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!

In My Distress

Psalm 120:1

I call on the Lord in my distress, and He answers me.

Always a timely word!  Whenever you or I feel stressed … hard pressed … distressed … anxious … or even fearful with what is happening in your life, God has affirmed in His Word that He wants us to call upon Him.  God in our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in times of trouble (Cf. Psalm 46:1) So whatever we are going through, we should give it to the Father.  Talk with Him.  Share with Him.  This verse assures us that He will listen.  As Peter affirmed, “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.” (Cf. 1 Peter 5:7) Here Peter quotes Psalm 55:22 which reads, “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken.”

If you feel defeated for some reason … if you feel like giving up or giving in to your circumstances or situation … pause for a moment.  Breathe.  Breathe deeply.  Now I encourage you to read how Asaph reset His mindset when feeling overwhelmed with the world and culture that surrounded him.  Read Psalm 73 this morning.  It will not take long, but it will impact your day.  I believe it will bring you some fresh perspective.  I am particularly fond of its conclusion:

Psalm 73:23-28 (ESV)

21 When my soul was embittered, when I was pricked in heart, 22 I was senseless and ignorant; I was like a brute beast toward You. 23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. 25 Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. 27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish; you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you. 28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Oh, how I pray that we would understand how much God loves us!  He is the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3) Even now, He is running toward you … to embrace you and show you His lovingkindness. (Cf. Luke 15:20) Just be still and embrace Him.  Rest in Him.  He is the God of peace.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus. (Cf. Philippians 4:7) In John 16:33, Jesus said, “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Yes, Jesus is all you need, and His grace is sufficient for you. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9) So, call upon Him.  He will listen to you.  And when you are finished, be still and listen to Him. I believe you will be amazed at His answer….

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

The Plans I Have For You

Jeremiah 29:11-13

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

This is a very familiar verse for most of us!  It is often quoted, and many of us have memorized … even memorialized these prophetic words.  No doubt that any one of us want to have a positive outlook on life … a hopeful future … and a purpose directed by God.  These things are central to our human experience and longing.  But Jeremiah looks deeper into what hope and purpose entail.  There are actions on our part that are fundamental to the realization of those plans God has promised to bring about in our lives.  In Verses 12 and 13, he states, “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.

I think we need to look closer at those words in the context:

  • You will call on Me
  • You will come and pray to Me AND I will listen to you
  • You will seek Me
  • You will find Me WHEN you seek Me with all your heart

I sense there are people who want to know God’s will for their lives.  They want to know HIS plans for their lives … the future HE envisions … the prosperity and protection HE promises.  Yet they do not pray … they do not sit still and listen … they do not seek God with their whole heart.  They have their own ideas for happiness … their own conceptions of prosperity … and they simply want God to bless what they want to do … based on their own plans for their lives.  This is not what the Word of God teaches us; and I urge anyone caught in this inner struggle and take a step back and examine themselves and their motivations….  We need to consider what the Prophet Isaiah wrote:

Isaiah 55:6-9 (NKJV)

Seek the Lord while He may be found, Call upon Him while He is near. Let the man of iniquity forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; Let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” says the Lord. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.

This is why we need to come to God … to pray to Him … to listen to Him … to seek Him with our whole hearts … in order to know what HE has planned and ordained for our lives IN HIM.   A few days ago, I mentioned this verse: “Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him.” 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 2:9-10) Here, Paul quoted Isaiah 64:4 which reads: “For since the beginning of the world people have not heard nor perceived by the ear, nor has the eye seen any God besides You, who acts for the one who waits for Him.”  Since the beginning people have not understood what God has planned and purposed for us; yet Paul indicates that God HAS revealed these things to us through His Spirit.  Indeed, God has made known the riches of His wisdom. But you and I cannot find out the plans God has for us … the future and hope He has ordained for us … if we do not have an intimate relationship with Him.  As Hebrews 11:6 asserts, “But without faith it is impossible to please God, for the one who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

Do you want to know the plans that God has for you? His desire to give you abundant life? (Cf. John 10:10) Eternal life? (Cf. John 3:15-16) Then you need to call upon God.  You need to go to Him and pray.  You need to listen.  You need to seek Him with your whole heart.  For we read in Jeremiah 29:14 where God has said, “I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive. Do you see what the verse is telling us?  “I will bring you back from your captivity.”  Captivity?  Yes, we have held ourselves hostage … imprisoned ourselves with our own thoughts and our own plans … our own visions of the future and not the plans God has designed and purposed for us.  He allowed us to be held captive there … in those thoughts … so that we could see and experience the futility … the servitude … the enslavement … of man-made dreams!  But God has something better … something greater … something more fulfilling and satisfying for our souls … if we would but seek an intimate relationship with Him who is our Creator … our Savior … our Lord.

Here are some exhortations that come to mind:

Psalm 33:10-11 (NKJV)

The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; He makes the plans of the peoples of no effect. 11 The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations.

Psalm 146:3-4 (NIV)

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge (submit to) Him, and He will make your paths straight.

Proverbs 14:22 (NIV)

22 Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness.

Proverbs 14:22 (NKJV)

21 There are many plans in a man’s heart, nevertheless the Lord’s counsel—that will stand.

Proverbs 23:17-18 (NIV)

17 Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord. 18 There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off.

Proverbs 23:17-18 (NIV)

“Woe to the rebellious children,” says the Lord, “Who take counsel, but not of Me, and who devise plans, but not of My Spirit, that they may add sin to sin….

Matthew 6:24 (NIV)

24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Matthew 16:24-25 (NKJV)

24 “Then Jesus said to His disciples, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. 25 For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.

Matthew 22:37-39 (NKJV)

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’

James 4:3-5 (NKJV)

You ask and do not receive, because you ask amiss, that you may spend it on your pleasures. 4 Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you think that the Scripture says in vain, “The Spirit who dwells in us yearns jealously”?

So what is the application?  God knows the plans that HE has for you!  His thoughts toward you are thoughts of peace … not of harm.  His thoughts are for you … not against you.  The future He offers is the hope of eternal life … given to us through Christ Jesus our Lord.  God is asking us to come to Him for answers … to call upon Him and pray to Him.  God is asking us to seek Him with all of our heart … to trust Him in all things and not lean upon our understanding.  Our understanding is limited.  We only know in part. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:12) But what we do know is more than sufficient!  For we know the love of God … His great love (Cf. Ephesians 2:4) … His lavish love … that we might be called His children. (Cf. 1 John 3:1).  Yes, we can trust God for our future because we can trust God for His love. Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Lord – My Strength

Psalm 18:1-2

I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Our theme of God our strength … our fortress … our refuge … our shield … and our salvation continues!  What a powerful word we have from the inspired pen of King David!

Oh, there is someone …  perhaps many who need this word this morning!  You are fighting battles that are beyond your own understanding … beyond your own strength … beyond your own abilities.  They are battles that belong to the Lord!  You do not have to carry them!  You were not meant to carry them! God is wanting to show you HIS power … HIS strength … HIS love and care for you … to build your faith … to increase your trust in HIM … and Him alone!  For our struggle is not against flesh and blood. (Cf. Ephesians 6:12) And the weapons of our warfare are not of the world; on the contrary, they have divine power to demolish the strongholds of the enemy. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5)

I encourage you to take every thought of defeat captive and to make it obedient to Christ.  Through prayer, seek God and allow Him to be your stronghold and fortress … your shield and strong tower.  Go to Him in faith and trust that He is your rear-guard.  No weapon formed against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me,” declares the Lord. (Cf. Isaiah 54:17) This is my prayer for you this morning … for those who are in spiritual battle.  Take refuge.  Find rest in the Lord Jesus.  He said, “Come unto me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Cf. Matthew 11:28) Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (Cf. John 14:27) Yes, receive His peace this morning!  He is watching over you….  Amen.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Confession and Forgiveness

Psalm 86:5

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.

Had a rough week … a challenging month … a time of spiritual battle when temptation has mounted a coordinated attack against you.  Were you caught off guard … unprepared … or just too weak to counter the offensive launched by the enemy? Did you finally surrender to the temptation? Unfortunately, it can happen to any of us. Our thoughts and behaviors do not always reflect the new creation that we have become in Christ. And sometimes I feel like I am a wider target when I am on top of the spiritual mountain.  Just when I think that my faith is strong and my armor secure … a struggle with temptation ensues; and sometimes I miss the way out in order to endure it. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13) The Apostle James has observed this process as follows:

James 1:13-15 (NIV)

13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; 14 but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

That is the process … that is how temptation is formed and sin follows in its wake! Our carnal nature … our sinful nature as human beings … can easily raise its ugly head and engage us. And I think we need to realize that not all temptation comes from outside evil forces; rather, it can stem from our own internal desires or lusts that entice us and lead us into thought patterns and behaviors that manifest themselves as sin.  I’m not talking about the obvious sins such as murder, adultery, sexual immorality, etc.  I’m speaking about the inner sins such as covetousness, envy, jealousy, malice, deceit, hypocrisy, arrogance, slander, bitterness, anger, rage, and filthy language we have been admonished to avoid.  Whether we display these behaviors in our relationships with others in overt or subtle ways, these sins are detrimental to our witness and hinder His command to love one another as Christ has loved us. As much as I want to believe that my heart is not of this world … that I have consecrated myself unto God … there are occasions that I simply fail to resist these types of inner heart issues, and I need to repent and be cleansed.

So I love the reminder of our verse today.  God is forgiving and good! God abounds in love to those who call upon Him.  That is why prayer and confession is so essential to spiritual discipline.  That is why transparency is necessary to have intimacy with the Lord Jesus. Fellowship with God requires honesty … integrity … sincerity. I am so grateful that the Apostle John articulated and shared how believers must walk in the light and in the truth.  There is no continuum between darkness and light – only one or the other.  God is light and in Him is no darkness at all!

John 1:1-5 (NKJV)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.

1 John 1:5-10 (NKJV)

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His Word is not in us.

1 John 2:1-2 (NKJV)

1 My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.

Yes, John is quite forthright about confession. It is vital for us to acknowledge our sin to God when it occurs … when the Holy Spirit convicts us (Cf. John 16:8) … and to agree with God that we have fallen short of His command to be holy just as He is holy.  The writer of the Book of Hebrews addresses the need for confession:

Hebrews 4:11-16 (NKJV)

11 Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience. 12 For the Word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. 13 And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are naked and open to the eyes of Him to whom we must give account. 14 Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15 For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Yes, when we come before the throne of grace, we can apply the example of King David as recorded in Psalm 51 to better understand “how” to make our confessions before God. David demonstrated honesty.  He exhibited sorrow and repentance.  He recognized the authority and sovereignty of God to execute judgement for sin.  And He knew God would have mercy because of His great love and faithfulness.  Oh, we cannot feign anything with God.  He knows our hearts.  He knows the truth. All things, including the inclinations within our hearts, are naked and open to the eyes of Him before whom we MUST GIVE account.  Jesus knows our weaknesses … and He wants to restore us to fellowship with Him.  Confession and repentance are the first steps to reconciliation … and the sacrifices of a broken spirit – a broken and contrite heart – are the path to restoration.

Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever! (Cf. Psalm 106:1)

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

A.S.K.

Matthew 7:7-8

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.

A few weeks ago, as I drove my granddaughter Kennedy to school, she asked me a question.  The question was concerning whether her mother should ask a client if Kennedy might be able to volunteer in their nursing home this summer.  Well, I thought that was the greatest idea … for an 8-year old to spend time with our elderly and to learn the deeper lessons of compassion.  I was truly touched by her sincerity….  Anyway, she repeated the question.  Would it be okay to ask for the administrator’s permission?

Well, I seized the moment and told her Jesus would like to give her some advice.  And then I proceeded to quote her this passage:  “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.”  Well, she thought that was pretty cool….  So I began to tell her this verse from Matthew 21:21-22:  21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.” (See also Mark 11:23-24) Well, now I had her attention.  So I threw one more at her from 1 John 5:14-15 which reads: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.”  By this time Kennedy had wised up and asked me if we could just go to Dunkin Donuts and get some Munchkins!  LOL!  And of course Granddaddy simply answered, “Ask and you shall receive.”

What a wonderful time for me … to share the Word of God with a sensitive young heart.  And I think that moment we shared somehow planted another seed of faith within her.  And I hope this little story planted a reminder in your own heart – to spend intimate time in prayer with the Father.  Prayer is the most powerful conduit we have to access the treasures of wisdom and knowledge and spiritual resources of God.  He is ever present … ever available to us!  Like a small child – go to Him in prayer.

Luke 11:10-13 (NIV)

10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

            A – Ask and it will be given to you     

            S – Seek and you will find

            K – Knock and the door will be opened to you

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

When Hard Pressed

Psalm 118:5-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

James 1:2:8 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!