If My People…

2 Chronicles 7:13-14

When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people; if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.

We have heard this passage from 2 Chronicles quoted several times since the Coronavirus Pandemic began; and I saved it for today: Our National Day of Prayer!  Although I realize this is being sent out quite late in the day, I hope it will impact our thoughts and attitudes about prayer everyday….

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Chronicles 7:11-16 (NIV)

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

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

2 Chronicles 6:28-31 (NIV)

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

What you and I do in prayer … how we respond to God in whatever situation or circumstance He brings into our lives … impacts relationship with Him and reflects our faith in Him.  It means that we should keep a humble spirit and attitude. It means that we should realize we are not perfect and need to repent and confess our sins to Him. God wants us to carefully observe His commands … and to endeavor to fulfill His will in our lives. (Cf. Deuteronomy 4:6; 11:22) But when we fail, we need to see it.  We need to recognize it and respond in humility and transparency. As the Apostle John affirmed: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9) Father God wants us to enter His presence and to seek Him.  He is willing to hear … willing to forgive … willing to heal. But His response is conditional.  It is conditioned upon our willingness to humble ourselves; to pray; to seek His face; and to turn from our sinfulness.  This is the key to effectiveness in prayer.  This is the message for the Prodigal … for the wayward and lost! God wants the attention of His people, and He will allow adversity to accomplish His desire.

So in our prayer time, let us humble ourselves and seek God while He is near.  While we are still and focused, let us repent of every sin that offends and separates us from intimate fellowship with God.  And let us give thanks to God for Lord Jesus Christ … for His atoning sacrifice and redemption.  We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; yet God did not leave us in a desolate place of hopelessness. God is far too concerned about the destructive power of sin and its assault our well-being.  So He laid the iniquity of us all upon His Son to rescue us from the dominion of darkness and to bring us into the kingdom of the Son He loves. (Cf. Isaiah 53:6; Colossians 1:13) Yes, let us praise God today for His mercy and grace.  And may we fear God with all reverence and walk in the obedience of faith. As Paul urged: “Whatever happens, let us conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the Gospel of Christ. (Cf. Philippians 1:27)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Parameters of Prayer…

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of Him. ~ 1 John 5:14-15

We have been talking about being faithful in prayer; and this verse reviews some appropriate parameters of prayer….

First of all, we need to realize that asking God for anything must certainly be aligned with His will. For why would God grant anything that is contrary to His will and desire for us?  Think about that for a moment.  He allows or permits us to have thoughts and to conduct ourselves against His leading, guidance, and the precepts of His Word.  But if we ask Him to do so in prayer, it is not something that He will grant us.  No, John tells us that we must ask according to His will and He will hear us….

Therein lies the challenge for us.  If we want to know if our prayers will be answered … if we want to have confidence when approaching God in prayer … the key will be to know His will!  This means we need to have an understanding of what the will of God might be in order to have confidence that we will receive what we ask.  So some thoughts arise here as I mediate on this verse.  When Jesus taught His disciples to pray, we learn that God is to be approached with reverence and to acknowledge His authority over heaven and earth:

Matthew 6:9-13 (NIV)

“This, then, is how you should pray: “‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, 10 your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us today our daily bread. 12 And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’

Luke 11:1-4 (NIV)

One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Jesus said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Our Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come. May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us each day our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, for we also forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one’”

What is the difference between “your kingdom come” and “your will be done?”  Is not His kingdom … His sovereign rule in accordance with His will? I sense that asking for His kingdom to come so that His will is done is the point … the application. The kingdom of God must first come to our hearts in order for our thoughts to be changed so that our behaviors (conduct) will change. We know Jesus as Savior but we know Jesus as Lord also.  We must surrender all to Jesus if we are to ever to know His will and to ask according to it.  So what John shared is consistent with what Jesus taught….  Paul weighs in on this point as well; explaining that the intercessory prayer of the Spirit is in accordance with the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27 (NIV)

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.

So what would be some examples of approaching God according to His will?  Do we have anything explicit in the Word of God to guide us in prayer according to His will?  Well, the Bible is filled with the will of God – expressed as His commandments, statutes, ordinances, and precepts. And we know that with the law comes the knowledge of sin (Cf. Romans 3:20) because sin is the transgression of God’s law by definition. (Cf. 1 John 3:4) Paul reasoned that whatever is not of faith is sin. (Cf. Romans 14:23) So when we sin, we are not acting in accordance with the will of God.  Thus, God will not answer a prayer that leads to sin; rather, His desire is for our obedience … our holiness.

2 Peter 3:8-9 (NIV)

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise, as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not willing that any should perish, but that everyone should come to repentance.

John 6:29 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.”

John 6:40 (NIV)

For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (NIV)

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorablenot in passionate lust like the unbelievers, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you His Holy Spirit.

1 Thessalonians 5:16-19 (NIV)

16 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 

1 Peter 2:15-16 (NRSV)

15 For it is God’s will that by doing right you should silence the ignorance of the foolish. 16 As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil.

So, I am confident that anyone who prays to be obedient … to repent and believe in His Son … to receive salvation through Jesus will receive answered prayer.  I am sure that anyone who prays for sanctification will experience that process in their heart. I am certain that God receives our thanksgiving and praise in prayer. And I believe when you pray to do the right thing, God will hear you.  But what about prayers and requests that are improper … even asking in opposition to the will of God?  The Apostle James addressed this matter when he wrote:

James 4:1-4 (NASB)

1 What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You desire (lust) and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasuresYou adulterous people, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.

It is probable that if we ask anything according to our own will, God will not be inclined to hear.  Unless our personal will conforms to the revealed will of God, John indicates that God will not hear that prayer. Silence is the response … the answer.  Indeed, James indicates that prayers focused on ourselves or our worldly passions are in opposition to God and offensive to Him.  He compares such prayers to infidelity and unfaithfulness.  The Prophet Isaiah makes similar commentary:

Isaiah 59:1-3 (NIV)

1 Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear. For your hands are stained with blood, your fingers with guilt. Your lips have spoken falsely, and your tongue mutters wickedness.

So what is the application here?  Confidence in prayer stems from confidence in faith! Anyone who comes to God must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) We cannot be double-minded or waiver when we approach God in prayer. James gives us this admonition: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”(Cf. James 1:5-8) Likewise, James instructed: “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded.

As we can see, doubt or unbelief can be as great a hindrance to prayer as any other sin.  So, trusting God at His Word … asking according to His Will … and believing you have what you ask are great steps to take when it comes to prayer. This is what Jesus taught as well: “So Jesus answered and said to them, “Have faith in God. For assuredly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be removed and be cast into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that those things he says will be done, he will have whatever he says. 24 Therefore I say to you, whatever things you ask when you pray, believe that you receive them, and you will have them.  Indeed, our prayers will be heard when we position ourselves within these parameters of prayer that God has revealed to us.  And I hope this study will encourage you in your prayer time.  Be bold and courageous … and believe!    

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

1 John 5

Faith in the Incarnate Son of God

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 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. This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 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. 12 Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

Concluding Affirmations

13 I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. 14 This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. 15 And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

16 If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that you should pray about that. 17 All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

18 We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. 19 We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one. 20 We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life. 21 Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.

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.

The Blood of Redemption

Ephesians 1:7 (NIV)

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace….

In my prayer time this morning, I felt a deep sense of the need for us to focus on the core message of the Gospel … the foundation of our salvation … and for us to look neither to the right or to the left of what our verse here declares: In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace…. But I think we would do well to see this verse … this declaration of redemption in Christ within the full context of the opening section of Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus:

Ephesians 1:1-10 (NIV)

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to God’s holy people in Ephesus, the faithful in Christ Jesus: Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For He (God) chose us in Him (Christ) before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. In Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 He (God) made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

By the grace of God we have been saved.  This is not of ourselves … but through the lavish gift of grace given to us.  And this grace is received through the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. Yes, redemption … salvation … is the will of God … and we can know it without fear or doubt!  Everything else given to us by God can be understood once this foundation of truth has been laid within our souls. As Paul instructed believers: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. (1 Corinthians 2:12) But before the Spirit of God can give us this discernment, the testimony of God in Jesus Christ must be believed. As Paul addressed the believers in Corinth:

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NKJV)

1And I, brothers and sisters, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.

Why is this so important?  Because there is a spirit of deception permeating, enveloping, and encircling the world right now.  There is a veil of darkness that is blinding people to the truth concerning Christ Jesus. People are searching for answers and seeking truth; yet there are world powers and their false prophets who cloak the truth with a lie. The seeds of doubt are being sown and watered under the cloud of the Coronavirus. The spirit of deception is spreading just as rapidly as the pandemic. But the voice of the Lord cries out: “Do not be deceived!”  Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice; I know them, and they follow Me!” (Cf. John 10:27) Even now, Jesus declares: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.” (Cf. Revelation 3:20)

I feel quite impressed there is a fierce battle for the Truth to be unfettered and released! And 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.  And within this spiritual war going on … and we need to hold fast to this truth: In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.  We need to remain steadfast and confident … to trust God at His Word.  Yes, even now I feel compelled to quote Jude 3-4: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”

I pray for each of you to remain safe and protected as this pandemic continues.  I urge you to pray for health care providers and caregivers everywhere to be protected from harm and to have the strength to endure the unrelenting strain on them and their resources.  Please pray like never before for perseverance and for this tribulation to cease!  This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. (1 John 5:14)

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

April Fools Day

Psalm 14:1 (NIV)

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

Perhaps it was a play on words for the day – April Fool’s Day – but Psalm 14:1 exposes a real issue that we have faced in the proclamation of the Gospel.  The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Unbelief is the opposition of the spiritual forces of darkness … and the greatest transgression of all!  Does it not speak to the times we are living in this current generation? Scripture has a great deal to say about foolish people … and the consensus of the truths presented is that those who are fools, those who act foolishly, separate themselves from God and from His blessings.  Since I know that you have more time to read these days, here are a few passages which illustrate this point:

Psalm 14 (See also Psalm 53)

The fool (a morally deficient person) says in his/her heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the Lord. But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge. Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores His people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Proverbs 1:7 (NIV)

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction.

Proverbs 1:20-33 (NIV)

20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; 21 on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech: 22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? 23 Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings. 24 But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, 25 since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, 26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you— 27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. 28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, 29 since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord. 30 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, 31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. 32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; 33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

The remainder of the Book of Proverbs will continue to contrast those who are wise with those who are foolish. I encourage you to read through them for the wisdom they impart.  But I want to look at some passages that record what Jesus taught us regarding the wisdom of knowing Him when adversity happens. I believe these admonitions to the “foolish” are most relevant to our mission to call the prodigals back into fellowship with the Lord through the local church:

Matthew 7:21-29 (NIV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” 28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, 29 because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Matthew 25:1-13 (NIV)

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!’ “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with Him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

In both of these passages, we see the word “foolish” use to describe people who encountered Jesus … who knew Him … yet did not remain steadfast to His word.  There were those who heard His words.  They understood what He was saying; and yet, they did not put them into practice. It was not a matter of misunderstanding; rather, it was an attitude of indifference and apathy on the part of the hearer. I wonder who they called on when their life came to ruin?  Likewise, the virgins knew the Bridegroom would be coming for the marriage supper of the Lamb.  But they had not prepared themselves for His arrival.  They were foolish due to their complacency….  And the Apostle Paul warned of the darkness and deception of foolishness as well:

Romans 1:18-25 (NIV)

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

As I indicated above: Any lapse in faithfulness equates to foolishness.  But unbelief in God … in His Word … in His Majesty and Holiness … defines the fool! The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  And unbelief separates the fool from God.  The fool neither glorifies nor worships God nor does the fool give thanks to Him.  Their hearts are darkened … rebellious … and filled with iniquity.  Paul will go on to further explain in Romans 1:28-29 that God gives the fools “over to a depraved mind so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity.” So there is a difference between acting foolish and being a fool. Perhaps this is why Jesus warned that anyone who says to a brother or sister in Christ, “You fool!” – will be in danger of the fire of hell.  The word has a clear definition and meaning when the context of Scripture is applied to it….

I share this “insight” because we might consider that a prodigal is a ‘fool’.  But the prodigal (and many of those whose faith is weak) may better be described as “acting foolishly” … behaving as though God is not around or not watching their lives. Perhaps they forget, but God is very aware!  “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind;from His dwelling place He watches all who live on earth—He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.” (Cf. Psalm 33:13-5) And God is calling to them!  Through His Spirit … through His Word … through His Church, the Lord Jesus is reaching out to the prodigals … to those who are acting foolishly … to those who have turned their hearts away from God … and He is crying out to them: Stop! Watch! Return!  For surely God has stopped the earth in its tracks at the moment! And I believe He is telling us to stop … to “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Cf. Psalm 46:10) And I believe He is telling us to watch … to “Watch therefore, for your do not know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Cf. Matthews 25:13) And as the world watches, I believe He is proclaiming: “I am He!”

Isaiah 43:1-13 (NIV)

43 But now, this is what the Lord says—He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Lead out those who have eyes but are blind,who have ears but are deaf. All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.” 10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am He. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?

Every prodigal has the opportunity to turn from the darkness that has taken hold and deceived them.  Indeed, Light has come! “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (Cf. John 3:21) And so now is the time for the prodigal to return….  Now is the time of repentance … the time to change direction … the time to forsake foolishness … the time to respond to the voice of Wisdom.  It is time to walk in the light as He is in the light … so that we have fellowship with one another … because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. (Cf. 1 John 1:7) This is the message for prodigals and to all who have been foolish. We have been chosen to be witnesses! We are to lead out those who have eyes but are blind and those who have ears but are deaf.  We have been anointed to preach the good news; sent to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim liberty to those who are captive; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God…. (Cf. Isaiah 61:1-3) But we must do so with gentleness:

2 Timothy 2:20-26 (NIV)

20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. 22 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

So how do we avoid foolish and stupid arguments … and the quarrels they produce?  How can we be gentle to those whom we pray God will grant the gift of repentance? Well, what led you and I to repentance?  Was it not the kindness of God? (Cf. Romans 2:4) And so, let the redeemed of the Lord tell their stories!  Share how you cried to the Lord in your trouble and how He saved you and gave you peace. There are no doctrinal arguments for your testimony … because the love of God surpasses understanding. It cannot be argued or explained. It can only be experienced and shared.  So share your own authentic encounter with Jesus Christ, and let the Holy Spirit take it from there….   

Psalm 107 (NIV)

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those He redeemed from the hand of the foe, those He gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.

Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,  and He delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains, 11 because they rebelled against God’s commands and despised the plans of the Most-High. 12 So He subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. 13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. 14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. 15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind, 16 for He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.

17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 18 They loathed all food (bread of life – word of God) and drew near the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. 20 He sent out His Word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave. 21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind. 22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of His works with songs of joy.

23 Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. 24 They saw the works of the Lord, His wonderful deeds in the deep. 25 For He spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. 26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. 27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven. 31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind. 32 Let them exalt Him in the assembly of the people and praise Him in the council of the elders.

33 He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, 34 and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. 35 He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; 36 there He brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle. 37 They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; 38 He blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and He did not let their herds diminish. 39 Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow; 40 He who pours contempt on nobles made them wander in a trackless waste. 41 But He lifted the needy out of their affliction and increased their families like flocks. 42 The righteous understand and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths. 43Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

When we speak about the wonderous works of God … the loving deeds of the Lord … we understand the will of God and rejoice in Him.  This is our invitation … this is the invitation of the Lord: “To taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Cf. Psalm 34:8) And I love the metaphors the writer used in Psalm 107. Some wandered … some sat in darkness … some became fools … and some were tested with the storms of life. I encourage you to mediate on what each metaphor is revealing for our own hearts … for we can each see a reflection of ourselves!  We, too, had spiritual oppression and opposition to overcome.  “For we have all been saved by grace through faith … and this is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God … not of works so that none of us can boast.  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 2:8-10)

Titus 3:1-9 (NIV)

Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle toward everyone. At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by His grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life. This is a trustworthy saying. And I want you to stress these things, so that those who have trusted in God may be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good. These things are excellent and profitable for everyone. But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless.

When it comes to ministering to the prodigal, gentleness and kindness are the themes that come to mind.  They are not to be treated as fools who believe there is no God; rather, they just need to come to their senses … to see the light of life … to see Jesus … to encounter “I am He.” I believe the return of those called by His name will happen in 2020 … but not because we have elegant orators, anointed prophets and teachers, or because we are endued with the power of the Spirit; rather, I believe it will occur because of sincere love manifested through our lives. And please do not misunderstand me. To be sure, the anointings and gifts of the Holy Spirit have their ordained roles for the building and equipping of the Body under the headship of Christ Jesus, but I truly sense that it is genuine love that must fill the Church first. So, I will end with this thought:

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (NIV)

1If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

I pray we will always pursue this command Jesus gave us: “Love one another as I have loved you….”

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!

Where Do I Stand

Job 23:10-11

But He knows the way that I take; when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold. My feet have closely followed His steps; I have kept to His way without turning aside.

I read this verse and I had to pause for some self-examination. Surely God knows everything!  It’s a given that He knows the way I take.  And I pondered, “Will I come forth as gold when I am tested? Will I persevere under trial? Just how close do my feet follow in His steps?  Have I consistently, faithfully kept my steps from turning aside?”  The final question … when I asked the question … is could I have answered or responded confidently like Job? Then I thought, maybe I should just read the entire Chapter 23.  So when I did, the answers to my questions seemed further away. My inquiry took me on a journey that I will share with you; and I apologize for the length, but perhaps, it will resonate with you at the conclusion. I do encourage you to read Job 23 in order to understand what Job was feeling and questioning in the midst of his own predicament and suffering.

Understandably, there are some theological points to challenge us in this passage and the entire book. As Job continues to complain about the personal suffering he is enduring … the unfairness and injustice of it … it appears that Job begins to consider the possibility that his complaint to God could be a form of rebellion (sin) in itself. Why? Because Job is in essence asserting that God has been unjust or unrighteous with him in this situation.  God has inflicted or allowed the infliction of severe pain, unrelenting distress, and great physical anguish. Job believes the “punishment” is unexpected … unbearable … and undeserved. Yet, Job also knows that neither injustice nor unrighteousness could come from the heart or nature of a loving God. To accuse God of doing wrong is … well … wrong itself. Like all of us, Job wants desperately to understand what God is doing … why He allows righteous people to be afflicted … why He permits bad things to happen to good people.  Indeed, this is an ongoing theological question that has been difficult to resolve with our limited human perspective or reasoning.

Many of us might assert that we live righteous lives … Christian lives … and perhaps even contend that our “goodness” should inoculate us from hardship in life. Yet, the experience of Job demonstrates that the absence of suffering will not necessarily be the case. So, if we should become bitter at God over the afflictions and hardships we encounter or experience during the course of life, what does that “response” convey about our own attitudes toward God? Like Job, our concept and knowledge of God is incomplete. We only know in part. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:9) His ways are higher than our ways … and His thoughts are higher than our thoughts. (Cf. Isaiah 55:9) And frankly, our knowledge of ourselves can be inaccurate as well.  As the Prophet Jeremiah observed, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it? I, the Lord, search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their deeds deserve.” (Cf. Jeremiah 17:9-10) And yet, David reflects that God, in His great mercy, does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. (Cf. Psalm 103:10) Both points are valid and add to the theological tension we must consider….

I am drawn to Psalm 139, where David meditates on the intimate knowledge that God possesses of each of us.  It is difficult to even comprehend how God knows each one of us individually; personally; deeply; and yet, still loves us so passionately.  Though knowing the holiness and righteousness of God … knowing that he and each person falls short of His perfection … David still trusted and embraced the love of God when he prayed, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.  See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Cf. Psalm 139:23-24) I think this is what Job was doing as He desperately attempted to figure out the “reason” for the cascades of misfortune that had befallen him.  Job had followed the rules. He had lived blamelessly. Job contended that he has done nothing wrong … or at least nothing that should have deserved the loss of everything – short of his life itself. But then, I was reminded of the story about the rich young ruler:

Matthew 19:16-22 (NKJV)

16 Now behold, one came and said to Jesus, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” 17 So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ 19 ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ ” 20 The young man said to Him, “All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you want to be perfect (complete), go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

The young ruler claimed a righteousness like that of Job. He had kept all the commandments! Yet, Jesus exposed a deeper issue … a heart issue … that the young man had not considered. Jesus revealed that in his heart, the young man was not “spiritually” where God wanted him to be. The young ruler trusted in himself and his own outward goodness … not realizing that his spirit was focused inward and filled with pride. Perhaps he mistakenly supposed that his riches sustained his life rather than the God who created him. Indeed, more “refining” was needed if the man wanted to have intimate relationship with God.  And as Job observed in his discourse, “God is unique, and who can make Him change? And whatever His soul desires, that He does. For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such things are with Him. Therefore I am terrified at His presence; when I consider this, I am afraid of Him.” (Cf. Job 23:13-15) Job knew that he was missing something … that He lacked full knowledge of what God desired. Job had maintained his integrity before God, and I don’t believe that Job was self-deceived about his own righteousness … though his so-called friends had tried to convince him as much. Yet, it appears there was something more God desired of Job or wanted to accomplish in Job. And it eluded Job until God later confronted him and revealed Himself.  I encourage you to read Job Chapters 38-42. Here is an excerpt to give see where I’m headed with this study:

Job 40:1-8 (NIV)

The Lord said to Job:

“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer Him!” Then Job answered the Lord: “I am unworthy—how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth. I spoke once, but I have no answer— twice, but I will say no more.” Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm: “Brace yourself like a man; I will question you, and you shall answer me. “Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?

Perhaps there is a deeper “refining” process that transcends our attempts and abilities to “keep” the moral commandments of God.  And that might be the point we should note. As hard as we might endeavor to be obedient to the commands of God in our flesh, we still lack what is more desired by God – the transformation of our hearts through faith, hope, and love.  Through faith we discover and embrace the love of God; and through love, obedience is accomplished.  But faith in our works … in our own accomplishments … is quite misguided. And I believe this is what “righteous” Job learned through his experience. As Isaiah would later declare: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” (Cf. Isaiah 64:6) And Paul later affirmed, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23) So, while I think we should all keep a healthy perspective of ourselves, I sense we need to consider that the afflictions and injustices that we encounter in life might not always be associated with sin or God’s righteous judgment of our sin.  Maybe God permits what humans might view as “injustice” to accomplish the greater purposes of faith, hope, and love!

John 9:1-3 (NKJV)

1 Now as Jesus passed by, He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

One might consider that God was “unjust” to allow this man to be born blind. Now, think about all the birth “defects” that have occurred among the human population. Is God unloving or unjust to allow these things to occur to the innocent?  Yet, these “permitted” situations provide a great context for faith, hope, and love to be accomplished within us. Would we learn compassion for one another if our bodies were perfect and never ill? Would we learn to love one another in the absence of physical deformities or infirmities? If Job had never suffered in the manner he did, would he have sought to know God as deeply as he ultimately did? Think about the final outcome of this blind man’s life. His physical blindness was reversed and healed; but the greater result was that the work of God was revealed! As Jesus declared, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (Cf. John 6:29) Think about the final outcome of Job’s life. God blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning…. (Cf. Job 42:12) Oh, there is an “outcome” that God desires for each of us … something deeper … more personal … more intimate! There is a desire for us to believe Him!  There is a desire for us to be holy, just as He is holy! (Cf. 1 Peter 1:15-16) There is a calling for us to be conformed to image of His Son! (Cf. Romans 8:29) What God desires in us requires FAITH!

I think the Book of Job provides us with great insight into the complexity of faith and its vital role for fellowship with God. It supports the theological foundation of what Paul would later posit: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-9) As a possible contemporary of Job, Abraham embodied the power of faith to accomplish what God desires in his people. Regarding the faith of Abraham, Paul wrote: “For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.” (Cf. Romans 4:2-3) Likewise, Paul notes in Romans 4:5-8 how David understood the imputed righteousness of God: “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” Here Paul is quoting from Psalm 32:1-2.

So, why is this important? Because the truth of the Gospel is found through faith! As Paul declared, “ 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. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Cf. Habakkuk 2:4) This truth has been revealed in Job … in Abraham … in David … and in those mentioned in the Hall of Faith (Cf. Hebrews 11).  If you will take time to read their stories, you will discover what those who “lived by faith” also had to endure all types of suffering in their lives! And you will observe what their faith produced during and through times of incredible testing and trials.  You will see, “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” (Cf. Hebrews 11:39-40) That something better was Jesus Christ – His Son! This is what Paul brings to our attention:

Romans 4:18-25 (NIV)

18 Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” (Cf. Genesis 15:5) 19 Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. 20 Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, 21 being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised. 22 This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” 23 The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, 24 but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

When we think about the possible injustices that God has allowed in our world … in the lives of His people … there is one great injustice that He ordained that stands out in my mind. For God made Jesus, who know no sin, to be sin for us – so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21) Was it unfair of God … to sacrifice Himself for the world?  Was it unjust of Him … to determine that the justice we deserve would be borne by His only begotten Son?

Hebrews 5:5-10 (NIV)

In the same way, Christ did not take on Himself the glory of becoming a high priest. But God said to Him, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.” (Quote is from Psalm 2:7) And He says in another place, “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” (Quote is from Psalm 110:4) 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, He 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.

Isaiah 53

1 Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him; nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces He was despised, and we held Him in low esteem. Surely, He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted.
But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter; and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth. From confinement and judgment He was taken away. Yet who of His generation protested? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished. He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, though He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. 10 Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life an offering for sin, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. 11 After He has suffered, He will see the fruit of His suffering and be satisfied; by His knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong, because He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

Let these passages sink deep into your spirit for a moment. Let them unearth every thought you might have about any personal unfairness or injustice you have experienced.  Whatever you are going through … whatever you are experiencing … whatever hardship or affliction or suffering or despair of life … I want to encourage you to seek God in fervent prayer today. In His body, Jesus experienced every form of human suffering. He knows firsthand the intensity of your physical or emotional pain! He knows what you are enduring! He knows where you are! Oh, His light may reveal the presence of sin within your heart for you to confess; but I believe there may be something far greater that He desires to do in your life.  Allowing suffering may just be the “refining” work that He is doing for your faith – your precious faith that is of greater worth than gold! There may be a special work that God has chosen to reveal in you … so that others will receive the fruit of your suffering.  You may be closer to the image of Jesus than you realize! Perhaps this is why Paul declared, “I want to know Christ – yes, to know the power of His resurrection and participation in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death. (Cf. Philippians 3:10) For God is producing a faith in you and me that understands righteousness is imputed and not earned … that salvation is received because of who He is and not because of what we have done.  Yes, He is filling you and me with a faith to know His grace is sufficient … with a faith that can be harnessed to move mountains … to do the impossible! You and I may not see the final outcome of what God is doing in and through our lives, but I am certain that we should trust Him and His great love for us as we travel along this journey of faith….

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 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 revealedThough 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.

We are not able to choose the method or circumstances by which God determines to cultivate and refine our faith in Him.  But we know that His will is for faith to be formed and to grow within us so that it may result in praise, glory, and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed! Without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6) Our faith must be genuine … it must be sincere.  So, I believe God will work (as His sovereignty determines) to bring each of us to an authentic faith … as we look to Jesus, the author and finisher of faith. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) For Jesus will distribute (just as He determines), the gifts of faith for the benefit and common good of all. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) Because it is faith that will advance His Kingdom, it is through faith that we are equipped for works of service, so that the Body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” (Cf. Ephesians 4:12-13)

So, I have come to believe that the Book of Job ultimately teaches us the purposes of faith … its role in hope … and its fulfillment in love. As Paul would later explain: “12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:12-13) If you have read this far, I appreciate your hanging with me on this side excursion into the topic of suffering.  I hope it has presented some ideas for you to ponder … or better still … encouraged you to dig deeper into the Word to discover more for yourself. (Cf. Acts 17:11) Regardless, if you are experiencing deep anguish in body or soul, I pray you will know in your inmost being that God is there with you.  He is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3) May you and I, along with Job, in faith proclaim: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand on the earth.  And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God – whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes behold, and not another.  How my heart yearns within me! (Cf. Job 19:25-27)

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!