoever belongs to God hears what God says. The reason you do not hear is that you do not belong to God.”

So I pray … as a nation … as a community … as a church … as one born of God … that we will become alert to the spiritual lessons being presented as we observe the natural lessons the Coronavirus is teaching.  When we wash our hands … let us call to mind Scriptures like: “I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, Lord,proclaiming aloud your praise and telling of all your wonderful deeds. (Psalm 26:6-7) When we keep our “social” distance from others … let us consider if we have distanced ourselves from God: “The Lord says: ‘These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is based on merely human rules they have been taught.” (Isaiah 29:13) When we run short of resources and supplies … let us remember: “And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Philippians 4:19-20) At every turn of the events that we will walk through in the days ahead, let us draw near to God and He will draw near to us. (Cf. James 4:8) Yes, as we educate ourselves more about the Coronavirus, let us turn our attention to the Word of God and educate ourselves about God our Father … His mercy … His grace … His peace … His compassion … His faithfulness … His love!

As we enter another week of uncertainty and upheaval, we need to encourage one another and build one another up … just as you are doing. (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:11) We need to encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of us may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Cf. Hebrews 3:13) And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (even if only temporarily virtual through the use of technology), as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Cf. Hebrews 10:24-25) Yes, it is vital that we stay connected and that we continue to care for one another.

I will close with these two Scriptures:

Philippians 4:5-7 (NIV)

Let your gentleness and graciousness be known to all men. The Lord is at hand. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-24 (NIV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 in everything give thanks; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies. 21 Test all things; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil. 23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

When Hard Pressed

Psalm 118:5-6

When hard pressed, I cried to the Lord; He brought me into a spacious place. The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?

Feeling uncertain about what lies ahead in your life? Feeling distressed? Feeling anxious or stressed? Afraid?

In Psalm 118, King David describes how he managed his countenance when he felt surrounded and overwhelmed from the stresses of life.  Interestingly, as I read this Psalm, I noted that it begins with this thought: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.”  For indeed, His love is an everlasting love. (Cf. Psalm 103:17; Jeremiah 31:3) And His love is the source of the courage we need to face the challenges and hardships that we will encounter in life.

This passage affords us insight into what action we should take when “hard pressed” in life – namely, we should cry out to the Lord.  Go to the quiet place … the secret place … and pour out your heart before Him.  Yes, it is natural and normal to cry … to weep … to seek refuge … to seek consolation and understanding.  When we become distressed, our first thought should be to find the place of refuge God makes available to those who love Him.  To cry out is not to groan and complain! To cry out is not an attempt to run from our problems or to ignore them.  Rather, to cry out is the first step we need to take to confront them.  We need to go to the Father in prayer … release our feelings to Him … and then wait … and listen.

What you and I go through in managing our emotions and our responses to the circumstances of life in this fallen world is a common process for us all. There are physiological aspects for sure (we’re human), but there are spiritual aspects as well. And getting distressed and anxious and fearful is not what God has in mind for us.  On the contrary, He wants trust and faith to abound within us. David wrote, “The Lord is with me; I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me?”  He goes on to share: “The Lord is with me; He is my helper. I look in triumph on my enemies. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans. It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes. 14 The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” (Psalm 118:7-9; 14)

James indicates that the emotion we should feel is joy whenever we face various trials.  Now I agree to feel joy would be difficult at best when we are suffering, hurting, feeling overwhelmed or hard pressed, but I encourage us to consider the reason that James goes in this direction :

James 1:2:8 (NIV)

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 perseveranceLet perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anythingIf any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

Trouble, hardship, suffering … these test our faith – our trust in God.  But the outcome of this process is to produce perseverance. When David cried out to the Lord, he probably did so in an effort to find consolation for his emotions … or the reassurance God had not forsaken him. But I believe David also prayed to seek wisdom from God. He had difficult and complex problems to manage and resolve.  He was stressed out because of the pressures he felt.  Yet, David knew God loved him and would understand what he was feeling and going through.  He knew where to find both comfort and answers.  Indeed, God will give us the wisdom to solve our problems if we would but ask Him – and then trust in the answer He gives. Yet, sometimes that wisdom does not take the form of an executable plan of action.  Sometimes wisdom is just silence in the deep quiet of God’s presence … trusting Him for the unseen and for the unknown.  Did He not say, “I will never leave you nor forsake you?” (Cf. Hebrews 13:5-6)

A final thought on the consolation we receive from God when we paddle through the rough waters of life.  What we experience, the triumphs and failures … the victories and defeats, all these shape us.  They grow us.  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28) As James wrote, they make us “mature and complete” in faith.  And so, I believe God wants to use all of the brokenness each of us has felt and endured and navigated, to be useful and effective as we minister to others in their situations.  As overcomers, God has created us in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) So I will end with this passage from 2 Corinthians 1:3-5 where Paul wrote: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles (and afflictions), so that we can comfort those in any trouble (or distress) with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.

When you reflect on your life … the stresses and anxieties and fears that arise … when you are hard pressed and need to make decisions, cry out to the Lord!  He is there! He is waiting for you!  He is listening!  As you trust Him, the Lord will order your steps and delight in the progress you make growing in faith. (Cf. Psalm 37:23-24) Then as you mature, and your faith is being completed, share your story with others.  Your own life experience is a proven platform to minister to others … to love others as you have been loved. As the Scripture above stated, the comfort you will receive from God is given so that you can comfort others who experience the same trials you have endured.  I pray our own prodigal experiences can be used by the Father to bring other prodigal children home to Him.  For it is our own stories of repentance … return … reconciliation … restoration … and redemption that testify to the incredible, unsurpassed, love of God for us. As David said: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.” 

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!