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!

A Gentle Answer

Colossians 4:5-6

Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

I think this passage is familiar to most of us … and its message is one of humility in our attitude and conduct.  Too often, I have seen Christians view themselves or project themselves to others as “superior” because they have come to a knowledge of the truth and believe that Jesus is the Son of God … sent to be our Savior, to redeem us, and to reconcile us to God the Father.  Sometimes they allow themselves to become filled with pride over their salvation … forgetting they did nothing to earn or deserve the unmerited kindness and mercy shown by God.  Salvation, at its core, is the most humbling experience a human being can undergo because we are utterly dependent on what God has done for us and there is nothing that we can add to it….  Salvation does not make us superior; rather, it makes us indebted to the One who gave us freedom from the penalty and power of sin.

That said … when we encounter other people, and especially those who are non-believers, Paul instructs us to be wise in how we act and speak toward them.  We are to approach others with the same attitude and grace as Christ Jesus:

Philippians 2:1-8 (NIV)

Therefore 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!

Why is this important?  Why does Paul instruct us to be careful in how we approach seekers and non-believers?  Because we ourselves received Jesus Christ through faith … and this was not of our ourselves … it was the gift of God. (Cf. Ephesians 2:8).  It was the kindness of God that led us to repentance in the first place. (Cf. Romans 2:4) So we are to be kind to one another … compassionate … forgiving … just as in Christ Jesus God forgave us. (Cf. Ephesians 4:32) As Paul related to Timothy, the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, and not resentful. (Cf. 2 Timothy 2:24) So let our conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that we may know how to answer everyone.  This will equip us to make the most of every opportunity we are given to lead others to salvation through faith in Jesus Christ….

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

The Simple Gospel

1 Corinthians 15:1-5

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain. For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,and that He appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.

Here we have the “Story of Easter” (the Gospel message) in a very succinct format.  I love how Paul phrases his emphasis: “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance.”  So what is the primary message of the Gospel?  Jesus died for our sins according to the Scriptures.  Jesus was buried. That means He had a physical body that was placed in a tomb. And Jesus was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.  Paul repeats that these events happened according to the prophetic Scriptures.  This is of “first importance” for anyone to understand.  Jesus was sent by the Father.  His life and salvific ministry to us was not happenstance.  Jesus had told His disciples, “I must preach the Kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Cf. Luke 4:43) And on the night He was betrayed, Jesus prayed, “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” (Cf. John 12:27)

So why is sharing the Gospel so important?  Well, for believers Paul states, “I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand.” Sharing the Gospel is important to faith building.  When believers were under trial and persecution, the truth of the Gospel was an important reminder of standing firm in the message of salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ.  The other reason is that we are called to share “what we have received as of first importance.” The eternal life we have received in Christ Jesus is worth talking about with others who do not know Him or placed their faith in Him…. There is a sense of urgency inherent in the Gospel message. Why the urgency? Because life is short.  As the Apostle James observed, “What is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.” (Cf. James 4:14) We do not know what will happen tomorrow … or before our next breath for that matter. “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, 28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him, He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation.” (Cf. Hebrews 9:27-28) Yes, our sin must be judged.  God is just! And since a person cannot call upon the name of the Lord and be saved after their death, that is why the Gospel is so important … so urgent.  Jesus came to bear the penalty of our sin through His death on the cross!  And as we noted last time:  

Romans 5:8-10 (NKJV)

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. 10 For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life….

Yes, the resurrection of Jesus that we celebrate at Easter is how we KNOW reconciliation with God the Father has occurred; and it is how we KNOW that salvation and eternal life is found in Jesus Christ alone.  For there is no other name under heaven given among me by which we must be saved. (Cf. Acts 4:12) So I pray that each of us will take this reminder today of what is important and pass it along to others while there is still time to do so. There is a wonderful and powerful story to tell!  Let’s get the Word out so people can have an authentic encounter with Jesus … so lives can be changed by Him … so lives can be saved by Him!  Amen.

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

This Is My Story….

1 Peter 3:15 (NIV)

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect….

This verse is connected with the themes we have been reading about the past week on sharing the Gospel.  Interestingly, I believe this passage is the most succinct instruction we can find in the Bible regarding evangelism in its “simplest” form.  We do not have to pass out “religious tracts” in the mall or door-to-door in order to be evangelists; although there might be occasion to do that sort of activity.  We do not have to stand on street corners with banners and megaphones heralding Scriptures; although if the Spirit directs you to do so … you should obey.  But if you think about it, when most of us were “touched” by the Gospel message, the context was probably somewhat different.  Your exposure to the message about Jesus Christ probably came through someone with whom you had a relationship.  It could have been a parent, a sibling, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, or simply an acquaintance.  Maybe someone did hand you a gospel tract, or a religious billboard caught your eye and planted a spiritual seed. But most likely it was seeing “something different” in the life of another believer or hearing the personal, spiritual experience of someone you trusted that inspired or encouraged you to have a “real” relationship with God….

As I read this verse, I connected with its instruction of “how” to be an effective witness of the Gospel.  First of all, Peter indicates that we must have a “strong” relationship with Jesus ourselves.  In our hearts we are to “revere Christ as Lord”.  This means we have humbled ourselves and surrendered our lives to His authority.  This means He is worthy of our praise and worship.  This means we have experienced His life-changing grace in our hearts and desire our lives to reflect the holiness for which He saved us.  As the writer of Hebrews admonishes us: “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14) If we revere Christ as Lord in our hearts, we will pursue a life that reflects that faith and hope and love.  As Peter wrote in his second pastoral epistle:

2 Peter 1:3-11 (NIV)

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness. Through these He has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love. For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins. 10 Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble, 11 and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

If we are living a life that is reflective of a genuine relationship with our Lord Jesus, then others will see it. And sometimes … your life in Christ will produce curiosity in someone who is seeking to have “more” of that “something” you appear to have in your life. It will be attractive to them because you reflect the light of God found only in Jesus. And so Peter instructs us: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” Note the extreme language: ALWAYS. To be prepared means we have “practiced” in order to be ready. We have “fine-tuned” our thoughts about our own personal encounter with Jesus. We have “reflected” on our own experience of His faithfulness in our lives. And then sharing the Gospel … well it simply becomes sharing our own story!

But do this with gentleness and respect,” Peter writes. This all sounds very similar to what Paul advised, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” (Cf. Colossians 4:5-7) And this is why I think we need to reflect on how to best communicate and share the good news of Christ Jesus. The manner and the circumstances in which we shared the Truth with someone can determine your effectiveness and mine in reaching that person for God. If we appear pious or superior in our tone, we do not reflect the One who said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Cf. Mark 9:35) So the question to ask is are you and I “prepared” to answer anyone about our faith and our hope in Christ? But a more crucial question to ask might be: “Is our love for others evident in our walk … enough so that it would be a conversation starter for a stranger or an unbeliever?”

Okay, I’m going to stir some conviction…. What is a definitive application for us to consider here? Well, for unbelievers to respond to the Gospel … they need to see a “real” Gospel. They need to see a genuine outcome of the power of God to believe it exists and that it is authentic. We live in a generation and a culture that increasingly dismisses or rejects the existence of God, and more specifically, the message of Jesus. I believe some of this intellectual skepticism can stem from inadequate “evidence” of the work and power of God in the lives of those who profess faith in Him. We cannot see the wind, yet we can observe its movement and impact. Likewise, we cannot see the Spirit of God, yet a person should be able to discern His manifestation in the life of a believer. I believe when the presence of God is seen because His impact is observable, faith is formed. So if our lives do not authentically reflect the transforming power of Christ, then how is there evidence for an unbeliever to move from skepticism to the reality they are searching to find? I pray that each of us will be introspective and consider if the “wind” of our lives is sufficient to “stir the leaves” in the hearts of unbelievers. If it is, I would venture to say that someone is going to ask about the faith they “see” you have in Christ Jesus. So be prepared to tell them your story. It is a great one to share!

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!

Teach Your Children Well….

Deuteronomy 6: 6-7 (NIV)

These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.

This is a reminder to us of the importance of staying focused on the Word of God.  We are urged to meditate on the commandments of God … to ponder them in our hearts … to apply their precepts and instructions to our walk with God.  Of equal importance, we need to remember that each of us has come to the knowledge of God through His Word. And His Word was impressed on us through other people – especially parents and grandparents for many of us.  My point being – how will other people (especially our own children) and future generations come to know the God who created us and loves us unless we talk about Him and share the knowledge of Him given to us through His Word?  That is why we are encouraged to talk about the Word of God at home … in the course of daily life … yes morning and night. I believe we should be talking about God all the time! His Being as declared through the Word of God is as necessary for life as our next breath.  In other words, you and I cannot escape its inherent power for life.  Jesus quoted these inspired words imparted to Moses in this regard:

Matthew 4:4 (NIV)

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Cf. Deuteronomy 8:3)

That is my hope with these daily verses – to impress the Word of God on each of you.  It is the source of understanding life itself … who God is … why He created us … what is His will for us … and so forth. And that is why each of us should keep the Word of God in our hearts and impart it to the next generations.  I am grateful that it was shared with me … because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes. (Cf. Romans 1:16)

So Now You Know….

Have a Blessed Day!