Shine Like Stars…

Philippians 2:14-16 (NIV)

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the Word of Life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labor in vain.

Our Verse of the Day is a good word for us because it brings into focus the need for us to be mindful in how we relate to one another within the Church.  By Church I mean not only the local assembly where we attend, but also the entire Body of Christ throughout the world! Paul admonishes us: “Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, as children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”  He speaks of an attitude or mindset that we should have within ourselves … following the example our Lord Jesus modeled for us:

Philippians 2:3-16 (NRSV) – Imitate the Humility of Christ

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that you have in Christ Jesus, who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, 8 He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death— even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted Him and gave Him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 12 Therefore, my beloved, just as you have always obeyed me, not only in my presence, but much more now in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for His good pleasure. 14 Do all things without murmuring and arguing, 15 so that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, in which you shine like stars in the world16 It is by your holding fast to the Word of Life that I can boast on the day of Christ that I did not run in vain or labor in vain. 

There are some other Scriptures that come to mind when I look at how our Lord Jesus handled conflicts with people:

Isaiah 53:3-7 (NRSV)

He (the Messiah) was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and sorrows … and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces. He was despised, and we held Him of no account. Surely, He has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted Him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the punishment that made us whole and by His bruises we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He did not open His mouth.

Matthew 27:11-14 (NRSV) (See also Mark 15:1-5; Luke 23:1-9)

11 Now Jesus stood before the governor (Pontius Pilate); and the governor asked Him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You say so.” 12 But when He was accused by the chief priests and elders, Jesus did not answer. 13 Then Pilate said to Him, “Do you not hear how many accusations they make against you?” 14 But He gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.

1 Peter 2:21-23 (NRSV)

21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in His steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” 23 When He was abused, He did not return abuse; when He suffered, He did not threaten or retaliate; rather, He entrusted Himself to the One who judges justly.

It is clear that when we act or respond in humility to real or perceived wrongs, we follow the example of Jesus as He dealt with those who mistreated Him.  He did not grumble or argue.  He did not engage in verbal retorts or assaults.  He did not retaliate against those who bore false witness against Him. When scourged and physically abused, Jesus did not return abuse for the suffering inflicted upon His body. No, Jesus entrusted Himself to the Father … to the One who judges rightly. The Apostle Paul weighs in on this issue as well; and I think he affords us some additional insight:

Romans 12:9-20 (NIV)

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. 14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. 15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. 16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. 17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. 19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. (Citing Deuteronomy 32:3520 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Citing Proverbs 25:21-22)

So why are we taught to deny ourselves and pick up our own crosses each day? Why are we urged to have these qualities … these attitudes or mindsets to guide our character and conduct?  In short, the answer is LOVE!  This is what sincere love in action looks like! This is how genuine love manifests itself! “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.” (Cf. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8) Indeed, we need to learn to love as Jesus loved! As Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (Cf. John 13:34-35)

Oh, how I pray that each of us will be diligent to reflect the love of God through the example that Jesus has shown us. I pray we will embrace the mindset of Christ within our hearts.  That is what will impact our nation and the world.  This is what will bring about healing and deliverance. This is how the world will know we are HIS disciples … when we love others as Jesus has loved us!

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Called To Be Holy…

1 Peter 1:15-16 (NIV)

But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

Our Verse of the Day brings a solemn reminder that we are to be holy just as God is holy! This means we are set apart unto God. This means God is the center of our being. This means we seek intimacy with God in order to be like Him in holiness. There are several Scriptures that address this call to holiness … and the word sanctification comes to mind as I write.

When we think about the word HOLY, the idea is rooted in something dedicated or devoted to the service of God. As a concept, HOLY is a state of being … consecrated with the intent of not allowing itself to become corrupted or impure.  There is a deep sense of purity … like gold refined through intense heat to remove its dross.  It is how we describe the person and presence of God, our Creator. He is Holy. He is Perfection. He is Pure and Unapproachable Light. He is Spirit. Perhaps we could explore what Paul wrote on the subject:

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 (NIV)

3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, 5 not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. 7 For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. 8 Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.

2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 (NIV)

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers and sisters loved by the Lord, because God chose you as first-fruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. 14 He called you to this through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our sanctification, our walk toward holiness, is the expressed will of God. Paul connects that sanctification or holiness entails abstinence from sexual immorality; however, holiness goes far deeper into the inclinations and motives of our hearts. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but to holiness. And this is what we are drawn to pursue through the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, God chose us for salvation and sanctification. And note how Paul articulates this process – the Holy Spirit works to separate us from the world unto God … and His work begins when we believe the truth. In fact, Jesus prayed for our sanctification! Look at this passage as Jesus prayed to the Father:

John 17:13-19 (NIV)

13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the Truth; your Word is Truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. 19 For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.

When we believe the Word of God … and put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ … this is only the beginning of our sanctification. It is the moment that holiness is birthed in our hearts. We are born-again – not of this world or of the flesh – but we are born of God through the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God … Truth. As Peter explained: “For you have been born-again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God.” (Cf. 1 Peter 1:23) And I think the Apostle Paul explains the underlying conflict in this process quite well:

Romans 8:5-11 (NIV)

Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ. 10 But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. 11 And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of His Spirit who lives in you.

To become holy or sanctified is an intentional process. The Apostle John affirmed, “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did.” (Cf. 1 John 2:6) I believe it is intentional on the part of Father God for us to be conformed to the image of His Son (Cf. Romans 8:29), and that is why He has given us His Spirit. Likewise, I believe it must be intentional on our part to submit ourselves to the obedience that comes from faith. John asserted, “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God’s seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.” (Cf. 1 John 3:9) Indeed, obedience is what produces the outcomes of holiness within us.  It is what compels us to reverence God … to worship God … and to serve God! Obedience is how we demonstrate our love to God. (Cf. John 14:15, 21) We pursue sanctification because we want to please God out of our love for Him; and I believe submission and obedience is how we can attain it….

My friends, I pray we all will take the call for sanctification to heart. Let us deny ourselves as symbolized in fasting; and let us sanctify our hearts through prayer and intimacy with the Lord. This is what the Father desires for His children to be! The time has come for authentic relationship with God … and this requires our sanctification. For without holiness, no one will see the Lord. (Cf. Hebrews 12:14)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says, “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when He rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and He chastens everyone He accepts as His child.” (Citing Proverbs 3:11-12) Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as His children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our spirits and live! They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His Holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it. ~ Hebrews 12:4-11

A Light For Revelation…

Luke 2:28-32 (NIV)

Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying: “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.”

I hope everyone had a Blessed Christmas and a wonderful time with family and friends during the holidays. We have celebrated the season of the First Advent … the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ; but I want to take a closer look at the agency of the Holy Spirit in fulfillment of the Word of God. I’ll reprint a larger passage as the context for our Verse of the Day because I think there is an application for us:

Luke 2:22-35 (NIV)

22 When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord” (Citing Exodus 13:2), 24 and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”(Citing Leviticus 12:1-8) 25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. 26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. 27 Moved by the Spirit, Simeon went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for Him what the custom of the Law required, 28 Simeon took Jesus in his arms and praised God, saying: 29 “Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. 30 For my eyes have seen your salvation, 31 which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel.” 33 The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about Him. 34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, His mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35 so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

Throughout the nativity story, we have seen the agency of the Holy Spirit in full power and display. Mary conceives a baby through the power of the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit even from conception as well. Elizabeth prophesies through the Holy Spirit concerning the obedience of Mary and her faith in the power of God. Joseph, through the Holy Spirit, believes the angel of the Lord he sees in a dream and takes Mary to be his wife. Zechariah, father of John the Baptist, is filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesies at the birth of his son. And in our passage, we see Simeon moved by the Spirit and entering the temple to behold what had already been revealed to him by the Spirit. And I wonder, why were all these people convinced of what the Spirit of God had spoken or revealed to them? Why were they so confident and obedient to their encounters with Him?

To me, the most compelling reason is they were open to the mysterious and supernatural because of their knowledge of the Word of God. And I believe it all began with this prophecy from the Book of Isaiah. Then Isaiah said, “Hear now, you house of David! Is it not enough to try the patience of humans? Will you try the patience of my God also? 14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you all a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call Him Immanuel (which means God with us). (Cf. Isaiah 7:13-14)

When the angel Gabriel encountered Mary and spoke to her concerning the birth of a son, he explained “the Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most-High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God.” (Cf. Luke 1:35) Mary did not have to understand how the power of God would accomplish it, she just trusted God at His word. I think in her soul, she knew God had chosen her to fulfill this specific prophetic word. And with boldness of faith, Mary responded to the angel, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.” (Cf. Luke 1:38) Have you ever been in that place where you knew that God was fulfilling a prophetic word in your life? How did you respond?

And what of Joseph? Let’s turn to Matthew to look at His encounter with the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 1:18-24 (NIV)

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law (a righteous man), and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Citing Isaiah 7:14) 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

To me, this is another powerful testimony of someone who knew the Word of God … and its prophetic significance. Like Mary, after an explanation that the Holy Spirit was working in their lives to fulfill the will of God, Joseph was obedient to the call of God upon his life. Like Mary, Joseph did not have to understand how the power of God operated, he just trusted God at His word. I think in his soul, Joseph knew God had chosen Mary to fulfill this specific prophetic word. And with boldness of faith, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him. He had no idea what it meant or what would ultimately transpire, but Joseph knew it was best to believe God and be faithful….

In our verse, it is apparent that Simeon was well aware of the prophetic word of God concerning His Messiah. And by revelation of the Holy Spirit, Simeon knew that he would lay eyes upon the Messiah before his own death occurred. Isn’t it interesting that Simeon was looking for a child? He was at the temple when parents would be presenting their 8-day old sons for circumcision and consecration to God. What were the chances that day would be the exact day when Simeon was moved by the Spirit and went into the temple courts? Had Simeon heard the miraculous story told by the shepherds just a few days ago? Surely, he knew the prophecy of Micah 5:2, “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me One who will be ruler over Israel whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Yes, Simeon was looking for the Messiah. It was just a matter of time….

So here we are nearly 2000 years later with a different anticipation. We are looking for the Second Advent of Christ to be fulfilled. And what prophecies have already fallen into place? What “sign” has the Lord Himself given us? Is there some other assurance we feel is needed to convince us His Word will come to pass? What else might be needed? Well, as I thought about these questions, I remembered Matthew 24:14 when Jesus declared, “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come.” Interestingly enough, with all of our modern technology, this still has not fully occurred. And then I thought of this parable that Jesus told, and I feel moved to share it here:

Luke 14:1, 7-24 (NIV)

One Sabbath, when Jesus went to eat in the house of a prominent Pharisee, He was being carefully watched.

7 When Jesus noticed how the guests picked the places of honor at the table, He told them this parable: 8 “When someone invites you to a wedding feast, do not take the place of honor, for a person more distinguished than you may have been invited. 9 If so, the host who invited both of you will come and say to you, ‘Give this person your seat.’ Then, humiliated, you will have to take the least important place. 10 But when you are invited, take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, ‘Friend, move up to a better place.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all the other guests. 11 For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” 12 Then Jesus said to His host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” 15 When one of those at the table with Him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the Kingdom of God. 16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ 18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ 19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yokes of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ 20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’ 21 “The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’ 22 “‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’ 23 “Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full. 24 I tell you, not one of those who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’”

Why this parable? Well, think about it a moment. The parable is in reference to “the feast in the Kingdom of God.” Perhaps, this is similar to the Parable of the Wedding Feast recorded in Matthew 22 where Jesus spoke to them and said, “The Kingdom of Heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding….” Of course, here we understand that the servants were the prophets of God sent to Israel to invite them to the marriage banquet of God. However, the invited guests “were not willing to come.” They (the invited guests) all alike began to make excuses explaining why they were too busy to be bothered … though God had made elaborate preparations for them to come and enjoy. So, the king determine that his banquet should be filled with anyone who had not been originally invited … and so He ordered His servants to go out into the streets, alleys, roads, and country lanes to find people who might actually desire a seat at the table and appreciate His generous kindness….

From this parable, I believe there is another “prophecy” that needs to be fulfilled before the Second Advent occurs! Indeed, there is a banquet in preparation and there are new invitations being sent out! The Bride of Christ … His Body … the Church is making herself ready for the Wedding Feast of the Lamb! Oh, yes, when Jesus arrives to take us to be with Him … where He is (Cf. John 14:3), that Great Supper will be ready and waiting. And I believe that those who are led by the Holy Spirit … are indeed the servants whom God has called … whom Christ has appointed … to invite the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. Yes, God has ordained for us to minister to the poor in spirit … to those who live in brokenness … to those who live in darkness … and to those unable to walk in faith. We have been called and anointed to love and to bring healing and reconciliation just as Christ Jesus did for each of us.

Like Mary, Joseph, Zechariah, Elizabeth, John the Baptist, Simeon, Anna, the Apostles, the disciples, and all those who have been obedient to the faith and mission of the Church since the Day of Pentecost, we too must know and be obedient to the Word of God through the power and anointing of His Holy Spirit. And so, I pray the work of the Holy Spirit to fulfill the First Advent will continue to work in us and through us to fulfill the Second Advent! And I believe that work is to invite … to fill up the banquet hall for the feast in the Kingdom of God – that Great Supper of the Lamb! We do not have to understand how the power of God will accomplish His work; we just need to trust God at His word and be obedient to the command of the Lord. I pray that within our innermost beings, we will know that we know God has chosen us to fulfill His prophetic word. And with boldness of faith, I pray each of us will respond, “I am the Lord’s servant, may your word to me be fulfilled.”

Revelation 19:6-9 (NIV)

6 Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and be glad and give Him glory! For the Wedding of the Lamb has come, and His bride has made herself ready. 8 Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.) 9 Then the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” And he added, “These are the true words of God.”

Revelation 22:6-7 (NIV)

6 The angel said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent His angel to show His servants the things that must soon take place.” 7 “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll….

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Even so, come, Lord Jesus ~ Revelation 22:20

A Changed Decision…

Matthew 1:20-21 (NIV)

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.”

As we look at the various pieces of the Advent puzzle, I continue to see applications that I did not really notice before … though I have read the stories many times.  Our Verse of the Day is one of them that impressed me with a thought I would like to share, but I will broaden the passage a little more: 

Matthew 1:18-25 (NIV)

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the Law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give Him the name Jesus, because He will save His people from their sins.” 22 All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet: 23 “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call Him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”). (Cf. Isaiah 7:14) 24 When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. 25 But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.

The Apostle Matthew gives us a glimpse into the human dynamics of what was taking place as God prepared to send His Son into the world … to be the Savior of the world. We can only imagine what was going through Joseph’s mind when Mary broke the news to him about the supernatural visit from the angel, Gabriel, and his explanation of what was taking place and why.  It seems too improbable; yes, unbelievable; and in the moment, I would assume heartbreaking for Joseph. Still, there is something about the character and innocence of Mary that raised questions.  Joseph knew her heart and the strength of her faith in God. Was Mary telling the truth? Had she indeed found favor with God? But … this is not the way things were supposed to be….

As Joseph ponders … as he prays and seeks God for answers … as his tears and heartache overwhelm his soul, Joseph determines that he must separate from Mary and divorce her.  Yet, because he loves her so deeply, he feels compelled to do so in a private manner. He does not want to ridicule her or expose her to public stoning for the offense of adultery. Joseph asks again, “Why has this happened?” This is not the way things were supposed to be….  But after he had considered this decision, Joseph is encountered by the Lord as well.  In dream, he received the revelation needed to resolve the conflict within. At the right time … God’s time … through prayer and patience, Joseph was given insight and knowledge that would lead to a better course of action.  He DID what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife.

What I see as an application here is the need to be prayerful and patient when we are confronted with life-changing decisions to make. Whether it is a decision concerning a relationship, a vocation, a location, or an inner temptation; we are advised to seek the face and the heart of God the Father AND to not be impulsive in our reactions to what has given rise to the need for major decision-making in our lives. Too often we can let our emotions in those circumstances “incite” us to make impulsive decisions that could ultimately lead us in a direction away from God’s will.  Think about the choice Joseph considered. What if he, in a rage of jealousy, had marched Mary up to the public square and told the townspeople that she had committed adultery and cast the first stone is accordance with the Law? How would history have been impacted by that decision?  Go back even further. What if Eve had not opened the door of the knowledge of good and evil? What if Adam had exercised obedience and prevented Eve from doing so? Indeed, decisions have consequences! So, it is imperative that we spend time in fasting and prayer; that we stay spiritually prepared; that we patiently access the necessary information to formulate a response, BEFORE we make decisions that could have unanticipated long-term consequences….

So, I pray that we would heed the Word of God, its instruction and the examples it affords us to make wiser decisions for our lives. Let us remember that “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Cf. Proverbs 9:10) And Lord, if we lack wisdom, give us courage to ask you. For your Word says that if any of us lacks wisdom, we should ask You because you will give it generously to all without finding fault. (Cf. James 1:5) I pray, even as Paul prayed, asking that You, the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, our glorious Father, would give us the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that we may know Him better. (Cf. Ephesians 1:17) Yes, I continually ask God to fill each of us with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives. (Cf. Colossians 1:9) May we ever be prayerful and patient as we seek your face and embrace your heart to do your will through every choice and decision that we make in our lives. Indeed, I pray that we will be as Mary and Joseph … wholly surrendered to Your plans and promises for our lives. In Jesus’ Name … the Name the angel told Mary and Joseph to give our Lord and Savior … I pray. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

The Set Person…

Luke 1:26-27 (NIV)

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David.

Luke 1:26-38 (NIV)

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most-High. The Lord God will give Him the throne of his father David, and He will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; His kingdom will never end.”

“How will this be,” Mary asked the angel, “since I am a virgin?” The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most-High will overshadow you. So, the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God. Even Elizabeth your relative is going to have a child in her old age, and she who was said to be unable to conceive is in her sixth month. For no word from God will ever fail.” “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.

Over the last few days, we have studied prophecies surrounding the First Advent of our Lord Jesus!  Father God foretold, through His prophets, the set time and the set place for the birth of His Son … Jesus our Messiah. In our Verse of the Day … well Scripture passage … we see the announcement of the humble, faithful maiden that God would choose to fulfill His purposes.  He sent the angel, Gabriel, to inform Mary of the favor He had determined to bestow upon her. And she accepted the pronouncement saying: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.”  What an awesome example of faith and obedience Mary, the mother of our Lord, has demonstrated for us.  I pray, even now, that I would be no less faithful to choose obedience to every word the Father speaks unto me.  Indeed, may we all be faithful as His Church to fulfill His word: “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” (Cf. John 13:34)

Another passage of Scripture that inspires me during Advent is the Song of Mary. Luke captures the expressions of her innermost thoughts for us; and I am so grateful to have it preserved for us:

Luke 1:46-56 (NIV)

And Mary said:

“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is His name. His mercy extends to those who fear Him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and His descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors.”

Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.

I think what we can glean from this account is how God works supernaturally in and through people to accomplish His purposes for the world. It is evident that Mary, though quite young, believes in God and trusts His Word with her whole heart. She knows His nature … His character. She understands His Holiness and has endeavored to live a reverent, holy life before Him.  And Mary receives His favor because of her humble, submitted heart. Yes, she is prepared to live in absolute surrender to God … to yield to His sovereign will in a way no other human has ever done.  Her faith and His grace became the foundation for a new and everlasting covenant to be forged for those who love Him. And I think we should be forever grateful for her willingness … her courage … her obedience … and her love for God.

As I ponder this story of the Advent, I wonder how many of us today would be so willing and bold as Mary – to allow the Holy Spirit to work the miraculous and supernatural through us? Think of the impact and changes that lives of countless other people could experience simply because we wholly surrendered ourselves to the will of God. How many opportunities have we forsaken that would have been used to fulfilled the unique plan of salvation for another person? What if Mary had not yielded? What if the Apostles had not walked forward in faithfulness to fulfill the Great Commission given to them? What if you or I are not willing to submit? Do we truly understand there are consequences when we are not obedient to the Holy Spirit? Who will remain in darkness … who will continue to be lost? Who will remain in brokenness … remain wounded and battle scarred from life … or held a prisoner of sin because you and I did not use the power or authority given to us to minister to them?

Oh, how I pray for wisdom and courage to fill us! I pray for the obedience of faith to overtake us! For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline! (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7) It is the same Spirit that God gave to Mary … to the Apostles who would follow … to all who are born-again of His Spirit through the ages. Do we see how our own lives have been changed by their obedience and submission! Oh, I pray you and I will meditate upon these things during this Season of Advent and reflect on the unsurpassed love of God who sent His Son to redeem us, restore us, and reconcile us to Himself.  Let us determine in our hearts to continue what Mary determined in her heart … to be yielded and to allow God to show His power through us so that the world might come to know its Savior….

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!


Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. ~ Luke 2:11

Overflowing with Thankfulness…

Colossians 2:6-7 (NIV)

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in Him, rooted and built up in Him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

A life changed by coming to saving faith in Jesus Christ is a life characterized by thankfulness! As Paul described in our Verse of the Day, our hearts should “overflow” with thankfulness … with humble gratitude … for the One who saved us and set us free from the condemnation of sin! For we have not been appointed to the coming wrath for those who are rebellious and disobedient; rather, we have received salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 5:9) Indeed, our thankfulness should abound with the highest praise:

Ephesians 1:4-10 (NIV)

4 For God chose us in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love, 5 He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with His pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of His glorious grace, which He has freely given us in the One He loves. 7 In Jesus we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace 8 that He lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 God made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

2 Corinthians 4:13-15 (NIV)

13 It is written: “I believed; therefore, I have spoken.” Since we have that same Spirit-given faith, we also believe and therefore speak, 14 because we know that the One who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead will also raise us with Jesus and present us with you to Himself. 15 All this is for your benefit, so that the grace that is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Hallelujah! As believers we have great reason to be thankful for the riches of His lavish grace! And so, I pray we will take a moment to give our Lord Jesus overflowing praise today … and every day! Indeed, let thanksgiving abound to God for all He has done! For He chose us in Christ before the creation of the world and made us His handiwork; created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) Yes, let us continue to live our lives in Christ, rooted and built up in Him through the faith we have been taught by the Word and received through the grace of God. Let everything we do in service to our Lord overflow with thanksgiving! In His Saving Name, I pray. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Do Not Love The World

1 John 2:15-16 (NIV)

Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world.

Our Verse of the Day was cited in the commentary when we looked at the topic of the “idolatry of self” a few days ago. To me, this additional reminder is not coincidence; rather, I believe it confirms that the Holy Spirit wants us to address this spiritual concern in our lives. We need to take some time for introspection and let the light of the Spirit illuminate whatever lies in our hearts that is taking precedence over our relationship with God. Ask yourself, what do I prioritize above intimacy with God? As I have shared before, we cannot view God as simply a “part” of our lives … the “religious aspect” of our lives. No, God is either everything, or in essence, He is nothing….

I think our verse points out what is the primary deterrent to intimacy with God: we set our affections on the world or the things of the world. As John asserted, “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” This can be a difficult truth to recognize within ourselves, so it is necessary for us to guard our minds and hearts in order to discern when we are about to cross the line…. Although we live in this fallen and sinful world, we have been “called” out of the world – meaning we do not live in accordance with the world … its patterns of thought or its earthly wisdom. As John points out for us, everything in the world as it pertains to sinful human nature does not come from God. It comes from the world and from within our physical bodies.

One of the key precepts taught by Jesus related to this spiritual concern is that He calls believers out of the world.  Jesus told His disciples, “I have chosen you out of the world.” And so, once we are IN Him, we no longer belong to the world, its deception or darkness, its allures or enticements.  In fact, Jesus asserts that our calling out, our separation from the things of the world, will be the reason the “world will hate us.”

John 15:18-19 (NIV)

18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”

John 17:13-17 (NIV)

13 “I am coming to you now, but I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they may have the full measure of my joy within them. 14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them to live in accordance with the truth; your Word is Truth.”

The Apostles understood this separation from the world … our sanctification unto God … and its imperative to a life of faith. Consider these inspired instructions:

Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. 2 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.

1 Corinthians 2:11-12 (NIV)

11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except their own spirit within them? In the same way no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.

2 Corinthians 4:4 (NIV)

The god of this world (Satan) has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Ephesians 6:12 (NIV)

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.

James 3:13-18 (NIV)

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. 14 But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth. 15 Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.

When John tells us not to love the world or anything in it, we need to consider the consequence he shares as well: “If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is NOT in them.” The implication here is that we will love our lives IN this world more than we love the One who created it for our habitation. Peter wrote: “If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and are overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning.” (Cf. 2 Peter 2:20) The Apostle James goes even further in his exhortation:

James 4:4-5 (NLT) – Italics are mine.

You adulterous people! You who are unfaithful to the covenant of God. Don’t you realize that friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I say it again: If you want to be a friend of the world, you make yourself an enemy of God. Do you think the Scriptures have no meaning? They say that God is passionate that the spirit He has placed within us should be faithful to Him. His Holy Spirit within us opposes our envy of the world….

It is clear that we cannot prioritize the gratification of ourselves above the gratitude that is due our Creator! And I believe this shift of spiritual orientation and understanding begins at the moment of rebirth. When we are born of the Spirit, the things of this world become meaningless. Paul asserted, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17) The “new” means we are no longer held captive to the things of this world. We are no longer prisoners to the darkness of sin. Light has come! We have been set free of those things in order for His love to dwell within us! In a sense, our separation from the world is the evidence of our new creation in Christ Jesus.

A person is not going to overcome world unless he or she is born of God; and a person cannot be born of the Spirit except through putting their faith in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice. It is our faith in Him that empowers us to be victorious and to overcome the world. (Cf. 1 John 5:2-4) Yes, it is through the obedience that comes from faith that we will be set free from the things of this world! Jesus said, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.’” (Cf. Luke 9:23) If we will deny ourselves … if we deny our flesh and its sinful nature … we will not love or pursue the things of this world; rather, we will become devoted followers of our Lord Jesus and experience the love of the Father in all of its fullness…. I pray each of us will take up the cross of obedience each day as our act of worship … as a demonstration of our love for the Father. Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen. ~ Romans 1:25

So, don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your Heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and He will give you everything you need. ~ Matthew 6:31-33

You do not have because you do not ask God. When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures. ~ James 4:2b-3

Who Will You Serve?

Joshua 24:15 (NIV)

But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Our Verse of the Day is one that has always been a personal favorite because of its call to decisive action. Each of us face choices and decisions every day that reveal our deepest convictions about who we have determined to serve in our lives. I would venture to say that the choices we make are not between the one true God and the false gods of the Amorites; rather, our decisions usually come down to choosing between God and the god of self.

From the beginning chapters of Genesis to the triumphant return of King Jesus in Revelation, the rebellion and disobedience of mankind has been a constant theme. Not long after Moses had led the Israelites on dry ground through a miraculously divided Red Sea … after a myriad of powerful miracles had been performed before their very eyes in the land of Egypt; the people fell into idolatry and worshipped a golden calf in the wilderness. Likewise, not long after Joshua had led the Israelites into the Promised Land … after a myriad of victorious battles achieved by God before their eyes; the people fell into worship of other gods in the lands they had conquered.

Oh, but before we shake our heads in disbelief at their behavior … before we judge those who experienced the mighty miracles of God and His powerful presence and then fell back into their old patterns of indifference and disobedience; we might ought to review our own walks with God after we encountered Jesus and surrendered at the cross of salvation and received the promise of eternal life. While I do not worship or serve “foreign gods” as presented in the context, it does challenge me to examine the idolatry that can exist in my own heart … which is idolatry of the most insidious form.

When we choose our own wills above the will of God, we have decided and declared that we will serve ourselves rather than our Creator. And that is the battle we all face … the conflict between the physical (the flesh) and the spiritual … between light and darkness … between good and evil.

So, I believe we need to determine each morning when we wake up who we intend to serve for the day. We need to strategize through prayer how we will navigate the struggle of exercising our wills versus submitting to the will of God. This tension is the struggle between self-indulgence and self-discipline. We either disregard the revealed will of God, or we submit in obedience to His Word. Paul describes this internal conflict at length in Romans 7, and I encourage you to read his discourse.

Romans 7:22-25 (NIV)

21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature (my flesh) a slave to the law of sin.

In Verse 24, Paul asks, “Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death?” And he answers the question in Verse 25. Our deliverance, the victory, is found in our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus declared, “If the Son sets you free, you, you are truly free!” (Cf. John 8:36) Peter concluded, “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. Through these (His glory and goodness) God has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them (His promises) you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.” (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3-4) And John provided this insight: “Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them. For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever.” (Cf. 1 John 2:15-17)

Here we see, that doing the will of God is key. Jesus said, “The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent.” (Cf. John 6:29) Indeed, a person will not experience freedom over the power of sin in their life until their faith in placed in Jesus Christ and His atoning sacrifice for sin. It is our obedience to His commands that demonstrates our love for God. (Cf. John 14:15; 21) John affirmed: “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.” (Cf. 1 John 5:3-5) Yes, we must be intentional and choose to love Jesus and to abide in His Word. This is why we must abide in Him: for apart from Jesus, we are powerless and can do nothing. (Cf. John 15:5-12)

As Moses affirmed: “And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, to love Him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to observe the Lord’s commands and decrees that I am giving you today for your own good?” (Cf. Deuteronomy 10:12-13) And, “The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love Him with all your heart and with all your soul. It is the Lord your God you must follow, and Him you must revere. Keep His commands and obey Him; serve Him and hold fast to Him.” (Cf. Deuteronomy 13:3b-4) Yes, and Joshua confirmed the same: “Be very careful to keep the commandment and the law that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you: to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to Him, to keep His commands, to hold fast to Him and to serve Him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Cf. Joshua 22:5)

So, I believe the Spirit is telling us to choose whom we will serve … whether the god of self or the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. He is calling us to determine in our hearts whether we will choose obedience to His will or whether we will follow the dictates of our own deceptive hearts. I am reminded of the encouragement that Paul shared: “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation (testing) has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted (tested) beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, (tested) He will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:12-13) And what is that way out? The Word of God! When led into the wilderness, every temptation Satan presented to Jesus was answered and rebuffed with Scripture. (Cf. Matthew 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13) Indeed, our only offensive weapon for engaging in this spiritual battle is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. (Cf. Ephesians 6:17)

Final Thoughts:

The thought came to me that I should identify with John the Baptist. I remembered that after his encounter with the Lord Jesus, John confessed: “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.” (Cf. John 3:30) Indeed, He must be Lord over our lives! Jesus cannot merely be a “part” of our lives because He IS our complete life when we are born again of the Spirit. So, I encourage you to consider what this verse speaks into your heart … and urge you to meditate on how God would have you respond to His Word. Perhaps, like me, you will discover the need to intentionally choose (each and every morning when you awake) whom you intend to serve for the day – the Lord or yourself. Yes, we choose either to be wise or to be foolish based upon our obedience to the Word of God. And so, I pray that we will choose to be wise … to turn from the idols of ourselves and to serve the living and true God. (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:9) Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

Competent and Confident

2 Corinthians 3:6 (NIV)

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

As I read our Verse of the Day, my first thought was to ask myself a question: “Do I feel competent as a minister of the New Covenant?” And then I asked another question: “Do I feel confident as a minister of the New Covenant?” As believers, I think each question should be explored because we are parties to the New Covenant that was mediated through the blood of Jesus. (Cf. Luke 22:20) We are recipients of its promises. We are bound to its terms and conditions. And in it we are given authority to invite others to join the agreement (confession) through faith in Jesus Christ. Indeed, there is an expectation for us to live out and to share the Gospel of Christ so that others might become parties to the New Covenant as well….

The context for our verse is part of a larger defense that Paul makes to the Corinthian Church regarding his authority in preaching the Gospel … his apostleship as a minister of the New Covenant established through Jesus Christ. Paul has been dealing with “church discipline” matters, and it has ignited questions within the church regarding his leadership, teaching, and approach. Further, it has become a personal struggle for Paul to endure the pain of rejection after working so diligently to bring the brothers and sisters at Corinth to maturity in Christ. Therefore, I encourage you to read 2 Corinthians 1-4 to have a better understanding of what is happening as well as Paul’s response.

I think we need this context to understand the assertions Paul made to the Corinthians as he administered the truth to them. His confidence in doing so was not within himself or his own abilities. His confidence came from the trustworthiness of Christ Himself! Paul did not doubt the absolute certainty nor sufficiency of what Christ fulfilled through His death on the cross … the eternal atonement for our sin! In Him we received mercy and grace. Through Him we are raised to new life … we are born again! Faith in Jesus gives us the confidence we need to become ambassadors for Him and ministers of the New Covenant.

Likewise, we need to note that our competence or ability to minister to others comes through Jesus Christ. He alone is our sufficiency, qualification, and adequacy. There should be no question about “feeling” competent; rather, faith understands that the source of our abilities … our courage … our strength comes from Him who was victorious over death. Paul declared, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes….” (Cf. Romans 1:16) And the power to proclaim the Gospel comes from the same source! As Paul affirmed, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Cf. Philippians 4:13) And, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7)

With these thoughts in mind, let’s go back to discourse of Paul on evangelism:

2 Corinthians 2:14-17 (NIV)

14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of Him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 17 Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.

2 Corinthians 3:1-6 (NIV)

1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.4 Such confidence (trust, reliance, certainty, assurance) we have through Christ before God. 5 Not that we are competent (sufficient, qualified, adequate) in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence (sufficiency, qualification, adequacy) comes from God. 6 He has made us competent (sufficient, qualified, adequate) as ministers of a New Covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

I want us to focus on the Verse 6 a moment and ask some tough questions. Do you believe that you are a “competent” minister of the New Covenant? Do you believe the message of the New Covenant established by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ should be shared with others? If you do not feel confident in your own understanding of the New Covenant, what would help you achieve more knowledge? If you do not feel confident in sharing the message of Jesus Christ, what would help you overcome your concerns?

As we have seen, Paul declared that his competence in preaching the Gospel “comes from God.” And He is our source as well! Paul states, “God has MADE us competent as ministers.” Any idea how God did so? If we look at the life of Paul, we see his zeal for the Law and study of the Scriptures as the foundation for His competence; however, Paul was not an “ambassador” of the New Covenant until his encounter with Jesus Christ. His experience with the risen Lord changed everything!

Acts 26:15-23 (NIV)

15 Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the Lord replied. 16 “Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” 19 “So then, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. 20 First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and then to the Gentiles, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and demonstrate their repentance by their deeds. 21 That is why some Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me. 22 But God has helped me to this very day; thus, I stand here and testify to small and great alike. I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— 23 that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to His own people and to the Gentiles.”

And so, I encourage each of us to consider our own competence. As believers, each of us has had an encounter with Jesus Christ. It may not have been a blinding light from heaven … but it was the light of His presence and His Spirit that captured us nonetheless. And the glorious revelation of God’s love, mercy, and grace washed over us as the spiritual new birth produced in us our new life in Christ. And we have never been the same since Christ entered our hearts and sent His Spirit to indwell us. “This is how we know that we live in Him and He in us: He has given us of His Spirit.” (Cf. 1 John 4:13)

So, what might be inhibiting our competence to be ministers of the New Covenant like those who came before us? If through the past couple of millennia there had been no one “competent” to preserve the Word and to proclaim the Gospel, would we have even come to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ? Even in the first century, there was a sense of urgency to protect the light and truth of God revealed to us through His Son. Consider what Jude wrote: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people.” Perhaps there is hesitancy on our part because we still have questions about our own faith or what it is based upon. Maybe there is a lack of confidence in our knowledge that stems from a lack of spending time reading and meditating on God’s Word. Ultimately our faith is based on our confidence in the Word of God.

A Final Thought:

John 15:5-8 (NIV)

5 “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. 6 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. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

Apart from Jesus … apart from the power of His indwelling Spirit … we can do nothing. That means we cannot be “competent” as ministers of the New Covenant if we do not have an intimate relationship with Him. We have to be empowered and equipped; and that comes from His Holy Spirit. I have observed in my own walk with Christ, that the more time I spend studying and meditating on the Word of God, the more time that I spend in prayer; the more confident I become with WHO I know. And, like Paul, I am coming to the place in my life … in my walk … where I consider everything else worthless compared to the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus!” (Cf. Philippians 3:8) So, I cannot communicate or demonstrate with “competence” WHO Jesus is or WHAT Jesus accomplished without truly knowing Him and abiding in Him! Amen.

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!

The Calling of Hope…

1 Ephesians 1:18 (NIV)

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people…

In our Verse of the Day, Paul makes an interesting request in his prayer for believers in Ephesus.  He asks that the “eyes of their hearts be enlightened” in order to “see” … in order to “know” the HOPE to which they have been called.  Paul indicates that this “hope” is “the riches of His glorious inheritance.”  Let’s look at the verse in its surrounding context because it is powerful!

Ephesians 1:3-23 (NIV)

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

11 In Jesus we were also chosen (made heirs) having been predestined according to the plan of Him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of His will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of His glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of His glory.

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Jesus better18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people,19and His incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20the Father exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under Jesus’ feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.

The opening chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians affirms some incredible doctrines about Christ Jesus that we would be wise to assimilate into our theology.  After reading this chapter, my heart is filled with great joy again … my “hope” in the glorious inheritance received through faith is renewed! And what is this inheritance we are to receive?  Jesus indicated it is the “kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” (Cf. Matthew 25:34) It is an inheritance that we receive because we abide in Jesus, His Son. (Cf. Matthew 21:38; Mark 12:7; Luke 20:14) For Jesus is the mediator of a New Covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that He has died as a ransom to set us free from the sins committed under the first covenant.” (Cf. Hebrews 9:15) Yes, that promised inheritance is salvation and everlasting life!

In most of the epistles written by Paul, you will find intercessory prayers similar to this one in our Verse of the Day. Note that Verse 15 begins: “For this reason….” And then Paul expounds on the reason he is offering thanks to God and remembering the Ephesians in his prayers: “because of their faith in the Lord Jesus and their love towards all believers.” And I am captured by the powerful requests in this prayer: Paul is asking God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ to do the following:

1.      Give us a Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him.

2.      Open the eyes of our hearts so that we can be enlightened in order to know:

a.   The hope to which God has called us

b.   The riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints

c.   The immeasurable greatness of His power toward us who believe

3.      Paul asks that all of these requests be fulfilled according to the working of God’s power that He demonstrated through the resurrection of Jesus Christ

4.      Paul then exalts the status and position of our Lord Jesus as head of the Church … which represents His Body (his continued physical presence) in the world.

What I find interesting is that Paul has acknowledged the faith and love of these people and stated these are the reasons for offering his prayer. So, I think the implication is that there is more for believers to discover in their walk of faith with the Lord Jesus. We are to continue growing in our knowledge of God the Father … which Paul attributes to the work of the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation. Paul prays for the hearts and minds of believers to be enlightened further so that we can know the purposes of God in uniting us with His Son – namely our hope and inheritance in Jesus through His death and resurrection. We are urged to grow in submission to His position of authority at the right hand of God the Father. Indeed, Jesus is not only Savior … He is Lord over heaven and earth!

What is the application? Paul wants to encourage those who believe in Jesus through faith to grow in spiritual maturity … to know the deeper things of God and His purposes … and to understand the lordship of Christ Jesus over all aspects of our lives as members of His body. This passage also brought to mind another text that encourages our growth in the Lord: “Therefore, let us leave the elementary teachings of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, of instructions about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (Cf. Hebrews 6:1-2) Yes, all of these doctrines of Christian faith are the foundation upon which we are equipped and prepared to move forward and to grow in our intimacy with Jesus.

Well, I pray that your day will be filled with the hope to which He has called you. I pray your heart has been enlightened to see this hope in your inner being. May it fill you with joy and patience! “For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good. (Cf. Titus 2:11-14)

So Now You Know…

Have a Blessed Day!