Where Did We Take A Left Turn?

Thus says Yahweh: “Stand by the ways, and see, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.”But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’ Jeremiah 6:16

The Holy Bible of the Judeo/Christian faith has a way of getting right to the heart of a person. It says in Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. I can testify that Elohim and His Words have shaken me to the very core of my soul in the last several months. Shaken to the point where everything that I thought I knew wasn’t exactly as I had thought. That the very things that I placed trust and faith into are not the clear and fullest truth. That I’ve been on a path, or road if you will, that is not the same road from where it all started…in the very beginning. Let me explain.

From the original languages of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek, subsequently translated into Latin, English, and a variety of other languages, the very words of the canonized Bible…what is commonly called the Old and New Testaments…have impacted the vast majority of people around the world for multiple centuries. From those very powerful words, written by approximately 40 authors over the span of about 1500 years, comes the voice of Yahweh God to the people that inhabit this planet. All things came from God through Yeshua/Jesus, (the son of God), according to the very words of the Holy Scriptures. It says in Colossians 1:16-17 “For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. In Genesis 1:1, the first of the 66 collected books that make up the Holy Bible, it says “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” 

If we look through the timeline of the Bible we learn that God created Adam and Eve, the first people, who fell into sin (a breaking of God’s laws) and lost the paradise God had given them (the Garden of Eden). Subsequently through lineage, Noah came about, but so did rampant sin against God, who then flooded the planet (saving only Noah and his family) to start fresh. Essentially God establishes a group of people through Abram (Abraham) and his offspring to be a holy people (holy means “called out”) and to eventually establish His laws to these people through His prophet Moses, after God lead the Hebrew people (Hebrew meaning to “cross over”) out of bondage (Egypt). He gives them a land (the Promised Land) to live in and to worship Him. Unfortunately the 12 tribes of the now-called Israelites have conflicts with one another and are separated (northern 10 tribes and southern 2 tribes) and go through many rise and fall periods because they kept breaking God’s laws. Even after multitudes of warnings from various prophets of God to repent (meaning to turn away from sin), their sinning continued. This went on for centuries. But God had a plan for not only the Jewish people, but for the rest of the world as well.

The last Old Testament period prophet came proclaiming that the “Promised One”, the Messiah, who would take away the sins of the world would be coming. John the Baptist announced that one was coming to take the punishment for all sins and give all people a way to be restored to God. Thus, Yeshua Hamashiach, Jesus Christ, came. Jesus followed and fulfilled all the laws and commandments of God perfectly (something no one can do) and gave us the example to follow. Since the punishment for sin is death, the way prescribed to atone for sin was a blood sacrifice. God gave His Son Yeshua/Jesus as that sacrifice (he took the punishment for all the sins, past, present, and future) and made it that whoever believes in him, follows him, makes him lord of their lives, confesses and repents of sins, will be saved from eternal death (hell/hades). While Yeshua was walking on this planet, he had followers that he taught the ways of God too. They became his disciples, who would subsequently continue on the teachings of Christ, even after Yeshua rose from death into eternal life in heaven. 

All the new believers were called Christians, followers of Yeshua as their Messiah. This Christianity began as an outgrowth of Judaism and still remained the believer’s basis of their worship and knowledge of God through their understanding of the Tanakh, what we call the Old Testament. The early Church continued the Jewish traditions, as seen in their later writings (the 4 Gospels, epistles, and other texts that subsequently coalesced into what is now called the New Testament). Even non-Jewish people (Gentiles) who believed in YHWH God and saw Jesus as the Messiah were grafted into this worship. (There has always been non-Jewish people who worshiped the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through the centuries with the Israelites as noted in the Old Testament. Examples would be the word “sojourner” in the Torah and many other references to Gentiles). Thus, the early “church” of believers in Yeshua gathered regularly together to worship Yahweh on the Sabbath and teach about Yeshua and his Way to others. 

For reference, I am not an Messianic Jew, nor do I hold to Hebrew Roots or Torah Observant religious beliefs. I will say though that I believe that the vast majority of modern church denominations and movements have drifted extremely far from the true roots of Christianity’s origins and beliefs. Sadly, in many circles, it has come to the point where they have even gone to the extreme of completely dismissing the Old Testament, or at the very least, have minimized the true intent of God’s plan for all people in how they should live and worship. The God of the Torah didn’t change the rules along the way. Nor did He delete the standing orders of how He is to be worshiped. Yeshua/Jesus never said that the old ways were done away with and we can now worship the creator God in a “new” fashion. So, when did it all get purged and whitewashed and become a homogenized new religion? At what point did the followers of Christ put away the teachings of the Torah and the worship at the synagogues on the Sabbath day (which technically falls on Saturday)? When did all this stop, and better yet, why? There is a lot of history that has been either ignored or erased that shows man has injected his own agendas and ideologies into the Christian religion. Being a follower of Yeshua Hamashiach, (or as it has been Anglicized as Jesus the Messiah), doesn’t change anything from the Old Testament, other than the temple sacrifices have been done away with because of Yeshua’s ultimate sacrifice. I say all this based on what I have read within the Scriptures and have studied from history. You can look it up yourselves!

We do know from history that the early church “evolved” to a point where the progressing early leaders wanted to separate themselves from the Jewish religion all-together. When Emperor Constantine was Romanizing the Christian religion, he created a council (Nicaea) in 325 to declare what the Christian religion was to “believe in”. Essentially by the 4th century, Judaism was purged from Christianity and the two were deemed “separate” entities…neither to be practiced together. But prior to this declared split by the self-appointed “leaders”, the believers of Yeshua were practicing the Jewish Torah and customs set out in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible…or “Old Testament”, as we call it in westernized society). It was also during the ecumenical council that they felt the need to separate the Jewish Passover and Easter (the crucifixion of Christ). Easter was severed within the “new” orthodoxy from its calendrical and thematic connections with the Passover. Also changed was the day of worship gatherings. No longer would it be on the Sabbath (Saturday) but instead on Sunday…just to segregate the two! In fact, it was through these “evolutions” that many of today’s westernized holidays related to Christianity were invented. It came to the point where you could not believe in Jesus and go to synagogue on Sabbath per the leaders of the “new” Christian religion. In fact, there was a lot of anti-Jewish (anti-Semetic) discourse and writings/sermons that came out of this time, such as Bishop John Chrysostom’s (c.349-407) sermon titled “Against the Jews”. Essentially, this chasm grew and grew between the Christian faith and the Jewish faith (the very Jewish faith from which it all originated from). With all the new declarations of what Christian orthodoxy should look like, it expanded and essentially became a whole new separate religion. 

Why am I sharing this Reader’s Digest Condensed version of church history with you? All this to point out something that so many people who proclaim themselves to be believers in Jesus Christ (who may or may not be active participants in the many modern Christian church(s) out there today) seem to be completely unaware that all the current denominations and doctrines and such that are part of the so-called Protestant (and Catholic) churches today were removed from the original church and purpose. Man decided they didn’t like what God had instituted, that it was too archaic. So, thinking that he knows a better way of doing things more than God, he changed what God had decreed. And it’s this kind of thinking that will cause God to give them over to their own passions and demise. Romans 1:21-25 says: “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.”

These verses (and so many other warnings from God to man within the covers of the Holy Bible) are not just about lifestyles and the flesh…but they warn of how man’s self-righteousness and arrogance to depart from how we are to follow and honor and worship God will be man’s complete downfall and dismissal from God! God commands us in Deuteronomy 6:5-6 that “You shall love YHWH God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.”  And the part that many have ignored, or dismissed all together, is that God’s commands have not changed from Genesis to Revelation. The only thing that changed in history is what man has decreed for himself. If the Bible is God’s Word and is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then why did man deviate from it? If God declares that the grass may wither, the flower eventually fades, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever (Isaiah 40:8), then why have the assemblies and councils of men dismissed (large) portions of Scripture? Psalm 33:11 says that “the counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of His heart to all generations”. Sounds like there isn’t a new “version” that God would be switching to because He sent Yeshua as a propitiation for our sins against His Holiness and His decrees! In fact, there really isn’t a “new testament” from the “old testament”, but rather a pre-messiah and post-messiah section of the whole of Holy Scripture! We accept the 10 Commandments, why do we dismiss all the rest of His commands?

As I have battled within myself regarding the issues of faltering faith these last several months, I thought that God, perhaps, had given me over because of my weaknesses and confusion. I couldn’t resolve the many red flags that kept cropping up as I tried to rectify and remedy myself to all the theology and doctrines I had studied over the many years. I knew something was wrong, and it didn’t help that the enemy took advantage of that to get me believing that I walked away from God, or that I was never saved, or that I was, per some theological stances, “predestined” to hell. Yet, now I am seeing that perhaps it wasn’t just me that was confused, (though disclaimer: I am still sorting out quite a bit here!) but that the current state of the accepted Christian religions in the world today are actually wrong. That history shows man taking liberties to change God’s decrees and laws and commands just to fit his own ideologies and narratives. Essentially, the vast majority of today’s Christian churches are following deviated orthodoxy that was created by men who were bent on removing the very Jewishness of God’s people and God’s Messiah, who was himself Jewish!  

With that, I am taking new course in life regarding Bible reading and believing. Since these are Jewish Scriptures written by Jewish believers that follow a Jewish worship decreed by YHWH God, the very God who gave us all a Jewish Messiah who had Jewish followers and disciples who all kept the Jewish customs and traditions and worship, and historically had grafted in the Gentiles who wanted to worship and study and believe in this very same YHWH God and follow the Jewish ways, et.al., I plan on re-reading the Bible in its entirety, but without the man-made doctrines or theologies that I had been indoctrinated into believing up till now. I will be reading the Holy Scriptures with a first century Jewish/Gentile perspective as all this was intended from the very beginning. I believe that the Books will be more alive and enlightening to this soul that I could have ever imagined! 

Amen

To Be Or Not To Be…

If no beginning, then no end.

One of the worst things that combats our walk with God is the continual questioning and wondering. Though certain ideologies are claimed to be clearly implanted within the words of Scripture, we tend to read past them and doubt our faith and salvation regardless. Our frail nature creates within us a whirlwind of uncertainty that, though answerable from the Book itself, we tend to relish and dwell on failings and shortcomings to the point of souring our very hope of salvation from eternal damnation. From the simplest to the most complex methodologies of the saving process derived from interpretations of the Holy Bible the Christian salvation and subsequent life afterward have often created a downfall to many due to the confusion associated with differing opinions. One has only to read through social media debates on any topic of Christianity to see that the different views can create such a contention between the claimed believers…even to the point of hostility. Unfortunately, many people see this and can often be turned off becoming followers by these contradictions and views. Others have either walked away from the faith all together or have settled into a non-orthodoxy religion that mixes Biblical teachings, accepted social constructs, and humanistic ideologies just to ease the tensions within their own soul. 

I confess myself often a casualty of this war. From my non-religious and generic upbringings to deeply held reformed theological views to questioning the validity of all the claimed orthodoxies from every side, I have run a course of confusion and challenge that has hobbled my beliefs to the point where I’ve thrown my hands up in despair more often than I care to admit. And even though I have presented to you my gleaned understandings of Scriptural studies through various media these last few years, I find that everything is still in question, including my own “salvation”. For some this will come as a shock, yet for others this may be seen only as a season of challenge. And yet within still remains…no faith. 

Before the mob begins lighting their torches and gathering in the square for a public hanging due to heresy or blasphemy, let me speak in my defense. 

It is obvious to see that there are many “versions” of Christianity in the world today and each “version” claims they have the “gospel truth” at its own core. Within the walls of each religion lies their pre-ordained definitions of what is and what isn’t orthodoxy. Some churches have embraced a strict Biblical-only walk of faith and function while others have opened their doors accepting any and all definitions of Christian. Some would look at me as sinner destined to the gates of hell while others would claim my destination as heaven. Of course, the only true basis for what should be the definitive answer of how Christianity should truly be is based solely on the original source book…the Holy Bible. 

But, now we are back to the questions brought on by the many perceived interpretations. You may read a particular set of passages to mean one thing and others may see them through a different lens, and thus, the contentious battles that rage, the casualties that increase, and the vitriolic attacks upon one another. With these matters flaring between groups, it is no wonder that many walk away or struggle with doubts and uncertainties as to what is the “right way” to believe and how they should walk through this life under the religious banner of “Christian”. When people see such infighting within the proclaimed “church”, it creates either a hesitant heart or a coldness that turns them away all together. 

One of the main questions that has foundered my walk has been “am I truly saved”. Some will claim that once you say a prayer accepting Jesus as your savior, you are saved. Some add that baptism must accompany the prayer. Some say that all are saved no matter their lot in life. Then there is the repentance portion of the salvation process. Some will suggest if you repent (turn away) of sin and are baptized, that you will then walk in newness of life and have eternal salvation. Others will counter that repentance is a daily process that must be adhered to and that adding works is “un-Biblical”. Still others hold to “once saved, always saved”, no matter what you do after your admission into salvation. From terms such as “easy believism” to “works salvation” to “Lordship salvation”, the many views all state their case from the Bible and hold to the claims that “our way is right”. But is there only one right way?

Based on whatever style or path of salvation you may interpret as the correct one, there is the facet that some who come to saving grace and repent of their ways will display a “change” or newness of life. Examples would be the addict who finds Jesus and becomes clean from substances, or the violent person who finds compassion and is transformed, or the depraved whose life is converted into one of charity and love. These, and many more, are evidences that this newness of life has taken affect and turned the wayward lost to a new and directed path following Christ’s Biblical example. Yet most will agree, without evidence of change, without a turning away from the “old nature”, there remains the questions as to whether or not the conversion was genuine. Making bold declarations through words are just that…words. 

Many people will make proclamations out of an emotional rush. Often times people can get caught up in the moment of exhilaration from their surroundings that they flow with the masses and align themselves with the crowd. Perhaps an emotional tent-meeting causes an unsaved person to be swept up in the moment and they make declarations of asking Jesus into their life. But then over the course of the next few days, life for them is back to normal. Or, perhaps, in an instance of heartfelt duress one should make promises to God that if He helps them that they will commit their lives. Yet afterward their life goes back to normal. You see, there are numerous situations where verbalizing something doesn’t necessarily cause someone to newness of life and salvation. 

But, this is not to say that those moments can’t have the Biblical “happy ending”. There are many who make that commitment to Christ and walk boldly and succinctly from that moment onward. And though their life is still filled with ups and downs, many are clearly changed into a new creation and they live their lives afterward as a Biblical Christian. Though each life is different, many have a new heart that is desiring to serve the Lord, worship the Creator, and live their lives to the glory of God above through Jesus Christ. They passionately study the Bible and engage in a bible-believing church regularly. They are bold in their walk and don’t hide this new way from those around them. They are truly Christians. In these cases, the change is evident.

So, we can see that each person can have a variety of outcomes and walks. Many people have vast amounts of knowledge about the Bible and theology, yet without a heartfelt change in their day to day life. Many people have a true faith, yet though not desiring to deeply study the Bible, they live life with just their trust in God. Many are overwhelmed by the whole faith movement and shy away. And then there are others who just coldly reject the notion of an invisible supreme being.

There are also the people who have “chased” after God, seeking the salvation experience for themselves, and yet have felt nothing inside, no change. Oftentimes I can identify with them. They may approach the Bible with reverence, awe, and accept the Word as from God, yet might not feel or see any change within their life. Religious groups differ on the impact of the salvation process on a person and will either say that the truest religious experience is one of passion and emotion, or will claim it is only by strict adherence and obedience to the Scriptures that shows the fruit of the claim. No matter the view, approach, or process…we had best be certain that we get it right the first time through this short life of ours because there are no second chances.

One thing certain is that salvation defined should come from what God’s Word actually says. Since the criteria from which all of humanity will be judged is within the pages of Scripture, it would behove any who is pursuing the life-after in eternity to know what the Author of life and the Judge of creation has to say. One aspect it does clearly define comes from the very words of Jesus, Himself, who says “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.’ (Matt 7:21-23) Clearly, there is a definitive pass-fail based on these verses. It is imperative we know the right ways.

You can believe without truly believing. You can trust without truly trusting. And you can claim yourself to be something even though you may not be that something. Many go through the motions, carry on the facade, and display their life to some as they deem convenient. Yet in front of others they may come across as someone else. These “actors”, portrayers of characters, live a variety of lives depending upon who they interact with. This lifestyle is clearly represented by a vast majority of people who might attend church services on the Sabbath, yet live their life outside the church walls as “someone else”. These folks might be the type who claim themselves “holy” or “religious” under particular circumstances and yet not cast a single shadow in the doorway of a church. Essentially, these people are part-time Christians. 

But, based on what is written within the covers of Scripture, living the Christian life part-time (or even 3/4 time) does not meet the high demands of God. We cannot expect to glory in God for eternity when we did not give Him our full attention on earth. Nor can we expect God’s decrees to be “suggestions” that we can pick and choose based on our feelings at the time. I’m not expert in anything, but can say with certainty that no matter what avenue of salvation you see is right, this God of the Bible is an “all-or-nothing” God. You cannot expect to just include God part of the time in your life when it’s convenient to you and also expect His full mercy and grace. Going through the motions or verbalizing yourself a Christian does not cut it based on what the Bible says. Sure, you can twist or re-interpret various verses in an attempt to fit your personal narratives, but in the end who are you fooling? Those around you might fall for it, but I’m sure the God that created all things knows the truth. Are you fooling Him?

Yet based on these things, if we really looked around at all those claiming themselves saved and yet who might be living that part-time life, we could surmise that there are truly a lot less people that have a ticket bound for heaven than would appear on the surface. If part-time or verbal declarations don’t meet the criteria of God, then what does that truly mean for many of us? Well, there are only two paths out of this life; heaven or hell. No middle ground. No participation trophies. No sneaking in by the “skin of our teeth” by last minute saves. Again…this is an all-or-nothing God of the Bible. If most of us were truly honest with ourselves, we would discover that we might not be in that “elected”, destined-for-heaven, group. Instead, what we might find is that we don’t quite measure up or meet the criteria. In fact, we might discover that though “many are called, few are chosen”. And that is not just a generalized verse, but that it is a reality many of us need to think over very hard.

Personal evaluation, and even re-evaluation, is a very important thing that might carry eternal consequences for us. We cannot afford to be so arrogant as to what we “think” our lot will be, or should be, in the future. Many may think themselves bound for heaven and yet after an honest and deep introspection of our life we may discover that salvation truly hasn’t come like we think. Though we are challenged by doubts and questions on a regular basis, these might be the important prompts for us to take a hard look at the real you and compare where you think you stand before God versus where God says you stand. The task can seem very daunting and overwhelming to most, but like anything that is truly important, we cannot afford to waver or even dismiss this matter and just rest on our self-designed laurels. Everyone has a view, an opinion regarding religion, but we cannot afford to just follow blindly. Many are led astray because they did not take the all-important time like the Bereans who “searched the scriptures daily to see whether those things were so.” 

The time is short. What I thought was, might not be. What I thought I knew, I really didn’t. I am not alone in this. We cannot have an ending if we didn’t have a beginning. 

And I Wondered

I crossed into the promised land. The land flowing with milk and honey. I was shown all the promises of God. His Word was ever before me. I knew the statutes, I knew the laws. 

And yet I continually looked to the pagan cultures, the pagan places, the very people that I was to push away…I embraced them. I held their ways in awe, revered their lives, and I envied their gods. I became like them. 

And then…I wondered where did my God go? Why did God forsake me? I cried out…where are my blessings? Why do I feel alone? I wondered about this as I continually participated in the pagan ways that I knew God had called me out of.

 When I left Egypt, I denounced the old ways and turned my heart to follow God and His ways. And yet, in my heart I still longed for the life of Egypt. My heart still lived in Egypt.

When I came into the land that God was giving me, I told God I would follow Him. And yet I blended in with the cultures around and embraced them. I lived among them and I was like them.

God’s Word was still there. His words never changed. But I did. 

And yet I wondered…where is God? Why has He forsaken me? He has left me to my own devices.

And I wondered.

Sometimes in life we journey a particular direction, and yet God sees fit to re-direct our steps just before we reach what we believe to be our destination. To some, this would appear to be God denying us blessings and happiness…specially in light of promises He may have made regarding those blessings. And yet, we get re-directed, perhaps even to the point of having to retrace our steps, causing us to think that we are going backward in life. Such was the situation of the Israelites in the Old Testament, and such can be the circumstances we may face in life today. So, why does this happen? One simple thought is that God has plans for us and we might need to be put on a better path instead of our own. That happens more than we may know, but that also shows us that God is walking with us and guiding our very steps and that He wants the very best for us! But another look might show that perhaps God is redirecting our life’s journey because we are fighting against Him by doing our own thing. God took the Israelites back into the wilderness right when they were about to enter into the promised land because of their disobedience and, well, quite honestly, their whining! 

In my previous podcast/writing called “Between Two Worlds”, I spoke about the issues people have when they try to walk between two worlds; the ways of God and the ways of man. The lure of this world, to fit in and enjoy the fun and excesses it has to offer, is a temptation that many easily embrace, including those professing to be Christians. And yet God is clear when He tells us to “choose this day whom you will serve.” And despite what many modern and liberal churches may claim, there is no gray or middle area that is acceptable to God. Revelation 3:15-16, Jesus says “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.” This is a bold declaration that tells us we are either walking in the ways of God or we will be rejected in the end, and that rejection is to eternal damnation. Harsh, yes…but a reality that we cannot afford to waffle on. 

I also pointed out the struggles that the Israelites had with falling into the temptations of idol worship that the pagan people around them would actively participate. These types of activities that the people of God would involve themselves with not only angered God, who is a jealous God, but would also cause loss of blessings because of their actions. You can easily see the direct correlation that I am drawing here! In our lives, in my life, the Lord is illuminating the reality that we are to be a people who worship Yahweh God and Him alone. We can learn to identify the many idols that take away our devotion and worship from God when we take the time to look into His word and then look around at the things that we count as important in our lives. The bottom line is that living contrary to God’s commands is a losing venture. Though you may enjoy some temporal pleasures in the here and now, eternity will have a completely different result.

As I read through the accounts of the Israelites in the Old Testament, I can’t help but put myself in their shoes (sandals) and wonder how my faith would hold up under those circumstances. One of the most important elements in reading and studying the Scriptures is to understand the time and culture associated with the words. Looking at the Word through a 21st century lens will cause us to misunderstand key elements of teaching. We specially have the conflict of having a modernistic, westernized viewpoint to begin with that can skew our application of the Scripture’s teachings and its Biblical worldview. But when we understand the people and places and times that are displayed within the pages, we then see how God is the same yesterday, today, and forever! And most of all how God’s words and decrees are still applicable to us today!

God’s plan for humanity was to set apart a people, the Israelites, and teach them who He is, what He requires, and His laws or statutes. Essentially through these holy (set apart) people, God’s Word would spread to all nations so that even the Gentiles (non-Jewish) could be grafted into God’s redemptive work through His Messiah, Jesus. The non-Jews were brought in by the promises of God when He set aside His covenant with the Israelites because of their stubborn and defiant attitude toward God. But now that the Gentiles (us) have been given the hopes and promises of God’s eternal salvation through His son Jesus the Messiah, we also have the commands to honor and worship God and Him alone. 

Yet, so many walk this world without a thought of God, and, in the same manner, even those who say they believe in God and His son Jesus and yet live life under their own ways and means…just like most of the Israelites did. And you easily see where their neglect of God as their Lord got them!

The temptations that this world offers people today can be seen as more intense, more available, and more accessible than in Bible times. The advent of television, computers, and the internet has seen to it that people can readily access any form of sin they wish just with the push of a button. Yet even in Biblical days, sin’s lure was potent and drew many to their demise. The Apostle Paul had to write many times to the church he planted in Corinth to correct them for their “worldly” and “pagan” behaviors and practices…some of which even the pagans themselves condemned! And sadly, Paul, were he alive today, would be writing those very words to many so-called churches today…most right here in America…because you literally cannot tell the difference between the church and the culture around it. The command to “come out from among them” was not grasped by the Corinthian church, nor has that command been adhered to with many of todays “churches”. 

“Flee immorality.” Simply put, you cannot serve the flesh in the ways of this world and expect God to walk with you. Not only is the dishonoring of our bodies by fleshly lusts an abomination before God, but our willful drive to put self first in our day to day life is just as bad. The world embraces, and even pushes, open sexuality and fleshly desires just as the many pagan temples did back in the Biblical times. Nothing new under the sun here. But neglecting God and His decrees because you want to do things your way because it makes you “happy” or “feels good”, is the very thing that caused God to withdraw His Spirit from the people in Biblical times and that punishment still happens today. Having the “me first” mentality is the very issue that drove the people in Corinth to put self-pleasure as a priority over God’s decrees and, sadly, we see this irreverence to God and His Word even among the many self-professing Christians today. Truly a sad testimony to the very lost and pathetic people that are wandering this world without knowledge of God. 

How do we defeat the issues of “me-ism”? How do we fight the temptations that pound at the doors of our soul day in and day out? How can we stand against the waves of worldliness and selfish desires? Before any solutions can be implemented, we must first and foremost know who God is by knowing His Word. So many men and women all around the world have views and opinions as to who God is and how we should worship and follow Him, yet there is only one true source that we need to focus our time and studies on and that is the Word of God, the Holy Bible! It is in the pages there, God’s inspired complete Word, that gives us what we need to know about God, His son Jesus our Savior, the redemptive work that God has laid out for us, and how we can walk through this war zone with faith that He, alone, will bring us to our promised land in the end! Though the Word appears to be deep with complexities that some may think they cannot understand at first, it is important to know that our Lord has given to us His Spirit, that will illuminate the very Word to our souls and open our eyes to its truths! This we do with simple faith, like a child who trusts his parents for all things to sustain them through life. 

This walk might not be on an easy road that is evenly paved with clearly marked signs and directions. We might be on a path that has many hills and curves. We may be on the wrong road in life and need to turn around and go back to a new starting point. We might be traveling rough roads that have caused us deep pains and sorrows for many years. We might be in a position where we are totally lost and have no point of reference where to go. What I can tell you is that the Israelites as well as many believers in Christ Jesus have been exactly where you might be now. Each one of our current locations might be unique to us but, like the people before us who have sojourned through rough and hostile places, we can be assured that God above knows each of us personally and knows exactly where we are and how to get us on the road that He has for us to reach the Celestial City of Heaven. Our road map is the Holy Bible and our guide is God’s Holy Spirit! We do not travel this journey alone! We just need to trust completely in Him. We may not like some of the ways and means we go, but He does know the best way. He may be taking us down a particular path for a season and for a reason that we need! We have to just trust Him and stay focused on His Word!

Like those that have gone before us, we may have a tendency to think we know better. We might want to do things our way because it brings us instant gratification. We may think that we know a good shortcut through life. We may want to go a different way to experience firsthand the pleasures of the world along the way. But deviating from God’s plan for our life only brings us to ruin and misery. At some point God will let you go (give you over) to navigate this life by yourself. But one thing that is important to know is that you will never arrive to the eternal joy in the heavenlies by your own power. You will not be able to enter into the rest for eternity by doing things your way. Only God’s way will lead you to that peace and joy that He alone can offer. And only through God’s way will you be able to have peace and joy during the journey…knowing that God is in control for our best.  

The journey might be rough, difficult, confusing, and even completely different than what we thought was the better way, but we can know for certain that God will never leave you or forsake you. He will never put you in a direction that is beyond your capabilities with His help and guidance. God knows you. He says in Jeremiah 1:5 “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” He also says in Luke 12:6-7 “are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.” If God is for us, who can be against us? 

Therefore, we can take comfort in God’s plan for our lives by trusting in the salvation work of His Son Jesus, who took our place on the cross and bore the penalty for our sins upon Himself unto death, yet rose from the dead and lives today…defeating death for us! He sits at the right hand of God, interceding for us! Jesus said that no one comes to the Father except through the Son and that by putting our faith in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, we can be restored to a rightful relationship with God! We repent of our sins, submit to God, resist the devil’s lure to sin, and walk in faith guided by the Holy Spirit and the Word of God! By this only can we enter into the promised land!

Amen

When Obvious Isn’t Obvious

Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools; for they do not know they are doing evil. Do not be hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth; therefore let your words be few. — Ecclesiastes 5:1-2

Have you ever watched a small dog when they think they are about to get a treat? The energy build up in them looks like a rocket firing its thrusters, ready to launch into space. Their tail wagging so fast seems to match the speed of a hummingbird’s wings. Then there is the uncontrollable shaking, enough to match the effects of an earthquake on a bowl of jello. Next comes the little whines and moans that sound like a race car engine running at maximum RPM’s. Without a hesitant thought, they explode at the speed of light to whatever it is they desire, knocking caution aside! Impetuous little creatures! Yes, aren’t we all though?

I remember long ago hearing a sermon that mentioned several times how impetuous the Apostle Peter was. He was always the first to jump in with a word or action. He jumped out of a boat in the midst of a storm because he wanted to walk on water like his Master Jesus. He tried to correct the Lord on occasions when he didn’t like what Jesus had just said. He even got excited as that little dog when he saw the glory of the Lord at the transfiguration. He would just react in whatever fashion struck him in an instant!

Six days later, Jesus took with Him Peter and James and John, and brought them up on a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them; and His garments became radiant and exceedingly white, as no launderer on earth can whiten them. Elijah appeared to them along with Moses; and they were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three tabernacles, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”For he did not know what to answer; for they became terrified. Then a cloud formed, overshadowing them, and a voice came out of the cloud, “This is My beloved Son, listen to Him!” All at once they looked around and saw no one with them anymore, except Jesus alone. As they were coming down from the mountain, He gave them orders not to relate to anyone what they had seen, until the Son of Man rose from the dead. (Mark 9:2-9)

We all can have a tendency to react impulsively from time to time. Peter, James, and John (as well as the other apostles) had been sorrowful when Jesus said He would be turned over to the authorities to be killed. Jesus took the three up to the mountain to experience the transfiguration and show them His glory now, and yet to come. But, even after the crucifixion, even after seeing the future glory of their Master, they still had doubts of uncertainty. It was almost like they hadn’t listened and learned from their mountaintop experience. Later, James would write in his epistle that “everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (James 1:19.) He seemed to be sharing a retrospectively learned lesson he gleaned watching Peter back on the mountain. 

Do we have knee-jerk reactions to things we encounter daily? Are we quick with a reactive word of retaliation or disagreement when faced with something that goes against our thinking or beliefs? Do we get down or angered when life isn’t going the way we think it should be going? If you answered no to any of those questions, I applaud you for being the most controlled, even-keeled, and level-headed human being on the planet! Because I, for one, have only one answer to those questions…an emphatic YES! Many times we react without having full knowledge of the facts. We jump to conclusions that could be wrong because we didn’t know the whole story or see the big picture. We take a little bit of information and “run with it”, as they say. More times than not, though, this can lead us down the wrong path or worse. We may end up anguishing over things that we don’t really have the proper information regarding. When we know the full story, have all the facts, see the big picture, then when things happen we are better equipped to handle in proper fashion. 

From birth to the grave, all our life experiences should be growing our understanding of how to handle things that might come our way. The more of life we experience, the wiser we can become at facing situations. Yet, it is important to also understand that what we come across in this world is not new. The Preacher of Ecclesiastes informed us that everything that happens in this world is not a new thing. He says; “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already in the ages before us. There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9-11) The old saying that if we don’t learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it! But, all has happened before and will happen again.

So the questions arise: are we learning from these truths? Do we tend to (symbolically) keep putting our hand on the hot stove when we know that it will hurt us when we touch it? The chaos and evil we are seeing in the world today shouldn’t come as a surprise, so why do we continue to react in shock and anger when we see evil flaunting itself? (I personally claim my excuse as being short-term memory problems.) I think that many of us have that very problem more often than we want to acknowledge. But why? Why don’t we remember the learned experiences God gives us from the mountaintops?

When God illuminates us to a Biblical truth, we have a tendency to act impulsively or even shocked as we look around and see rampant sin in the world. Or, when we peer out through the lens of Scripture at this fallen world, which includes those establishments that claim themselves as “churches” that, yet, are readily embracing sin and rejecting God, we get frazzled and upset that there are people who act like…well, fallen people. We need to remember that even ideologies like hedonism, which was once thought of as evil extremism, is not considered by the world as extreme anymore. It has almost become normalized in this fallen world. Again, this shouldn’t surprise us anymore. As the darkness descends faster and faster, people have given up on eternal hope and now embrace temporal pleasures at all cost. This is nothing new under the sun and it has all been clearly pointed out before through the Scriptures. A friend once said to me that “this world is at its ugliest. I don’t even hear the birds sing as I used to.” Sad. But, again, since this is not something new, why are we reacting like we do? We end up getting worked up over things (and people) when we should already know that this is the life around us as shown in the Bible. We would all know this already if we had we paid better attention to God and His Word.

Part of the issue lies with the church and where the attendee’s have been placing their focus. I can say with near certainty that the majority of their attention is not on God and His glory. It is more often than not on themselves. Like the pagan worshippers of yesteryear, “churches” today are filled with consumer Christians. They have the “what can I get from God” and “God plus something” mentality, among other issues that are running rampant within their walls. I think that some of us are aghast by what we are seeing around us these days because God is awakening some who are taking time to listen to His Word. But for others, they focus their time, effort, and energy injecting themselves into everything other than God and His truth. They press hard to have their say in all matters, push their agendas into programs, keep everyone busy with busy things. Many tend to ask “why God” when looking for answers about the fallen world’s conditions, but don’t stop once to listen and learn from the One who sustains all things in existence. Even in prayer, their voice is loudest with requests, and even demands, to God without a praise or worship for all He has done. Essentially, this is called self-exultation.

How so many tend to forget the lessons from the past like Mary and Martha. There can certainly be a balance between being fed and serving. But for many, it is often too much of one thing and not enough of the other. Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” –Luke 10:38-42

Matthew Henry put it best when he wrote that “religious exercises are not vain things, but, if we mismanage them, they become vain to us.” There is nothing wrong with having a zeal to doing things, but we must remember that zeal and passion by itself will go terribly amiss. People are shocked at the condition of the world because they spend their time talking over God and not stopping to listen, reflect, and grow. When we focus our attention on God and His Word first and foremost, we then tend to have a deeper desire to know Him, love Him, and trust Him more in this fallen world. We learn that He does have all things under His providence and will, and as such…we take comfort and strength in facing the daily matters around us. We are not shocked or surprised when evil rears its ugly head, because we know that in the end of all things…God! As such, we need to use our knowledge and experiences along with our zeal and passion to strive for a corrective balance in our day to day life! We can worship and glorify God most by focusing on His Word and truth, placing them in our hearts. But, also still serve His Church by sharing His truth and tending to His flock. It is just a matter of where lies our priorities in the things we say and do!

Our flesh keeps getting in the way of our spiritual understanding and retention. I tend to trip over my own flesh as easy as tripping over shoe laces. We learn, yet so quickly forget. Peter, John, and James were exposed to a truth that should have solidified their faith and trust in their Messiah. From what they experienced, there should have never been a worry about the coming cross, knowing that on the other side was the redemption that all mankind desperately needed to have peace with God. Yet, impetuousness and worldly distractions caused them to miss key elements in their walk with Christ. Peter had zeal, but he lost focus with Jesus while worrying more on humanly matters. Even the vast majority of todays church have their priorities skewed from the proper goal. When we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, we know that all things are taken care of by His hand. The storms around us are of no worry. We know they are coming, that they are here, but we rest in our Savior’s hands…He has overcome the world!

I personally need to remember that there will be mountain top experiences from God that should teach, encourage, and comfort me. But when I return back to the sorrows of this world, I need to remember His glory and be able rest in the truths I’ve learned. If I don’t, then I have to ask myself “what did I forget on that mountain?” The three Apostles saw the glory, yet when the sorrow storms hit they quickly forgot. Jesus kept saying that on the 3rd day He will rise, be raised up! We get a proper perspective of the lowlands from a higher point of view. Jesus gave them that. God gives us His Word to help us remember what our perspective can, and should, be. When we reign in our hastiness and our impulsive mannerisms and speech, we tend to hear His Word more clearly, know His will more clearly, and can glorify and worship Him more sincerely. God provides His Light and Truth to us on the mountaintops so we can survive the valleys. We just need to put aside our distractions, laying aside every weight and the sin that entangles us, and listen…to Him. 

God tells us in His Word in Isaiah 46:8-10 to “Remember this, and be assured; Recall it to mind, you transgressors. Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things which have not been done, saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure’”. 

The Preacher in Ecclesiastes 12:13-14 summarizes our duties proper saying “The conclusion, when all has been heard, is: fear God and keep His commandments, because this applies to every person. For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” 

Amen

A True Christmas Carol

“That is no light part of my penance,” pursued Jacob Marley. “I am here tonight to warn you, that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate. A chance and hope of my procuring, Ebenezer.” -A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

“A Christmas Carol” is probably one of the most popular Christmas works of fiction that was written by Charles Dickens. It was meant to urge us to honor the “Christmas spirit” in our hearts and keep it all year round. A written way of encouragement to draw families close and promote the gift of giving to others. And, as much as I loved the story with its warmth of having second chances, I have to confess that, for me, this time of the season is actually the most annoying. I’m not trying to be a Scrooge in the sense of having disdain for others who are striving for joy and happiness, pursuing peace on earth, goodwill toward men, but that I am just plain sick of the commercialized facades pushed down our throats and the people who run around “celebrating” something they don’t even truly understand. They go through this “holly jolly” malarkey for several weeks, but by December 31st, they’ve packed up their holiday cheer and spirits and revert back into their normal day-to-day way of life.

Please note that my position for this message today isn’t to be captain negative. In fact, I had made a promise to share a positive message, and that’s what I want to do. You see, over the years I’ve grown to understand what this time of the year is really supposed to be about. That it is not just some cute baby story filled with animals and wise men or shining stars on a silent night. Because, you see, that part of the Bible story being told in the Gospels is not really the beginning of the story, nor is the story complete after the manger narrative. Yet, sadly, so many miss the beginning of the full story, the story that begins at Genesis 1:1 and finishes at Revelation 22:21. 

  • In the beginning, God….
  • The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you all. Amen.

It’s important to understand the baby Jesus’ full beginning. It’s important to understand why he came. And it’s important to understand what his ultimate goal was in coming. 

The Bible says that “all things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3)  Which brings us back to Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God…”

And from the end of the last book in the Bible, Revelation, we see the prayer for the “grace” of the Lord Jesus to be with us all. It is only by his grace poured out for us that we can even look to the heavens and worship the creator! 

So we see the beginning of the baby in the manger, the one who was from the beginning of time, that through whom all things were created! We see that baby next coming to earth in human form, yet also fully God. We know him as the one the prophet Isaiah said in 7:14 would be born of a virgin and his name would be Immanuel, which means “God with us”. The creator of all things coming to earth to walk among his people, to ultimately save and deliver them from the sting of death. And we also see Jesus as judge over all the earth at the end times. 2 Corinthians 5:10 says “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” 

We’ve been separated from God because of our sins. God is a righteous and holy God, perfect and pure, unable to allow sin. And our sin separates us from fellowship with God. And because we cannot remedy that problem ourselves since the only payment for sin is a perfect and unblemished sacrifice offering, God sent his son Jesus to die in our place and take the full punishment that we deserve. Jesus is pure and sinless, without blemish, thus fulfilling the requirements. And because Jesus did that, we now have a way back to God through the shed blood of his son, who paid the price, paved the way, and now intercedes before the Father for us. Essentially, before Christ was in our lives, if indeed we have received him a Lord and Savior, God saw us as filthy rags, unable to ever approach his throne. But if we have believed and received Christ as our Lord, God now can look on us through his son Jesus and we are declared right (righteous) before him! And that is the basics of the Gospel, the good news message! That is why that baby in the manger was so important. That was when God gave us the grace and mercy of his love. So, how did all this get lost in translation to get to our modern Christmas story?  

I am not going to get into historical narratives that have involved a multitude of transitions by various cultures that blended various rituals over the the centuries. Others have already researched and written multiple tomes about that very subject. I will state that the events of the birth of the Messiah though was something that Satan himself did not want to occur! And if the he couldn’t stop the plans of God, he would do what he could to remove, or at the very least water down, the significant truths of the birth of Yeshua, Jesus. That old serpent, the devil himself, easily affected the world’s view of the arrival of Jesus in the town of Bethlehem by detracting the truth of Jesus and getting the focus put on superfluous holiday things instead of who the baby in the manger really is.

In Matthew’s account, the angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph informing him that the baby Mary was carrying was conceived by the Holy Spirit of God and that “she will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel” (cited from Isaiah 7:14 and 8:8,10).

Jesus (Jeshua or Yeshua) means the Lord is Salvation. Immanuel is Hebrew meaning God with us. So we have God who is not only coming to us, but also saving us through this very baby that was born in the manger. That, in and of itself, is worthy of more than a few carols and gatherings and gift exchanges! That is an event that we should all be in reverential awe of God’s grace and love to a fallen world! That is the cause for us to worship God with our complete heart!

While folks are decking the halls and dashing through the snow, there is a missed understanding of that baby and why he came. As yuletide greetings are exchanged as fast as children opening presents, there is a Savior being pushed into the background. And though people will busy themselves to attend their annual church commitment and sing Christmas carols to fill their moods with holiday cheer, few will remember the sermon soon after. 

But it is imperative that we push aside the world’s version of the holiday season and place before us the Biblical version of the season. You see, we humans like to commemorate various events in history as a reminder of the significant impact the event had on the world. We celebrate our birthdays or anniversaries. We note historical events and reflect annually of the impact they had. The Old Testament Israelites would observe various feasts and celebrations as a remembrance of God’s grace and mercy. The early church would observe annual events in the calendar that would mark the potential dates of historical events. We reflect on all these things with regularity but then move right along afterward to the next big thing. 

But with Christ Jesus coming to His creation to save us from our sins that separated us from eternal glory and to give us a “second chance” with God, we cannot simply look upon the manger scene as a blip in the historical timeline. Like Marley to Ebenezer, we too have been warned how to escape the fate of condemnation from our old nature. We have the opportunity to glimpse into the past, present, and future through the eyes of the creator Himself, Jesus Christ, through His Word, the Bible. Because God writes the whole story, we need to read it and know it and live it everyday…not just once or twice a year. This is a story that cannot be taken lightly. It is not one that can simply be brought out and decorated for a little while and then packed up and put away until next year…because tomorrow is never promised.

Having a second chance in life isn’t necessarily guaranteed, but if you’re reading this, you have the opportunity at this very moment to look at the child in the manger in a new light. That innocent baby we celebrate during this time of the year is actually the very God of the universe, creator of all things, and he will be the judge of all creation at the end times. His Christmas story is told in the very pages of the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Jesus said “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.” Jesus is from the beginning and Jesus is forever!

The true reason for the season is all we need in this life and for the life to come. We are to worship him not only once or twice a year on select holidays, but worship him every day of our lives! Even the angels of heaven declare “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” And they also say “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.”

What child is this? Yeshua Hamashiach, Jesus the Messiah! Receive him today as Lord and Savior and celebrate daily your newness in life through Christ Jesus! He alone can repair your past, he alone can give you a new heart in the present, and he alone can glorify you in the future kingdom of heaven! 

Amen

For prayer requests, or you just have questions and want to talk about this topic or other posts, please feel free to reach out to us at cannonforhire01@gmail.com. As we learn and grow in grace by God’s hand in our lives, we hope to share and encourage others to stay firm in the Bible and His truth!

May God richly bless you by His Spirit! -the team at Harbor Lights Ministries

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

Removing God And His Word

So we claim we are a fallen nation. A peoples that complain about the influx of evil within our borders. Striving hard to embrace a mentality of love, peace, and happiness. Throwing social consciousness at perceived problems so that equality and justice prevail for all. That together we can overcome the issues that plague our nation. Well, I’m sorry to inform you that these matters will not be corrected to their desired ideology. You see, the self-driven motives do not fix the true, underlying, problem. First thing is to identify not what is wrong, but why things are wrong. So, how did we get here?

  • The problems escalated when prayer and the Bible were removed from schools so that secular indoctrination training could begin.
  • The problems amplified when “churches” took the Bible out of context; subsequently removing its authority as the Word of God.
  • The problems flourished when sin was embraced as good and the truth of God was jeered as bad.
  • The problem is man worshiping man and not God. Man desiring the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life over God.

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Romans 1:21-23

The issue is that many claiming to be believers have left their first love: God.

Jesus answered the religious leaders by summarizing the entire Old Testament under the two main points of God’s commandments, which man is supposed to follow: 1) to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind; and 2) to love your neighbor as yourself. This is where the churches have failed. 

So much emphasis has rested on the second part from the modern pulpits. And because the first part has been challenged and questioned so much in the past as to what it really means to love God with your entire being or who God even is, the clouds of uncertainty created by man has cast the definition as unanswerable. And, since they have diminished and pushed aside God by this flagrant and irreverent act, they have essentially mimicked the footsteps of the Israelites in the Old Testament. As God proclaimed through the prophet Jeremiah in chapter 18;

For my people have forgotten me, they have made offerings to false gods; and they have been made to stumble in their ways, in the ancient paths, to walk into side roads, not the highway; to make their land an horror, a thing to be hissed at forever; every one that passes by shall be astonished, and shakes his head. I will scatter them as with an east wind before the enemy; I will show them the back, and not the face, in the day of their calamity.

If you think for one moment that God’s decrees are only applicable to the Old Testament Israelites, you don’t know the Bible. Because God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He never changes. Times change, people change, circumstances change, but His Words never change! You look around today and you will see the same mentality on display by self-proclaimed “Christians” as you did with the Israelites and early churches. The church is filled with Pharisees preaching secular ideologies and man-made doctrine. The people have put aside the God of the Bible for their own gods. Society has erected temples to pagan gods and vilified God’s people. The very same thing that angered God in the past is happening still today!

The clearest remedy for all people is simple: repent and turn to the Lord. Turn aside from your ways and follow God’s ways. No, you don’t have to put on sackcloth and sit in ash piles and lament your sins. Our cultural identities may have altered, but the Bible even defines our modern age: to rend your hearts and purify your minds. Confess your sins before God through Jesus Christ and be baptized into newness of life. Then, and only then, do you begin to walk a new path in life. Not returning to your old ways, but onward walking in His ways. 

And though many attending church started this way, a lot of false professions of faith easily crumble. Even though some would have a season or two attended to God and His Word, the lure of worldly things easily draws people away from God and shifts their focus back on to their own lusts. This falling away eventually leads the secular world, who rejects the God of the Bible, to seep into the church walls and disintegrate doctrinal truths and Biblical beliefs. Essentially, the very same thing that caused sin to enter humanity is the same infection today: “Did God say…?”

With a diminishing understanding of who God is, the modern church has had an easy conversion to secularism because the weak leaders desire only to fill up their congregant’s itching ears with superfluous fluff and feel-good teachings. Eventually, they incorporate programs designed to soften theology enough to allow introductions of other religious practices such as numerology, social sciences, philosophy, and mysticism. And by redefining or rewriting what the Bible actually says, the messages of repentance and reverence take on new meaning (or is avoided all together) and is replaced with the notion that everybody gets a free pass into heaven, completely skipping God’s commands and duties. Completely removing God’s wrath to come.

Quoting from Deuteronomy 6: “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.” This statement from God through Moses is followed with instruction that we are to “…fear/revere only the Lord your God; and you shall worship/serve Him and swear by His name. You shall not follow other gods, and of the gods of the peoples who surround you, for the Lord your God in the midst of you is a jealous God; otherwise the anger of the Lord your God will be kindled against you, and He will wipe you off the face of the earth.”

That is a serious and a very clear command! That is not a soft threat. That is the God of the universe, the One who created and sustains ALL things, speaking. He didn’t stop after Israel either. He didn’t change after the Old Testament. He didn’t send His Son Jesus to pay the penalties for our sins on the cross just to sit back and let us run amok on this planet, waiting for us to ‘get it out of our system’ so He can bring us ALL home to heaven for eternity. No! That is NOT what the God of the Bible is doing! Again, if you think that, you don’t know the Bible!

His patience with His creation is but for a short time. 

Because of the lack of reverence, awe, and honor to God and His Word, the complacent attitudes of people have usurped Biblical morality and shifted to a debased primal ideology that worships evil, hedonism, and chaos. Again, that doesn’t change who God is. His wrath is coming soon and those who deny Him will face eternal damnation. And as for the pastors, preachers and false teachers who twist, distort, and deny Scripture, they will find the greatest condemnation from God! Leading flock astray is an abomination to the Lord! No one who denies God will be spared!

“The Lord is King for ever and ever: the heathen are perished out of his land.Psalm 10:16

Why have we fallen? Why is the world headed in the destructive and evil path that it is? Because of the rampant sin throughout the world! And it is ordained by God that the devil and his minions will continue their demise over this planet. God knows what is going to happen, and best of all…knows how it will end! The prophecies of the Bible spell out the end times coming. Those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their savior will endure to the end and will be taken up out of this world into eternal glory with Jesus! Those who remain will be brought through a literal hell-on-earth. Unless God in His mercy extends His grace to them, they will all be forsaken by God and cast into the lake of fire for their unbelief. His warning in Jeremiah should frighten all those who claim themselves heaven bound; “I will show them my back, not my face, in the day of their calamity.”

So what do we do? First things first; repent of our sinful ways (which means to turn around and away from where you are) and follow Jesus. In Matthew 16:24-26 it says; Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” We walk in this world, but we don’t have to participate with the evils in this world. It may seem that giving up friends, family social interactions, and the like will cause ridicule, conflict, and chastisement, but better that suffering for a little while now rather than the suffering for eternity. 

Next is immersing yourself into the complete Word of God! 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!” That is our map, our compass, our guidance, our strength, our encouragement, and our hope through the storms and challenges we will face. Most of all, the Word is our knowledge of who God is, His words spoken to us, His plans for our life, His promises of inner peace and joy, His way that is the true way to the Celestial City! 

Afterward, there will be a new heaven and a new earth. The old will pass away.

Jeremiah 6:16a: “Thus says the Lord, “Stand by the ways and see and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; and you will find rest for your souls.” But many churches are refusing this by answering ‘We will not walk in it.’ (Jeremiah 6:16b)

The modern church has left the Word for the world. They embrace the new side roads and not God’s roads.  So it is imperative that you seek out a Bible-believing church to fellowship with, learn and grow with, and commune with people that revere the God of the Bible. People who submit to His Word and His ways. People who, like the Bereans, search the Scriptures daily to see if what is being taught or preached is according to the very Words of God.

We’ve seen what happens when man compromises faith and trust in the one true Lord God. Not only do the cities and governments of the world crumble into evil, but so do its’ citizens. Choosing to leave the ancient roadway to heaven, they sacrifice eternity for temporal pleasures on the side roads of this broken world. 

Time is short

The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 1 Thessalonians 2:9-11

Where do you stand today?

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

Peter’s Principles

Do you struggle with hope? Does your assurance waver? I know that I do in my Christian walk. But what is the source of this?

Did you know that in a military conflict, one of the greatest tactics used by one side is the diversion? Essentially this is a means of causing a disturbance in one place to draw attention away from the another place. Then, the attack would occur when the forces were preoccupied elsewhere. This has been used throughout the ages as a means of tipping the scales in a battle. It is effective and quite simple to engage. The devil uses this tactic quite a bit. I have lost many battles this way.

Initially I intended to discuss just a couple of attributes to the Christian walk that I sometimes struggle with; hope and assurance. But as I was working on that writing, I ran into wall after wall. Distractions would easily pry my attention away and I’d lose track of where I was headed. I couldn’t seem to get my thoughts together. This really frustrated me and caused me a great deal of discouragement as to my ability to share these things. I really hit a dark point.

It also got me thinking about what’s wrong with me. And that’s what turned out to be my problem! I’ll explain.

I tend to overthink, over analyze issues when they come to light. For example; why I couldn’t seem to write about my struggles with hope and assurance when that was on my heart? So my solution was to evaluate the problem. Then I dwell on it, fighting through the matter, even trying to force it. And always asking God what’s wrong with me. I’d pray that He would change my mind and heart.

Often times as I was trying to address the problem, my mind would drift away and attention would be diverted elsewhere and I would forget about the original issue. Sound familiar? Do you have those moments where you get up to do one thing, but quickly lose track and start something else? I do…a lot! What it turns out that I suffer from is what I call the Peter Principle.

This isn’t the Peter Principle you may have heard about decades ago, the one based on the book by the same title that theorized that people are promoted upward until they arrive at a level of incompetence. In other words, you do well, get promoted, do well, get promoted, then next arrive at a level in the hierarchy that you are really not skilled enough to do. This isn’t what I mean when I say that term. (Though that theory could have applications regarding me trying to be something I am not equipped to be…but that’s another story!)

My version of this comes from the Apostle Peter himself. Matthew 14:28-33 tells of the encounter the Apostle had with Jesus who was coming to them walking on water as they were on a boat on the Sea of Galilee.

And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

We can easily see the application here: the storms, the waves, the uncertainties, the distractions, the annoyances, the feelings…all diversionary tactics that cause us to lose focus, take our eyes off of the goal, the prize, the direction we were headed to: our Savior Jesus!

So, are we glaring too much at our problems and missing what should be our vision? You know the words to the great hymn: Be thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart! What a prayer!

But don’t get me wrong, as I don’t want to give too much credit to the enemy. We have our own flesh nature, our own sin-filled capacity. We are, after all, a fallen being before the Throne of God. So many times we trip ourselves all on our own…without any help from the enemy! It doesn’t take much for me to get distracted in thought and I have to believe that the bulk of those issues is self-inflicted! But, giving the devil his due, he is also at work daily trying to fail our faith.

Peter had a moment of doubt. He was human. Plain and simple. We have to remember that the great Apostles were mere men who were imperfect. All the amazing faith that is ascribed to them and the forefathers of our faith (as mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11) came supernaturally from God! They were ordinary men and women who faced the same worldly issues that we do. Though the times and means have changed, the underlying issue is the same. By doubting and taking our eyes off of God, we start to sink. Then our human nature kicks in more and we panic, we start trying things under our own strength, and before you know it, we are sinking under the waves.

I think that’s my problem when over analyzing…I tend to keep my focus too much on the waves and not where it should be. So I praise God for people like Peter. He shows me that though we doubt, struggle with faith, fall into temptations, mess up, falter and even fail, yet we can be saved by God in a mighty way despite ourselves! Peter had the right answer to his sinking into the sea of doubt and fear: He called upon Jesus to save him!

Verse 30, But seeing the wind (there’s the distraction), he became frightened (there’s the fear), and beginning to sink (there’s the consequences), he cried out (there’s the solution), “Lord, save me!”

There’s the whole of every problem we face in our daily sojourn. Jesus told him why he failed this attempt; it was because of his little faith that then caused him to doubt. I can identify with the Apostle in that my struggle with little faith in my daily battle here has caused me so many sinking moments that have led to near drownings. But, thankfully, He who began a good work in us is faithful to complete it! We need to rely on that promise, trust in God’s provision of saving faith. We will struggle in the flesh, just like the greatest men of faith like Peter and Paul! But we don’t need to go under the waves when all we need to do is call out to Jesus! Verse 31: Immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him…! What an blessed assurance in our darkness!

The great evangelical bishop J.C. Ryle wrote the perfect summary;

“Go on, and be not cast down because you are troubled by doubts and fears. You are yet in the body—this world is not your rest. The devil hates you because you have escaped from him, and he will do all he can to rob you of peace. The very fact that you have fears is an evidence that you feel you have something to lose. The true Christian may ever be discerned by his warfare—quite as much as by his peace; and by his fears—quite as much as by his hopes. The ships at anchor may swing to and fro with the tide, and pitch heavily in a south-eastern gale; but so long as their anchors hold the ground they ride safely, and have no cause to fear. The hope of the true Christian is the “anchor of his soul, sure and steadfast.” (Hebrews 6:19.) His heart may be tossed to and fro sometimes—but he is safe in Christ. The waves may swell, and lift him up and down—but he will not be wrecked.”

Amen!

Remember, we are human, in the flesh. We will be tossed to and fro on this earth. There are many storms inside and out that will cause us grief, doubt, fear, and have uncertainties, but we don’t need to live in the dark, consumed by the waves all around us. We just need to call out to the one who is always there, always ready to reach out and take hold of your hand. No longer do we need to sink in the waves of doubt. Peter’s principles showed us how we simply call on Him, Jesus.