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!

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!

Walk By The Spirit

Galatians 5:16

So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

In Leviticus 11, Moses has been instructing on the practices of consecration … separation from the world in order to be a distinct people for service to God.  In the context, Moses is revealing dietary ordinances distinguishing between clean and unclean animals – what is acceptable for consumption and what has been deemed detestable.  And for our purpose today, the issue is not what foods we can eat or avoid; rather, the issue is discerning between clean and unclean … between holiness and unrighteousness.  Thus, we see warnings and admonitions as Moses proclaimed the Word of God and wrote: “43 Do not defile yourselves by any of these creatures. Do not make yourselves unclean by means of them or be made unclean by them. 44 I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. 45 I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy.” (Cf. Leviticus 11:43-45)

Notice the phrases: “Do not ….”  Do not defile yourselves.  Do not make yourselves unclean.  These speak to our own conduct … our own behaviors … the fulfillment of our own desires as opposed to what God has ordained and purposed for us.  And this issue of holiness has been the challenge for humans since the beginning.  In Genesis 6:5, we read: “The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.” His displeasure with humans was so great that God caused a Great Flood of the earth to eliminate its wickedness – sparing faithful Noah, his family, and a remnant of the animals.  Yet, what do we read afterwards as Noah built an altar to the Lord and offered sacrifices in worship? “The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in His heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21) Interesting that despite the rainbow and the revealed mercy of God, the condition of the human heart still remains unchanged….

It is clear from Scripture (and personal experience) that humans have a sinful nature … a propensity and capacity (human will) to separate ourselves from God rather than drawing ourselves to God.  Sin separates us from God.  Sanctification draws us to God.  So, if we intend to respond to this command from God; if we want to be holy (set apart) because our Creator and Father is holy, then we need a solution to the innate inclination to practice evil within our hearts. And this concern brings me to what Paul exhorts in our verse today: “So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” So let’s put the verse in its surrounding context:

Galatians 5:13-26 (NIV) – Life by the Spirit

13 You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. 14 For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Cf. Leviticus 19:1815 If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. 16 So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the flesh desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the flesh. They are in conflict with each other, so that you are not to do whatever you want. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

From this passage, we can readily understand that the acts of the flesh stem from every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart.  Such behaviors … such human conduct … define the sin which separates us from intimacy with God.  And so, to walk in the Spirit … to live under His perpetual influence … it is necessary to be filled with His abiding presence.  The Holy Spirit must indwell you in order for the process of holiness to be initiated in your heart.  And this leads me to Jesus!  Jesus sends the gift of the Holy Spirit to indwell the one who believes in Him … and receives Him through the Spirit.  This is the abiding, personal relationship that Jesus taught His disciples … and teaches us now in our generation:

John 15:1-12 (NIV)

1 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes (cleans) so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples. “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

Powerful words … powerful affirmation!  God in His mercy, to address sin within the human heart and to remove its deception and corruption of our souls, sent His Son, Jesus, to this earth to rescue us … to redeem us … to deliver us from the power of sin and its penalty: Death! (Cf. Romans 6:23) Christ paid the ultimate penalty of sin for us on the cross!  Every drop of His precious blood was poured out for us.  He was the Lamb of God slain to be the propitiation for our sin.  (Cf. 1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10) Why?  Because God is Holy!  And to be in relationship with Him, we must be holy according to His command.  Jesus is the one who consecrates and sanctifies us before God.  When we are in Christ, when we belong to Him, we receive His resurrection power.  As the Apostle Peter wrote: “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3)

God is calling His people … His children to holiness! Yes, the Father is calling all who desire to intimately know Him … who want to become His children … to sanctification and holiness through His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.  Because He has said, “I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy.  Holiness begins when a person places his or her faith in Jesus Christ; and it is manifested through the fruit of the Spirit. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. So I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh….

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

THE WAY OUT

1 Corinthians 10:13

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

As we continue in the pursuit of holiness for our lives, this verse is quite appropriate for us to study and put into action.  Let’s break it down and examine it more closely:

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind.

No matter what you are going through … no matter what you face in the battle against sin in your life … there is someone else who has waged the same fight. The sinful human nature is common to the human life we experience here on earth.  And if you have been “overtaken” by the sin that so easily ensnares you (Cf. Hebrews 12:1), know you are not alone.  What you have allowed to become a stronghold in your life is common to all mankind.  And I believe the greatest temptation that has overtaken any human is the sin of unbelief because I think when most sin occurs … when we are most vulnerable to its deception … is when we fall into faithlessness toward God … when we ignore His invitation to intimacy … when we lose the awareness that God sees all!  David asked: “Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?” (Psalm 139:7) There is no place we can go outside of His presence.  When we wander from God, in a sense, we do not leave His presence; rather, we leave His divine power and His hand upon our lives.  Unbelief weakens us!  Unbelief paralyzes us!  It renders us powerless to overcome sin rather than being mighty to the pulling down of strongholds.  Yet, there is an answer to this plight of temptation!

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NIV)

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 (NKJV)

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal (of the flesh) but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

The reason temptation can overtake us is because we try to fight the battle in our flesh and not in the Spirit realm.  Our weapons to resist … to flee …  are not natural but spiritual. And those weapons are fasting, prayer, and the sword of the Spirit … which is the Word of God! (Cf. Ephesians 6:17) Paul instructed us to put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil (temptation) comes, we may be able to stand our ground, and after we have done everything, to stand. (Cf. Ephesians 6:13). For this is what Jesus did when He went into the wilderness to be tempted of Satan.  With every high and lofty arrow of deception aimed for His heart, Jesus responded to Satan with Scripture: “It is written….” (Cf. Matthew 4:4-10) Do we know the Word of God well enough to fight or resist temptation? Are we equipped to do battle and to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ?  Jesus warned His disciples on the night of His betrayal: “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Cf. Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38) This is real warfare, folks!  And on the battlefields of our minds, the war will be won or lost….

God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear.

What an encouragement to know that even when we are tempted … even when we are weak … even when we are faithless … God is still faithful to us.  Yet, too often we lose a battle.  And it appears that we wave our white flags of surrender far too soon at times.  When we “cave to crave” we have not reached what we can bear. Remember, God will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear! So what happens? Why do we fail?

James 1:12-18 (NIV)

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

So we see that temptation comes from within our hearts. We just read about the condition of man from the beginning … when the Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. (Cf. Genesis 6:5) So it follows that we need clean hearts and right spirits in order to find the path to triumph.  David asked, “Who can say, “I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin”? (Psalm 20:9) Paul observed that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23) But God is faithful!  His kindness is intended to lead us to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4)   And David found the path of repentance that we would do well to carefully observe.  I encourage you to read all of Psalm 51 … but this excerpt is what came to my heart: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” (Psalm 51:10-12)

But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

The truth of the matter is you and I WILL be tempted.  The text does not read, “But IF you are tempted….”  No human is or has ever been without temptation.  It is part of the human experience God created.  And even though God has shown Himself mighty and powerful on behalf of His people … they have wandered and rebelled against Him.  God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:8) Yet, Jesus asked, “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Cf. Luke 18:8) Faith is essential in the battle against temptation, because faith determines whether we will engage our human will to act upon the temptation presented.  “For without faith, it is impossible to please God.”  (Hebrews 11:6) I am reminded of where Moses wrote:

Deuteronomy 8:2-5 (NIV)

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the wilderness these forty years, to humble and test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep His commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. Your clothes did not wear out and your feet did not swell during these forty years. Know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you. Observe the commands of the Lord your God, walking in obedience to Him and revering Him.

God took His people into the wilderness and then He led them through it.  God caused His people to hunger … and then He fed them.  The Lord declared through Moses, “Man does not live on food alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.  God provides for both our physical hunger and spiritual hunger! No, the testing and trials that the Lord allows are not temptations; rather, they reveal the truth of what lies with our hearts.  And when we decide to face the truth … when the discipline we receive of the Lord is discerned and understood … then we will discover that God has provided a way out of the wilderness.  We find that God has made provision to sustain us.  Oh, yes!  When we completely surrender everything to our Lord and Savior … when we enter into intimacy with Him … He will change the inclinations of the thoughts of our hearts.  He will renew a right spirit within us.  God will give us His divine power; and His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who call us by His own glory and goodness. (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3)

Another thought that just occurred to me on the issue of temptation:  I believe the more we pursue intimacy with Jesus … the more He disciples our faith in Him … then the more we can expect to experience trial and temptation in order to test our faith.  I considered what Jesus said to Peter at the Last Supper in the Upper Room:

Luke 22:31-34 (NIV)

31 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32 But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” 33 But Peter replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.” 34 Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”

It was not only Peter who would be sifted as wheat in order to separate the valued, true seed of faith from the worthless, deceptive outer covering of chaff … that made faith appear larger than it was in reality .  It would be all of the disciples … just as it will be all of us.  We will all be sifted!  We will all be subjected to temptation … to test our faith! Even Jesus was not immune from being tempted by Satan.  And the Apostle James advised us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (Cf. James 1:2-4)

But I want us to notice how Jesus said He had prayed for Simon Peter.  Jesus prayed that Peter’s FAITH would not fail…. Now we know from the narrative that Peter did in fact fail during the next battle he faced … and the rooster crowed.  But we also know that Peter later triumphed … being baptized with fire and the Holy Spirit. Because the Lord was with Him, Peter persevered in faith, and he went on to win the war … to “finish the race.”  His faith did not fail!  And this is something for us to grasp, that even now, Jesus sits at the right hand of God … seated at the throne … interceding for us. (Hebrews 7:24-25) God may send you into the wilderness, but He will lead you through it to the Promised Land.  God may allow you to hunger, but He will fill you and sustain your life.  God may allow Satan to sift you with temptation to test the genuineness of your faith, but Jesus will intercede for you … that your faith may not fail.  Peter would later share and express his experience:

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 revealed. Though you have not seen Him, you love Him; and even though you do not see Him now, you believe in Him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

Romans 8:31-39 (NIV)

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 shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Cf. 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.

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us!  God provided us a way to endure temptation.  His name is Jesus!  And I pray that we will realize that Jesus is ever interceding for us that our faith may not fail.  I encourage you to take some time and read the “Hall of Faith” presented in Hebrews 11.  Then, let the triumphs of those faithful people of old resonate within you.  And then, after your meditation, continue to this passage:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer (author) and perfecter (finisher) of our faith. For the joy set before Him He endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart….

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Losing Your Soul…

Mark 8:36 (NIV)

What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?

We have read and studied this verse before; but in light of our recent series of Scriptures focusing on the spiritual health of men, I believe we should look at it again in that context….

Generally, I think men are more challenged with keeping a balanced perspective on their career and financial goals because we tend to be occupational or vocational centric … meaning we place a high value on what we do and accomplish in our jobs and professions – the money we earn from doing so – and the self-esteem we attach to our careers and bank accounts.  It is normal to have an interest or concern about household finances because of our deep-seated desire to be successful and consistent providers for our families.  But Jesus asks us a very pointed question: “What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?”  Another related question for men might be: “What good is it to “prosper” yourself in your work but lose your marriage or your children or your health in the process?”  In other words, Jesus calls us to give consideration to the greatest priorities we have in our lives and to not lose sight of what has more eternal impact on ourselves and those we love.

The Apostle Paul shared this perspective with a young man named Timothy – who he mentored and discipled in the faith.  Paul said, “For we brought nothing into the word, and we can take nothing out of it.” (Cf. 1 Timothy 6:7) Perhaps that is the sobering reminder we need to form a healthier view of the life God has granted to each of us. Life is a gift.  Everything we have is a gift. And while work and the enjoyment it brings to our lives is an important aspect of it … it is really only a context for us to discover, learn, and grow in the knowledge of God’s will for our us.  Consider a parable that Jesus shared with His followers:

Luke 12:16-21 (NIV)

16 And He (Jesus) told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’ 18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’ 20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” 22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap; they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest? 27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek His Kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Men … we need to take this lesson and its wisdom to heart.  God wants to do so much in our lives and through our lives … not only to conform us to the image of His Son … but to develop us for the good and well-being of others; especially our wives and children.  So our spiritual health is critical; and we need to exercise it regularly each day in prayer and study of the Word.  Every once and a while, you and I might need to reset our mindsets as my pastor has often encouraged me to do.  And as the Apostle Paul admonished, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Cf. Romans 12:2) So when life gets out of balance and when begin to focus more on work and career more than focusing on God, I pray we will set more time aside from our work and personal ambitions to rekindle His Kingdom in our hearts so we can truly flourish in our spirits for the positive influence it will have on our marriages, our children, and our relationships with others.  I assure you; it will be time well spent.  As the Apostle John wrote, “I pray that you may prosper in all things and be in good health – just as your soul prospers. (Cf. 3 John 2:2) Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Battle of the Selves

Colossians 3:12 (NIV)

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

This Verse is a “call” to us regarding our dispositions … our manners … our characters as new creations in Christ.  It reminds us that our redeemed lives are to be Spirit-filled with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.  In this context we are to be forgiving … just as the Lord Jesus forgave us.  And over all these virtues, we are to put on love – which binds them all together.  The message here from Paul to the Colossians has quite the application for us because it describes the outward “physical” changes that should follow the inward “spiritual” changes that have caused us to become “holy and dearly loved” children of God.

So I think I will reprint this section of Scripture for your easy reference and reading.  I pray it will impact you and I in the 21st Century as deeply as Paul intended for it to instruct the Colossian believers of the 1st Century.

Colossians 3:1-17 (NIV)

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you have died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory. Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Because of these, the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.  You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. 11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.  12 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13 Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And above all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. 15 Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.

This is the new life we have been saved to live.  If you continue to experience conflicts with your earthly nature exerting itself above your inner man, you need to realize that the battle is now spiritual.  Verse 3 reminds us that the old person you were has died and the new person you are is now hidden in Christ.  But Paul instructs us that we do not wrestle against blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. (Cf. Ephesians 6:12) But I will encourage you in this, as you see the physical manifestations of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love in your relationships with others, you can know that the spiritual battles are being won.  Think of your earthly nature as a barometer of your spiritual nature.  It might not be an exact measure but I’d venture to say it is fairly close….

So what is our application?  Well, our bodies (flesh and blood) are not really the problem.  The greatest battle is within our hearts … our inner beings … our souls.  For as a man thinks in his heart … so is he.  It is our hearts that God must capture; and He did through Christ Jesus.  Do you not realize that it is the kindness of God that led us to repentance? (Cf. Romans 2:4) The love of God is why we submit to His transformation of our hearts … so that we might be conformed to the image of His Son.  And this is why we are called to be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  This is why we are admonished to put on the whole armor of God, that we may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. If we are not seeing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives and in our relationships with others – then we need to do some serious introspection and start fighting those spiritual battles.  Paul tells us how to be winners:

Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV)

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.

This is how you fight those battles. This is how you put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.  There are several defensive pieces of armor in the list above – but there is only one offensive spiritual weapon you are provided by God.  It is the sword of the Spirit – which is the Word of God.  And, of course, we would include prayer.  Paul instructs that we should be praying at all times in the Spirit. If you want to win the battles – then you will need both the Word and Prayer!  Finally, I will leave you with a couple of parallel verses to encourage you in this fight.  They assure us that our faith in Christ Jesus can overcome our earthly nature and the trouble we have in this world.

John 16:33 (NIV)

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

1 John 5:1-5 (NIV)

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.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!