Archive for the ‘Salvation’ Category

Patience please

Patience:  an ability or willingness to suppress restlessness or annoyance when confronted with delay (source: http://www.dictionary.com).

Followers of this blog have likely heard the adage, “Patience is a virtue.”  I would add, “Patience is in short supply.” A close look at modern American society reveals that collectively we are an impatient bunch. We detest delays caused by heavy highway traffic and long stoplights. We hate standing in lines. We love express checkout lanes at the grocery store, next day delivery, and express mail. We like on demand TV programs and complain if a webpage takes a few extra seconds to load on our phones and computers. At this time of year, the Christmas season, even little kids join in anxiously counting the days until Santa arrives with his bag full of presents.

Patience has suffered in the information age, especially since the advent of the Internet. We are bombarded with a flood of information from a multitude of directions and sources. It is impossible to take it all in.  Consequently, we are increasingly fed information is small, easily digestible tidbits, whether it be news articles, sports reports, and even those pesky pop-up ads trying to sell us all kinds of stuff.

There are numerous studies indicating the way information is presented in compact form today alters the human brain, making it difficult for people to focus on long articles, books, etc. Many people today, especially younger adults, simply lack the patience to read a long book like the classic War and Peace or a James A. Michener novel, preferring the CliffsNotes version to the full-length one.  With patience in short supply, who among us will write the next classic novel or paint the next masterpiece like the Sistine Chapel? Who will perform the long, grueling research projects to cure human diseases? Who will travel to the planets?  

My wife and I are perfect examples of patience—she being a good example and me a bad one.  She is the type who will write personal notes in each of the many Christmas cards she sends. I, on the other hand, sign them and stuff them in the envelope. She can solve a difficult jigsaw puzzle in record time.  I would not dream of even starting one. She is great with handling our grandkids. I quickly slip into the drill sergeant mode when their antics irritate me. She frets about practically nothing.  I fret about myriad things. She follows a straight and narrow path while I zig and zag along. She has put up with me for almost 50 years—now that’s patience!

I am blessed with a patient wife, but even more blessed with a patient God.  When I consider my personal transgressions and the collective transgressions of our nation, I marvel that God has spared us his wrath thus far. God’s love for us is evident in His only son Jesus Christ. He suffered a cruel death on the cross as a propitiation for our sins. Through his glorious resurrection, Jesus overcame sin and death and opened the door to salvation for all who believe on His holy name. God is patient and gives us second chances, but only through the shed blood of Christ. Oh God, continue to be patient with us I pray!

 Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. –Colossians 3:12

Wishing all my readers a very blessed Christmas and a happy, healthy 2023. See you next year! Please pray for those of us in the upper Midwest where we are currently experiencing polar-like temperatures, snow, and wind.

A servant of all

Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardons all our sins and accepts us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us and received by faith alone. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.

 –The Westminster Shorter Catechism, questions 33 and 35

The New Testament is clear on the means of salvation.  Salvation from sin and death can be attained through faith alone—in Latin “Sola Fide.” Christ followers attain justification before God through faith in Jesus as their personal savior and no longer live under the condemnation of the Law. Their sins are forgiven and they are restored to a perfect relationship before God.  Jesus cruel death was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. “It is finished!” (John 19:30), were the final words spoken in the redemption of mankind. Through his glorious resurrection, Jesus overcame sin and death and opened the door to salvation for all who believe on His holy name.

No matter how hard one may try to attain salvation through good works, they are destined to fail. The Apostle Paul tells us, “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law” (Romans 3:20a). That said, we should not be quick to underemphasize the value of good works. Paul tells us in Philippians 2, to work out our own salvation in fear and trembling.  This “working out” is the process of sanctification, that lasts a lifetime, as believers are called to continually strive to become more Christ-like. Sanctification is as much about the process as it is the destination.

Many Bible critics contend that James 2:14-25 is not consistent with the doctrine of salvation through faith alone (sola fide). My understanding of James is that these critics take it out of context. Where James stresses deeds (works), he is speaking in the context of sanctification (striving to be more Christ-like) and not about justification (the forgiveness of sin and restoration into a right relationship with God).  

When we consider sanctification, it would be a mistake to overlook the role of good works. One day Jesus overheard several of his disciples arguing. It turned out they were arguing about which of them was the greatest among Jesus’ disciples. Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” (Mark 9:35).  Jesus gave his disciples an example of a servant’s heart when He washed their feet, as described in John chapter 13.

Are you a Christ follower?  Are you striving to become more Christ-like?  I hope you answered yes to both questions.  While you may not be able to cast out demons, raise the dead, give sight to the blind, or cleanse lepers, there is an abundance of good works needed in Christ’s kingdom. In Romans chapter 16, Paul’s final greetings to a handful of Christian brothers and sisters provides some clues. He tells them to greet each other with a holy kiss, that is be kind to one another. Paul repeatedly recognizes women who worked very hard for Christ. He recognizes others who have sponsored a church in their home.  He cites others who have demonstrated hospitality to fellow believers. Paul even recognizes the mother of a friend who has also been like a mother to him.

Sanctification does not come without a price. Paul’s greeting mentions some friends who risked their lives for Christ, others who have withstood testing of their fidelity to Christ, and yet others who served time in prison with him. Are you ready to accept the risks of becoming more Christ-like?  Are you “working out” your own sanctification? Are you willing to let your life become a doormat where others will wipe their feet? Are you ready to become a servant of all?  

Sanctification means nothing less than the holiness of Jesus becoming mine and being exhibited in my life. The most wonderful secret of living a holy life does not lie in imitating Jesus, but in letting the perfect qualities of Jesus exhibit themselves in my human flesh.  –Oswald Chambers

*All Bible quotations are NIV.

Making friends

A friend to all is a friend to none.  –Aristotle

I have hundreds of friends.  At least that is what my social media accounts tell me. The concept of friendship has changed significantly over the years, especially since the advent of the internet and social media. Social media friendships are so easy to make—just press the “Add Friend” button.  But what is a real friend?

Speaking to his disciples, Jesus explained friendship like this in John 15:13 (NIV), “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”  Whoa!  That rules out most of my social media friends. Real friendships, at least in Jesus’ definition, require personal relationships and a willingness to make sacrifices.

A real friend walks in when the rest of the world walks out.”  –Walter Winchell

So, what is real friendship?  I do not profess to have all the answers, but here are some things I have discovered about real friends:

  • They are there for you when others walk away.
  • They meet you where you are, warts, wrinkles and all.
  • They will make time for you, even when they cannot spare it.
  • They expect nothing in return and do not keep score.
  • They are good listeners.
  • They respect confidentiality.
  • They tell you what you need to hear, not what you want to hear.
  • They say, “Wow, you really screwed this up! Now how can I help you fix it?”
  • They walk beside you in the demon filled valleys.
  • They are at their best when you are at your worst.

For prayer is nothing else than being on terms of friendship with God.  –St. Teresa of Avila

I am blessed with an abundance of friends.  They know who they are. Most are fellow brothers or sisters in Christ. Thinking about what I like most about my friends makes me wonder if it is possible to be a friend of God?  I believe it is. In Daniel 3, Daniel was bound and thrown into a fiery furnace because he refused to worship an image of King Nebuchadnezzar. God, presumably a preincarnate Jesus, appeared in the blazing furnace with Daniel. David, despite his many serious flaws, had such a close relationship with God that God called him, “a man after my own heart,” (Acts 13:22). God called Abraham “my friend” (Isaiah 41:8b). And God spoke to Moses face to face, “as a man speaks with a friend” (Exodus 33:11a). The closeness of God to these individuals was not due to their righteousness, as all were flawed. These friendships were a result of God’s grace and mercy.

God is eager to be your friend, but He is unlike your other friends in one important way. God wants you to be his disciple. Jesus, God the Father’s only begotten son, lived up to his own teaching that, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Are you ready to let God mold and shape your life like potter’s clay?  Then lay down your life at his feet, pick up your cross and follow Jesus.

 He (Jesus) washes us in Baptism and gives us new, clean clothes of goodness and holiness to wear—His own good clothes, to be ours forever. Finally, He gives us life—His own everlasting life, which He won for us when He rose from the dead, never to die again. Dr. Kari Vo, The Lutheran Hour.

Give thanks to God

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.  –Psalm 107:1*

Recently I’ve been pondering what it means to give thanks to God. The Bible is full of examples of thanksgiving being lifted up to the Lord.  After giving it much thought, I’ve come to several conclusions. First and foremost, thanking God is my way of acknowledging His supreme authority and position in my life.  God gave me life! Everything that is good in my life is a gift from Him.

I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. –Psalm 69:30

Second, there are multiple ways to give thanks to God.  These include praying; through the written, recorded and spoken work; in song; in giving of one’s time and treasure; and in prayerfully doing good works for others with no motive other than serving God. I write this blog as a thank offering to God. There are many other ways of thanking God that area not listed here. It occurs to me that we can thank God in almost any situation we encounter throughout the day. Continually thanking God can help one remain cognizant of God’s endless presence in his or her life.

Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  –I Thessalonians 5:16-18

Third, we are to thank God in all circumstances, both the easy times, the difficult ones and those in between.  In Philippians 4, the Apostle Paul tells us he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances. This is a tough one. In my lifetime I’ve had some real tragedies. When tragedy strikes, it is particularly difficult to discern any good at the time.  Over the years I’ve learned to pray to God for strength to get me though the difficulties and to give me wisdom to understand.  While it was difficult to discern the good at the time, in retrospect each difficult period of my life was a time of learning and spiritual growth that helped prepare me for God’s eternal kingdom.   

Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!  –2 Corinthians 9:15

Finally, give thanks to the lord for his grace in offering us salvation through Jesus Christ.

Doxology

I thank you, God, for your grace, the gift of life and my salvation through Jesus Christ.  Thank you for the Godly women who helped lead me to the Savior in my childhood. Thank you for loving aunts, uncles, and grandparents who helped raise and care for me after my parents divorced. Thank you for the churches and teachers who helped nurture and train me along the way. Thank you for giving me a godly wife to share my life with. Thank you for my children and grandchildren who bring joy to my life. Thank you for friends and family who have added richness to my life. Thank you for protecting and shielding me during times of trouble. Thank you for the work that enables me to sustain my family. Thank you for this day and all my days to come. Thanks be to God!

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,

Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;

Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way,

With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today. 

Hymn – Now Thank We All Our God:

*All Bible quotes are NIV.

Follow me!

*All Bible quotes are ESV

The motto of the US Infantry is “Follow Me.”  From day one, infantry soldiers are taught to lead. The most effective leaders “lead from the front,” which means leading by personal example. Audie Leon Murphy was a popular Hollywood actor in the 1950’s and 1960’s, but he was a skinny, baby-faced, five-foot five-inch teenager from Texas when he joined the US Army in 1942. No one could have imagined that this lad would become his country’s most decorated service member of World War II. Time and again, Murphy proved himself fearless under fire. By October 1944, he was a highly decorated combat infantryman fighting in the European campaign. Murphy was given a battle commission to second lieutenant in the same month.

On January 26, 1945 Murphy’s conspicuous bravery would earn him the Congressional Medal of Honor (MOH). Murphy knew about leading from the front. An excerpt from his MOH citation reads as follows:

2d Lt. Murphy commanded Company B, which was attacked by six tanks and waves of infantry. 2d Lt. Murphy ordered his men to withdraw to prepared positions in a woods, while he remained forward at his command post and continued to give fire directions to the artillery by telephone. Behind him, to his right, one of our tank destroyers received a direct hit and began to burn. Its crew withdrew to the woods. 2d Lt. Murphy continued to direct artillery fire which killed large numbers of the advancing enemy infantry. With the enemy tanks abreast of his position, 2d Lt. Murphy climbed on the burning tank destroyer, which was in danger of blowing up at any moment, and employed its .50 caliber machine gun against the enemy. He was alone and exposed to German fire from three sides, but his deadly fire killed dozens of Germans and caused their infantry attack to waver. The enemy tanks, losing infantry support, began to fall back. For an hour the Germans tried every available weapon to eliminate 2d Lt. Murphy, but he continued to hold his position and wiped out a squad which was trying to creep up unnoticed on his right flank. Germans reached as close as 10 yards, only to be mowed down by his fire. He received a leg wound, but ignored it and continued the single-handed fight until his ammunition was exhausted. He then made his way to his company, refused medical attention, and organized the company in a counterattack which forced the Germans to withdraw.

Audie Murphy was a selfless, sacrificial leader who always led from the front.  Time and again he put his life on line for his friends and the men he led. Although wounded multiple times, Murphy miraculously survived the war. 

Jesus was the ultimate example of selfless sacrifice and leading from the front. In Matthew 4:18-22, Jesus calls his disciples for the first time with the words “follow me.” Immediately they dropped what they were doing and followed him. The call to follow Jesus means now, not later. If you hear him calling, don’t resist.

In Luke 18, a rich young man who had always tried to live a righteous life asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds in verse 22, “Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” The young man went away very sad, because he was very wealthy.

Jesus restored the sight of a blind beggar named Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52.  Mark tells us that Bartimaeus, once his vision is restored, “followed him (Jesus) on the way.

Mark 9:35 tells us that when Jesus observed his disciples arguing about their personal status in the group of disciples, Jesus told them ““If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

In John 13, on the night of the Passover feast just a short time before Jesus’ crucifixion, he displays a remarkable act of servitude by washing his disciples’ feet. When he is finished, he says to them in verses 14-15, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.” Jesus calls us to a sacrificial life, placing others before ourselves.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” –John 15:23

Most important of all, Jesus gave up the splendor of heaven to be born of the Virgin Mary and lived as a man among us, understanding our weaknesses and struggles, so that he could give his life to save us all from our sins and death.

“Since Adam’s sin, mankind had been separated from God, but through Christ’s sacrifice we have been reconciled to the Lord. Jesus is ’the Lamb of God,’—the final and permanent sacrifice for the sins of the whole world, and under God’s New Covenant he is now the one mediator through whom we can come to God, for God will accept and forgive everyone who professes by word and life their belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God, and depends upon his death as the sacrifice for their personal salvation.” (Source: Bibleforce.net)

“The authority by which the Christian leader leads is not power but love, not force but example, not coercion but reasoned persuasion. Leaders have power, but power is safe only in the hands of those who humble themselves to serve.” John Stott

Guard your heart

Sacred Heart of Jesus

“When a man’s heart is right with God the mysterious utterances of the Bible are spirit and life to him. Spiritual truth is discernible only to a pure heart, not to a keen intellect. It is not a question of profundity of intellect, but of purity of heart.”  Oswald Chambers

The word “heart”, as used in the Old Testament, is frequently translated from the Hebrew “לב (sounds like “leb”). It describes a person’s inner being—specifically their will, mind, consciousness, emotions and understanding. It can also refer to moral character and determination. The Hebrew people of Biblical times believed the heart was a body’s place of knowledge, memory and thought. From a holistic viewpoint, the Hebrews saw the heart as the predominant force behind a person’s character, decisions, words and deeds.

The word “heart” as used in the Greek New Testament is καρδία” (sounds like “cardia”). It is the root of the modern English “cardiac.” Like the Hebrew word for “heart,” καρδία has multiple interpretations. It represents the origin of one’s spiritual life and includes emotions. thoughts and one’s personal will. It also describes the center of one’s longings, desires and feelings.

In Roman Catholicism, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion recalls Jesus’ infinite love for all mankind. Saint Matthew reminds us that we are to return Jesus’ love for us.  In Matthew 22:37-38(a), Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Christian writer Witness Lee was born to a Christian family in North China in 1905. In his book The Economy of God, which was published in 1968, Lee examines the role of the heart in a Christian’s life. He says:

“Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart. Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway of our whole being.” He continues, “In other words, the heart becomes both the entrance and the exit of our being. Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart. Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.”

There are many worldly forces competing for our hearts. The Bible is full of examples and warnings about idols, false prophets and false teachers.  We find these deceivers all around us today. Idols manifest themselves in the forms of power, wealth, fame, celebrity, self-indulgence and the like—things we choose to worship in place of God. False prophets sometimes appear in the form of politicians, governments, religious leaders and, more recently, some social media outlets. They plant seeds of fears and confusion with words running contrary to the teaching of Christ. 18th century Welsh theologian Matthew Henry’s comprehensive Bible commentary has much to say on false prophets and teachers. For example:

“Our Saviour cautions his disciples to stand on their guard against false teachers. And he foretells wars and great commotions among nations. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword never departed from them. See what comes of refusing the gospel. Those who will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. But where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid. It is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts, even in troublous times.”  Commentary on Matthew 24

Psalm 1 tells us to meditate on the Law (instruction) of the Lord. If your heart is fixed on the Word of God, you are not likely to go astray. The Word of God is “at work” in believers who hear and meditate on it (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God helps us to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). The working of the Word of God is evident in true believers.  My mom spent the last few months of her life in a dementia facility.  One of the residents was a believer who was probably close to 90 years old. This blessed man, overcome by Alzheimer’s Disease, daily recited the Roman Catholic Missal for hours on end. Even in his diminished state, the Word of God was at work in this old Saint’s heart.

The Word of God helps us avoid the temptations of idolatry and false prophets.  As Corinthians 10:13 tells us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV)

So how can Christians respond to temptations that tear at their hearts? Naturally, Jesus provides the answer.  In Matthew 4:1-11, we find the story of Jesus’s temptation by Satan. In this passage, Jesus is tempted (tested) in the wilderness and responds with the Word of God, reciting scripture to Satan:

            Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

            You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Like a sword, the Word can be used for both defensive and offensive purposes—defensive as when Jesus responds to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, and offensive as when we see the triumphant Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, in Revelation 1:17-18, where he proclaims, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Study the Holy Scriptures and receive the Word of God!

Today, Jesus calls to each of us, “Come, leave behind your life of sin and sorrow. Come to the cross, find forgiveness for your sins, and join me in resurrection victory. Come, be My disciple. Come and know the joy of a loving Father. Come, before it is too late.” –Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker emeritus of the Lutheran Hour.

…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. –1 Timothy 1:12(b)-14

What do you believe?

“What are we to make of Christ?” There is no question of what we can make of Him; it is entirely a question of what He intends to make of us. You must accept or reject the story.

—C.S. Lewis

I’m a member of a parish of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA).  Each week during Sunday worship we recite the words of the Nicene Creed, a widely accepted collective statement of faith in the triune God. I’ve been reciting the creed for so many years that now it is memorized and literally flows effortlessly out of my mouth each Sunday.

I enjoy communal prayers, but with this form of prayer comes a risk—the words become so familiar they can lose personal meaning. The renowned Scottish theologian Oswald Chambers said, “When we become advocates of a creed, something dies; we do not believe God, we only believe our belief about Him.”

This begs the question, “What does it mean to believe something?” I’ve provided two definitions above.  I prefer the second one. This leads to another question, “What is the difference in believing something and believing in something.”  Surely Satan believes in God, as he has seen God face to face.

  “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” James 2:19 (NIV)

With all this in mind, I’d like to challenge each reader who calls him- or herself a Christian to examine your beliefs in the coming year. Do you believe God? If so, what exactly do you believe and what is the source of your beliefs? Let me preface the remaining discussion by confessing that I have many more questions on this subject than answers.   

A Gallup poll conducted in May 2017 indicated that a record few Americans (24%) believe the Bible is the literal word of God (Gallup poll). A 2020 Barna Group survey published by the American Bible Society indicated that “Mainline Protestant denominations had the largest proportion of unchurched adherents (50%) with one in every two members being unchurched, followed by 46% of Catholics, 37% of Evangelicals, and 36% of Historically Black Protestants.” (Barna Group Survey).  

Where do you stand on this?  If you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God, do you read it frequently? If you answered “no,” why not? How well versed are you in the scriptures?  If the Bible isn’t the source of your Christian beliefs, what is?  If you profess to be a Christian and don’t regularly attend church, why don’t you?

The bottom line of my thought process can be summed up like this: “If you can’t articulate what you believe, how can you live what you believe?”  In the coming year, I challenge each reader to answer the following questions for themselves. Take time to research the scriptures and other authoritative sources as you formulate your answers.  Try to discuss “why” or “why not” in each of your answers.

  1. Do you “believe” God or do you “believe in” God?
  2. Do you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God or just a book of wisdom?
  3. Proverbs 9:10 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” What does it mean to fear the Lord?
  4. Do you believe the creation story in Genesis 1 is literal or figurative?
  5. Is Jesus the son of God or simply a great moral teacher?
  6. Do you believe in the virgin birth?
  7. What is sin and what is salvation?
  8. Do you believe Jesus died for your sins?
  9. Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
  10. Is Jesus the only pathway to God, as He said, or are there other paths?

Many people claim we’re presently living in a “post-Christian” era today, where Western cultures are increasingly embracing secularism and turning their backs on their original Judeo-Christian roots. More and more, we see Christians accused of being racists, bigots, homophobes, transphobes and a host of other slurs because of their beliefs. This is occurring both before the law, in the media, and in the court of public opinion. When your faith is eventually questioned by a non-Christian, as it inevitably will be, will you be prepared to articulate what you believe or will you silently submit to their accusations?

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.

Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.

This poor man called, and the Lord heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and he delivers them.

Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.

—Psalm 34:4-8 (NIV)

Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and to teaching. Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through prophecy when the body of elders laid their hands on you. Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers. —1 Timothy 4:13-16 (NIV)

Do not let your hearts be troubled

Jesus Watches Mary of Bethany Weeping at His Tomb

In John 14, Jesus’ disciples are troubled by the Lord’s words and behavior.  In John 13, Jesus washes His disciples’ feet and tells them that one who wishes to be a leader must be the servant of all.  He informs them that he is going away to a place where they cannot follow, foreshadowing his crucifixion, death and resurrection. Jesus tells them that one of the disciples will betray him. Finally, he tells Peter that he will deny Jesus three times. By this time, all the disciples are pretty shaken.  But next Jesus reassures and comforts them saying, “Do not let your hearts be troubled” (John 14:1) *.  He then goes on to explain that He is going away to prepare a place for them in heaven.

Such comforting words are needed today. The entire country is politically supercharged over the upcoming election.  Harsh words are spoken on both sizes of the aisle. Violent protests fill the streets of many major cities nightly. I continually hear people from the left, right, and middle expressing fears and worries over the future of America. This shouldn’t be a concern for Christians.

Here’s a news flash. The upcoming election has already been decided. The future of America has already been decided. Despite the hate and chaos, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as he wills it. The Father’s plan for Christ followers is the same as Jesus plan for His disciples.  He is preparing a place for Christians in Heaven. This plan was established before the Earth was created. It may seem to sometimes that God is moving slowly, but he isn’t.

But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. –2 Peter:8-9

Time is a perception that humans use to help wrap their minds around what occurs in life, but time is meaningless to God.  We see this clearly in Exodus 3:14, when God tells Moses that God’s name is “I am.”  We see this in Revelation 1:8, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”  Mike Bennett, who writes for the Christian website Life, Hope and Truth, explains it like this:

The Bible tells us God “calls those things which do not exist as though they did” (Romans 4:17). In other words, God’s plans are so sure that it is as if they had already happened. So, when the One who became Jesus Christ volunteered to die for our sins from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8), it was as if He had already been slain. Jesus also described other things that were planned “from the foundation of the world,” and they are just as sure. “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’” (Matthew 25:34).

“My spirit shakes with terror. How long God, how long? from Psalm 6

Rest assured that God is in control and nothing can change that. No matter what appears to be happening, God’s divine plan is unfolding just as He conceived it before creation. For many this is a difficult concept to grasp. Jesus is the key to God’s plan.  This is stated plainly in John 1:1-5, where John describes Jesus like this: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

If you are a Christian and find yourself fretting over the coming election or other events occurring in the nation, I encourage you to read (or reread) the Gospel of John.  I guarantee you will find great comfort in its words.  Even if you are not a Christ follower, I encourage you to read the Gospel of John and carefully consider its words, for it is a guide to eternity.

“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” –John 6:68.

* All Bible passages are NIV.

The Joy of the Holy Spirit

christmas-2017

This is the month, and this the happy morn, Wherein the Son of Heav’n’s eternal King, Of wedded Maid, and Virgin Mother born, Our great redemption from above did bring; For so the holy sages once did sing, That he our deadly forfeit should release, And with his Father work us a perpetual peace. —John Milton, from his poem ‘On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity’

The word Joy is a much-overused in secular communications around Christmas time.  One sees the word frequently on secular Christmas tree ornaments, gift wrapping paper, greeting cards and the like. Joy is an extremely important word for Christians; it appears frequently in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. Galatians 5:22 tells us that joy is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, along with love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (NIV).

According to one Jesuit explanation of this, a fruit of the Holy Spirit is “an observable behavior in people who have allowed the grace of the Holy Spirit to be effective in them.”  With this interpretation, two things become clear.  First, the fruits of the Holy Spirit do not appear automatically once a person accepts Christ as his or her Savior.  To reap the fruits, we must surrender our right to ourselves and allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.  Secondly, Christian joy is not the same as happiness.  Christian joy can be experienced in the midst of pain and sadness. In fact, James 1:2-3 (NIV) tells us, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”

In Philippians 4:4, the Apostle Paul tells us to “rejoice in the Lord always.” He penned this epistle from prison.   Some people confuse joy with happiness.  They are not the same.  Christian joy comes from within, while happiness stems from external sources.  I’m happy when my wife bakes her famous apple pie.  I’m joyful in the knowledge that Christ is my Savior. I can savor Christian joy even in difficult times, just like Paul writing words of encouragement from prison.

I recently visited a friend who is quickly approaching death. He’s the godfather of my children and a friend of over 35 years. While it was sad knowing I probably won’t see him again in this life, it was also joyful to know that he is secure in his salvation through Jesus Christ and we will see each other again in God’s eternal kingdom.  

But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. —Luke 2: 10-11

My prayer for you is that you will allow the joy of the Holy Spirit to work in your life. May your heart be filled with the joy and peace of Jesus Christ during this Christmas Season and in the coming New Year!

What can I give Him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; If I were a Wise Man, I would do my part; Yet what I can I give Him: give my heart. —Christina Rossetti from her poem ‘In the bleak midwinter’

 

 

Is your God this big?

HubbelHubble Space Telescope Image

The heavens declare the glory of God;
    the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  —Psalms 19:1*

During my 24-year U.S. Army career I deployed to the Middle East and the horn of Africa for extended stays.  Much of my time there was spent in very remote areas of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Somalia.  While I can’t say I enjoyed my time in these places, the deployments were great learning experiences that I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

One thing that I did enjoy, however, was the nighttime sky in the desert west of Kuwait City and in the plush south Jubba River valley of Somalia.  With no man-made light to interfere with my vision, I could look upward and literally see billions of stars.  God has created an unfathomable universe that defies human description. As the Psalmist says, truly the heavens declare the glory of God. 

My God can alter this vast universe in the blink of an eye. Is your God this big?

In the beginning you laid the foundations of the earth,
    and the heavens are the work of your hands.
They will perish, but you remain; they will all wear out like a garment.
Like clothing you will change them and they will be changed.
But you remain the same
 and your years will never end.  —Psalm 102:25-27

The King James Bible of 1611 paints an image of God reflecting the social order of Jacobean England—a king sitting on a throne, surrounded by throngs of courtiers. Many Christians have grown up with this image of God. God truly is our king; however, he is much, much more. English clergyman and Bible scholar J.B. Phillips is probably best known for his epic book, “Your God is Too Small.” Published in 1952, he might have just as easily called it, “Your Mind is Too Small.”  Phillips encourages us to set aside the limits human reason places on God and instead embrace Him as the omnipotent, omnipresent creator of the universe. Rather than having God conform to a man-made image of Him, which Phillips calls “God in a box,” Phillips challenges us to open our minds and embrace God’s reality—the creator of the universe, who is unconstrained by our concepts of time, speed, distance and space.

When I consider the work of your fingers, the moon and stars which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?—Psalm 8:3-4

Perhaps what’s most amazing about my God is that the creator of the limitless universe is also the God who cares for you and for me as individuals.  As our father and creator, God knows our thoughts, our fears, our weaknesses and our individual needs. He wants to care for us.

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! —1 John 3:1

The glory of God can shine through us as individuals when we are in a right relationship with Him, but because of mankind’s fallen state, we cannot even look God in the face (Exodus 33:20). Therefore, our creator sent us a savior, His only begotten son Jesus Christ, who willingly set aside his heavenly glory and took on human form, being born of a virgin, for the express purpose of dying on the cross for your sins and mine. By his death and resurrection, we can be restored to a right relationship as children of God.

But the cross wasn’t the end, it was the beginning.  Through His glorious resurrection from the dead, Christ banished death and opened the gateway to eternal life for all who put their faith in Him as savior. There is nothing we can do by ourselves to be restored to a right relationship with God; it is a gift that must be accepted. Jesus Christ offers forgiveness and eternal life freely to those who confess their sins and trust in Him. Do you want to trust Jesus?  Click the link to find out how. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P8qWlN7c3lQ

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. —1 John 1:9.     

*All Bible quotes are taken from the New International Version.