A Chosen People…

1 Peter 2:9 (NIV)

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.

I think most of us are familiar with this verse.  We have referenced it on previous occasions. Yet, each time I read it and meditate on it, I find new impact on my thoughts regarding my own relationship with God. Let’s look at this declaration in its context:

1 Peter 2:4-10 (NIV)

As you come to Jesus, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to Him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a temple of the Spirit to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in Him will never be put to shame.” (Referencing Isaiah 28:16) Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” (Referencing Psalm 118:22) and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.” (Referencing Isaiah 8:14) They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

Jesus is the living Stone … the chief cornerstone … the Rock upon which we as living stones are being built into a temple of the Spirit. We (believers) are, collectively, the Body of Christ in which the Spirit of God lives.  We are His House … we are His Church … the Ecclesia (Latin). Believers are those who have been called out of the world.  In this connotation, we have been chosen out of the world and into Christ (His Body).

John 15:18-19 (NIV)

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

John 17:5-7; 14-18 (NIV)

And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you.

14 I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. 15 My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of it. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. 18 As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.

When we peer into the depths of who we are in Christ, it is evident to me that believers have been separated out by Father God, the Creator of the universe Himself, for a special purpose! Indeed, as the Apostle Paul affirmed, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) This calling out … this setting apart … this sanctification … is effectuated through our faith in Jesus Christ.  And God has revealed to us His purpose for doing so: “That we may declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light!” Yes, we were chosen for this very purpose … to be a royal priesthood unto God … a holy people unto God … not for our own sake but for His glory! And so, what Paul concludes and exhorts has great significance for us: “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship.” (Cf. Romans 12:1)

What is the application?  I believe the “good works which God prepared in advance for us to do” is the offering of ourselves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.  The good works are to “declare the praises of Him who called us out of darkness into His wonderful light.” The good works are to “love one another as Jesus has loved us.” (Cf. John 13:34; 15:12) And as Paul shared with us: “Love is the most excellent way!” (1 Corinthians 12:31; 1 Corinthians 13) Indeed, love is the fruit of being chosen by God! And so, we need to understand the incredible mercy that has been extended to those whom God has granted the gift of repentance … to those whom God has removed the veil of darkness … to those whom God has given salvation through His Son.  We need to remember that the Father will discipline those He loves. (Cf. Hebrews 12:6) Yes, He will prune those who bear the fruit of the Spirit in their lives so that they will produce even more. (Cf. John 15:2) As Jesus said, “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (Cf. John 15:8)

So, I pray that each of us will see ourselves as part of the greater purpose for which God the Father has called us out of the world.  Yes, let us press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. (Cf. Philippians 3:14) “For our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” (Cf. Philippians 3:20)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Suffering For The Gospel…

Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)

Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.

I wanted to share this verse from the other day, but I have held up because of time constraints and I wanted to add some context and comment.  The topic Paul addresses here is “suffering” and its intended spiritual purpose in our lives.  Paul shares his insight from the tremendous amount of personal suffering that he endured; especially after becoming a believer and follower of Christ. I thought we might put this passage in the larger context to better understand this purpose:

Romans 5:1-11 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, let us have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And let us boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but let us also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by His blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through Him! 10 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! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

Notice the end goal of suffering is “hope”!  And hope does not put us to shame. Why? Because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. It is our reconciliation with God through the death of His Son … through the atonement made by His blood … that produces the hope of eternal life within us.  It is this reconciliation through the suffering of Christ that demonstrates the power and depth of God’s love for us!  And this is the context in which we should view our own suffering in life. Paul indicates that we should glory in any suffering that is encountered for our faith in and devotion to Jesus Christ….

Romans 8:18-25 (NIV)

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope. 21 For the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? 25 But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.

There is an intricate relationship between suffering and hope for us to evaluate and to embrace. For we know that Christ Jesus, Son though He was, He learned obedience from the things that He suffered. (Cf. Hebrews 5:8) And Peter reminds us that suffering for doing good will be inevitable. Just as Christ Jesus suffered for us, we as believers have been called to follow in the example of His steps.

1 Peter 2:19-23 (NIV)

19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps. 22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth.” 23 When they hurled their insults at Him, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. (See Isaiah 53 regarding the suffering of Christ)

So Paul enjoins us to “glory in our sufferings” for the sake of Christ.  For it produces perseverance of faith … Christ-like character … and affirms the hope for which we seek an intimate relationship with God.  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1) And so, I think it follows that without suffering in our lives, we will not develop confidence in our hope or assurance through our faith.  In other words, suffering is part of a necessary process to attain a faith that pleases God. “And 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. (Hebrews 11:6) Faith is believing God … and trusting Him even in the midst of our suffering….

So I pray that we as believers will come to place in our walk with God to embrace the trials of suffering that will come along in our lives.  As we have learned, suffering produces tremendous spiritual growth in us … deepens our faith and trust in God and His character … and ultimately produces the obedience that comes from faith.  And so, those are the worthy goals that accompany the suffering and affliction. “Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

2 Timothy 1:6-13 (NIV)

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me His prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of GodHe 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. 11 And of this Gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. 12 That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet this is no cause for shame, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day. 13 What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Do Not Take Revenge

Psalm 94:18-19 (NIV)

When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me. When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

If you become dismayed or disillusioned about the events going on in our nation … in our world … this Psalm provides some comfort to us.  God will execute judgment with righteousness.  God will avenge His righteous ones. “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.” (Romans 12:19)

Psalm 94

The Lord is a God who avenges. O God who avenges, shine forth.
Rise up, Judge of the earth; pay back to the proud what they deserve.
How long, Lord, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant?

They pour out arrogant words; all the evildoers are full of boasting.
They crush your people, Lord; they oppress your inheritance.
They slay the widow and the foreigner; they murder the fatherless.
They say, “The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob takes no notice.”

Take notice, you senseless ones among the people; you fools, when will you become wise?
Does He who fashioned the ear not hear? Does He who formed the eye not see?
10 Does He who disciplines nations not punish? Does He who teaches mankind lack knowledge?
11 The Lord knows all human plans; He knows that they are futile.

12 Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law;
13 you grant them relief from days of trouble, till a pit is dug for the wicked.
14 For the Lord will not reject His people; He will never forsake His inheritance.
15 Judgment will again be founded on righteousness, and all the upright in heart will follow it.

16 Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will take a stand for me against evildoers?
17 Unless the Lord had given me help, I would soon have dwelt in the silence of death.
18 When I said, “My foot is slipping,” your unfailing love, Lord, supported me.
19 When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

20 Can a corrupt throne be allied with you— a throne that brings on misery by its decrees?
21 The wicked band together against the righteous and condemn the innocent to death.
22 But the Lord has become my fortress, and my God the rock in whom I take refuge.
23 He will repay them for their sins and destroy them for their wickedness; the Lord our God will destroy them.

And in light of these days, I am reminded of what the Apostle John recorded in Revelation as the seals were opened:

Revelation 6:9-11 (NIV)

When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the Word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

The message here is that God is fully aware of what is taking place within His creation. God is wholly sovereign over His works, and His will is immutable in heaven and on earth.  We are not to fear the wicked or what is happening in the world; rather, we are to worship the Father in Spirit and in Truth! We have been saved to serve, and we should be about the Father’s business. “When the harvest time approached, He sent His servants to the tenants to collect His fruit.” (Cf. Matthew 21:34) And, “He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” (Cf. Luke 10:2) This is how the Body of Christ should be engaged in these latter days regardless of the resistance, persecution, and vilification that will come upon the workers. Jesus said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Cf. Matthew 28:19-20)

It has already been written in Scripture that God will allow martyrdom to happen … and permit the testing of our faith to refine us as with fire.  So, “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.” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:12-13) Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.” (Cf. John 15:18) And, “You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.” (Cf. Matthew 24:9) And, “See I have told you ahead of time.” (Cf. Matthew 24:25) “So be on your guard; I have told you everything ahead of time.” (Cf. Mark 13:23) But I remind you that victory will be accomplished. Jesus encouraged His disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (Cf. John 16:33) And the Apostle John affirms that “everyone born of God overcomes the world.  This is the victory that has overcome the world … even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” (Cf. 1 John 5:4-5)

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. ~ Romans 12:21

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Do Not Be Afraid…

Isaiah 41:10 (NIV)

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

I always loved this verse of encouragement … how we can trust God … how God is there for us just as He was for His people Israel … how He will strengthen, help, and uphold us in times of adversity or suffering.

Isaiah 41:8-14 (NIV)

“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, ‘You are my servant’; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand. 11 “All who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced; those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish. 12 Though you search for your enemies, you will not find them. Those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all. 13 For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. 14 Do not be afraid, you worm Jacob, little Israel, do not fear, for I myself will help you,” declares the Lord, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.

Look at the context for a moment.  Those who rage against you will surely be ashamed and disgraced … those who oppose you will be as nothing and perish … those who wage war against you will be as nothing at all.  God said we are not to fear! “No weapon forged against you will prevail, and you will refute every tongue that accuses you. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and this is their vindication from me, declares the Lord.” (Cf. Isaiah 54:17) And I think it is important for us to remember, “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (Cf. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5) And this makes perfect sense to me because the only offensive weapon that we have in this spiritual battle is the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God. (Cf. Ephesians 6:17) “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)

If we want to elevate faith and alleviate fear in our lives, then the Word of God must our resource! For it is the power of God to strengthen you and help you! His Word will uphold you, and through it the Holy Spirit will guide you into the truth. It is the truth you will need to refute every tongue that accuses you … to confound those who oppose you … to demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God.  You need to know the truth so that you can withstand those who want to suppress the truth by their wickedness. (Cf. Romans 1:18) Indeed, I sense that the human conflicts, chaos, and violence we see in our nation is not about the alleged issues of rights, equality, or justice.  If you look deeper into the agendas and ideologies that have emerged, you will see that the true battle is a spiritual one between those upholding truth and those suppressing truth … between obedience and disobedience of God’s commands … between His marvelous light and the veil of darkness.  Yes, the strife is a sin problem at the core. (Cf. Genesis 6:5) It is the movement and goal of those that want to worship the creature rather than submit to and worship the Creator – who is forever praised. Amen. (Cf. Romans 1:25)

Romans 1:28-32 (NIV)

28 Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.

If you think about it, the list here addresses much of what we are seeing on our televisions and on social media.  It is understandable that what we have witnessed has caused concern and even fear. But I feel we need to have spiritual perspective on what is happening and the “real” source of the conflict that seems to be growing at exponential speed over the last several months. The issue is that those who want nothing to do with God or His righteousness have found a cover and a narrative to exploit for their own purposes.  And the danger is that these people want to impose their godless views on everyone else through whatever means at their disposal … including suppression of speech; opposition to authority; and violence when needed to eliminate anyone who disagrees with their world view.  I think that only through knowledge of the truth, and its proclamation through the Body of Christ, will we be able to shine as the light of the world …  a city on a hill that cannot be hidden. (Cf. Matthew 5:14) This is what we have been called (saved) to do: to let our light shine before others that they may see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. (Cf. Matthew 5:16)

Well, I hope through these reflections that we will all take pause and pray for discernment in these turbulent times. I mostly think we need to see the events of 2020 as a wake-up call to the Church … to the people of God.  The Body of Christ needs to repent of its “lukewarm” attitude and get back on the mission for which Christ Jesus is the Head! We need to understand that the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot “see the light” of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 4:4) And this is why the culture war is so intense! We need to realize that true believers are the remnant light for this world, and while it is day we must be working. Night is coming when no one can work. (Cf. John 9:4) And really, what an exciting time it is for us to be living in these pivotal times for the Kingdom of God!  We should not fear the world; rather, we should all the more reverence our God and Creator who deemed us trustworthy to live in this hour upon the earth … and to serve Him during such a time as this!  Oh, we need to be faithful … not fearful … because He is with us. “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Cf. Joshua 1:9)  Indeed, it is time to be about the Father’s business….

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? ~ Romans 8:31

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Praise and Prayer…

Psalm 138:2 (NIV)

I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness, for you have so exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame.

As I think about our time of corporate prayer last night, I find this Psalm to be an incredible affirmation of the Lord’s goodness and faithfulness to those who love Him.  For those who were gathered last night, I think you will agree that this Psalm captures what our hearts experienced before the presence of the Lord.  I will reprint its reflective words for our reference:

Psalm 138:1-8 (NIV)

I will praise you, Lord, with all my heart; before the “gods” I will sing your praise. I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness, for you have so exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame. When I called, you answered me; you greatly emboldened me. May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed. May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great. Though the Lord is exalted, He looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, He sees them from afar. Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand you save me. The Lord will vindicate me; your love, Lord, endures forever— do not abandon the works of your hands.

It is important for God’s people to “pray without ceasing” and to seek even greater intimacy with the Lord. Though we have always been admonished to continually pray at all times, there seems to be a heightened sense of urgency that has been revealed to His Church to emphasize the intercessory power of prayer.  As we contemplate the times in which we live, we need to embrace that prayer changes things … mostly because it inwardly changes our hearts to align with the heart of the Father.  It softens and molds our hearts to see the brokenness, oppression, injustice, and darkness that has over taken the lives of so many people around us.  God deeply wants to bring healing and hope; forgiveness and salvation; liberty and life to the world … but most often His work is done through people. This simply means the people He uses to address the evils in our world must have willing hearts to do the work needed. Believers need to press into the presence of God until we, like David, can proclaim: “When I cried out, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul!” Indeed, it is prayer that prepares us to be bold … to be courageous … to be servants to those God is calling to Himself….  Jesus shared this perspective with us:

Matthew 9:35-38 (NIV)

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36 When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then Jesus said to His disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38 Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.”

Luke 10:1-3 (NIV)

10 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of Him to every town and place where He was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.

When we pray … we “ask” the Lord.  And here Jesus tells us to “ask” the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest field. Why? There is a vast multitude of people to be brought into the Kingdom of God, but there are few who are willing to work and make it happen. When Jesus said ask, it was not about asking the Lord to send someone else; rather, it was about asking Him to become one of the workers. “Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I. Send me!” (Cf. Isaiah 6:8) Oh, my personal prayer is be bold and courageous … to say, “Here I am. Send me!” What is your prayer?  When we pray and ask the Lord Jesus to change hearts and to change lives … to change the world … just what are we expecting Him to do? Exert His divine, supernatural authority and power? Indeed He will, but I believe He will do it through His people. Right? Are we not His Body in the world? Are we not the ones supposed to do the work in His harvest field?

James 2:14-17 (NIV)

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

1 John 3:16-18 (NIV)

16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down His life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. 17 If anyone has material possessions and sees a brother or sister in need but has no pity on them, how can the love of God be in that person? 18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

So I encourage and challenge us to think more deeply about the role of prayer in our lives and in our walk of faith.  It is one thing to ask God to do something about the suffering in this world.  It is quite another to ask Him for boldness and courage to be a worker in His harvest field. “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) Indeed, as His Body, we have been appointed to go into the harvest field. As Paul admonished, we have been asked to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is our true and proper (spiritual) worship. (Cf. Romans 12:1) We have been anointed with spiritual gifts to serve. (Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) And we have been empowered with boldness. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (Cf. 2 Timothy 1:7) Yes, it is prayer that will get each of us to that place of alignment with the heart of God to accomplish His work.

One final thought. How often have we heard people ask, “Why does God allow suffering in this world?”  Perhaps, you have asked this or a similar question.  I know that I have.  But the answer I have received was quite unsettling.  God asked, “Why do you allow suffering?” I had to stop and deeply consider His response to me. Do I allow suffering? How have I done so?  Well, in a word: “Inaction.” Yes, inaction is the opposite of what James and John admonished us to do. Indeed, there are many actions we can take to address the problems of this world if we will but take time and look for the opportunities. So, we need to get bold and get busy! “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.” (Cf. Galatians 6:10)

A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. ~ John 13:34-35

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Let The World Know….

Isaiah 12:4 (NIV)

In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted.

Our verse today connects well with our previous look at Psalm 33.  So let’s look at the full context:

Isaiah 12:1-6 (NIV)

1 In that day you will say: “I will praise you, Lord. Although you were angry with me, your anger has turned away and you have comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord Himself, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. In that day you will say: “Give praise to the Lord, proclaim His name; make known among the nations what He has done, and proclaim that His name is exalted. Sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things; let this be known to all the world. Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

What beautiful words the prophet has declared for us! And these words are from the breath and lips of God … foretelling our faith in His salvation and proclaiming the praise His people will have in their hearts “in that day.”  So I asked myself, “What day?”  “When will these things be or come to pass?”  So I decided to read what preceded this song of praise and turned back to Isaiah 11.  And then my spirit began to tremble within my heart as I read the prophetic word concerning Jesus … the root of Jesse:

Isaiah 11:1-5; 10-12 (NIV)

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and He will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what He sees with His eyes, or decide by what He hears with His ears; but with righteousness He will judge the needy, with justice He will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth; with the breath of his lips He will slay the wicked. (Cf. Revelation 1:16; 19:15) Righteousness will be His belt and faithfulness the sash around His waist.

10 In that day the Root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples; the nations will rally to Him, and His resting place will be glorious. 11 In that day the Lord will reach out His hand a second time to reclaim the surviving remnant of His people from Assyria, from Lower Egypt, from Upper Egypt, from Cush, from Elam, from Babylonia, from Hamath and from the islands of the Mediterranean. 12 He will raise a banner for the nations and gather the exiles of Israel; He will assemble the scattered people of Judah from the four quarters of the earth.

Oh, how I find great encouragement in the Word of God!  The light and truth of His Word instills peace within me. It inspires praise from the depths of my inner being.  So, yes, I want to sing to the Lord, for He has done glorious things.  I want to join with His people and let this be known to all the world. Yes, I will shout and sing for joy because Jesus is the Holy One of Israel and He is with us!  Let His Name be exalted in all the earth! And “that day”?  I believe “that day” is here … that day is now.  Today is the day of salvation….

Isaiah 49:7-9 (NIV)

This is what the Lord says— the Redeemer and Holy One of Israel—to Him who was despised and abhorred by the nation, to the servant of rulers: “Kings will see you and stand up, princes will see and bow down, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” This is what the Lord says: “In the time of my favor I will answer you, and in the day of salvation I will help you; I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people, to restore the land and to reassign its desolate inheritances, to say to the captives, ‘Come out,’ and to those in darkness, ‘Be free!’

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Lord Is Faithful

2 Thessalonians 3:3 (NIV)

But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.

I found our verse this morning to be a timely word for those who believe … a confirmation of the trust we must place in the Lord our God.  Either we believe the Lord is faithful, as He has wholly demonstrated through His great mercy and love, or we in essence do not believe He has spoken with truth.  The Apostle John cautioned about the theological implication of unbelief: “We make God to be a liar.”

1 John 5:9-11 (NIV)

We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son. 10 Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about His Son. 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.

God has not been ambiguous in the revelation of His will or His love. “But God demonstrates HIS OWN LOVE FOR US in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Cf. Romans 5:8) “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 4:10)

Hebrews 1:1-3 (NIV)

In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom also He made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being, sustaining all things by His powerful word. After He had provided purification for sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

If we accept the testimony of God … if we believe in His Son, Jesus Christ … then we can trust Him at His Word! The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one.  And now, let’s read the verse in the context:

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 (NIV)

1 As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with youAnd pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance.

Again, our mission … the task of the Church … is to share the testimony of God and to spread the message of Jesus Christ – His Son.  This is why we pray … pray for strength and pray for protection from the evil one. And this is His faithful promise to those who are at work and not idle in these times.  It is necessary for each of us to “release” whatever hinders us or binds us in unbelief.  Yes, right now, I pray in name of Jesus, for “RELEASE” of whatever stronghold, whatever attachment, whatever sin, whatever doubt or fear, that abide in our hearts and keep us from TOTAL TRUST in our Lord and Savior.  I declare, “RELEASE!”

Why?  “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (Cf. 1 Peter 4:17)

1 Peter 4:12-19 (NIV)

12 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. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when His glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 15 If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. 16 However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name. 17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? 18 And, “If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (Quoting Proverbs 11:31) 19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.”

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

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!

April Fools Day

Psalm 14:1 (NIV)

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.

Perhaps it was a play on words for the day – April Fool’s Day – but Psalm 14:1 exposes a real issue that we have faced in the proclamation of the Gospel.  The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Unbelief is the opposition of the spiritual forces of darkness … and the greatest transgression of all!  Does it not speak to the times we are living in this current generation? Scripture has a great deal to say about foolish people … and the consensus of the truths presented is that those who are fools, those who act foolishly, separate themselves from God and from His blessings.  Since I know that you have more time to read these days, here are a few passages which illustrate this point:

Psalm 14 (See also Psalm 53)

The fool (a morally deficient person) says in his/her heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good. The Lord looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on the Lord. But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous. You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the Lord is their refuge. Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores His people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Proverbs 1:7 (NIV)

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

Proverbs 1:20-33 (NIV)

20 Out in the open wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square; 21 on top of the wall she cries out, at the city gate she makes her speech: 22 “How long will you who are simple love your simple ways? How long will mockers delight in mockery and fools hate knowledge? 23 Repent at my rebuke! Then I will pour out my thoughts to you, I will make known to you my teachings. 24 But since you refuse to listen when I call and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, 25 since you disregard all my advice and do not accept my rebuke, 26 I in turn will laugh when disaster strikes you; I will mock when calamity overtakes you— 27 when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you. 28 “Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me, 29 since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the Lord. 30 Since they would not accept my advice and spurned my rebuke, 31 they will eat the fruit of their ways and be filled with the fruit of their schemes. 32 For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them; 33 but whoever listens to me will live in safety and be at ease, without fear of harm.”

The remainder of the Book of Proverbs will continue to contrast those who are wise with those who are foolish. I encourage you to read through them for the wisdom they impart.  But I want to look at some passages that record what Jesus taught us regarding the wisdom of knowing Him when adversity happens. I believe these admonitions to the “foolish” are most relevant to our mission to call the prodigals back into fellowship with the Lord through the local church:

Matthew 7:21-29 (NIV)

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ 24 “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” 28 When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, 29 because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.

Matthew 25:1-13 (NIV)

1 “At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep. “At midnight the cry rang out: ‘Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet Him!’ “Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, ‘Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.’ “‘No,’ they replied, ‘there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.’ 10 “But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with Him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut. 11 “Later the others also came. ‘Lord, Lord,’ they said, ‘open the door for us!’ 12 “But He replied, ‘Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.’ 13 Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.”

In both of these passages, we see the word “foolish” use to describe people who encountered Jesus … who knew Him … yet did not remain steadfast to His word.  There were those who heard His words.  They understood what He was saying; and yet, they did not put them into practice. It was not a matter of misunderstanding; rather, it was an attitude of indifference and apathy on the part of the hearer. I wonder who they called on when their life came to ruin?  Likewise, the virgins knew the Bridegroom would be coming for the marriage supper of the Lamb.  But they had not prepared themselves for His arrival.  They were foolish due to their complacency….  And the Apostle Paul warned of the darkness and deception of foolishness as well:

Romans 1:18-25 (NIV)

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—His eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified Him as God nor gave thanks to Him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

As I indicated above: Any lapse in faithfulness equates to foolishness.  But unbelief in God … in His Word … in His Majesty and Holiness … defines the fool! The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”  And unbelief separates the fool from God.  The fool neither glorifies nor worships God nor does the fool give thanks to Him.  Their hearts are darkened … rebellious … and filled with iniquity.  Paul will go on to further explain in Romans 1:28-29 that God gives the fools “over to a depraved mind so that they do what ought not to be done.  They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed, and depravity.” So there is a difference between acting foolish and being a fool. Perhaps this is why Jesus warned that anyone who says to a brother or sister in Christ, “You fool!” – will be in danger of the fire of hell.  The word has a clear definition and meaning when the context of Scripture is applied to it….

I share this “insight” because we might consider that a prodigal is a ‘fool’.  But the prodigal (and many of those whose faith is weak) may better be described as “acting foolishly” … behaving as though God is not around or not watching their lives. Perhaps they forget, but God is very aware!  “From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind;from His dwelling place He watches all who live on earth—He who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.” (Cf. Psalm 33:13-5) And God is calling to them!  Through His Spirit … through His Word … through His Church, the Lord Jesus is reaching out to the prodigals … to those who are acting foolishly … to those who have turned their hearts away from God … and He is crying out to them: Stop! Watch! Return!  For surely God has stopped the earth in its tracks at the moment! And I believe He is telling us to stop … to “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” (Cf. Psalm 46:10) And I believe He is telling us to watch … to “Watch therefore, for your do not know the day nor the hour in which the Son of Man is coming.” (Cf. Matthews 25:13) And as the world watches, I believe He is proclaiming: “I am He!”

Isaiah 43:1-13 (NIV)

43 But now, this is what the Lord says—He who created you, Jacob, He who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give people in exchange for you, nations in exchange for your life. Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth— everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” Lead out those who have eyes but are blind,who have ears but are deaf. All the nations gather together and the peoples assemble. Which of their gods foretold this and proclaimed to us the former things? Let them bring in their witnesses to prove they were right, so that others may hear and say, “It is true.” 10 “You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am He. Before me no god was formed, nor will there be one after me. 11 I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no savior. 12 I have revealed and saved and proclaimed— I, and not some foreign god among you. You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “that I am God. 13 Yes, and from ancient days I am He. No one can deliver out of my hand. When I act, who can reverse it?

Every prodigal has the opportunity to turn from the darkness that has taken hold and deceived them.  Indeed, Light has come! “Whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” (Cf. John 3:21) And so now is the time for the prodigal to return….  Now is the time of repentance … the time to change direction … the time to forsake foolishness … the time to respond to the voice of Wisdom.  It is time to walk in the light as He is in the light … so that we have fellowship with one another … because the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin. (Cf. 1 John 1:7) This is the message for prodigals and to all who have been foolish. We have been chosen to be witnesses! We are to lead out those who have eyes but are blind and those who have ears but are deaf.  We have been anointed to preach the good news; sent to heal the brokenhearted; to proclaim liberty to those who are captive; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and the day of vengeance of our God…. (Cf. Isaiah 61:1-3) But we must do so with gentleness:

2 Timothy 2:20-26 (NIV)

20 In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for special purposes and some for common use. 21 Those who cleanse themselves from the latter will be instruments for special purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. 22 Flee the evil desires of youth and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23 Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24 And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25 Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

So how do we avoid foolish and stupid arguments … and the quarrels they produce?  How can we be gentle to those whom we pray God will grant the gift of repentance? Well, what led you and I to repentance?  Was it not the kindness of God? (Cf. Romans 2:4) And so, let the redeemed of the Lord tell their stories!  Share how you cried to the Lord in your trouble and how He saved you and gave you peace. There are no doctrinal arguments for your testimony … because the love of God surpasses understanding. It cannot be argued or explained. It can only be experienced and shared.  So share your own authentic encounter with Jesus Christ, and let the Holy Spirit take it from there….   

Psalm 107 (NIV)

Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story— those He redeemed from the hand of the foe, those He gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.

Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble,  and He delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind, for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.

10 Some sat in darkness, in utter darkness, prisoners suffering in iron chains, 11 because they rebelled against God’s commands and despised the plans of the Most-High. 12 So He subjected them to bitter labor; they stumbled, and there was no one to help. 13 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. 14 He brought them out of darkness, the utter darkness, and broke away their chains. 15 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind, 16 for He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.

17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities. 18 They loathed all food (bread of life – word of God) and drew near the gates of death. 19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress. 20 He sent out His Word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave. 21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind. 22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of His works with songs of joy.

23 Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. 24 They saw the works of the Lord, His wonderful deeds in the deep. 25 For He spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. 26 They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away. 27 They reeled and staggered like drunkards; they were at their wits’ end. 28 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. 30 They were glad when it grew calm, and He guided them to their desired haven. 31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind. 32 Let them exalt Him in the assembly of the people and praise Him in the council of the elders.

33 He turned rivers into a desert, flowing springs into thirsty ground, 34 and fruitful land into a salt waste, because of the wickedness of those who lived there. 35 He turned the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs; 36 there He brought the hungry to live, and they founded a city where they could settle. 37 They sowed fields and planted vineyards that yielded a fruitful harvest; 38 He blessed them, and their numbers greatly increased, and He did not let their herds diminish. 39 Then their numbers decreased, and they were humbled by oppression, calamity and sorrow; 40 He who pours contempt on nobles made them wander in a trackless waste. 41 But He lifted the needy out of their affliction and increased their families like flocks. 42 The righteous understand and rejoice, but all the wicked shut their mouths. 43Let the one who is wise heed these things and ponder the loving deeds of the Lord.

When we speak about the wonderous works of God … the loving deeds of the Lord … we understand the will of God and rejoice in Him.  This is our invitation … this is the invitation of the Lord: “To taste and see that the Lord is good.” (Cf. Psalm 34:8) And I love the metaphors the writer used in Psalm 107. Some wandered … some sat in darkness … some became fools … and some were tested with the storms of life. I encourage you to mediate on what each metaphor is revealing for our own hearts … for we can each see a reflection of ourselves!  We, too, had spiritual oppression and opposition to overcome.  “For we have all been saved by grace through faith … and this is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God … not of works so that none of us can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:8-10)

Titus 3:1-9 (NIV)

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

When it comes to ministering to the prodigal, gentleness and kindness are the themes that come to mind.  They are not to be treated as fools who believe there is no God; rather, they just need to come to their senses … to see the light of life … to see Jesus … to encounter “I am He.” I believe the return of those called by His name will happen in 2020 … but not because we have elegant orators, anointed prophets and teachers, or because we are endued with the power of the Spirit; rather, I believe it will occur because of sincere love manifested through our lives. And please do not misunderstand me. To be sure, the anointings and gifts of the Holy Spirit have their ordained roles for the building and equipping of the Body under the headship of Christ Jesus, but I truly sense that it is genuine love that must fill the Church first. So, I will end with this thought:

1 Corinthians 13:1-8 (NIV)

1If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

I pray we will always pursue this command Jesus gave us: “Love one another as I have loved you….”

So Now You Know!

Have a Blessed Day!

Finish The Race!

Acts 20:24

However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

What an interesting personal assessment Paul gives here in this verse: “I consider my life worth nothing to me.”  He goes on to provide some context for his statement – which I think is important for us to include so that the value of his life … our lives … is put into better perspective.  Up to this point in Acts:20, Luke has been documenting the missionary journey undertaken by Paul and the evangelical opportunities for ministry afforded to him along the way.  It has been a fruitful journey, but there have been hardships and challenges in the midst of preaching the Gospel and discipling elders in the churches he labored to establish.  This is the backdrop when we reach Verse 22.

Acts 20:22-24 (NIV) – Paul is speaking

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.”

This is a more useful context to understand what Paul meant regarding the “worth of his life.”  It was not that Paul thought his life had no value; rather, it was a comparison to the calling of preaching the Gospel and completing the “job” which he had been “assigned” to do.  I think this is the more salient point for us to consider.  Each of us has a life given to us by the grace and will of God.  I say will of God because if He did not ordain for you to be conceived, then you would not exist.  Likewise, I say the grace of God because if He had not orchestrated a course around all of the threats and obstacles to your life, you would not continue to be here.  In short, our lives are miracles on many levels of contemplation, and we have been allowed our own free will to navigate it towards meaning and purpose within our mortal limitations.

When we find Christ Jesus … when the testimonies of the Apostles and the Word of God convince our souls of the Truth, a new dimension of life enters our existence.  Our spirits … our beings are born again!  Our concept of “self” is radically altered with the knowledge of God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We are changed!  The old has gone, the new is here! (Cf. 2 Corinthians 5:17) And so the value or worth we placed on our previous existence is changed as well.  What we thought we valued for our lives becomes replaced with a “purpose” of far more significant value … eternal value.  Our lives, hidden in Christ, have a new motivation … to live worthy of the Lord and to please Him in every way and to be productive in His Kingdom for His glory!

I think when Paul said, “I consider my life worth nothing to me,” I believe he was referring to his former life and the former meaning he had placed on it.  In light of his authentic encounter with the risen Lord Jesus on the road to Damascus, Paul was radically changed and his new life in Christ took on a “life of its own” … a life lived in the context of a close, personal relationship with Jesus and his new assignment to be an ambassador of the Gospel in all its fullness and truth.  In essence, Paul was saying that nothing (prison or hardships) would deter him from completing the good work he was created in Christ Jesus to do, which God had prepared in advance for him to do.” (Cf. Ephesians 2:10) And he expressed this in terms that we can relate in a way to communicate that whatever the risks of following the Lord Jesus and accomplishing His will for my life is more important … of great value … than my own inward, personal aspirations for this experience of life.  It represents a complete surrender to the will of God, and I believe this is an important principle for us to embrace in our journey of faith….

As Pastor Steve shared during his sermon Sunday morning about the life of Joseph (Cf. Genesis 37-47), he observed that Joseph from a youth had a life within the will of God, and yet, Joseph suffered being ridiculed, mocked, abuse, threatened with murder, sold into slavery (human trafficked), lied about, imprisoned, and forsaken, before he finally came to the place of accomplishing what God had purposed in advance for his life.  Surely, all of these horrific hardships and challenges tested his faith in God, yet he remained steadfast in his belief in the ultimate goodness and love of God. The entire time, Joseph was within the will of God, yet his life was far from “perfect” from a human perspective.  Yet Joseph spiritually understood that God was ever present in his life to bring about His will … His good purpose … and with perseverance he awaited it in faith.

Genesis 45:4-8 (NIV) 

Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.  8 So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God

Genesis 50:15-21 (NIV)

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept. 18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said. 19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

As we contemplate the visions and dreams God has instilled in our spirits for our lives … as we seek significance, purpose, and meaning for our lives … let us remember both Joseph and Paul – who despite tremendous opposition and hardship – went on to complete their respective roles in the Kingdom of God.  They did not consider their “own” lives worth anything compared to the rewards of faithfulness to what God called them to do.  And the application of these biblical lessons is for us to persevere in faith to accomplish the work God has given each of us to do in Christ.  As the writer of Hebrews suggested:

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

So I pray that each of us will run the race; reach the finish line; and receive the reward – the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (Cf. James 1:12) I pray we will remain courageous and steadfast in the pursuit of the visions and dreams God has given each of us to guide our journey of faith … and to bear much fruit to the glory of God the Father.  I encourage you to read John 15:1-17.  As Jesus shared with His disciples (and with us), we must remain (abide) in Him in order to bear fruit.  Further, we should understand that the Father will “prune” us in order to bear even more fruit; and that in Christ Jesus we were chosen (appointed) to bear fruit and that it should remain….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!