Renewing Your Mind…

Psalm 119:130 (NIV)

The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.

We continue in Psalm 119 this morning, and again, I will put the verse in its surrounding section for context:

פ Pe

129 Your statutes are wonderful;   therefore I obey them.
130 The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.
131 I open my mouth and pant,  longing for your commands.
132 Turn to me and have mercy on me, as you always do to those who love your name.
133 Direct my footsteps according to your word; let no sin rule over me.
134 Redeem me from human oppression, that I may obey your precepts.
135 Make your face shine on your servant and teach me your decrees.
136 Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed.

צ Tsadhe

137 You are righteous, Lord, and your laws are right.
138 The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy.
139 My zeal wears me out, for my enemies ignore your words.
140 Your promises have been thoroughly tested, and your servant loves them.
141 Though I am lowly and despised, I do not forget your precepts.
142 Your righteousness is everlasting and your law is true.
143 Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands give me delight.
144 Your statutes are always righteous; give me understanding that I may live.

As I meditate on these words this morning, I cannot help but imagine the inner feelings of those who penned these thoughts.  I can just sense the intensity of zeal for the Word of God … for all of its instruction and wisdom in righteousness and order and goodness. This Psalm conveys a deep realization that God wants His people to know the truth and that He desires those who love Him to live according to it.  And so there is a great hunger and thirst for the Word of God within us.  It beckons us to learn and to apply and to be transformed!

Romans 12:2

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.

Hebrews 4:12

For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for your word this morning! We thank you for instruction in wisdom and the knowledge of righteousness! We praise you for the light you have brought into the world so that we might know you, the only true God.  And we hold fast to your promise of eternal life for those who put their faith in you.  I pray that your word will change us … transform us … conform us into your image.  I pray that you would direct our footsteps according to your word and let no sin rule over us. May those who love you delight in your commands and do them.  Let your grace abound, O Lord, so that we might obey your word.  For I ask these things in your Name.  Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Life Preserver…

Psalm 119:93 (NIV)

I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have preserved my life.

We fight this battle all the time … the struggle with doubt … the sin of unbelief.  We question if there is absolute truth … truth that we can fully trust.  And it is easy to succumb to the influence and demonic lies of the enemy … especially when we observe a world in chaos and where the suffering of people abounds. We might ask, “Where are you, God?” “Where are you when we need your help?” And if we neglect to consult the Word of God for answers to these questions, we will reach wrong conclusions and continue to wander in anxiety and fear.

Our verse today affirms that the Word of God is the source of all truth … truth that is able to sustain and preserve our lives.  We are advised to read it often … to memorize it … to implant it in our minds and hearts. For when we know and embrace its certainty, we will not be swayed or distracted by the uncertainty that we experience in this world.  As Jesus affirmed, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Cf. Matthew 4:4; Deuteronomy 8:3) So, where is God now in our time of trouble? David declared this truth: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.” (Cf. Psalm 46:1) Yes, God is ever-present! He has said, “Never, will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Cf. Hebrews 13:5; Joshua 1:5) I am reminded of what Paul wrote concerning the love of Christ as the anchor for our faith:

Romans 8:35-39 (NIV)

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? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 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.

Think about what Paul is saying here. We are to expect challenges and hardships to occur in our lives. They are inevitable as long as we live in this fallen world.  But none of the things that God allows under His sovereign will diminishes His love for us. They are used to develop and strengthen our faith in Him. I think above all things, we need to trust the love of God! If we ever doubt His love, we make ourselves vulnerable to the attacks of the enemy.  We will not always understand how God works in our lives or in the circumstances that He allows, but I believe we can be assured that whatever happens is in accordance with His perfect love. And that is why we need to know the Word of God … to know His will for us … to receive the salvation He has provided through His Son, Jesus. In Jesus, our lives are preserved for eternity! Indeed, Jesus is the ever-present help in time of trouble.  We simply need to cry out to Him. As David wrote: “The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; He delivers them from all their troubles.” (Cf. Psalm 34:17)

One Final Thought:

How God delivers us from our troubles may not always be how we think He should do it.  It is not up to us to make God’s decisions for Him nor should we even desire to do so.  We do not have His knowledge or the ability to know eventual outcomes. Remember, only He knows the end from the beginning.  And so we have to trust that whatever happens is in accordance with His loving will for us who love Him.  That is what faith is all about. That is why it is important to know His Word … for by it our lives are preserved.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Your Righteous Laws…

Psalm 119:7 (NIV)

I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.

Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the book; and it extols the virtue and veracity of the Word of God.  From its lengthy discourse, we are afforded insight into the power of Scripture to accomplish wisdom, righteousness, and obedience in our lives.  Our verse today indicates that our praise and worship of God matures as we learn His commandments and judgments.  I really love The Living Bible (TLB) translation of this verse which renders it: “After you have corrected me, I will thank you by living as I should!” The New Living Translation (NLT) phrases it: “As I learn your righteous regulations, I will thank you by living as I should.”  The point here is that the Word of God impacts how we should think … how we should conduct ourselves … and how we should intimately relate to God and worship Him.  We can look at just the first few verses of this Psalm to get a glimpse of its overall teaching:

Psalm 119:1-16 (NIV) 

Blessed are those whose ways are blameless,   who walk according to the law of the Lord. Blessed are those who keep His statutes   and seek Him with all their heart— they do no wrong,  but follow His ways. You have laid down precepts   that are to be fully obeyed. Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees! Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands. I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me. How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your Word. 10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. 11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. 12 Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. 13 With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. 14 I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. 15 I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. 16 I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.

Further on, we will read about our response to the Word of God.  When we exercise our “free will” and ability to choose (a willful decision), the question is what will you and I choose when confronted with the Word of God.  The inspiration and deliberation within this Psalm should lead us to this same decision:

Psalm 119:30-37 (NIV)

30 I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I have set my heart on your laws. 31 I hold fast to your statutes, Lord; do not let me be put to shame. 32 I run in the path of your commands, for you have broadened my understanding. 33 Teach me, Lord, the way of your decrees, that I may follow it for its reward. 34 Give me understanding, so that I may keep your law and obey it with all my heart. 35 Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. 36 Turn my heart toward your statutes and not toward selfish gain. 37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things; preserve my life according to your word.

Paul shared similar exhortation regarding the Word of God with Timothy when he wrote: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth” (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:15) And, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction (training and discipline) in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. (Cf. 2 Timothy 3:16-17) The inspired writer of Hebrews makes this point as well: “For the Word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” (Cf. Hebrews 4:12)

So there is a continued message for us: “Stay rooted and firmly planted in the Word of God!” For the Word of God is the power of God in your life and mine.  This cannot be under estimated or over stressed.  The struggle for the human will to choose righteousness and obedience is fought on the battlefield of our minds … where our thoughts are formed; and we attach words to those thoughts in order to define them.  What we say and do is the outcome of our thought life.  So remember that the Word of God reveals the mind of God … thoughts that reflect His heart and are expressed through words to us by His Spirit:

1 Corinthians 2:10-16 (NIV)

The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. 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. 13 This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words. (Cf. Isaiah 64:414 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit. 15 The person with the Spirit makes judgments about all things, but such a person is not subject to merely human judgments, 16 for, “Who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct Him?” (Cf. Isaiah 40:13) But we have the mind of Christ.

As we have studied, Jesus said: “If you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will and it will be done for you.” (Cf. John 15:7) And framed in a similar construct, the Apostle John affirms: “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (Cf. 1 John 5:14) When we have the mind of Christ … understanding His thoughts through His words as communicated by the Holy Spirit, we will engage in prayer that will be heard and conduct that will be rewarded.  This is why we need to spend time in study and mediation of the Scriptures, and Psalm 119 provides a great outline of how the Word of God sustains every aspect of our lives. Jesus Himself affirmed, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Cf. Deuteronomy 8:3) And Psalm 119 amplifies this truth….

Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. ~ Psalm 119:105

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Evening!

The Blood of Redemption

Ephesians 1:7 (NIV)

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

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

Ephesians 1:1-10 (NIV)

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

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

1 Corinthians 2:1-5 (NKJV)

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

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

I feel quite impressed there is a fierce battle for the Truth to be unfettered and released! And our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.  And within this spiritual war going on … and we need to hold fast to this truth: In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us.  We need to remain steadfast and confident … to trust God at His Word.  Yes, even now I feel compelled to quote Jude 3-4: “Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people. For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.”

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

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

When Hard Pressed

Psalm 118:5-6

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

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

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

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

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

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

James 1:2:8 (NIV)

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

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

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

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

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

The God Who Sees

Jeremiah 23:24 (NIV)

Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?” declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?” declares the Lord.

Through the Prophet Jeremiah, God asks His people some pointed questions which we would be wise to consider….

Jeremiah 23:23-24 (NKJV)

23 Am I a God near at hand,” says the Lord, “And not a God afar off? 24 Can anyone hide himself in secret places so I shall not see him?” says the Lord; “Do I not fill heaven and earth?” says the Lord.

While the context is directed at the false prophets who spoke with a sense of impunity – as though God would not know their misleading words to the people or causing them to go astray from the Truth and the Author of it.  I encourage you to read the entire chapter for the full context.  However, the point being made here is that God sees everything that is done whether in light or darkness … whether in the open or in hidden places.  As David pondered:

Psalm 139:1-7 (NKJV)

1 O Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; you understand my thought afar off. You comprehend my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word on my tongue, but behold, O Lord, You know it altogether. You have hedged me behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high; I cannot attain it. Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence?

It is just not possible to ever be out of the presence of God.  God fills all heaven and earth and everything in them … including you and I … our thoughts, words, and deeds!  And so God is reminding us this morning … to enter the secret place to find Him – not to hide from Him.  For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. (Cf. Matthew 10:26; Mark 4:22; Luke 8:17, 12:2; 1 Corinthians 4:5) Everything we do is exposed in the light of God.  So He invites us to live in the light of His presence … to live in the Truth at all times.  I believe that is His message to us this morning.  Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Forever … You Are God

Psalm 90:2,4

Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the whole world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God. A thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.

I want to continue our theme on the sovereignty of God.  Before the mountains were ever formed, before the foundations of the earth were ever laid, God existed.  Perhaps, a better way to correctly phrase it: God exists!  God IS.  He revealed Himself (His Name) to Moses: God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:14) So, from everlasting to everlasting, He IS God!  Time is nothing to God.  There is no time with Him as we know and understand it as created beings. God is eternal, and that establishes His power, majesty, glory, authority, and sovereignty over all His creation.  He is Creator and we are created…. In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. (Genesis 1:1) If you have an opportunity, I encourage you to read Isaiah 40 for a meditation on God and His attributes….

“The beginning” only refers to a framework for the knowledge and understanding that God has determined to give or reveal to us.  I think this “beginning” of creation was given as a reference to afford us the concept of time – which is interesting because Ecclesiastes 3:11 declares: “He (God) has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.  But perhaps a more important message to me is this passage: “He (God) has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of His own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:9-10) Life as we see it … as we experience it … was in the mind and will of God before we ever came into existence.  And the realities of His true nature and being were “brought to light” through the life and ministry of Jesus….  

Once we ascent to and believe these “beginnings” of revealed truth … we can go on to understand and embrace all of what God has revealed of Himself.  To believe God is to “fear” Him … meaning to show reverence and honor due unto Him.  It means submission to Him and His authority.  It means trusting Him. It means loving Him … because “God is love.” (Cf. 1 John 4:16) It is His kindness that leads us to repentance (Cf. Romans 2:4); and it is His mercy that redeems us from wayward, rebellious hearts that oppose Him. As Paul wrote: “For God has bound everyone over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all. (Romans 11:32) All these things are mysteries to us until we begin to seek greater understanding for ourselves … and that “desire to know” becomes the foundation of faith. Without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him. (Cf. Hebrews 11:6)

Each of us has a unique “beginning” to our knowledge of God … but it truly forms when we “fear” Him … when we acknowledge Him and reverence Him.   King Solomon wrote about the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom in several of his proverbs.  I will reprint some excerpts here, but I encourage you to read the full chapters when you have an opportunity:

Proverbs 1:7 (NIV)

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

Proverbs 4:5-7 (NIV)

Get wisdom, get understanding; do not forget my words or turn away from them. Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding.

Proverbs 9:10-12 (NIV)

10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. 11 For through wisdom your days will be many, and years will be added to your life. 12 If you are wise, your wisdom will reward you; if you are a mocker, you alone will suffer.

So where am I going with these thoughts?  I suppose to exhort us to “Get Wisdom!”  It begins with acknowledging Almighty God the Father as sovereign over the universe and everything in it.  It begins with worshiping and subjecting ourselves to Him.  It begins with a proper view of our “position” in the created order of life (i.e. a little lower than the angels). (Cf. Psalm 8:5) It begins with understanding that we are subject to mortal time; but with God, time does not exist.  God has revealed the certainty of the eternity which God set in our hearts when He sent His Son, Jesus, to redeem us and grant us that eternal life….  So, I guess my point is that until we settle these foundational pillars of theology in our hearts, building the rest of the “house of faith” is going to be spiritually slower and arduous.  When we understand who God is, understanding ourselves and His purpose for us begins to take hold. And we can know God through His Son, Jesus Christ, who is the exact representation of His Being. (Cf. Hebrews 1:3)

As you begin your day … I encourage you to seek the wisdom and the knowledge of God or to continue going so.  Everything else in your life really hinges on those two pursuits.  And remember, the fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Wisdom From Heaven

James 3:17-18

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Wisdom….  We all need it.  We are urged by the Apostle James to ask for it.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (James 1:5) But we need to distinguish the wisdom that comes from God … and the wisdom that comes from the world and human intellect.  In seeking the wisdom for living that comes from God, James writes:

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, demonic. 16 For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice. 17 But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. 18 Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.

Here we have a challenge … that our very lives should emulate the character of Christ Jesus. And James has some fairly salient points for us to consider.  He starts with the premise that those who are wise and have spiritual understanding demonstrate their “depth of faith” by living a “good life”.  And then he defines a “good life” as “deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom”.  So as to further explain his instruction, James then contrasts the differences between the “earthly” or “carnal” wisdom of the world with the “heavenly” or “spiritual” wisdom that comes from God.  I think it might be useful to breakdown these “distinctions” James brings to our attention:

Wisdom that does NOT come down from heaven is labeled earthly, unspiritual, and demonic. It is manifested in human conduct such as “harboring bitter envy” or “selfish ambition” in your heart.  He goes on to observe that wherever you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.”  In other words, envy, jealousy, pride, covetousness, idolatry, and greed proceed from a pattern of life that is sensual, brutish, and of this world.  Such behavior is inconsistent with a life rooted in the love of God. By contrast, we see that those who live a “good life” through the wisdom that God gives are:

            Pure                            (i.e. seek holiness and self-control)

            Peace-Loving             (i.e. seek resolution to conflict and reconciliation)

            Considerate               (i.e. seek the good of others above themselves)

            Submissive                 (i.e. not only to God but to each other)

            Full of Mercy             (i.e. readily forgiving)

            Full of Good Fruit    (i.e. acts of service and compassion)

            Impartial                    (i.e. righteous judgement; unbiased)

            Sincere                       (i.e. genuine; unpretentious, faithful)

So we can infer from these “distinctions” in wisdom for living what is best, good, and wholesome in our relationships with others versus what is immoral, destructive, and unrestrained to the extent that physical, emotional, and spiritual harm ensues to another.  Only the wisdom that comes from above equips a person to live the righteous life God intends for each of us to live!  Perhaps that is the very reason God has drawn us to believe in His Son – so that we might be filled with His Spirit … the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord. (Cf. Isaiah 11:2).

No doubt, to be filled with the Spirit of God is essential to living a “good life” as James envisions it.  And I can almost hear Paul chime in with his Letter to the Galatians on this matter … parsing out the same contrasts as James:

Galatians 5:13-26 (NIV)

13 You, my brothers and sisters, have been called to liberty. But do not use your liberty to indulge the flesh (and its nature); 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. (Such “wisdom” does not come down from heaven but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic.)

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 (the wisdom that comes from heaven). 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

So my prayer is that we will seek wisdom … ask for wisdom … and apply wisdom to our hearts so that our lives will be good and beneficial to others.  This is HOW we are to love one another as we ourselves have been loved by God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  So I will conclude with an excerpt of the prayer Paul offered up for the believers in Colossae: “I do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing Him in every way, bearing fruit in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” (Cf. Colossians 1:9-10)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Foolish Cross?

1 Corinthians 1:18

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

Paul tells us the message of the cross is considered foolishness to those who are perishing.  What is the “message of the cross”?  Why would it be considered foolishness? Well, let’s put this verse in its context and see if that will help us::

1 Corinthians 1:17-25 (NIV)

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with wisdom and eloquence, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. 18 For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate.” (Cf. Isaiah 29:14) 20 Where is the wise person? Where is the teacher of the law? Where is the philosopher of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21 For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not know Him, God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe. 22 Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24 but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.

I think Paul is trying to drive home the point that it was incomprehensible to most Jews (and certainly to most non-Jews) that a Messiah … a Warrior King … a Savior and Deliverer sent by God to His people would have been mightier than to have suffered a torturous, humiliating death on a cross.  What kind of Messiah could Jesus have been to have suffered such a fate?  Why would anyone believe in such a weakling? Such thinking is foolishness … beyond irrational.  I think that mindset is what drove Paul (Saul) to persecute the “fanatical” Christians before He encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus.  They were dangerous “lunatics” subverting Judaism and had to be stopped.  But the other aspect that drove the earliest believers to persist in their faith was the resurrection of Jesus.  Had He not been resurrected … this “foolishness” would have long since abated.  Indeed, if Jesus were not resurrected … then our faith would be in vain.  It would be foolish.  But we would still be in our sin as well….  (Cf. 1 Corinthians 15:12-17)

As Paul reasons, God ordained for His Son to be the propitiation for our sins.  Jesus had to die … to pay the wages of sin on our behalf. Redemption had a cost. There was a price for reconciliation.  While the cross “appeased” the justice requirement of a Holy God, it also demonstrated the incomprehensible love of God for us.  He paid the debt we owed for us!  Thus, in Christ Jesus, we see the wisdom of God because the resurrection demonstrates the power of God.  Those who reject the grace of God as foolishness will perish in their pride and arrogance.  But those who believe in Christ Jesus, the power and wisdom of God, received His gift of grace, salvation, and eternal life.  Again, the Prophet Isaiah comes to mind. The Jews should have known from their own Scriptures that the Messiah would suffer and die for their transgressions.  Their blindness became their foolishness….

Isaiah 53

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; and when we see Him, there is no beauty that we should desire Him. He is despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him. Surely, He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment, and who will declare His generation? For He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgressions of My people He was stricken. And they made His grave with the wicked—but with the rich at His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. 10 Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed, He shall prolong His days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in His hand. 11 He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied. By His knowledge My righteous Servant shall justify many, for He shall bear their iniquities. 12 Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the great, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul unto death, and He was numbered with the transgressors, and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.

To the world, the death of Jesus upon a cross is meaningless and foolish. A victorious, warrior King would not have let that happen … certainly not the Son of God.  But the wisdom of God required a demonstration of His wrath against sin and iniquity.  Sin is an affront to His holiness and to those created in His image.  Sin stains.  It mars.  It kills and destroys the souls of man.  And God loves us too much to allow such devastation and destruction to annihilate our souls.  He wrought His own salvation for us through His Son.  Through faith, we just need to trust Him … in His finished work on the cross … and receive His gracious offer of forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.  Faith in Christ Jesus is the game changer; and I can assure you He is the power and the wisdom of God.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

God – I Don’t Understand

Isaiah 55:8-9 (NIV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

This verse is referenced and quoted quite often … and with good reason.  Isaiah helps us have a healthy and appropriate perspective about God.  In short, He is God and we are not.  He created us … and not the other way around.  He is the potter and we are the clay … as Isaiah used this metaphor to bring this truth to light:

Isaiah 29:15-16 (ESV)

15 Ah, you who hide deep from the Lord your counsel, whose deeds are in the dark, and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?” 16 You turn things upside down! Shall the potter be regarded as the clay, that the thing made should say of its maker, “He did not make me”; or the thing formed say of Him who formed it, “He has no understanding”?

Isaiah 64:7-9 (NIV)

7 No one calls on your name or strives to lay hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us and have given us over to our sins. Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure, Lord; do not remember our sins forever. Oh, look on us, we pray, for we are all your people.

So with this perspective in mind, we usually come to the realization that God is ultimately beyond our comprehension.  He is the mystery that each human soul wrestles to attain.  As King Solomon wrote: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) So we do not know all the hidden things of God … the mysteries of His wisdom and counsel … nor should we be able to comprehend all His knowledge. It is too great for human minds. As Moses wrote: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law. (Deuteronomy 29:29) So God determines what He will reveal to us, but note that the glimpse He gives us “belongs to us and to our children forever.”  That is profound for us to contemplate. And consider that God HAS revealed many things to us … mysteries as Paul described them … and He appoints the times and circumstances of His revelations.  But all of this is for one purpose: “that we may be obedient to His Word … His laws and decrees.”  God has revealed “enough” of Himself to us in order for us to know Him, to fear Him,  and to keep His commandments. Consider this example:

Ephesians 3:1-14 (ESV)

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles—assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.  Of this Gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of His power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in God, who created all things, 10 so that through the Church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that He has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in Him. 13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

What we find here is that the mystery of Christ – though written in the Old Testament Scriptures – had not been revealed (unveiled) until Jesus actually appeared on the earth to fulfill all that had been written and prophesied about Him.  Even then, Jesus came to His own (the people of Israel), and yet, they rejected Him.  As the Apostle John wrote: “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own people, and His own people did not receive Him.But as many as did received Him, to them He gave the right (authority) to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:10-12) To me, this is an illustration of how people can fail to connect with the thoughts and ways of God. The Messiah did not come as the Jewish authorities had expected nor did they entertain what God had declared through the Prophet Joel: “And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Joel 2:32; Romans 10:13) Yes, that means God had always purposed from the foundation of the world for everyone who believes in Him (Jews and Gentiles alike) to receive salvation and eternal life.

God declared, “My thoughts are not your thoughts and neither are your ways my ways.” And yet, I see through the Scriptures that God HAS intentionally revealed Himself through His Word and through His Son. What the religious leaders could not comprehend … or perhaps refused to entertain because their own thoughts and their own ways were seen as superior … was not the absence of revelation or light that God had made available to them. It could have been the hardness of their hearts. As Paul wrote:

2 Corinthians 3:14-16 (NIV)

14 But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. 15 But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. 16 Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.

So my point is that when we come to the place that we just do not understand what God is doing or how He is doing it or why He is doing it, we need to just trust what we do know … what He has already revealed to us.  When we do not understand the affliction of a chronic disease in our bodies … we do know that God loves us with an everlasting love.  I know that seems incompatible – suffering and love – but God has revealed both human experiences in His Son.  We know that suffering has a role in teaching us obedience (Cf. Hebrews 5:8) … which God in His love for us orchestrates for our good.  O, His thoughts and His ways are higher!  God knows the ultimate end … the ultimate goal … and He is determined to get us there for His own glory.  As Paul wrote, and I often quote, “We know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love Him, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

I am convinced that God provides us what we need … when we need it … to uphold us and sustain us even when we do not understand what He is doing in the moment. As King David affirmed: “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84:11-12) Yes, God knows how to provide us with the knowledge and wisdom that we need for life. For we have been advised: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)  And God knows how to bless us with every spiritual blessing. (Cf. Ephesians 1:3) Yes, He knows what is best for each of us and He does not withhold it.  Even spiritual discipline through physical distress can refine our faith in ways we could not imagine for our good. I think that is why Jesus taught us to ask, seek, and knock when approaching Father God in prayer:

Luke 11:1-13 (ESV)

Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when He finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And He said to them, “When you pray, say: “Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread,  4 and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.” And He said to them, “Which of you who has a friend will go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves, for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I have nothing to set before him’; and he will answer from within, ‘Do not bother me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed. I cannot get up and give you anything’? I tell you, though he will not get up and give him anything because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence, he will rise and give him whatever he needs. And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. 11 What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!”

Oh, I think there is a lesson here.  When we do not understand the thoughts and ways of God, we need to ask for wisdom and discernment and it shall be given.  We need to seek what has been revealed to us and we shall find it.  We need to knock on the door of mystery and it will be opened to us.  But as Jesus points out in His parable above, we need to be persistent in our prayers! We have been created by a God who deeply cares for us and loves us with an everlasting love!  As Paul wrote: “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:31-32) What does ALL things mean?  Does it not include wisdom, discernment, grace, knowledge, prophecies, healings, miracles, forgiveness, and so forth?  Does it not mean the gifts and fruit of the Holy Spirit?  Are these not meant for our good?

So what can we conclude? Well, there is a vast depth of knowledge of God that will always be far too great for us. It will most likely always be incomprehensible unless God ever decides to reveal the depths of those mysteries and hidden knowledge.  The thoughts and ways of God manifested in creation through His eternal power are just higher!  I encourage you to read Job Chapters 38-42, and you will receive a great “education” on why God is God and why human beings are not. It brings appropriate rationale to our limited, finite minds and provides the context for why it is reasonable for us to embrace and worship such a Being as God.

But on the other hand, there is the work of God within our individual hearts and lives that draws us to Him … that brings us to faith … that tests our faith … that brings us into an abiding relationship with Him.  I believe the work of God within us can be known and understood.  I believe God is willing to reveal those aspects of His thoughts and ways to us if we are diligent to ask, seek, and knock.  I believe such inner revelation would be consistent with His love for us.  Yet we need to be willing to accept that even His silence in response to a question might actually be for own good. We need to embrace that His decision to withhold disclosure of His thoughts or ways is better than our perceived need to know them.  That situation could be a “test” God uses to build our faith and trust in Him….

Well those are some reflections on this verse today.  I hope it has been useful and somehow draws you closer to God in your prayer time when you are looking for answers to things about God you do not understand.   When you are frustrated with God and prayers appear to go unanswered; rather than looking for answers that do not come to you … go back and look at all the truth that God has already revealed to you through His Word and His Son.  Take hold of His promises to never leave you nor forsake you. Let your heart embrace His love and grace and peace that you know He has for you.  It could be that those might just be the answers you were looking for all along….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!