Is It Wrong To Be Wronged?

“I have been wronged!”

So many of us have said those words at some point in our lives. Perhaps it is happening right now to you? Maybe a situation came up that placed us in a position where we have been accused of something we didn’t do. Or perhaps there is an unfair claim against us that we cannot fight against. You’ve all heard the saying “you can’t fight city hall.”  When those forces beyond our reach have come up against us, it leaves us feeling helpless, without recourse, without hope of exoneration. 

In light of the last couple of years, so many of us have gone through very unique and tremendous battles as the world has struggled against an invisible enemy. The impact that each person has felt might vary, but the end result has been the same; uncertainty at every turn. Hopelessness has become prevalent. We have seen people turn on people, institutions falter, governments overreach their powers, families have been torn apart, and immeasurable losses have been felt. So many have had to face choices that were put before them that we never thought we would have to make.

Some have given up. Some have blamed God. Some have found God.

When we examine this current world of chaos in light of God’s Word, the Bible, we certainly see similar situations that folks of the Bible went through, almost paralleling the issues today. Some know the plight of being in want. Some see the struggles of class or race. Some undergo neglect from trusted family or friends. Some see abandonment from civic leaders. Some experience the hypocrisy of religious leaders. And some feel the pangs of standing alone, facing insurmountable odds of a world against them. All these things happened to so many of the people mentioned in the Bible! And we, like them, experience similar struggles even in our modern day. Sure, the times and cultures may have changed, but the core matter is the same; we feel wronged!

One thing that we do have to our advantage today that many didn’t in Bible times was the whole of written Scripture. When you examine the earliest times from Genesis onward, many of the saints of yesteryear had only the verbal Words of God. Many of the Bible’s heroes of faith didn’t have the written Psalms to comfort them in their times of distress. They didn’t have a chapter and verse account at their finger tips of the struggles that men like Noah, Abraham, David, Job, and the prophets went through to be an inspiration in their times of trial. The people of the Bible got through their situations relying solely on God and His promises through sheer faith. They kept their focus in those dark moments, holding onto the little they knew of God at that time. 

We all know the story of Joseph and his brothers selling him into slavery. Joseph had no idea what was to come, but he trusted God even when depression and uncertainty crept in. And he didn’t have a nice devotional of Scripture verses to turn to like we do today. Or how about when Job sat in sack cloth, lamenting the loss of his family? He continued to trust God before, during and after the testing. He didn’t have a pastor giving him a pep talk of how God was going to bless him if he did certain things. Then there is David who ran for his life from people trying to kill him for being anointed king by God. He also kept his trust in God and His promises. In his darkest storms, all he could do was journal his feelings of fear, loss, sadness, and worry. And though he didn’t know what the outcome would be, he did know that God was in control.

You can’t trust in feelings, but you can trust in the truth of the knowledge of God!

There was a man named Jephthah who was the son of Gilead. Jephthah was ostracized by his brothers, and essentially his entire tribe, because he was the result of his father being with a prostitute. He was sent away because his brothers didn’t want him getting any inheritance from their father. And even though he was a mighty warrior by their standards, he was unjustly cast out from his people because of someone else’s sin. This man, by today’s standards, had every right to whine and complain “unfair”! Had he experienced this injustice in our modern times, he would have been encouraged to file a lawsuit for defamation and damages. His initial years being cast out from family and friends must have been filled with such sadness, anger, confusion, hurt, and so much more! 

But Jephthah went out, started a family, and lived life without a murmur. How many times have we either shut down, fought back, or even sought revenge when life slapped us in the face?Jephthah suffered another insult from his own tribe when the elders later came and asked him to be their leader because the tribesmen were being threatened by the Ammonites next door. That’s quite the nerve they had to ask this guy to come back to the fold and lead the people into battle, especially when they were the very ones who kicked him out! As we look at this scenario, let’s face it…you and I might have had quite a different response than the one Jephthah gave! 

In our times of being wronged, we might often lash out in anger and frustration. Though the Words of God in Romans 12 might ring in our ears saying; “repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all”, we may still feel that urge to right the wrongs ourselves. We might wish to make the instigators pay for their misdeeds to us as we push back at the very truth of God’s promise that “vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” We forget for a moment that “their foot shall slip in due time; for the day of calamity is at hand, and the things to come hastens upon them” as God says in Deuteronomy 32. We feel the unrighteousness against us, but we forget the Righteousness of God!

There are two ways to look at things that we count unfair against us. The first would be the matter that we have been wronged by others on a personal, “human”, level. Examples could be; not getting that promotion we should have received or being blamed for something we didn’t do, or maybe being hurt by someone’s words. And there are so many other situations that we can mention showing how we have defined “being wronged” by others. The second of unfair scenarios we might suffer is in experiencing wrongs against us because of our faith in Jesus Christ. Things like being excluded from family and friends because they view our faith as snobbery, or being scoffed at for believing in an unseen “God” and told that we are following “fairytales”, or we might get pushback from people when we are defending our faith and holding on to the honor of God. But the question that arises is this: is the wrong we are feeling a matter of personal pride or is it a matter of violation of righteousness?

“The present age is so flippant that if a man loves the Savior he is a fanatic, and if he hates the powers of evil he is a bigot.” – Charles Spurgeon

The most important way to address anything that we count as a wrong is to start with the Word of God. How does God look at things we count as “wrongs”? Because what we may count as a wrong, might be something that is being used by God for our growth and our edification. We may see the situation as a violation against us, but God is seeing it as trial by fire. We may think this is a negative thing we are suffering, but God is using it for a positive outcome in our sanctification. Believe me when I say that God does know all about wrongs. After all…we all have wronged Him by our sin nature!

For a simple understanding of that statement, we need only look back at the Creation and onward in Genesis. God made all things good, including man and woman, and it was pleasing to Him. But it only took a matter of time before the humans “wronged” God by violating His righteous decrees. And the wrongs kept growing and amplifying against God. It got so bad that by chapter 6 of Genesis, God was fed up with the sins (wrongs) of man against the Holiness of God! Not only did God shorten man’s days on earth (age), but he wiped out every living thing, save for 6 people and two of each creature created! And it wasn’t long after that great flood that man (chapter 11!), once again, increased in their wrongs against God. Man became so brazen that they thought that they could reach up to God in Babel, become like God all over again. And this continual wronging against God still plagues the planet today. Mankind is so narcissistic that they invent ways in their thinking to become gods through their actions and ways. Whether sciences and inventions or religions and cults; man is continually striving to either push God aside or attempt to thwart His will and ways. Looking at this in our human viewpoint, God is being wronged by the very things He created!

Yet, despite this continual display of wrongs by His creation, God still loves us! Despite the hard-headedness of man, God still reached out to us through His Son Jesus! Despite the flagrant failings by those whom He has called into faith by the power of the Holy Spirit, God still forgives! You see…despite ourselves, we can still have hope! 

We might not see clear the future promises of God’s plans for our lives, but like the saints of yesteryear, we need to keep faith in His promises, despite the circumstances we may find ourselves facing. We can always rest in the words of the Apostle Paul who wrote to the believers in Philippi “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” We can trust that God will, when others won’t. When we feel hurt or wronged by others, we are leaning on our feelings. Jesus exclaimed that “in the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Yes, these times and trials do hurt. There is no doubt about that. But this is where we can feed our faith in the Word of God! We have the Scriptures to guide us, comfort us, strengthen us, and cast the light we need to bring us through the storms we face!

God’s ways are right. And if we are in Christ Jesus, our Savior, we share in His righteousness. No matter what the world does, we can stand on this truth. No matter how much we are wronged, we can take comfort knowing that God has already dealt with these things. God reminds us in Hebrews 4: Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

When we pass through the waters, suffer at the hands of the world, feel the pains of being wronged, we can trust and know that our Lord is fully aware of our situation. In Psalm 34:15 He tells us that the eyes of the Lord are toward the righteous and His ears toward their cry. It is so easy to get swallowed up by the results of people’s actions against us. When we get hurt or scared, we feel like we are separated from our comforts. We wonder if we are standing alone, without support, just like Jephthah must have felt when he was forced away from his own people. Even if should we receive recompense after our being wronged, there could still be repercussions that we may deem “unfair”. In the case of Jephthah, he made a promise to the Lord that if God gave the battle victory to the Gileadites that Jephthah would offer up a special sacrifice. And God did give them the victory. If you stopped right there, you would think he was exonerated and all’s well that ends well. But the promise from Jephthah was a sacrifice of whatever or whomever came out first to meet him when he got home from the battle. Many would think the dog or something of that sort, but, sadly, it was his only child…his daughter. 

Yes, we might get some retribution for our being wronged, but that doesn’t mean the end of the struggles. Our expectation of what the storybook endings should be are not necessarily in God’s plans. Yet, despite the sad ending to that part of the story, Jephthah remained faithful to the Lord and his calling. And we need to remember that no matter the outcome of our trials and tribulations, we are also to remain faithful and trusting in God’s providence! Jephthah’s faith, despite the wrongs against him, despite the losses he suffered through, is a powerful testimony to us today. He is even mentioned in the great Saints Hall of Faith that is listed in Hebrews chapter 11!

And then we have Jesus the Messiah. Before He was here, He was with God and is God. And through the great love of God for us, Jesus was sent to earth as mortal man, yet fully God. He who knew no sin was exposed to the very sin that decimates this place and is an abomination to God. Though He came in peace, he was at war with His own creation. He healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, raised the dead, loved with an unconditional love…even those who despised Him, and set the example of what God wants for us and from us. And after all that, He was wrongfully accused, beaten, scoffed, and eventually murdered in a most horrific manner: the cross. Though our human thinking would point out the unfairness of this treatment of Jesus, yet in God’s plan it was all necessary to save us from the sin that condemns us all to eternal damnation. Without the wrongs done by our standards, the right of God’s standards would never have been met.

Among many though, there is a desire for righteousness to prevail in the world. The great Puritan preacher Jeremiah Burroughs once wrote that “the people of God are grieved to see unrighteous dealings, because the honor of God is eclipsed. Unrighteousness is unsuitable to their spirits, since the Lord has put righteousness in their hearts.” It is a human desire for fairness and for right to reign supreme over the lands. Yet with the prevalence of sin in this fallen world, we know that there will always be wrongs, there will always be unfairness, there will always be evil…until the end of times. Burroughs continues with a prayer of many saints today by asking ‘why, Lord, does the kingdom of Satan prevail in the world? O Lord, when shall the righteous scepter of Jesus Christ have sway among the children of men?’ What a heartfelt plea to the God of the universe! To have His right prevail and His will be done! 

We may not be able to stop the evil that men do to others, or ourselves, but we know that in due time they will have to give an account to the Lord. We may feel wronged at the moment by the actions of others, but we must remember that we do walk within a fallen world, and that God is, in His providence, in complete control! This is where faith and trust comes in. Yes, we have a righteous heart that hungers for righteousness…whether it be for ourselves or others…but knowing that God understands, cares, loves, and is there for us in those times should give us comfort beyond imagination! Keep all these things in perspective. It is a balm for the soul!

We are to stand firm in our faith, despite the storms of this world. Not to give up hope! As it says in Hebrews chapter 3: Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end. As it is said “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”  (Emphasis mine)

We can easily grow faint and wearied by the bombardment of the world’s evil. When we see those who wrong others and don’t seem to have to account for their actions, we wonder where is the justice, where is God? We have that desire for righteousness to prevail, but don’t necessarily see it. Don’t let that harden your hearts! Take comfort knowing that in this time of testing that our Lord and Savior is there beside us! And His wrath to come will set all things right, all things under His judgment, all things for His glory! We just need to persevere. 

I’ll close with a great exhortation from Hebrews chapter 10 that reminds us to stand firm:

Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while,
and the coming one will come and will not delay;
but my righteous one shall live by faith,
and if he shrinks back,
my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls.

Amen

Past, Present, Future

My podcast is aptly called “Things I Preach To Myself About”. Why is it called that? Even though I am often pointing a finger at the world, at the modern devolving churches, and at the rising evil from the devil himself, there are also fingers that point to myself. The issues that I try to bring out in each episode, in light of God’s Word, the Bible, also have their share of footings in my life as well. We all need to have the Word of God preached to us…constantly! 

Any conversation or sermon that points out our sins is never a feel-good moment. When we are looking for rainbows but all we are getting is dark clouds, we tend to avoid those things. But sin is a reality that we cannot (and should not) avoid! We just need to remember that there is light at the end of that tunnel we are traveling through! I usually label most of the sin problems discussed under 3 headings: the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. All three of those categories can easily be a general heading for the different sins that we commit; past, present, and future. And in light of God’s laws, the ten commandments, we can see our shortcomings in meeting the high and holy standards of God.

Very depressing, indeed! 

The great Puritan writers and preachers are often accused of being a gloomy bunch! People say that they were all filled with nothing but fire and brimstone in their theology. They are accused of targeting their listeners with a constant barrage of how sinful we all are! It has even been said that sin was the only topic of every sermon or book. Of course we know that is not true! Though I confess that I have been close to that format many times in my writings and podcasts. But, in full defense, I have to make clear that from every published word from those great Christian men and women, they always ended on the positive note…namely, the Gospel! Something that I prayerfully hope that I have done as well!

You see, if we don’t know where we came from, we can’t accept and appreciate the amazing gift we’ve been offered! When a sinner, broken and separated from the Holy God above, can be cleansed and renewed and restored into a right relationship with the Creator that is the Gospel, the Good News! Yet, we need to understand the length and breadth and width of God’s love, as to stoop down from heaven in the form of man to rescue us from ourselves! Our sins, even ones that we would consider minor, or “no big deal”, are an abomination to His Righteousness. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” So for God to love us so much that he gave His only Son, Jesus, to take our punishment that we deserved, should give us a clear and reverential understanding of God in relation to who we are. 

So, I find it important to always remember who I was in relationship to God, who I am in this relationship with God, and who He wants me to be in relationship to my future with God! And this is what the Puritan writers and preachers would do. Not only pointing out our failings before God, but also pointing out God’s sovereign love for us, despite our iniquities! And in every way, pointing us to keep 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 is set down at the right hand of the throne of God.” That through all this, we can have peace in our future by His grace!

When we understand the attributes of God; His Holiness, His Righteousness, and His immeasurable love for us…that should deepen our love and commitment to His Holy commands, so as to serve Him and honor Him and glorify Him in all that we say and do! The root of so many great preachers of yesteryear was to reveal the truth and nature of God and His Son Jesus to grow and strengthen us. As Peter says in 2 Peter 3:17-18 “You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”

The deeper our understanding of who God is in relation to man, the deeper our resolve should be too stand firm in the faith. The fire and brimstone preachers and teachers were passionate to warn…striving to keep us from falling back into that which we have been rescued from. Pointing us to our past shows us how far we’ve been led by God! Sin should be an abhorrence to us, just as it is with God! We learn from the Saints of yesteryear how to grow in faith. We learn from their mistakes as well as ours. We should be encouraged, even when we stumble, to look at the past so as to see the future more clearly! Thus, our hope! 

Hebrews 12 says “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.”

So you see, pointing out the sins that filled our past, that permeate this fallen world, is not meant to be gloom and doom. It is meant to point us to the cross. It is meant to point us to the salvation gift from God. It is meant to encourage us to flee from sin. Paul exhorted us in 1 Timothy 6 by saying “But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.”

The great statement we need to always remember is that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go back to where I came from. Remember the line in Proverbs 26? “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool returns to his folly.” We need constant encouragement to not stray from the narrow path that God has graciously put us on!

When the great Puritan Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon “Sinners In The Hands Of An Angry God”, he was preaching in the church. It obviously had a great affect on the parishioners because he was interrupted many times during the sermon by people crying out, “What shall I do to be saved?” We cannot just assume that all is well in our souls because we attend a church, own a Bible, do good things, and have clean thoughts. We must be reminded daily of who we are in Christ, where we are in Christ, and what path with Christ we are taking.

Christian, the main character in the Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan was set on the path to the Celestial City. But as he journeyed forward, he often times found himself off of the path he was supposed to be on. We, too, have that problem. We are easily bumped off the path by the strong storms of this world. We are swayed away from yesterday’s commitments to the Lord by temptations that constantly bombard us today. We even falter on our own by the inner workings of sin that plagues us still. Thus, the very need to be preaching to ourselves daily! We need to hear the cause and effect sermons that remind us of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we should be going!

Winston Churchill said it best when he exclaimed boldly “we will NEVER surrender”! And we must not! Edwards final appeal in his sermon was “Therefore let everyone that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come.” But to all that are in Christ, we are to stand firm in the faith and submit to God, resisting the devil! We are to be putting on the full armor of God daily so we can withstand the enemy’s attacks. Even in these tumultuous times, we can rest on the words of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in John 16 who says to us; “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Amen!

To Contend

Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. Jude 3-4

Change. That one thing that is constant. Look around and you see change in everything under the sun. Even now, nature turns it gaze from growth and green to death and cold. The time for change can be good, as in the trees and grass slumbering for a time before a rebirth comes at spring time. Change also has its follies and failures. Taking truths and changing them has consequences. From the magnificent changes such as seasons and times to minuscule changes that can mean either little or a lot, change must be always be attended too. 

There is a problem of great proportions in the world today. It is one that sweeps across invisible lines, affecting young and old, rich and poor, male and female. It permeates society and, yet, is perhaps one of the most over used, misunderstood, and often flippant expressions said by people today. That is the word Blessed!

I cannot express how sick I am of hearing people constantly using that word, thinking that anytime they get or have something they “want”, they are blessed. Or they’re so blessed because they have family or friends in their lives. No matter the declaration of why they are saying that they are “blessed”, it is used beyond excess. In other words, it really annoys me! 

But why? Why would people saying they are “blessed” be such an annoyance? To start with, most people don’t have a clue as to what the word even means. When you look up the definition, there are several adjective uses for it. And since the foundational beginnings of the word relate to sacred or religious meaning, the word nowadays is demoted to a platitude expression. I guess I could go on the record as saying that it’s use today borders on sacrilege. This is a change unacceptable! Unfortunately the so-called “church” of today, specially in America, has run the sacrilege flag up the proverbial pole to declare that God does nothing else other than bless. 

In Biblical perspective, since the first appearance of the word in Genesis 1:28, where God blessed Adam and Eve, the word has been solely pinned to a level of religious honor from either God to man, man to God, or man to man. But unfortunately, due to time changes, it has devolved into something that the vast majority of people today use it as a catch-all phrase that something good has happened to them. This once beautiful word has subsequently become something for self-serving, “look-at-me” people to spout off with. 

The word bless shows up in the Bible 133 times. Blessed is used 311 times. There are 81 uses of the world blessing, and an additional 27 times that blessing has an “s” on the end. 15 times the adjective blesses is used and blessedness makes a pair of appearances. In most cases, the words are invoking a request to consecrate, to make holy…passing on divine favor. So, to use the word in a callous, worldly way really strips the specialness of the gesture. 

Essentially, the true meaning of blessed has become secularized to the point that people don’t even have a clue what it truly means in a Godly context. In fact, the whole exercise of being holy, set apart…consecrated…has become muddied and diluted so much that the world sees true Christianity as nothing less than an archaic religion, devoid of truth and reality. And the saddest part of all is that the church has let it all happen by blending and melding with the world themselves!

These are the type of changes that have caused damage. When truths are distorted and not corrected, then those truths tend to be relabeled. They are deemed outdated. Relics. Ancient. Irrelevant. All words that many ascribe to Biblical Christianity now days. They now use terms like fairytales. Fiction. Myths. Fables. These are the current views that many have regarding the Bible. And again, this is often the view of those who claim themselves inside the church body. 

Most of this has evolved through changes in truth. Over time, the distortions have become accepted and the truth has faded into memory. Even though the absolute words are clearly together, unison in thought, written down for all to see, people have slowly, and diabolically redefined the Bible and its truth, piece by piece, concept by concept, until most believe the new view as right. And, again, this includes those who claim themselves a Christian church.

Jude had a bit of change in his epistle. He started out writing to discuss common salvation that was amongst the brethren, but was compelled by the Holy Spirit to address a more pressing matter. It seems that even back then, they were facing issues of people changing truth already! So Jude starts off by telling the folks to “contend for the faith” that was once for all delivered to the saints. The word contend is such a powerful word. It speaks of struggling against, or wrestling for something specific. As an example, since my memory isn’t the greatest, I have to contend with my memory in order to remember Scripture verses. In other words, this is an action that takes effort and time and strength to accomplish. Jude wants his readers to contend with their faith. Why?

Because in verse 4 he points out that certain people are infiltrating the church body and spewing lies and deceptions. They were teachers who twist truth, changing the Gospel, and leading weak believers astray. They perverted the truth! And sadly, this is still going on today! When you look at the vast majority of “churches” today, they all show signs and symptoms that they have changed the meaning of God’s own Words! They’ve replaced truth to become more “seeker-friendly” and essentially do what the people, the worldly people, want. And, we know from Scripture that people don’t want to follow God and His decrees!

Jesus said that if we abide in His word, we are truly His disciples and we will know the truth, and the truth will set us free! Obviously, there are many who have created their own truths by redefining or rewriting the reality of God and His Word to fit their narrative. They think that they can mold God into their narrative by altering or deleting the Scriptures. But the reality is that God doesn’t change. His word abides forever! You can say what you will about the Bible, but that will NOT alter His will and ways! 

The world thinks that it has out-smarted God by quenching His truth. Yes, many have been deceived by the devil’s works, but we don’t have to be in that count. The folks blinded by the world don’t see their way as folly. In Proverbs chapter 9 we read about the woman Folly and how she easily sways people who are “simple”, who don’t want to know and seek the truth.

The woman Folly is loud;
she is seductive and knows nothing.
She sits at the door of her house;
she takes a seat on the highest places of the town,
calling to those who pass by,
who are going straight on their way,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
And to him who lacks sense she says,
“Stolen water is sweet,
and bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”
But he does not know that the dead are there,
that her guests are in the depths of Sheol.

Her followers are told exactly where they end up. Hell.

This doesn’t just apply to unbelievers alone, but also to many belonging to today’s apostate church. And this is really an act of God. God did say in Romans chapter 1 that He would give them over to the lusts in their bodies, letting them continue to “live their best life now!” You see, the cleansing that is going on is actually a separating of wheat and chaff. We know that there will be many who will fall away. But their falling may not be into a realm of atheism or agnosticism, but simply belonging to a self-titled “church” that doesn’t teach the truth of God. It could be that church that espouses nothing but feel-good teachings, just like New Age shamans and pagans. The places that say “if it makes you happy, it must be good”! The groups that push out the negative of Scripture and only focuses on peace, joy, love. 

But we know from the complete Word of God that “the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” And as the world continues to redefine what is and isn’t truth based on their standards, they will turn an accusatory eye upon believers who still hold fast to the faith that they were taught from the Bible. The time for persecution continues to grow. And God is going to allow this to happen in the Church. 1 Peter chapter 4 says “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God? And “If the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”

But before that 17th verse I just mentioned, Peter says of this coming suffering “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name.”

With the downfall of true Biblical teachings, with the decline in faithfulness to God’s Word, and the willing acceptance of lies from the devil himself, we need, more than any other time in history, to stand fast, hold firm, contend, and be vigilant in our faith. We need to truly know what we believe and why. We need to put on the full armor of God to stand against the enemy of God. Knowing the truth, and knowing that the truth will set us free, is so key right now! 

We have been set free, no longer captives to the sin that plagues this world. Jesus gave us that freedom by His work on the cross and his overcoming the grave! His resurrection to the right hand of God the Father is our hope and strength for us to press on to the goal that is set before us! He gave us this gift of salvation, not to squander by conforming to the patterns of this fallen world, but to encourage us to contend to the very end!

I close with Peter’s great exhortation to the saints: 

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen.

Clear instructions. May we  stand firm, contending for the faith in our day to day battles! 

Amen.

Don’t Be A Grape (Of Wrath)

Mine eyes have seen the glory
Of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage
Where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning
Of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.

Chorus
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

The great Battle Hymn Of The Republic! Words penned by Julia Ward Howe in 1861 to rally up the troops at the early stages of the Civil War in America. The beginning stanza instantly creates images of the Lord’s return, as shared through the Holy Spirit to John in the book of Revelation. In chapter 14, we see the angels of the Lord harvesting the “grapes” for the wrath of the Lord.

[18] And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.” [19] So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. [20] And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse’s bridle, for 1,600 stadia.

God’s wrath. 

Something that is often times avoided in conversations is the reality of God’s wrath.  Sadly, it is seldom spoken of in today’s pulpits. I have to believe that it is because church leaders don’t want to scare people away from attending church. The people of today have turned from accepting harsh and demanding teachings to making  their own demands for soft and easy-to-digest therapy sessions. Yes, historically there have been extreme levels that the church took, when everything they presented was all hell, fire, and brimstone…a repetitive damning message that threatened everyone’s souls every day. But I have to agree with R C Sproul when he said that “people aren’t afraid of the wrath of God anymore, because preachers are out there telling people that God loves them unconditionally.” 

Most of todays’ teachings within the walls of modern churches are clearly unbiblical. The wide scope of Biblical topics within the covers of Scripture have been extremely diluted, or even removed, so much that His Word has become a flower garden of sunshine, rainbows, and soft, fuzzy kittens. The modern teachers will completely avoid anything in text that shows God executing His full wrath! And yet the Bible clearly has plenty to say about His wrath and judgements onto the earth…specially in the last days!

Christ’s return to earth is to be the complete and final judgement, a time to separate true believers and non-believers. Further on in Revelation we read in chapter 19, verse 15, that Christ will strike down the nations. He will “tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.” God’s wrath has been, and will be, a reality that should strike a fear within the hearts of people. 

There are two ways to define fearing God: fear of His anger and wrath (like a frightened child facing an angry parent), and fearing God with reverence and awe. Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10 both declare that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Psalm 111:10 says The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow His precepts gain rich understanding. His praise endures forever! 

We can both fear God and fear God! But to those who have salvation through Jesus Christ, we can stand in peace from the fear of God’s wrath because we won’t be classified as a “grape” that will be tread upon in the winepress! But no matter if you are a Christian or not, all the people should be praising God right now for His patience with this world. 

We see in the Old Testament the level of God’s patience when dealing with Israel. We also learn from the historical records that His patience has limits. When even a chosen people of God, blessed above all nations, had to be judged and punished for their complacency and sins, that should be a warning to us Gentile believers as well that no one is exempt!

In Genesis 18, we read the account of God’s patience with the most wicked of cities at that time; Sodom and Gomorrah. God’s decree was to destroy those evil places by fire from heaven. But Abraham’s pleading with God to forgo His wrath for a time, so as to rescue the (the few) righteous people that are within the cities, delayed that destruction. God had even dispatched two angels to get Abraham’s nephew, Lot and his family, out of the city! But, this delay was for just a short time. God is patient, merciful, and yet, just. With this patience we do not want to make a mistake of thinking that God will not judge just because something doesn’t happen instantly!

In 2 Peter 3:9 we see that “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Meaning we need to recognize that the time of His wrath could come at any moment. In the very next verse we are warned that “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved”. There is a clear and definite absolute that the God of heaven is going to exact His wrath upon the earth and those who have thumbed their nose at Jesus and the gift of salvation will face an eternal judgement of damnation. 

Hell 

That destination for those that reject the mercy and grace of God through Jesus Christ will not be a beach paradise and eternal party that so many of this world seem to believe. What is worse is that there are many people who sit in today’s churches that are on the list of rejection by the Savior. Jesus said “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ The churches have grown exceedingly weak in their preaching and teaching of the Bible, thus allowing many to have a dangerous complacency and casualness in light of sin’s consequences. They are the people who look to have their feelings satisfied instead of satisfying the demands of God laws.

Without getting into a legalistic path, we do have obligations on our part to obey God and His Word. God has set forth His commandments within the Scriptures. Our duty is to obey them. Jesus even summed up the whole of God’s requirements in Matthew 22 by stating that “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And the second is like it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the Prophets.” But if we examine our hearts and minds in the light of the Scriptures, we know that we fall short of following the commandments of God. After all…it says in the Bible that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” (1 John 1:8)

So, all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. What shall we say then? We are sinners. And sinners don’t get into heaven. In fact, God has a winepress of wrath readied! And His justice will be meted out when He comes on the Day of the Lord. Pretty scary stuff when you think that there are eternal consequences for our actions in the here and now. But thankfully, there is a way; a hope, that reaches down through eternity and gives us hope and peace from that wrath! But it is not something to be taken lightly!

You see, when people say a prayer to accept Jesus as their Savior, they need to realize that these are not just some magic words to bail you out of lake of fire. Nor is having a membership to a church or being baptized your get-out-of-hell-free card Being saved from the coming judgement will not be avoided by having several Bibles in your home or by doing lots of good things for others. All of those things are important, but they are not your salvation from the wrath of God. So many people can say a prayer, go to church, do good things, and yet still miss out on God’s call. People want all the gifts and blessings from God, but all without following God’s requirements. God doesn’t give His Word as recommendations. They are commandments! And it is a daily struggle, battle, and conscientious decision every moment of every day to chose this day who you will serve!

Salvation: A gift from God

Salvation from the wrath to come is one side of a two-sided coin. Salvation is a gift from God to redeem us from the punishment of our sins. But, there is responsibility on our part as well as we journey the new path. We have to strive daily. In Hebrews 3:6 it says “but Christ is faithful over God’s house as a son. And we are his house, if indeed we hold fast our confidence and our boasting in our hope (firm to the end).

If indeed we hold fast in our hope firmly to the end. We cannot just make some gestures one day and then coast the rest of the way. We have actions do daily. We have battles to fight daily. We have changes to implement daily. We have to start and end each day with a checklist of commitment to God and His Word. 

Lip service versus actions. 

1 John 1:5-10 says:

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.”

We must take action, every day. We have to walk the walk. We confess daily our sins to God. The word confess is translated from the Greek word homologeo which actually means of one mind. It means to speak the same language, agree with, acknowledge. When we confess, we are agreeing with the God of the universe who already knows our hearts and minds, who already knows our sins. We are telling Him that through the Holy Spirit illuminating us within, we recognize our trespasses against His laws. We plead through our advocate, Jesus Christ, who has already paid the penalty for the sins. And we repent of the actions by turning away from the sins. 

A daily battle, a daily conscience effort! And God gives us the strength to win by the power of the Holy Spirit! God promised that we who believe, when tempted, will be given a way out! We need to daily meditate on the Word, keep in prayer, trust Jesus through faith, and run the race with endurance!

There are only two paths in this life. Not three. The middle ground is also called “lukewarm” and is not a path to eternal salvation. The lukewarm folks are what populate most churches today. Unfortunately they will end up being added into the path inhabited by those who reject Jesus Christ. And all on that path are heading straight to the winepress. They will fall under the wrath of God and be cast into the lake of fire. It is very clear in the Bible. Despite what people might imagine how their god should act like, the God of the Bible will punish those who have violated His Commandments.

For those who enter in through the narrow gate, stay firm on the narrow path, and walk in the Light of God’s Word every day, there will be eternal reward in Heaven for their faith and steadfastness. Those who walk this path will be tempted, stumble, and encounter many pitfalls and snares from the enemy. But Christ has overcome the world! He is our guide, our strength, and our Savior! So be encouraged and trust daily! Never taking our eyes off the prize! Always doing the will of the Father!

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17

Beliefs?

It is without apology that I take to writing my beliefs in what the Word of God, the Bible, says about various subjects that seem to be dividing those who claim to believe in Jesus Christ, the Son of God. These beliefs are not what I “feel” it says. Nor are they what I just blindly accept because others follow this or that particular viewpoint. These are actually what I know based on my own reading, research, and study within the covers of the Bible alone. 

I know that many things are considered subjective. One might believe one particular way about a topic, when someone else may perceive it quite differently. When you look at the history of theology (the study of God and His Word), it is very clear that there has been, and still are, divisive understandings about what is actually being conveyed to the listener/reader. Since the Bible came together, some of the greatest minds have perused through every jot and tittle looking for the truest and deepest meanings that God in His providence is telling the people. 

On certain points, most scholars and students of Scripture have a common understanding. Most will certainly state that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent to be the sacrificial lamb to atone for the sins of the world. Most will claim that Jesus came in human form, born of a virgin, taught His message through His disciples, and that after His death on the cross rose from the dead 3 days later…appearing to multitudes…and then rising to the heavens, is seated on the right hand of God’s throne. Many still agree that there will be a return of Jesus to claim His own (believers) who will go to heaven with Him forever. But, it is when we get to the periphery things of theology that lines blur, ideas differ, and dissension erupts.

Some of the points of contention that are often debated are things like; how are we saved, when are we saved, did God elect some and not others, when is Christ returning, will He come a brief second time for saints but then return for the end battle, is the coming pre/mid/post tribulation, is there a literal or figurative millennial period, and do we reside on the new earth or in heaven or both? 

I have written in the past of my understanding on a few of these questions. A few points I admittedly can say that I do waffle between views because I can understand both (or multiple) explanations making sense from what others claim it says in the Bible. Since I am no formally trained scholar, theologian, seminary graduate, or am extra-versed in the Bible, I will say that all of my approaches come from trying to see what the Bible says about a certain subject without adding in too many outside views or slants.

Which leads me to labelling. One of the greatest wars that has raged since the early 1600’s has been what our level of involvement with the salvation process really is. Between the defined views of Jacobus Arminius (Arminianism) and John Calvin (Calvinism) came a rift that deepened as the reformation was steaming through Protestantism around the world. I do not want to delve into the specifics of all that historically was going on, other than to say that a multitude of factions were created and followers of particular ideologies labelled themselves according to their defined group. What I will say is that, though I may lean particular to certain teachings or understandings of interpretations from the leaders long ago, I do not commit to any one as definitive.

Examples are that some say I am a Calvinist. Some say I am a Puritan. Some label me based on my eschatology (end times) views. Some label me purely a heretic because I don’t read their version of the Bible. Some say I am simply ignorant and should not espouse an opinion. 

Whatever the view of me, I will say in my defense: you don’t know me.

But, to satisfy those who want to pigeonhole me, label me a particular sway, I will put out what I see as Biblical truth. Be warned though, as some views of mine have changed over the years…because experience, learning, and understandings have grown and shaped my belief system. I will also warn that if you really believe that your view, way, ideology, and stance is the only and right way…then you are either the first person in the history of theology to fully nail the exact truth that God is teaching us, or, you are a self-centered narcissist who stopped up your eyes and ears, set your feet in concrete, and yell foul at everyone else who may differ from you. In the Bible, many of those folks had their own labels: Pharisees and Scribes. Self-righteous people who thought they knew everything, but in reality missed out on the Savior that they “thought” they would find. Nowadays, I call them “arm-chair theologians”. People who, with or without formal education, have settled in their minds and hearts that they are right and that everyone else is wrong…unless they agree with them.

If the greatest and most learned men in history have had differing views of particular areas of study, (such as has been listed above), what makes you think that you have the absolute and accurate understanding? 

I will say this about those topics. People need to understand that there are aspects discussed in the Bible that do NOT change the salvation of a person. Salvation is a gift from God and we have no power to change God! Certain aspects of Scripture are pure black-and-white…no grey, debatable areas. But most of the topics that are (still) hotly contested really don’t change our standing before the Holy God! Believing that the rapture comes before the tribulation or after does in NO WAY change whether you get to heaven or not! Standing on all 5 points of Calvinism versus agreeing with only 4 of them does NOT change your status if you are a saved believer or not! 

The fact that people get so heated over periphery matters really baffles me! If you are a true believer in Jesus Christ as your savior, then Hallelujah! But to get violently angry with each other over whether or not the book of Enoch should be studied within the Scriptures is utter nonsense! And speaking of books…this ridiculous mentality people have that if you don’t read the King James Version of the Bible then you are wrong, that you are studying the devil’s words, and that you are now going to hell! This has become the most ludicrous debate I have ever heard. If you read the KJV only…great! It is a great translation from the original languages! Yet, it always amazes me that people really think that anything outside of the (rehashed from the Geneva Bible) 1611 translation, God can’t communicate with you. That if you’re reading any translation OTHER THAN the KJV, you are getting the wrong Word. What that really tells me is that; a) the KJV-only crowd has never studied or understood how translations come about and from where; b) that they forget that God is bigger than your translations; and c) that God has brought countless numbers to salvation through a multitude of versions outside of KJV!

Anyway, I digress. Back to what I believe.

I believe that the KJV, NKJV, NASB, and ESV are great translations of the original texts. But, I also believe that God uses many forms and translations to communicate His Truths to people, through various languages, reaching to their understanding level in ways that they need at the right time…by the power of the Holy Spirit. I will NEVER discount God’s ability to use even the most mundane manner or translation to get His Word to those who need to hear it. His Word NEVER returns void. Look at the underground church in China. How many of them that will study even the most partial of pages of Scripture to be fed His Word! They memorize even small sections so they can commit it to heart! They may never have a chance to see the full body of text, but there is no doubt that God uses that to edify those believers who will be exalted in heaven for their devotion and faithfulness!

As for eschatology, I had started off in the pre-tribulation rapture belief, primarily because that is what everyone around me was believing. I have changed my views on that stance over the last couple of years for a few reasons. I am not here to try to sway or alter your belief in any way…primarily because you believe what you believe and that is between you and God. I will say that through my own personal studies in Scripture that I just don’t see pre-trib. That being said, I will contend that I strongly believe that we should be walking today as if we were going to be raptured midway or at the end of the tribulation period, but always living in hope that the rapture is before the tribulation! Also in these camps are the big words of preterism, historicism, futurism, idealism and many others. Again, I will say with complete confidence that no matter what view you hold to, it does NOT alter your salvation. Debate it all you want, but if you are dispensationalist or a covenant theologist, in the big picture of God’s plan, there is no reason to get argumentative and split communion with other believers over these differences as they don’t affect the final outcome of salvation.

In regards to denominations, I will say strongly this; there are many denominations that have come along under the guise of being true to the Word of God, yet have either come as wolves in sheep’s clothing or have started out with right intentions only to be swallowed and changed by the world. General titles such as Methodist, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Presbyterian,   and the like have even fractured into various groups because of indwelling disagreements. Most of the issues have arose because of the affect of worldliness. Most of the groups have decided to conform more to the world than they have the Word. I’ve written about this particular issue before and won’t labor it too much, other than to say that finding a true Bible-believing church that preaches the Gospel, reveres God in worship, and studies to conform to our Lord Jesus’ teachings is the ONLY place you want to be. Anything less is a compromise to God’s Holy standards and the end result is not fitting for heaven.

Which brings me to a most contentious point: Salvation. This hotly debated study is one that has split churches, destroyed fellowship, and even created violent reactions. The debate contains within itself these particulars: 1) does God pre-elect certain people to salvation; 2) is this conditional; 3) can we lose salvation; 4) what role do we have (if any) in accepting or rejecting.

Obviously, I cannot spend time explaining/defining every aspect of each of these topics as they are so deep, divisive, and contested, that it would take volumes of books. And even with all the books, there are so many viewpoints that are addressed that we really never get a set, definitive absolute answer. Consider the history of the greatest theologians that have gone before us that have written extensively on these particular topics! As I mentioned before, this understanding of salvation became a hotbed back in the early 1600’s within Protestantism with theologians debating some of these very unclear matters. Arminius held to the 5 solas of the Reformation, but had differing teachings on some aspects from the teachings of Luther, Zwingli, Calvin and others. As with so many other periods in history, sides were taken, debates occurred, factions split, and denominations struggled. Unfortunately, the division between the two schools of thought have driven wedges deeper within the body of believers and have caused unbelievers to avoid church because they see the dissensions and hypocrisy within the church body.

As for me, after careful study of Scripture and the history of the debate (the Synod of Dort and the five articles of remonstrance), I have come to the conclusion that these “labels” are fine for historical teachings, but have no bearing on my personal salvation or walk with God. To label me one or the other is really a moot point. Specially since both “sides” agreed on the really key issues! We are depraved. Atonement is for all. Jesus’s death satisfies God’s justice. When it comes to whether grace is resistible or not, or if election is conditional or not, I know that I have to trust in the Scriptures, seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. I know that whatever the Bible says, that’s what I need to focus on in my walk. If I take my eyes off of the prize to worry about matters of whether God predestines or not, I have taken my focus on the more important part: God’s will in my life. 

We fret and worry so much about small, minute details more than we do about the big picture. If I am driving a car down the road and keep my focus only on a pothole in the other lane, I miss out on all the other things going on around me. If Satan can drive your focus off the whole of Scripture to a small, debatable matter that causes you to stumble, then he has succeeded. The devil constantly challenges people to question God’s Word. His goal is to cause to you to doubt. I’ve done a lot of doubting, questioning, worrying, debating and struggled with many of these issues in the past to the point where I threw up my hands in frustration and walked away. Isn’t that the demon’s goal? To create division, strangle the truth, alter our beliefs, and get people to give up? Christ said that a house divided does not stand. That house can be a multitude of believers or can simply mean each of us individually. 

Bottom line is that I believe what I believe because I see it in the Word of God. Not because I need a label. Not because this preacher or that teacher says it is so. Not because my brothers and sisters all believe a particular theological ideology. But because I have read it in the Scriptures, the Holy Spirit has illuminated that particular area of understanding to me, and that I cannot see it differently. Does it make me right? NO! What it does do is open me up to understanding the Word so that when I do hear a teaching related to it, I can go back and learn and discern if what I heard is true. More times than not I find myself learning and growing in my faith and knowledge of the Bible. Many times I hear or read something and quickly can see that the thoughts being conveyed contradict the Word. 

But, I also believe that there is absolutely NO reasons for self-proclaiming followers of Christ to be so arrogant, so pompous, so narcissistic as to be judgmental and condemning to others because they don’t agree with you. I see it time and time again on social media and other platforms. It is utterly abhorrent and contradictory to the teaching of Jesus! There is a time to call out heretical false teaching and there is a time discuss differences in theology. Someone teaching that works saves and gets you into heaven should be gently shown God’s Word that explains otherwise. But if someone thinks that you reading anything other than the KJV is heresy and that you are not reading God’s Word, well, therein lies a difference that has absolutely NO bearing on whether or not someone is saved by God! 

I find we love to judge. To compare everyone else to ourselves. Yet, it is obviously clear that everyone is different. Not only are my neighbors around me different than me, but a Christian brother halfway around the world is also different than me. Our circumstances and histories are different. God, in His providence and wisdom, reaches down from Heaven to each of us…meeting us exactly where we are! He teaches us exactly what we need, when we need it. At just the right moment, He illuminates our hearts and minds to His Truths. He feeds us understanding when we are ready to receive it. Had I known long ago what I know now, I might have rejected things because they were too weighty for my mindset then. God knows what I need and when. He knows that we all need the core, the Gospel, which is clear and concise…fitting for everyone! He wants us to share it with others, not wondering whether someone is “elect” or not. It is a command from our savior Jesus, to preach the Gospel. How will they know if they don’t hear it? Even if predestined, who are we to decide? Maybe God is using YOU to call that one person! 

His ways are not our ways. So, I will just have to believe, trust, and obey to the best of my ability. 

Amen

Idol Gomer

I have moments where I will smile, shake my head, even roll my eyes with a chuckle, as I reflect on my old life, when I was living without a thought of God in it. Not surprisingly, and due to my ignorance and rebellion back in the day, there were many situations that, had it not been for the hand of God interceding, I would probably be dead. I was always slow to learn and even slower to recognize that God was, and still is, in control, despite my dangerous decisions and activities. And because He has plans for me, there was nothing I could have done that would ever thwart His plans! I’ve come to accept that I didn’t have a lot of wisdom flowing through my brain cells, nor was sound discernment involved in many of my decisions. I chased after my own gods, idols, desires; to do what I wanted in life. I thought I was a god.

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things;
whoever is discerning, let him know them;
for the ways of the LORD are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.

This Scripture verse is the last in the book of Hosea, chapter 14 verse 9. I start here because it speaks of two paths we all have the choice to venture down: God’s way or our way. Unfortunately, most people who read the book of Hosea never get past the storyline regarding his marriage to his God-given, yet wayward, wife. Beyond the marriage issues lie the important message that is in the heart of this great book of warning. And because some people will assume it to be directed only to a certain people of a certain time, the bulk of the chapters (4-14) often get overlooked. But the message has great application to the church today. And since our Savior Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever, it is imperative that we understand how the warnings should impact our lives in this day and age. 

Hosea is filled with warnings to the Israelites (using his own marriage as an example) that they have committed spiritual adultery against the Lord God. They have chased after other gods and have become idolaters instead of worshipping the one true God. The prophet spent about 45 years preaching this message to a stiff-necked peoples who wanted to live life their way. (Sound familiar?) If it wasn’t for the amazing love and mercy of God, they would have been vanquished from His sight forever. Yet, despite their unfaithfulness, God is always faithful. Despite their lack of love towards God, God still loves them. 

To understand the reasons of God’s anger because of their violations, we need to review the first three Commandments, or Laws, that God has given to mankind. Exodus chapter 20 covers them:

1- “You shall have no other gods before me.”
2- “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
3- “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.”

In respect to the beginning storyline of Hosea and his “extracurricular” wife (chapter 1:1-9, chapter 3:1-5), I will throw in the seventh Commandment from God: “You shall not commit adultery.-Exodus 20:14

Without overstating the obvious, we can clearly see that our God is a jealous God. “You shall have NO other gods.” In clarifying terms; any religious activity focused on someone or something outside of the God of the Bible is clearly a violation of His Commandments. There is not a lawyer or judge that could double-speak any other interpretation based on God’s decrees. So, with that said, it is clear why God is justified in His anger. Whether you call it spiritual adultery, spiritual idolatry, or spiritual apostasy, it is a sin against the Holy God. But this is not just an issue that Hosea was facing during the Old Testament writing, it is also an issue of today’s church. We are living and acting no different today than the Israelites were back then!

The book of Hosea’s warnings are applicable to the people of God as a collective, yet also have deep relevance to individuals as well. If you and I were to stop for a moment, to truly and honestly reflect on our life; all our thoughts, our lifestyles, our focus, our priorities, our inner desires, our goals…we would see that we have been living a spiritually adulterous life. We fill time, effort, and energy on temporal things far more than we do spiritual. Jesus warned us that we are to store up our treasures in heaven, not on earth. He also said that “where your treasure is, there your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21) If our heart’s desire is on the things of this world more than God, then perhaps our passions are skewed.

The number of idols, or gods, that people worship in their daily life are far more than we might think.  For some, it could be the drive for great success at work. Some might put emphasis on chasing after money and prosperity. Some might place their highest importance on appearances. Some might seek fleshly pleasures, while yet others may be seeking to fulfill inward emotional needs. Some seek praise and popularity. Some cherish other people more than they do God. And some will chase dreams of fame. But regardless of where they are focusing their heart’s desires, they all want it according to their will, their way, their timing, their effort. And all the while they are placing God on the back burner of their lives. What is most sad about these people, those who are busy in their daily idol worship, is that they are usually the people who claim to be church-attending, Bible-believing, Christians. And while there is nothing wrong with working hard, making an income, taking care of others, and having a respectable image, what matters is their source: God or self.

If we truly understand God, how He explicitly time and time again warns people through His Word to stay clear of idols, that we are to be on our guard against them, and to not even mention the name of other gods (Exodus 23:13), we would be more conscientious regarding the things we place as important. Even within the walls of the church throughout history, priority has been misplaced on things like status, buildings, mannerisms, and even material objects…so much more than the truth of God. And despite what you would think about the church today, idolatry is still a very prevalent problem. When non-believers struggle to see the difference between the world and the church, you have rampant idolatry happening. 

Psalm 106:35-36 points out the issue; how the church has diminished their worship of God, “but mingled themselves with the nations, and learned their works, and served their idols, which became a snare unto them.” And in 1 Corinthians 10:21-22, Paul warns that “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons. Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?”

So how do we respond to this? Have you chosen this day whom you will serve? Do you cherish with lust the material things of this world or do you place importance on fulfilling the desires of God? Do you focus on pleasing others by your outward appearance or focus on how to present yourself before the living God? Do the things of this world take precedence before your walk with God? Has television, media, social media, computers, phones, tablets, games, become gods to you? Even many of the spiritual leaders (false teachers) of today have become so engrossed with garnering worldly idols that they even invent ways to obtain more through their misguided followers. The multitude of idols are there, all aiming to fulfill you with immediate gratification. And all of these idols are what people use to replace God and His Word as the sole want and desire in life.

Gomer was given to Hosea by God to be his wife. Yet, she wanted something else. Her selfishness was a higher priority over God’s ways. And when she went out to fulfill that desire, it fueled her pride and made chasing after her lusts irresistible. Don’t we all have that at times? Where we crave something that might be outside of God’s will? Something that we might place as high priority, even though we know it goes against God and our duties to Him? And though we might have a momentary bit of success that gives us a boost in our ego and we feel accomplished, the insatiable desire never subsides. We just want more. Thus, our downward spiral to idolatry.

As I mentioned before, God’s plans for our lives will never be altered; even by our waywardness and sinful passions. Yet, when we chase after our own wants and needs, we are literally committing spiritual adultery. We are prostituting ourselves out to the highest bidder, as it were, so that we can get what we want, when we want it. Our pride then closes our ears to the Word of God and fills us up like poison…leading us slowly away from the true joy and peace that only God through Christ Jesus can provide. 

I like to compare this overriding pride to driving a car in traffic. When I drive, I do it in a certain manner on the various roadways. Yet when others around me don’t drive at the speed or fashion I want, I find my impatience growing and my attitude toward them becoming hostile. I flair up with frustration that they are impeding my way! I plan on driving at such-and-such speed, yet the person in front of me is going slower than what I want. What’s really happening is my personal pride and demand for things my way are being challenged. We have this very same attitude with God and His Word! His ways are not our ways, yet we want things our way! And with that, we become hostile toward God, ignoring His Word, and ending up being a prodigal chasing after our own gods.

Can you imagine the heart of God as He watches the people that He not only created, but also loves with an everlasting love; continually turning their backs on Him and chasing after statues and false gods and lusts of the flesh? And though His love transcends the understanding of man, He still wants our complete and full love and adoration and obedience. We are created to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. His love is unfailing. Yet, we fail Him by turning our devotion to things created instead of the Creator. In Romans chapter one, it says that “…they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.” That is what the fallen do. That is what the unbelievers do. But, sadly, that is also what many professing believers do…worship any and every thing other than our Lord God.

God shows us by examples throughout the Old Testament that He is the only true God, a patient God, and yet a jealous God. God’s love and patience is beyond understanding, yet it also has limits. There has been in the past, and will occur in the future, God unleashing His wrath on the wicked and unrepentant. The Israelites learned this time and time again. Look at how many times they were punished and lost favor with God for their sinful rebellions and idol worshipping! How many of God’s people were destroyed eternally because of their impenitent hearts? But for the people who repent of their pride, their waywardness, their selfish desires, He welcomes them back! Those who turned away from idols and ceased worshipping other gods were granted forgiveness! 

And we also see this very love from God in the New Testament. That God manifested Himself in His Son Jesus to come and bring His elect a way of salvation from the coming wrath, by paying the penalty for our sins on the cross, so that whosoever believes in Him and repents of their sins (turning away from them), and puts their faith in Him, will be forgiven! When Christ rose from the grave, he defeated the last enemy, death, so that we, who have received His mercy of forgiveness, will have eternal life with Him! We worship God alone through Christ Jesus alone by the power of the Holy Spirit. We shall have NO other gods before Him. 

God is mercy and His grace is given to those who put away their idols and follow Him. It says in the Scriptures that He calls you back if you will “Only acknowledge your guilt, that you rebelled against the LORD your God and scattered your favors among foreigners under every green tree, and that you have not obeyed my voice, declares the LORD. Return, O faithless children, declares the LORD; for I am your master; I will take you, one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion.” -Jeremiah 3:13-14

I can attest that I have had my attention distracted by wants and desires very easily at times. I end up taking my focus off of the prize, the goal set before me (Philippians 3:14). It’s a daily struggle. I doubt anyone can say that they don’t encounter this in their lives from time to time. But it’s when we find or create idols that consume our priorities, when we put our hope, trust, and faith in them, it’s then that we lose out on precious fellowship with the Lord. It’s worshiping these other gods that create an emptiness in our spirit and causes God to become angry. A. W. Pink said “So long as we are occupied with any other object than God Himself, there will be neither rest for the heart nor peace for the mind.” This is a war that we must fight to win, because our souls, and perhaps the souls of others, depend on it! 

Our only solution is keeping God as our only God (first Commandment) and by keeping the Word of God in our hearts and minds by daily meditating on it (Psalm 119:9-11, 2 Timothy 3:16-17), and continually asking God’s Spirit for leading (1 Thessalonians 5:17), so that we can overcome this world and be ready for the glory of the next! 

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” -Hebrews 12:1-2

If we are wise and discerning, we know that the Lord’s ways are perfect when compared to our ways. Because his plans will not be ruined, we should walk in His ways, upright, not stumbling about as the lost are in this lost world. Hosea paid the full price to restore his bride back to himself. God paid the full price for the penalty of our sins through Jesus to restore us to Himself. 

Our sign of true faith is our obedience, keeping His Word, and worshipping the one true God. We shall have no other gods or idols. Instead of worshipping ourselves, submit to God and “present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” -Romans 12:1

By this, we shall revere and honor and obey the True and Living God! 

Amen

Forgiven And Forgetting.

Satan does not fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God. – Dietrich Bonhoeffer

One of the many battles that some people face is memory. I happen to have horrible short-term memory. I will often think of something I need to do or get while I’m out driving and by the time I can stop and write it down, it’s gone! I’ve had to learn to use voice memos so that I can note the task while driving and later write it down. In fact, I’ve resorted to using an app on my phone that not only states what I need to remember, but I can also set an alarm for a day and time! It has been a lifesaver!

The hardest part of memory issues for me though is remembering the Words of God. Many devout Christians will memorize Scripture. The Bible says in Psalm 119:11 “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” The more words from God we carry in our hearts and mind, the stronger we become standing firm against the evils of this world that try to derail us in our walk. In my previous writing and podcast (Things I Preach To Myself About…“Where’s My Sword”), I talked about the importance of reading the Bible and how the Bible is the Sword of the Spirit, the Sword of Truth. With this at our side at all times, we can defend ourselves from the attacks of the enemy.

But is our forgetfulness simply a psychological or physical matter? There certainly are many contributing factors that affect our capabilities to remember things. Everything from stress and anxiety, depression, injuries to the brain, all can affect someone’s short-term (and/or long-term) memory. But today I want to delve into another area that can be a factor against our ability to remember God’s word: Sin

One thing that can thwart our ability to memorize Scripture is sin. Within each of us is a disease. It is a disease that we have carried since birth. This sin disease will be with us until our last breath. As with any disease, it affects various parts of our body (mind and soul). And, as with any ailment, once it’s discovered, it has to be addressed and treated; often daily! When we identify that we have this sin nature and we want to be rid of it, we begin a working process to keep it from flaring up in our lives.

As sin erupts, God becomes quite distant to us. Our only desire during this moment is for self-gratification. Our natural inclination leans toward the flesh, the strongest pull at the time. Without help, we become weak and powerless to resist. James puts it this way in chapter 1, verse 14; “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.” As Bonhoeffer says, we are not hating God, but forgetting God.

The Ten Commandments

Yes, we do have a natural animosity against God and His ways. Since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden, we have been natural-born sinners! Psalm 51 says “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” We enter into this world already at odds with God and His laws (10 Commandments). And until the Spirit changes our hearts, we relish sin over salvation. But when God does quicken us, we are then able to see Him in a different light; now wanting His ways in our life, not the world’s ways! We are able to believe and trust our life to Jesus Christ through his death, burial, and resurrection from the grave. We enter into newness of life! Now we place Jesus as our Lord and Savior!

That doesn’t necessarily make the disease go away though. What it does do is cause us to actually see the disease and want it gone! Thus, our trusting in God and His Word is key to the process of fighting this sin! 

Which brings me back to memory. As I’ve said before, Christians will often memorize Scripture as a means of strengthening their walk and building up a defense against the devil’s lies. Being able to quote Bible verses from memory is paramount to a growing faith. But for some of us who struggle to even remember what we were going to do as we walk into another room, or forget our ideas or tasks the moment our attention is distracted; we need a different remedy.

One thing I’ve discovered lately is to meditate on Scripture. There is a difference between memorizing and meditating. Memorization is planting something into your mind for recall whenever needed. Meditation is delving deep into something so intently, that it becomes imbedded in your heart. Learning a set of words by rote memorization is essentially a mechanical or habitual repetition. But to thoroughly and intimately learn, we meditate on the Word of God. 

I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. Psalm 119:15

Many of the great Puritans devoted vast amounts of time delving deep into the Bible, meditating on them to fill their hearts complete with the truth of God. Dr. Joel Beeke, in his essay on “The Puritan Practice of Meditation,” lists some benefits that meditating on Scripture has to offer (compared to just memorizing):

  1. Meditation helps us focus on the Triune God, to love and to enjoy Him in all His persons (1 John 4:8)—intellectually, spiritually, aesthetically.
  2. Meditation helps increase knowledge of sacred truth. It “takes the veil from the face of truth” (Prov. 4:2).
  3. Meditation is the “nurse of wisdom,” for it promotes the fear of God, which is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:8).
  4. Meditation enlarges our faith by helping us to trust the God of promises in all our spiritual troubles and the God of providence in all our outward troubles.

These are just a few that Dr. Beeke lists. But what it does point to is the importance of absorbing God’s Truths deeper into our being rather than just reciting words. For a deeper insight to the Puritan study of God’s Word, I would also recommend the book “God’s Battle Plan For The Mind: The Puritan Practice of Biblical Meditation” by David W. Saxton. The book not only shows the necessity for personal meditation on the Scriptures, but also gives motivation by showing us how the great Puritans meditated on the Word themselves! 

There are so many great benefits to meditating on the Word of God instead of just memorizing them. And don’t get me wrong, memorization is a great option for many who can do it and it does work. But we all need to imbed these truths in our minds, as well as our hearts, no matter the method. But, for those of us who struggle with the duty of memorizing, we do have an option that can actually take us deeper into His word AND get those words within us to recall when needed!

In the Garden of Eden, the first challenge to Eve by the serpent (the devil, himself) was to ask “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” Thus, seeing if she knew the words of the Lord. As we face the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life that surround us every day, we need to be on guard with the Sword of the Sprit, the Word of God! We won’t always have an opportunity to sit down and look up Scripture to challenge back the temptations set before us. In most instances, we will need to draw on our understanding and knowledge of the Word of God that is deeply set within us. Words of Scripture that we have committed to our hearts and minds for just such an occasion! 

Not only do we strive to know God through His word daily in our lives, but we are called to persevere onward in our sanctification, always remembering that God is working in us through His Son Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit! Joshua 1:8a says: “This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it.” 

Amen

Where’s My Sword?

Oh, pilgrim!

If you think God is nothing but love, love, love…you are sadly mistaken.

God is love, but he is also a God of wrath against the wicked! And lest Christ as Lord, you are wicked!

So flee!

Flee from the wrath to come!

Flee!

Into the arms of the Savior!

-Rich

I cannot count the number of times, over my many years, that I have wandered through life with my mind solely focused in the world, completely unaware of God’s presence. I lived like I am the one who controls all that I say and do. I don’t give a moments concern to the Heavenly realm or my future home. I think, therefore I am.

As such, I can do what I want, when I want, however I want! I can indulge myself to the satisfactions of the flesh. And if even a tinge of guilt or concern should wash over me, I can dismiss it quickly; never worrying about the consequences my activities might reap. After all, I’m not hurting others. Nor does a little here, a little there, really do any damage to me at all! It’s just a little thing, nothing really that bad after all! Like a little white lie. Sometimes it is necessary to spare people of a grievous hurt! It’s just a minor infraction when measured against all the bigger, badder things people do! If anything, it makes everyone feel good at the moment and there really is no reason to make a fuss. God understands!

“Those little things are harmless,” we think. When you look at the bad in this world, these little things are small. They can be compared to, say, a brick. You pick it up, enjoy it, set it down in front of you. No big deal! Then the you pick up the next one. Use it, enjoy it and set it down next to the other. Again, no issues! Then another. Then more. And before you know it, you have made yourself a nice little wall of “my ways”. But, since you started to run out of room in front of you, you’ll have to keep adding all the upcoming ones all around the sides until…You are completely walled in by your own desires, deceits, and doings!

The wants and ways you’ve been enjoying until now have surrounded you, entrapped you, and are causing misery and anguish because all those little things have now become a huge mess that is consuming your life! Amazing how those little things you thought were harmless have added up so quickly! You find yourself overwhelmed and drowning, all as a result of your dabbling with those little sins. Sins? Yes, sins! And, there are no degrees or sizes of sin to a Holy God. Sin is sin! And it only takes one sin to keep a person out of Heaven!

“But, God loves us and understands and he won’t condemn us for a couple of minor infractions!”

Because God is Holy, and sin is the breaking of His laws (see the 10 Commandments), and God cannot permit any type or degree of sin to go unpunished, he will condemn. The Bible clearly says that the “…wages of sin is death…” (Romans 6:23). And Biblical death refers to the eternal lake of fire or hell! Not the place you want to spend forever!

“But, Jesus died for our sins so we can all go to Heaven!”

Absolutely he did! Romans 3:22-24 says we can have “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. Which is to say that he paid the price for our sins on the cross and rose again to make intercession for us to the Father in Heaven! But there are conditions!

Unfortunately, many of the worldly “churches” leave out parts of the Bible. Specially important ones that say things like “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2). To continue to build up our wall of sins, brick by brick, means that we have not repented, forsaken the world, and turned our lives to God through Christ Jesus. The Apostle Paul continues on in chapter 6 of his letter to Romans saying “Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you over its passions.” (Verse 12). There is a choice to be made and there is NO middle ground!

This is a daily choice as well. We need to be reminded that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” daily. God tells us that his mercies are “new every morning”. So what we have here is a battle between the our fleshly desires and God’s ways. We are either building our wall of sins and living entrapped in them, or we are walking in the freedoms of God’s grace and forgiveness! Now don’t get me wrong, we will sin…often. But when we do, we must repent (which means to turn away from those sinful ways) and strive harder to follow God and his ways, leaning on the Holy Spirit for strength to do this. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Ok, so we have made a decision to walk in righteousness with Jesus as our Lord! Great! But, the battle is harsh and I fail quite a bit. The world is ever before me and I easily revert to my old ways. This is the struggle that many poor pilgrims have during their journey! And, unfortunately with a weak faith, the sojourner can at times fall and not get back up! Many souls lost are littered along the very road we travel on toward eternity with God. But know this; that God does provide us with the means and way to faithfully arrive at his calling!

First, he provides a helper to guide and strengthen us. God is faithful to be with us! Even for the Israelites that he brought out of Egypt, God, in his “great mercies did not forsake them in the wilderness” (Nehemiah 9:19). Jesus promised that the “Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things”. The Holy Spirit resides within us, guiding us, encouraging us, and showing us the darkened areas of our lives by illuminating the truth of God and his word to us.

Which leads me to the Word of God, the Bible (or Scriptures).

In our daily battles, like any good soldier, we need to be equipped to stand against the enemy of our souls, and even defeat them. Sin is our enemy. It is the very cause of destruction in so many lives. The enemy of God, the devil, wants us to sin against God. God wants us to defeat sin in our lives. So, God provided his word! The Bible refers to the word of God as the “sword of the Spirit” and “the sword of truth”.

“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ,”
‭‭2 Corinthians‬ ‭10:4-5‬

In Ephesians 6, God gives us a list of spiritual armor to wear as we battle the forces of evil in this world. The weapon in our hand is the “sword of the Spirit”, which is the word of God. In order to use any weapon, the first thing we have to do is physically pick it up in our hands! It would be shocking to how many “professing Christians” have Bibles sitting in their homes, yet have rarely (if ever) picked them up to read. Based on conversations with people over the years (many of whom own several Bibles), there are very few people who have even the slightest clue as to what is really inside the pages. The sword is worthless if it is sitting on a book shelf or in a closet or tucked away in a drawer somewhere.

The other issue is knowing how to use it. Once it is in your hands, you have to know what to do with it! As with anything, taking time to get acquainted with it is paramount. Anyone can pick up a Bible, but to know what it contains and where to look for truths to help in your daily walk is not something you know instantly. There are 66 books contained within the covers of the Bible. Knowing what each book says and teaches takes time and effort. You don’t have to become a Bible scholar or take deep theology courses to understand it, but you do need to open the pages and read them for yourself! The Holy Spirit is there to illuminate those words to you!

Another thing is that you should not rely solely on others for how to use the sword as well! What I mean by that is in today’s technology-driven culture, people seem to resort to videos and Google to shortcut everything. Someone might go to a church once in a while and listen to a pastor teach, then watch some videos or read something online and get a brief overview and think they are ready for war. But that doesn’t replace knowing for yourself how to read and interpret the Word of God and apply it to your personal walk! Just as watching someone wield a sword in a video doesn’t make you proficient to use one in an actual battle, the same goes with watching a 10 minute video of someone else’s interpretation of Scripture, how that doesn’t equip you for the battlefront in your spiritual walk.

That is NOT to say that listening and learning from others is wrong. On the contrary, just as in Acts chapter 8, the Ethiopian eunuch needed Philip’s help in understanding the Scripture he was struggling with, we all need helps understanding various parts of the Bible! But we have to read the Bible for ourselves so that the Holy Spirit can open our eyes and heart to receive the words and store them up inside! Psalm 119:9-12 says “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you. Blessed are you, O LORD; teach me your statutes!”

There are many great teachers and teaching aids out there to help us with our study of the Bible. But personally knowing the Scriptures helps us identify what is right and what is wrong teaching. The devil uses many false teachers and preachers, heretical churches, and twisting of Scripture to knock pilgrims off the course and even bring them to ruin. Having a good personal study of the Bible strengthens us to stand firm to God’s truth and avoid the lies of the enemy. The Jews in Berea studied the word of God and would daily search the Scriptures and compare what they read to what was being taught or presented around them. Like them, we must take the time to search the Scriptures…daily!

The Bible is right when it says that “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak”. I get it. It’s a struggle some days just to get out of bed! We struggle not only with daily duties, but we get flooded with the chaos of the world and eventually doubts and fears start to take hold of us! I pray almost continuously to God saying “I believe, help my unbelief!” But the deeper God brings us through sanctification, (our walk with him), the more we see our faults and weaknesses before him. This helps us know where we need to focus and grow so we can draw closer to God! And it is through his word that he opens up those areas! One of God’s commands to us that many overlook is written in various places within the Bible (Leviticus, Joel, Ephesians, 1Peter, to name a few): “sanctify yourselves therefore, and be holy; for I am holy”.

He humbles me greatly, daily to see my sins.

He lifts me up by showing me his grace.

Oh, that I may know him more, follow him more, glorify him more!

We flee from sin. We flee to Christ!

Each day is a battle that we need to take seriously and diligently. We first need to put down the bricks of sin, even the “little” ones. Life already gives us plenty of extra weight to carry every day, we don’t need to add extra! Hebrews 12:1 says to “lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” God sets a fountain to cleanse us from all sin and impurity. But if we continually return and wallow in the filth over and over, all we are essentially doing is deny Christ and rejecting his work on the cross.

“…shall we continue in sin…?”

We also need to take up the sword of the Spirit, the Word…daily. Don’t neglect it. How can anyone fight the good fight when they don’t know where their weapon is or how to even use it! The great Puritan leader, Richard Baxter, said “study hard, for the well is deep, and our brains are shallow.” There is so much to learn in our walk with God! And reading Scripture with a glancing blow hardly ripples the surface of the truth within. As with gold, you must dig deep for the best deposits. You will never become rich with just pebbles.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! Romans 11:33

God’s wrath is being stayed by his love. Yes, for God so loved the world that he did give us a way from the wrath to come; his Son Jesus. That whosoever shall believe in him will be saved. We commit our lives to God through his son Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit by repenting of sins and being baptized into new life!

Prepare! The battle is here!

Amen

Sons Of Belial?

Some pretty deep and prolific words are found within the covers of the Holy Bible. There is no doubt about that. Even pagan religions have a level of reverence when it comes to the Christian Bible. It is filled with historical truths, poetic visualizations, proverbial guidances, and revelations of the very nature of God Himself. To read the pages is to get introduced to the God of the universe, to understand His will and ways, and to hold a roadmap for our life.

Yet as powerful and impacting as the Words are, it is amazing how people still live like the Scriptures have an insignificant influence. Even people who claim to be followers of Christ Jesus, the Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, still live daily under the control of worldly ways instead of God’s ways. Obviously we reside in this world and, as such, we have to contend with it no matter how holy and pious we try to be. But you can tell a lot about what has the strongest inclinations or sway in someone’s life by how that person lives.

Taking into consideration that all will stand before the judgement of God at the end, which will determine where we spend eternity, one would think that a decision to follow God’s way would be an easy choice. Now, for some, that decision is easy. Yet, many others don’t want to give up the creature comforts of the secular life. They may find that walking in the ways of God is not easy or too burdensome . Plus, we need to note that there is another side to things working in our lives that also has great influence: sin. Sin’s influence goes against God’s ways, yet is very strong and many have fallen by its trappings. 

“Now the sons of Eli were worthless men; they did not know the Lord” 1 Samuel 2:12

While reading through some Old Testament scripture, I came across an interesting verse that caused me to stop and think. What caught my attention in 1st Samuel chapter 2 were the words “They did not know the Lord”. Looking at the context of that statement, it shows a sad and harsh reality that I think can apply to many within the very walls of today’s church. Let me explain.

Eli was a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses and the great high priest. Eli was a high priest in the temple at Shiloh. He was a godly man who was one of the judges over Israel. He had two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, both of whom were raised to be in the service of God. But for Scripture to describe them as ‘Sons of Belial’, (which means worthless, and is also used in the New Testament to describe Satan!), it really shows the true nature of those boys.

To earn such an evil moniker from the writer of First Samuel, we need to understand what they were doing. First of all, as workers in the temple or sanctuary, their job was to gather and prepare the sacrifices prescribed by the Law and follow the exact instructions. The problem is that they were selfish, greedy, and very much living in the flesh for themselves. Instead of sacrificing the best cuts of the meat, they would take the best cuts of meat from the sacrifices for themselves. Adding to their debauchery, these married men would commit adultery with the various women who served at the sanctuary gates. (And we all know how clergy adultery turns out, even in our modern day and age!)

Of course these activities garnered the anger of God. Eli was admonished to scold his sons for their behavior, but he did it so lightly that they didn’t listen to him. Long story short; subsequently both of the sons would end up dying on the same day that the Philistines defeated Israel in a battle and captured the Ark of the Covenant. Their father, Eli, would subsequently fall over and die of a broken neck upon hearing of the loss of his two sons and the Ark. Shortly after all this, Phinehas’ wife gave birth to a son when she heard of her husband and father-in-law’s deaths and the loss of the Ark, thus causing her to name the child Ichabod (which means the Glory Has Departed). Afterward she would also die. All this came about because God cursed the lineage of Eli and his sons for their behaviors.

So, what does all this mean?

This serves to show that even people who stand in the most reverential of duties, who interact in the most religious of environments, and who have the appearance of walking with God outwardly, might not truly know God!

That is a very scary prospect to think about! Jesus said in Matthew 6 to “beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven.” Psalm 139 says that the Lord has searched us and knows us! Verse 4 says “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” These are truths that should have us reflecting not only on our outward life, but on our hearts as well!

You can be the most pious, religious, and reverential person on the entire planet in front of the people around you and still not know God. There are countless religious leaders that go through the motions, and yet don’t have a clue who God or Jesus or the Holy Spirit of the Bible truly are. Hophni and Phinehas went through the motions daily with their father, a high priest, yet they did not know God. Just because you say and do the right things or have great knowledge about the Bible, doesn’t make you right before the Lord.

So why is this? How can someone be exposed to the truth every day and still not know?

God’s way or sin’s way? Let me point out here that there are two motivations people face when entering into any type of religion or ministry; God or self. The Apostle Paul was a good example of a Godly motivation. He declared in 2 Corinthians 5 “For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” Paul did everything for God through Christ Jesus and his love for God’s people was beyond a heartfelt passion. He did nothing in selfishness that can be shown in any of the Bible! He wrote to the Church in Rome Therefore I urge you, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. (Romans 12:1)

But there are many examples of people in a ministry platform strictly motivated by self. We see a prime example in Acts Chapter 8. In Samaria there was a magician named Simon who many claimed that “this man is the power of God that is called Great.” When the Gospel of Christ was preached in the area, many became converts and were baptized, including Simon. He became very zealous, working with the evangelist in the area, and saw the miracles performed. When the Apostles Peter and John came to the area, they laid hands on the people to receive the Holy Spirit. Simon saw this and offered to pay them money for “this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.” He wanted to keep his great reputation before the people. But he was admonished by Peter saying “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.” (Acts 8:20-21). Peter demanded he repent from his wickedness and intentions as he was in the bond of iniquity.

Another prime example, (that I won’t go into great depth right now), are the Pharisee and Sadducees. They enjoyed the praises of the people, walked in the highest honors in the cities, and enjoyed their power. They were also used by Jesus as examples of holy and pious men whose hearts were far from God. Jesus called them “whitewashed tombs, filled with dead men’s bones”. Sepulchres that look great on the outside, but inside were vile and filth. Their motivations were known to God; greed and selfishness. Essentially, hearts filled with sin.

The question we need to ask ourselves is; are we like Hophni and Phinehas? Are we claiming the Christian walk in appearance like the Pharisees, yet without Christ as our motivation? Are we talking a big game of being right with God, yet wanting the accolades from people? You might be able to deceive your family and friends with an illusion of Christianity by going to church. You might be able to talk all the Christian jargon online and post Scripture verses to strangers. You may even have Bible verses and stories memorized. But if your heart’s motivation in all these things is for self adulation, then not of your relationship with God is true. If you going through the motions to impress or puff yourself up, then you are only lying to yourself and those around you, which will only lead you to the lake of fire.

You see, God knows your heart. He knew Hophni and Phinehas. He knew the Pharisees and Sadducees. He knew Simon. He knows all things; and the heart of man is especially known. The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? “I the Lord search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” Jeremiah 17:9-10

Eventually, like the two sons of Eli, all things we say and do will catch up to us and the truth will be revealed. As mentioned above, all will stand before the throne of God to give an account. Now is the perfect time to check your heart, check your motivation, your standing with the living God. Saying some words that you believe in Jesus are just that; words. It comes down to your true motivation. God or sin? Don’t let it be said of you “they did not know the Lord”

Amen

To Mask Or Not To Mask: Sin

With the inundation of mask-wearing around the world, people are losing out on seeing full facial expressions during face-to-face conversations.  In a conversation, there are 3 parts that are essential to a complete understanding of what is being said: verbal, non-verbal, and visual. I, for one, am someone that really relies on seeing the facial expressions when I am talking with someone. You can get a lot more information about the deeper intentions of the discussion by watching the person’s eyes, lips, and other facial movements. Sure, we can hear the fluctuations of the words or can see the obvious visual displays such as hand gestures and such, but we miss out on crucial insights when we lose the non-verbal expressions of the face!

Obviously, the mask is to blame. Throughout history, the mask has been used in all sorts of ways to disguise or shield the face and to keep others from knowing the true identity of the wearer. (Think Zoro or the Lone Ranger!)

But, we don’t always need a physical mask to conceal who we really are though. People will either lie about themselves or just not share the whole story at all. We all tend to keep some aspects of our lives guarded and secret. Even in close relationships people might withhold a portion of their true self that they don’t necessarily want to share with the other. Similarities can be applied when we talk about our sin nature. We all have sin in our life, but we don’t necessarily go around announcing them daily to everyone we know or meet! 

As Christians though, we have a conundrum we need to address regarding sin and our desire to mask them. Why do we hide sin? The very thing we do, though we don’t want to, we become convicted over and ashamed. Inside we know that sin is an abomination to God and that sin is what separates us from Him. But doesn’t God know everything? Including our sins? O God, you know my folly; the wrongs I have done are not hidden from you. — Psalm 69:5.

The Scriptures say “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.” — 1 John 1:9-10. Of course this confession does pertain to talking with God directly; repenting before Him through Jesus Christ and walking anew. But there is another aspect of confessing our sins when it comes to others. Our sinful actions, whether direct or indirect, can, and often does, affect those around us and cause problems or harm. And when it does, it is important to repent and seek forgiveness from those who have been hurt by the sins. 

By confessing to others, you are essentially pulling off the mask and showing your true face. This can be very difficult for many people because we like to keep all our little secrets, well…secret! Our human nature likes to keep us from embarrassing situations, thus we easily hide the dark parts of our lives from others. Just know that all secrets do eventually become exposed though. And if not now, they certainly will before God on the day of judgement.

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. — Revelation 20:12

There is no such thing as hidden or secret sin. There is no such thing as a little sin (think: little white lie). Like a disease, sin grows and festers within us, eventually creeping into other parts of our life, until it consumes you with guilt, shame, and pain. Thankfully, God in His infinite wisdom will use the Holy Spirit to shine His light on these dark shadows and bring them into the light. “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it.” — John 1:5  Whether we see them on our own, or perhaps we are called out by one of our fellow sojourners, the exposure of our sins…though painful and embarrassing as it is…is to be a time of healing, cleansing, rejuvenation, and renewal in the Lord. 

“but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” — 1 John 1:7

There is nothing more freeing than having guilt and sin washed away from us through the grace and mercy of God. As I said before, we all have sins, commit sins, and we will continue to fight that sin nature within us until the Day of the Lord and His return. But in the meantime, we shouldn’t keep it masked up, hidden inside, eating us up with its desires. This is a fight, Christian! A daily fight to kill sin and walk in the righteousness of life! 

For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. — Romans 8:13

Confessing, repenting, renewing, refreshing, rewarding! Remember that confessing (whether to God or God and others) and repentance is not a one time, past action in the Christian life; it’s an ongoing project. And confessing our sin isn’t just to make ourselves feel better or rescue us from Hell; the goal of our salvation is holiness to the glory of God. We are working daily to walk upright before God in the full likeness of His Son Jesus Christ. This is called sanctification.  

The Westminster Shorter Catechism, question 35, defines sanctification as this: 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.

And all this starts when we turn our lives to God through Jesus Christ; walking in newness of life. But when we keep hiding behind the masks that conceal our sin nature, that only leads to destruction…of soul and peace with God.

Remove the masks!

Amen

But now, O Lord, you are our Father;
    we are the clay, and you are our potter;
    we are all the work of your hand.
Isaiah 64:8