Shabbat Shuvah…

1 John 2:1 (NIV)

My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One.

Yesterday and today, in Washington, D.C., there is a gathering … there is a call for the Body of Christ, the Church, to “RETURN” to the Lord our God!  The message is for repentance to fall upon every believer … for being too casual about sin … for being lukewarm in our hearts … for leaving our first love.  Indeed,  our concern should be about our own sins … the sin of apathy, the sin of hardness, the sin of injustice,  the sin of selfishness, the sin of pride, and yes, all the secret sins that lie within our hearts – yet exposed before God. As we point our fingers at the world around us, know that more fingers are directed at ourselves.  It reminds me of some familiar Scriptures that we know, but often fail to apply to our own hearts:

Matthew 7:1-5 (NKJV)

1 “Judge (Condemn) not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment (condemnation) you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. And why do you look at the speck (of sawdust) in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me remove the speck from your eye’; and look, a plank is in your own eye? Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”

Romans 2:1-11 (NIV)

You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when His righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to what they have done.” To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; 10 but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. 11 For God does not show favoritism.

Psalm 62:11-12 (NIV)

11 One thing God has spoken,   two things I have heard: “Power belongs to you, God, 12     and with you, Lord, is unfailing love”; and, “You reward everyone  according to what they have done.”

Proverbs 24:10-12 (NIV)

10 If you falter in a time of trouble,   how small is your strength! 11 Rescue those being led away to death;  hold back those staggering toward slaughter. 12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,”  does not He who weighs the heart perceive it? Does not He who guards your life know it?  Will He not repay everyone according to what they have done?

As we think about these words of judgment, they fall upon an appointed day.  For today is Shabbat Shuvah or the Sabbath of Return!  It is the Sabbath that falls between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  And in Hebrew, the word Shuvah is the root of the word teshuvah … which means “repentance”!  And that is the core concept of what today is about for the people of God. The call of repentance is the sound of the shofar – calling an assembly, a people united in fasting and prayer before God. The Scriptures read in the synagogues today are reprinted below for us:

Hosea 14

1 Return, Israel, to the Lord your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the Lord. Say to Him: “Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips. Assyria cannot save us; we will not mount warhorses. We will never again say ‘Our gods’ to what our own hands have made, for in you the fatherless find compassion.” “I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them. I will be like the dew to Israel; he will blossom like a lily. Like a cedar of Lebanon he will send down his roots; 6 his young shoots will grow. His splendor will be like an olive tree, his fragrance like a cedar of Lebanon. People will dwell again in His shade; they will flourish like the grain; they will blossom like the vine— Israel’s fame will be like the wine of Lebanon. 8 What more has Ephraim to do with idols? I will answer him and care for him. I am like a flourishing juniper; your fruitfulness comes from me.” Who is wise? Let them realize these things. Who is discerning? Let them understand. The ways of the Lord are right; the righteous walk in them, but the rebellious stumble in them.

Joel 2:15-27 (NIV)

15 Blow the trumpet (shofar) in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. 16 Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. 17 Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” 18 Then the Lord was jealous for His land and took pity on His people. 19 The Lord replied to them: “I am sending you grain, new wine and olive oil, enough to satisfy you fully; never again will I make you an object of scorn to the nations. 20 “I will drive the northern horde far from you, pushing it into a parched and barren land; its eastern ranks will drown in the Dead Sea and its western ranks in the Mediterranean Sea. And its stench will go up; its smell will rise.” Surely He has done great things! 21 Do not be afraid, land of Judah; be glad and rejoice. Surely the Lord has done great things! 22 Do not be afraid, you wild animals, for the pastures in the wilderness are becoming green. The trees are bearing their fruit; the fig tree and the vine yield their riches. 23 Be glad, people of Zion, rejoice in the Lord your God, for He has given you the autumn rains because He is faithful. He sends you abundant showers, both autumn and spring rains, as before. 24 The threshing floors will be filled with grain; the vats will overflow with new wine and oil. 25 “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten— the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm— my great army that I sent among you. 26 You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the Lord your God, who has worked wonders for you; never again will my people be shamed. 27 Then you will know that I am in Israel, that I am the Lord your God, and that there is no other; never again will my people be shamed.

And so, I pray that we will surrender our hearts today and seek the face of God in repentance. For He has said: “When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people, if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land. Now my eyes will be open and my ears attentive to the prayers offered in this place. I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there. (2 Chronicles 7:13-16) Yes, the people of God, need to humble ourselves … we need to turn from our own wicked ways … and consecrate ourselves to the Lord. Then will He hear our prayers and supplications for our homes, for our communities, for our churches, for this nation … to forgive and heal our land. Yes, our sins and the sins of this nation can be covered.  We have an Advocate with the Father – Jesus Christ the Righteous One.  It is His blood … the blood of atonement that redeems and restores us to the Father! That is the message of The Return! “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Pursuit of Humility…

Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

We have read and discussed this passage before.  It ties well to the theme that we have been studying this past week; and it challenges us to view the command to love one another through the lens of humility.  To be humble in our interpersonal actions with others is another way we emulate and facilitate the love of God.  Again, we have Jesus as our role model. And it is actually His example that Paul will reference as the spiritual standard for humility. He urges us to have the same attitude (mindset) as Christ Jesus.  Here is the larger context for us to consider:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to His own advantage; rather, He made Himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to death — even death on a cross!

Here are where my thoughts go when I read this passage:

1.         Our mindset is to be the same as Christ Jesus.  Our motivation … our drive … our passion is to be like Him.

2.         Though God is Spirit, we understand His nature as God through Jesus in a physical form … made in human likeness.

3.         We, made in the image of God and also in human form, are to take on the nature of a servant just as Jesus did.

4.         We have been “saved to serve,” and it is this humble nature that equips us to do so with love.

5.         Obedience is the mechanism through which we achieve this humble nature to walk in love.

So our lesson is to develop an attitude … a mindset … a servant’s heart and nature … that will value others above ourselves.  We should not only consider our own interests, but focus on the interests and needs of others. And I love the exhortation Paul wrote to Titus in this regard:

Titus 3:1-8 (NIV)

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

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. ~ Colossians 3:12-13

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Calling Out Pride….

2 Corinthians 10:17-18 (NIV)

But, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

I really like that Paul calls us out regarding our spiritual pride … our Pharisaic tendencies as Christians to boast in ourselves and our “perceived” self-righteousness.  The truth of the matter is that we need to remember: “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities sweep us away like the wind.  (Cf. Isaiah 64:6) The ONLY true righteousness that we have or will over have is IMPUTED to us by our Lord Jesus Christ. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Cf. Romans 3:23)

Romans 4:1-8; 23-25 (NKJV)

1 What then shall we say that Abraham our forefather has found according to the flesh? For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted according to grace but as debt. But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; Blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” (Cf. Psalm 32:1-2)

23 Now it was not written for his sake alone that it (righteousness) was imputed to him, 24 but also for us. It (righteousness) shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead, 25 who was delivered up because of our offenses, and was raised because of our justification.

Jesus is the One who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father.  (Cf. Galatians 1:4) It is Christ who redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Curse is everyone who hangs on a tree (pole).” (Cf. Galatians 3:13) And it is Christ who rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the Kingdom of the Son He loves. (Cf. Colossians 1:13) It is Jesus who delivers us from the coming wrath of God. (Cf. 1 Thessalonians 1:10) So, indeed, we should only boast in the Lord Jesus and Him alone!

So I pray that we will self-examine for pride in our hearts.  I pray that we will humble ourselves before God. “For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. (Cf. Matthew 23:12; Luke 14:11; Luke 18:14)  As Paul exhorted, “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” (Cf. Romans 12:3) And 1 Peter 5:5 encourages the same attitude: “In the same way, you who are younger, submit yourselves to your elders. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.” (Cf. Proverbs 3:34) Humbling ourselves before the Lord and one another will keep the tendencies of pride from entering our hearts.  And I think the best place to start is the realization that we cannot save or heal ourselves.  Only Jesus effectuate salvation for us.  He is the only atoning sacrifice the Father will accept to impute His righteousness to our account….

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven … whose sin is covered. Blessed is the one to whom the Lord does not impute iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Worth More Than Sparrows

Luke 12:6-7 (NIV)

Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

At first glance, our Verse of the Day provides us encouragement as Jesus shares how the Father values each one of us.  The idiom or metaphor of numbering the hairs on our heads indicates that the Father knows us intimately.  He is aware of our every problem, every need, every situation … and is concerned about every aspect of our lives. As David noted, “Cast your cares on the Lord and He will sustain you; He will never let the righteous be shaken. (Cf. Psalm 55:22) And Peter recounted this truth when he wrote: “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.” (Cf. 1 Peter 5:7)

But what I found challenging is the surrounding context in which our passage is found.  I’ll reprint it here for us:

Luke 12:1-12 (NIV)

1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to His disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

“I tell you, whoever publicly acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before the angels of God. But whoever disowns me before others will be disowned before the angels of God. 10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.  11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

This larger context creates some theological tension for us. First, we are warned about the deception of hypocrisy in our lives. Jesus indicates it will be exposed. Then He shifts to “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more; rather, fear the One who has authority over your eternal destiny.  Yes, fear Him!”  Then we are assured that God knows us intimately and we are valued, and He encouraged, “Do not be afraid.”  Then we are admonished regarding our profession of faith and its determination of our forgiveness. I mean, there is a lot to consider here. The question is whether each one of these “teachings” are connected to the other, or if they are simply being presented by Luke as a “list” of teachings that Jesus was communicating to those who gathered to hear Him … similar to how we see various Proverbs being presented.

When I read some other commentaries on Luke 12, I could not find a consensus on the issue I posed.  Some commentators broke out each “discourse” within Luke 12:1-12 as I have outlined them here into separate “small sermons.” The idea is that each topic has its own application as we allow these teachings of Jesus to impact us. Notice how Jesus begins each “topic” with the words: “I tell you.” To me this indicates a separation of thoughts or messages; however, I find here an overall theme of how our relationship with God is to be viewed, understood, and expressed. And, perhaps, that is what our application should be … understanding that our fellowship with God through the Lord Jesus must be based on truth and sincere faith. We do not have to be afraid of our future if we reverence God and place our complete trust in Christ Jesus His Son … whom He sent to reconcile us to Himself.  To me, this is the core message being taught by Jesus.  Jesus is affirming that we can trust Him, but we must be humble and honest in our willingness to confess Him as Lord! When tested, and we will be tested, the evidence of sincere faith will be manifested to all.  Our true faith will be exposed and will be seen by those around us … as it is already known to God.

So this is an important lesson for us to embrace.  The truth will always be exposed in the light.  There is no place for hypocrisy with God.  We deceive ourselves if we think our hidden sins are not known.  We might fool people, but we will never fool God.  He knows and sees all things done.  And so, perhaps, that is the warning for us to fear God … the One who has authority over our eternity after our physical death here on earth.  Our faith is being tested each day … each situation … each choice or decision we make for ourselves.  So we must view our relationship with God in this context of truth and light.  God knows each of us intimately; and He desires us to know Him intimately as well.  So honesty is the place to start.  If repentance is indicated, then follow through.  As John advised: “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.  If we claim we have not sinned, we make God out to be a liar and His word is not in us.” (Cf. 1 John 1:8-10)

Lord Jesus, your words challenge us today.  As we consider what you are teaching, I pray that each of us will self-examine our hearts and see the truth you have brought to light.  I pray we will follow the prayer of David when he confessed the sin that he tried to hide. David was exposed, but he determined to repent and restore His fellowship with you.  I pray each of us will find the same honesty and courage to return to you and be reconciled when your Spirit convicts us of hypocrisy and dishonesty.  Against you and you alone we sin, and nothing is hidden from your sight.  Teach us to fear you, O Lord.  Let obedience be our reverence.   

Psalm 51:1-12 (NIV)

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

May our hearts embrace the teachings of Jesus. May our hearts repeat these words of David. Yes, may our hearts be sincere so that we will walk in the truth.  In Jesus Name I pray, Amen….

I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. ~ Psalm 119:14

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Ah, Sovereign Lord…

Jeremiah 32:17 (NIV)

“Ah, Sovereign Lord, you have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and outstretched arm. Nothing is too hard for you.

Sometimes when we are feeling powerless … when we feel the world is out of control … when we fall into despair or hopelessness; we need a reminder that God is in control.  The Prophet Jeremiah gives us a word of encouragement that our Heavenly Father is sovereign … He possesses supreme, ultimate authority, power, and dominion!  As Jeremiah notes, the Sovereign Lord … the Almighty God … is Creator of heaven and earth!  He created all things, and by His will they were created and have their being. (Cf. Colossians 1:16; Revelation 4:11) So there is nothing too difficult or impossible for Him!

If we truly believe God is sovereign, then why do we become anxious? Why do we fret or worry about the turbulent times in which we live? Jesus told us not to be anxious about our lives; rather, He challenged us to have faith in God … to believe Him … and to trust in His love. He taught us to seek FIRST the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness, and then all of the things that He knows we need for life will be added to us. (Cf. Matthew 6:25-33; Luke 12:22-31) And it is that KINGDOM … established under the sovereignty of a loving Father that we are challenged to seek and enter. So, if we waiver to believe the One who created us in His own image and for His own glory, how will we ever come to trust that He will take care of us and our needs? And then another question comes to mind: Why would we ever impose “limits” on what Almighty God has promised to do or how He determines to exercise His sovereign will? Do we really think that we have that ability?  Yet, when we attempt to diminish the sovereignty of God over us; this act of human arrogance inhibits the exercise of faith as well as ability to receive the fullness of all that God has given us for life….

I’m going to express a thought here that might provide an explanation to this conundrum. My thought is that we tend to suppress the power of God in our lives because we continue to question or doubt the depth and sincerity of His covenant of love with us. And I surmise this doubt most likely stems from the knowledge of our own sinfulness … our lapses in holiness … our failures and imperfection. So we judge ourselves to be unworthy of God’s love, and this self-condemnation is fueled by our sense of guilt and shame because we have transgressed His covenant. So the Accuser, Satan, seizes the opportunity to oppress us because he wants to fully convince us that we are not worthy of God’s love … not worthy of His forgiveness … not worthy of His provision for our lives. And if we continue to listen to that voice, we will become anxious and fearful as we lose sight of God’s covenant of love with us. We attempt to hide our disobedience; to make our own covering for the guilt and shame; and then withdraw ourselves from the holy presence of God just as Adam and Eve did. (Cf. Genesis 3:1-11)

If this is a place where you or I should find ourselves, then I pray we would remember the TRUTH that the Sovereign Lord has declared in His Word. For Jesus told us that Satan is a liar! (Cf. John 8:44) So, here is the truth about God’s love we need to embrace: “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:8) “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love for us, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:4-5) “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him.This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (Cf. 1 John 4:9-10) “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9) Indeed, we must hear and embrace the voice of truth in order to know that all things are possible with God…. Perhaps this is why the Apostle Paul, when praying for the church at Ephesus, shared this perspective for believers:

Ephesians 3:14-21 (NIV)

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of His glory He may grant you to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. 20 Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Indeed, it is imperative that we comprehend, along with all believers, how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.  It is necessary to know this love that surpasses knowledge … so that we may be filled with all the fullness of God … so that He may abide in us!  For when we are filled with all the fullness of God, His power is at work within us … enabling us to keep His commandments and to abide in His love. (Cf. John 15:10) I firmly believe that when we abide in the love of God through Christ, we will not question or doubt His love for us. Therefore, we will not be anxious about our lives or His desire to give us the Kingdom (Cf. Luke 12:32); rather, His love will strengthen us to accomplish even more than we could immeasurably ask or imagine. Yes, when God’s fullness … His power … is at work within us, we will be bold and courageous! We will not be anxious or doubt! We will not be timid or live in fear! Instead, we will advance the Kingdom of God – which is the purpose for which we were called to salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen….

Remember, He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. ~ Philippians 1:6

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Compassionate Father

Psalm 103:13 (NIV)

As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him….

As we enter this week and reflect on fathers and fatherhood; I am most grateful for our Heavenly Father … and for His compassions upon His children … upon those who fear (reverence) Him.  As Paul wrote:

2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NIV)

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, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.

Indeed, we all need compassion and comfort when we are distressed … oppressed … afflicted … or in physical, emotional, or spiritual pain.  It is part of our human experience … perhaps so that we can see and recognize the God of all comfort! And as we endure these experiences, we learn the grace of comforting others.  Indeed, God has shown His compassion since the Creation.  Jesus had great compassion for people as well. It is His nature … just as He is love.  Again, I am reminded of the father in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.  Jesus shared, “But while the son was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” (Cf. Luke 15:20) Oh, that is the depth of compassion we have received from God … and it reflects the acts of compassion that we should extend to one another….

So, I pray we will let compassion reign in our hearts as we minister to those who are in brokenness … to those who are ensnared in the darkness and deception of this world … to those who have wandered from the faith and experiencing a change of heart.  Oh, the Father is waiting, to celebrate their change of heart!  He is the Father of compassion! Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

A Gentle Answer

1 Thessalonians 5:11 (NIV)

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Our verse is another exhortation from Paul … and guidance regarding our relationships with one another. 

1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 (NIV)

For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.

Implicit with encouraging one another is how we speak to one another.  King Solomon gave this advice:

Proverbs 15:1 (NIV)

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.

In looking at the events that continue to ensnare our nation, I pray that we will continue as believers to find ways to speak words of encourage … words that reflect the command our Lord Jesus gave us: “Love one another as I have loved you.”  (Cf. John 13:34) And, “Forgive one another as the Lord forgave you.” (Cf. Colossians 3:13)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The “Platinum Rule”

Ephesians 4:32 (NIV)

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

We just talked about this yesterday.  Message unchanged….  There is a definite call to humble ourselves and to not think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think … as God has dealt to each one a measure of faith. (Cf. Romans 12:3) This reminds me of when Jesus taught His “Sermon on the Mount” and said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Cf. Luke 6:31) Perhaps, a “Platinum Rule” should read: “Treat others in the same manner that God has treated you in Christ Jesus.”  I think that raises the bar a notch….

We need to remember that God has been more kind, more gentle, more longsuffering, more patient, more forgiving, more compassionate, and more loving towards us than we ever tend to be towards one another; yet, we are made in His image and called to live as Jesus did. (Cf. 1 John 2:6) So this brings me back to two key passages:

Galatians 5:22-26 (NIV)

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 (NIV)

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.

It is only by the Spirit of God living within us that can ever hope to attain the godliness He desires within each of us.  And a person does not receive the Holy Spirit except that he/she believes in Jesus Christ … placing their faith in His life, death, and resurrection for the assurance of this gift. As Peter affirmed (and I often quote): “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. (Cf. 2 Peter 1:3) And indeed, we need the power of God to bear the fruit of the Spirit in our relationships with one another.  I can see no other conclusion for a believer … a child of God.  As John emphasized in His epistle: “Dear friends, let us love one another … for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and know God.” (Cf. 1 John 4:7)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Dealing With Sin

Matthew 18:15 (NIV)

“If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over.

It appears that the Holy Spirit wants us to deal with the issue of sin within our relationships.  As the Apostle John admonishes us:

1 John 3:1-10 (NIV)

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know Him. Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. All who have this hope in Him purify themselves, just as He is pure. Everyone who sins breaks the Law; in fact, sin is lawlessness. But you know that He appeared so that He might take away our sins. And in Him is no sin. No one who lives in Him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen Him or known Him. Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as He is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work. 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. 10 This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

So in the context of this “post resurrection” understanding brought to us by John, let’s go back to the matter Jesus discusses with His disciples and followers while He was still with them:

Matthew 18:15-20 (NRSV) – Dealing with Sin in the Church

15 “If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out their offense when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that brother or sister16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Cf. Deuteronomy 19:1517 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a pagan or a tax collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

An authentic encounter with Jesus Christ should produce a discernible change of heart within an individual.  It is not enough to simply know about Jesus; rather, a person must enter into an intimate relationship with Him … experience the new birth (born of God through His Spirit) … conceived in deep repentance and complete surrender to Jesus as Lord and Savior.  John tells us that one who is born of God will not continue to sin because the Holy Spirit within them will bring conviction to their heart. This conviction will lead to confession of the sin. And as John instructed: “If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (Cf. 1 John 1:9) Likewise, we are called to have this same mindset of forgiveness with one another. (Cf. Colossians 3:13) Indeed, I think the Apostle James brings additional perspective on forgiveness when he enjoins us “to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed.” (Cf. James 5:13-16) I think his message is that not only should we “release” the one who sins against us, but we should advocate in prayer for their “release” in heaven.  In other words, when we forgive someone, we should ask God to forgive them as well. It does not necessarily change the consequence(s) of their sin(s), but the intent is to release the debt owed for their offense just as God in Christ released you….

Jesus taught that when we pray to God, we should ask for and receive forgiveness for our sins (trespasses or debts) because we have forgiven those who have sinned or trespassed against us.  What we are asking for is the “release” of the debt we owe for our own conduct toward God. We plead for the blood of Jesus to atone for our sin. We ask for His grace to be extended to us. So it is “expected” that we have forgiven others with the same grace that we have asked of the Father for ourselves. Jesus noted: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” (Cf. Matthew 6:9-15) With this context in mind, I encourage you to revisit Matthew 18:18 again: “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you release on earth will be released in heaven.” Consider that if you or I withhold forgiveness from someone (bind it on earth); then it could be that our own prayers for forgiveness will be withheld from us (bound in heaven). It could be that we are guilty of the same sin(s) committed against us. Just a thought … in case you never committed the act of adultery but did so in your heart with a spirit of lust or covetousness.  Remember, Jesus has extended the threshold of sinfulness beyond physical deeds to include the malicious intentions of our hearts. For example, our tongues (our words) can wound the spirit or even murder the life of another person. If you have ever physically or emotionally bullied others, you have in essence murdered them in your heart….

Matthew 5:21-24 (NIV)

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder (Cf. Exodus 20:13) and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister without cause will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ (an Aramaic term of contempt or verbal abuse) is answerable to the council. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell. 23 “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

More than our tithes and offerings … more than our gifts or sacrifices of praise … God is concerned with the thoughts and intents of our hearts. He observes how we demonstrate our love for other people.  Is our love sincere or just lip service?  Is our love for others manifested in our prayers? God knows in truth.  In Christ Jesus, the love of God embodied in the greatest act of forgiveness … the release of our own sin debt.  Likewise, it is our forgiveness of others that expresses our love for them. Oh, it may be difficult in our human nature to do so; but the precepts presented here in Scripture are too obvious for us to disregard or dismiss.  Forgiveness does not mean what someone else did to you was acceptable. It was wrong. It was painful.  It impacted, diminished, or desecrated your life in some way. What they did should NOT be tolerated; however, it can still be forgiven. You can still “release” them and pray for them … even if reconciliation with you is not possible. In doing so, you affirm God has been merciful to you….  Remember, God did not excuse our sins! What He did was release us from the judgment for them (death). In most cases, we all still suffer from the consequences of our sin. Perhaps this is why James encouraged us to confess our sins to each other and to pray for one another so that we may be healed of our brokenness….

Consider what Paul declared: “Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him!  “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through His life!” (Cf. Romans 5:9-10) I believe forgiveness is probably the most powerful demonstration of love ever conceived in the heart of God.  And if we are to love one another as He has loved us, then forgiveness of others must be within our hearts as well.  The riches of His kindness, longsuffering, and patience is intended to lead us to repentance. (Cf. Romans 2:4) Perhaps, if we too acted with kindness and forgiveness, the one who offended us might be granted repentance as well. (Cf. 2 Timothy 24-26) As the Apostle James pointed out: My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.” (Cf. James 5:19-20) And we should take to heart the lesson Jesus taught us:

Luke 6:27-37 (NIV)

27 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you. 32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most-High God, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. 37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.

When you love your enemies and do good to them, your reward will be great!  We were once enemies of God; and yet, for the JOY set before Him, Jesus endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (Cf. Hebrews 12:2) We have been called in Christ Jesus to share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. (Cf. Romans 8:17) Peter affirmed this reward as well: “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (Cf. 1 Peter 4:12-14) Yes, somehow we need to find it within us to be kind to those who sin against us.  To me, the greatest kindness we can extend is forgiveness.  We can release them to God for His judgment.  Perhaps they might respond to His kindness.

Romans 12:17-21 (NIV)

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. (Cf. Deuteronomy 32:3520 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, then feed him; if he is thirsty, then give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Cf. Proverbs 25:21-22) 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Well, I see that I have covered quite a bit of ground on the issue of forgiveness.  A final thought to share is that communication and interaction are essential for forgiveness and reconciliation to be realized.  We are expected to “confront” our offenders.  We should go to them in love … even when we should feel righteous anger toward them.  How we feel is important … but how they are separated from you and from God is the greater issue to be addressed.  When people sin against each other … we must realize that we sin against God.  There should be a deep sense of sorrow for the offense.  There should be a great desire to effectuate reconciliation. The impulse to seek revenge should be counterbalanced with a deeper desire to see repentance and restoration. And even though you act in a spirit of grace, there could be ambivalence or indifference on the part of the offender. Still, you and I should do what is best and just commit them to God.  And do not be offended or upset with God because He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.  His kindness once led you and I to repentance and salvation in Jesus Christ. So I believe that we should pray that God would do the same for those who offend us. For God is longsuffering toward us all – not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (Cf. 2 Peter 3:9)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

If My People…

2 Chronicles 7:13-14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 Chronicles 7:11-16 (NIV)

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

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

2 Chronicles 6:28-31 (NIV)

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

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

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

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!