Confessions Of A Slacker

There is a formula that many people like to use when conducting themselves in prayer to the God of the universe so as to assist staying mindful of important things to include. The method is by using the acronym A.C.T.S. ACTS stands for Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication. In truth, it really does help! Beginning with Adoration, we are reminded to worship, bless, acknowledge and praise Yahweh God as the creator of all things, the One who holds the universe together, and for His immeasurable love that He has for His creation. Next we Confess our shortcomings and violations of His decrees by acknowledging them in repentance and asking His forgiveness. We then give Him Thanksgiving for the wonderful blessings, mercies, and gifts that He bestows on us every day, recognizing where our sustenance is from. And afterward, we add in important requests and items of concern before His throne of grace, asking for His intervention to affect our lives and those around us. 

Many who call themselves Christian have no problems with praising God for His blessings, thanking Him for the things we receive, and in giving Him a spiritual “high-five” acknowledgement for providing an answer to prayer. Essentially the Thanksgiving and Supplication portions of the acronym flow nice and easy for most people who claim belief in God. Where we tend to be a bit short-sighted is in our Adoration and Confession. Adoration is something I have spoken about many times before, how so many are somewhat shallow with holding a deep and reverential awe to the One who breathes everything into existence and sustains all things by His hand. We are, likewise, quite lax in our submission to God’s laws in the manner that He calls for within the Scriptures. The Bible asks “does the LORD delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the LORD? To obey is better than sacrifice.” (1 Samual 15:22) And we also know that to God, “sacrifice and offering You have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.” (Psalm 40:6) Essentially saying that what God is looking to receive from us, above and beyond the sacrifices and offerings, is our love, devotion, trust, commitment, and submission to Himself in all things. Like the birds of the air and lilies in the field (Matthew 6:26-30) that trust God for all things, so, too, He will be for us a Father who provides all we need, and thus can have complete faith and devotion to Him.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. (James 5:16). Well, I need prayer! Because my confession to you is my lack of study of the Word of God, the Holy Bible! Now, before I go on, I can say with complete confidence that I have countless excuses as to why I lack daily Bible reading and study, and many of them (I’m sure you would agree with me) are valid and true! And while there is no set schedule written in the Word of God that we are commanded to customarily commit to the study of the Bible daily, there are numerous verses that declare the importance of our duties to study God’s very words. Ezra, as an example, “had set his heart to study the Law of the LORD, and to do it and to teach his statutes and rules in Israel.” (Ezra 7:10) Yes, we should want to study the Scriptures, not because of commands, but because of our inward desire to know the Author and perfecter of our faith! And yet, many of us fall short of that very desire. I can also submit that reading memes or social media posts with Scripture verses in them does not constitute a Bible study…contrary to popular belief! Snippets of Scripture are just that…small pieces of the very word of God. You wouldn’t take a couple pieces out of a jigsaw puzzle box and feel satisfied that you have the whole picture, would you? Nor can you look at a handful of sand and truly feel that you have now experienced what it is like to be at a beach. And such is reading the occasional verse or two out of the Bible. That method does not give you complete understanding of God and His amazing love and grace as well. 

The reason that so many people wander life thinking that they know Yahweh God is that they have entrusted their religion to a handful of verses and experiences and then they fill in the many blanks with their own perceptions and ideologies as to what they think the God of the Bible is really like. Essentially, the majority of people have a very small percentage of Biblical knowledge and a large percentage of their own added humanistic conception. This is not only heretical, but dangerous to the soul. Making up what we think God should be like is in essence creating your own spiritual religion based on some core gleanings from what little you may truly know about the Bible’s contents or even what little you may have heard from some church attendance or what others have shared. This is the very reason so many churches have careened off the Bible highway and crashed…because they decided to run with their own understandings and not the Bible’s actual written truths. Proverbs warns of this dangerous practice when it says “Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)

Yet, as I mentioned, there are excuses and reasons that cause me to stand (sit) before you and confess my sins. First and foremost has always been my time availability. I am so good with mismanaging time. I can get up early and quite easily get distracted away from Bible reading and devotions with just a glance at my phone or tablet. News, weather, social media, texts, and  emails quietly draw my mind away from matters of the spirit. During the all-important coffee time, my brain runs through the daily “to do” list, and before I know it, it’s time to hit the shower, dress, gather my lunch, and race out the door for work. Of course there’s the drive time (I have a fairly long commute) that I could spend with God, but of course as soon as I try to mumble a prayer or listen to Scriptures or preaching via radio, I am distracted by the nuances of traffic and and the many sketchy drivers around me. And then…work. Again, too many distractions to commit time and thought. After work, the drive home, is my time to wind down and compose myself, all the while dodging the inconsiderate drivers who are also on their quest home. Once home, more distractions with domestic duties, dinner, cleaning, and before you know it…time for bed. See? Many excuses and reasons. 

In essence, it is quite easy to substitute our time with God and His Word and replace it with time with the world. And then we wonder why our spiritual walk is struggling and lacking. We wonder “where is God” in our daily battles. We find ourselves wondering why we are so unsure of our footing in the pilgrimage we are supposed to be on. We wonder how the enemy is able to weaken us so much daily. The answer might be obvious, but obvious doesn’t solve the problem.

There are so many people that I see on social media and the like who display their Bibles with full-blown color coded, every-verse-lined and marked, as well as noted and referenced on every page! And what shames me more is that for many, these might be their second, third, or even more, copy of Scriptures that they have studied so diligently that they end up wearing out the pages and ink! All praise to God for their amazing and inspirational devotion to the study of Scripture! More confession: none of the several Bibles I own have anything near that wear and tear within the covers. In fact, many have multiple pages that have never had my hand upon them to be read. This is testimony to “something is wrong with this picture”! 

We know from Scriptures that the god of this world is the devil, and that he and his minions will do everything in their power to snatch people from God. Even if the person is a saved Christian, the enemies of God will try to destroy their peace and joy and damage their relationship with Jesus. This place is not our eternal home. Jesus said that “if you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.” (John 15:19) We are not going to have an easy path on this journey through here because we are not only attacked internally by our own nature, but because we are also under siege by the external powers of darkness as well. There is a war going on around us and we are involved whether we like it or not! And subsequently, this war is working to keep us from God and His Word.

So I mentioned that the answer to this dilemma is obvious, but recognizing the problem doesn’t solve the problem. The obvious answer is simply dedicating more time to the Word of God and to prayer. But, not so fast! As I also mentioned, there is this war of time that we are being pulled into daily. From the moment we wake up to the end of the day when we lay down for sleep, we are bombarded by attention grabbers. And whether the demand is from work, kids, appointments, family, friends, or other obligations, we are being tempted away from our personal time with God. But despite what we may think, we really do have personal time available no matter what our circumstances, and that we can devote time to God and His Word. The distractions mentioned above can, and should be, simple enough to avoid as an excuse. This is where spiritual discipline comes in to play.

When we look at our Savior Jesus, He gives us examples of disciplines that show how we are to grow and become strong in faith. Foremost is that the study, memorization, and meditation of the Scriptures is paramount to growth and our walk every day. Without the Word of God in our hearts and minds, we can easily succumb to the demonic influences that are all around us. Jesus used the Scriptures to turn away the temptations of Satan, even when He was at His weakest physically (Luke 4; Matthew 4). Paul reminds us that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.” (2 Timothy 3:16) The Bible is our sword of the Spirit and our only offensive weapon against the fallen evil we come up against. 

Another key part that Jesus shows us is the power of prayer. Jesus took time away from His ministry regularly and purposefully to “recharge” and focus personally on the one whom He is to glorify. He would break away from the crowds, and even His disciples, just to spend important time with His Father in Heaven. This was written for us to see that no matter what life is throwing at us, we also need this intimate time with God. We pray to communicate with God through Jesus, who is our mediator with the Father and to cast all our worries and anxieties on Him as we also listen to Him and commit all our ways to Him in everything we do. Christ instructs us to “watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41) These were not just suggestions, but important instructions because of our weak nature. 

How much does this lack of prayer and study affect me? Quite honestly; a lot! The devil has a purpose to draw us away from God, to strip us of the power of His Word, and to disrupt our intimate communications with Yahweh God. We cannot survive any battles in life if we do not have proper protections, proper weapons, and proper knowledge. To survive the onslaught of the enemy, we must maintain our battle gear, stay in communications with our Leader, and know the tactics of the enemy. Essentially, we read and study the Bible to understand who God is, who we are, what God requires of us, how God saved us through Christ Jesus, and to how to stay connected to God through prayer and the study of His Word…all by the work of the Holy Spirit to help and guide us through. We learn to recognize the enemies tactics and stay equipped with the armor of God and the Sword of the Spirit, the Holy Bible, so as to withstand the attacks. 

Having our attention diverted away from our walk with the Savior simply means that our focus is on other things, such as self and the world. It’s then that sin can so easily creep in and weaken us. Being distracted is like letting our guard down…and the moment we do, that is when the devil pounces. So these excuses we use to skip time with God through His Word are actually tactics of the enemy to break down our defenses and cause us to forget God. In Deuteronomy 4 we are instructed to “give heed to yourself and keep your soul diligently, so that you do not forget the things which your eyes have seen and they do not depart from your heart all the days of your life.” In order to stand firm on the Truth every day we have to purposefully task ourselves to prayer and reading, to commit our ways to the Lord…long before we pick up a phone, log in to a computer, read a paper, watch news and weather, or even enjoy that first cup of coffee. It is when we put God first, then “we can confidently say, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?” (Hebrews 13:6) It is when we acknowledge that our life is under Him, through Him, and for Him, that we now set our priorities right and are properly equipped to face any and all of the challenges each day!

Amen

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

Between Two Worlds

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water. Jeremiah 2:12-13

The old saying that a broken clock is always right twice a day has some truth to it; yet it still doesn’t make that clock worthy for use. When things break down, cease to function properly, there are essentially two options that are available: fix it or throw it away. Without it being fixed, the broken item has little to no value. 

Under the grace and mercy of God, whom we can rightfully praise and thank, we broken people here on the earth have the opportunity to be “fixed” or restored to newness through the shed blood of Jesus Christ! The Bible has a lot to say regarding things that are broken. From the accounts recorded in the Old Testament about the early Jewish people to the accounts recorded in my own heart and soul, God displays His glory by, and through, the works to rescue the broken, repair the damaged, and restore the functionality of the lost! 

I have spoken many times before about how much our current lives mirror those of the Israelites in the Scriptures. How God has set apart a peoples through whom His revelation and power would be displayed to the whole earth. How ‘little ol’ me’ would eventually hear about the God of the Bible through the ongoing story displayed in nature and history. And how we, like the Israelites, continually mess up the instructions of the Lord, even though we have His truth spelled out right in front of us! The people of the Old Testament saw and heard the instructions of God through the prophets and miraculous displays. We, today, have the complete testimony of God through His Word, the Holy Bible, illuminated by the power of the Holy Spirit. Neither party can ever say “we didn’t know” when breaking the commandments of God! And yet, here we are…breaking the “rules” time and time again! 

Like the broken clock, we “broken” creatures can also be dealt with in two different ways: fixed or tossed. As mentioned before though, we should be praising God for His mercies in that He does give us the option to be fixed…to be repaired, or restored, so that we can glorify God and enjoy Him forever! He showed His amazing grace constantly for the people of Israel and He still does this today for us though His gift of salvation; Jesus Christ! Though we all may have had periods of “corrective actions” placed on us to teach us lessons about our disobedience, these punishments are always for our good. God used other countries to teach the Israelites correction for their sins and we have the Holy Spirit convicting us of sins, as well as the consequences of our actions. The Bible also exhorts and teaches us today because “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)

One such example of God’s merciful grace is shown in Ezekiel chapter 36. Beginning at verse 17, God expresses His wrath on the people because they defiled the very land that He had given Israel. They corrupted the land because of their habitual problem with idolatry. If you remember back to the Laws, or Ten Commandments, God expressly told the people that He, alone, is Yahweh God and that “you shall no other gods before (besides) Me”. He also exclaimed that they are not to have any idols; things like carved images or likenesses of anything and “bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God”. Essentially clear instructions. Yet, they continually worshipped other things first and, thus, God punished them…time and time again! In verses 19-21, God even points out that other nations were shocked by the habits of the Israelites. “I scattered them among the nations, and they were dispersed through the countries. In accordance with their ways and their deeds I judged them. But when they came to the nations, wherever they came, they profaned my holy name, in that people said of them, ‘These are the people of the LORD, and yet they had to go out of his land.’ But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came. Even though the people desecrated God’s name, God would still continue to do amazing things to restore His honor! That, dear friends, is mercy!

And what about the people of God today? Those who claim themselves followers of Jesus the Messiah and declare their worship of the God of the Bible? Well, like the people of yesteryear, we continually have very similar failings before God. We have our idols that we put before our worship of God. We have our agendas that take personal priority over God’s agenda. We are hypocrites at the highest levels when we claim to be Christians who worship God, yet live our lives in the same manner as the unbelievers around us. Even the unbelieving pagans point their fingers and say that we are no different from them in our thoughts, words, and deeds. A sad testimony! Yet, God will continue to declare Himself and will restore His honor! As He says in Ezekiel 36:23 “And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Lord GOD”

So it is clear that God’s people before, as well as His people today, spend much of their time and energy doing things for their own glory and praise. God says that the failures of men are for two main reasons: 1) forsaking Him and 2) doing their own thing. Humanity has such a drive to be industrious and self-sustaining, but yet are fueled by selfish pride, even since their youth, and want to do everything their own way. We have an insatiable desire to prove ourselves as being better, to make a name for ourselves, and seeking to gain the approval of others so that we can “fit in” and heap glory on ourselves. And yet the Bible speaks clearly that all glory is to be given to God. Conflict! 

One thing that is shown within the covers of the Holy Scriptures is that God’s will shall be done! We can kick and scream, demand and pout, or even turn our backs and ignore Him, but in the end, God’s way will come to fruition! God has patiently time and time again, reached out to the people and offered them a way of blessedness and peace with Himself. In the span of time between the Israelites and ourselves today, we find a central core of Scriptures; the Gospel. God gave the ultimate gift to remedy our broken relationship with Him through His Son, Jesus. Through Jesus, God promises us the living waters we need. God said that He is the “fountain of living waters” and Jesus said “whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (John 4:10) Jesus also proclaimed “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38)

These wonderful promises are truly a blessing that should give all who read and believe in them a hope for eternal life. Yet the words will mean nothing if our spiritual thirst is kept in containers that are broken, cracked, and leaking all the time because we are trying to do things our way, by ourselves. It’s the same type of issue that is described by putting “new wine into old wineskins.” In other words, we must become new in order for the living waters to exist within. In 2 Corinthians 5:17 it says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” Our old nature cannot co-exist with the new. We must let God transform us through the renewing of our mind. Joshua 24:23 commands us to “…do away with the foreign gods which are in your midst, and incline your hearts to the LORD.” In other words, put away all the idols that control our lives and surrender to Christ Jesus completely so that we can be sustained by the living waters! We are to remember God, not forsake Him, in all things, and submit to His commands and walk in His ways. 

But if the broken vessel does not want to be “fixed”, the only other option is for it to be tossed out, since it will be of no value to the Kingdom of God. This sounds harsh, but if people continue to turn aside from God and follow their own ways, rely on their own strength, reject God and His righteousness, then God will have no choice but to give them over to their desires. They will fall with their created false gods and be cast out for eternity. Jeremiah 2:28 says: “But where are your gods that you made for yourself? Let them arise, if they can save you, in your time of trouble…” These people will be cast out for their ungodliness because they choose to worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator. 

Since the beginning of time, man has pushed to be his own god and elevate himself above the heavens. His arrogance demands that he be worshipped and that he should be able to have his best life now. He sets himself before others and puts his faith on man-made idols to worship as accomplishments and rewards. Matthew Henry describes our plight and shortcomings before God when he comments “to forsake this Fountain is the first evil; this is done when the people of God neglect his word and ordinances. They hewed them out broken cisterns, that could hold no water. Such are the world, and the things in it; such are the inventions of men when followed and depended on. Let us, with purpose of heart, cleave to the Lord only; where else shall we go? How prone are we too forego the consolations of the Holy Spirit, for the worthless joys of the enthusiast and hypocrite!” 

Why return to the past and become slaves again to the sin that God has already freed us from through His Son Jesus? Why strive after vain emptiness and worthless temporal things when we can have treasures stored up in Heaven where moth and rust can’t destroy! We were broken once, destined for destruction, but God saw value within us, His very own creation, the children that He loves, the one’s who were trapped in the snare of sin in this world. And He has always been there, providing a way of escape and salvation! Despite how man has treated God, God has always called for His children to return home! We can see how God worked diligently in the lives of the wayward Israelites of the Old Testament, continually drawing them back to Himself, even when they turned away from Him and chased after idols. We also see how He has worked in our prodigal lives, always calling us back to Himself, even when we’ve strayed from His presence and placed our trust in the things of man. Yet, He is loving, forgiving, and patient beyond measure! And before God punishes sinners, he pleads with them, to bring them unto repentance. If we repent, “therefore there is now no condemnation to those in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1).

Between our old nature and the enemies of God, they want us to take our eyes off of God and place them on man and the idols, to replace the Creator for the creature. But we must stand firm on the truth of God’s Word, which is our sword, and maintain our faith in it, which is our shield. The consequences of our choices have ramifications that will last for eternity! Since God has provided the ultimate repair for our brokenness through Jesus Christ, let us keep our eyes on Him and drink of the living waters that He gives us! 

Amen

Got Milk Or Meat?

Jesus answered and said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.” John 4:13-14

Have you ever experienced those hot summer days where you just cannot seem to quench your thirst, even after drinking some refreshing cold water? Or have those moments where you wander around the kitchen looking for something to quiet the rumblings in your stomach, hoping not to spoil dinner, but just want a quick snack in hopes to tide you over…but after nibbling you find you’re still hungry? One thing that many westernized people struggle with is the insatiable need for instant results. We chase after fads because often they make promises of immediate solutions. All those late night infomercials that promote wellness, healing, self-improvement, and the like, by either taking some pills or using this-or-that product show the desperation of people to shortcut the work that is often necessary to obtain their goals. Everyone is looking for the “quick fix” to make them happy and there are many companies that are more than willing to take your money and give you the “miracle” without the work! But, do they really work? No, because in reality the things we think we want or need does take work and time. There are no overnight miracles.  Unfortunately, this is the life of most modern Christians today when it comes to gaining spiritual fuel for the soul. Instead of putting in time and labor, many resort to quick-fix short-cuts instead.

When someone first comes to faith in Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior, their first steps can often be likened to a newborn baby that can only take milk early on for their nourishment. Obviously, babies cannot eat solid foods in the beginning days of life until their systems develop. The same idea holds true with new Christians. They are not prepared to absorb the heavy meats of doctrinal or theological substance until they have the basics of their faith understood. “Like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord (1 Peter 2:2-3).

Some “newborn” Christians try to delve too fast into deep spiritual matters before they have a solid foundational stance on the Gospel. Problems can come about because there are so many deeply contested topics of theology and they can become overwhelming and cause the new believers to stumble or get confused since they still struggle in the flesh. New Christians early on may still hold a worldly viewpoint that can conflict with the Gospel message. Paul addressed that issue to the church in Corinth by saying “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3) He told them this as a warning that they need to lay a firm foundation of Gospel truth, turn away from the worldly passions and ideologies, before they were ready to gain deeper spiritual insights. 

A solid Biblical upbringing in the faith builds over time through the study of the Scriptures, coupled with good teaching from a faithful church and fellowship with Godly saints. This growth is called sanctification, and is a process that continues in the life of a believer until the end times and our appearing before the Lord in Heaven. Like any training, we must strive diligently to grow in the new life in Christ and “not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers.” We are also to “be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:14-15) By thorough study of the Scriptures we can “avoid worldly and empty chatter, for it will lead to further ungodliness”

Being lackadaisical in our walk can lead to spiritual laziness and weakness of faith, which can certainly be used against us by the enemies of Christ. It says in Hebrews 5:11-14; “Concerning him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil.” 

The solid food that is referenced in Hebrews comes from a deep and sound Biblical understanding derived from the study of the complete Word of God. We will never get a full understanding of the Scriptures by reading snippets of verses from the Bible or seeing the occasional memes posted on social media. Nor do we gain a full understanding of the Bible reading nothing but devotionals. While there is nothing wrong with these things in the periphery of our faith walk, we cannot use them as a substitute for reading and studying the word of God. Many of the best preachers and teachers will present Scripture using a method called “expository preaching,” where they will teach through an entire book of the Bible, from beginning to end. Then when complete, they will start another book and teach through that one from the beginning to the end. By this method, you learn not only what the Word is saying, but you will also gain knowledge of the history, context, and other related Scriptures that becomes the “meat” needed for your edification and growth. And we need to do this ourselves!

Unfortunately, many Christians remain stagnant in their growth because they don’t put forth the effort to read and study the Word. They might feel they receive sufficient “teaching” because they read a paragraph or two from a daily devotional that might contain a Scripture verse related to the commentary. While these are nice and quick encouragements, this should never be a substitute for daily reading the Word of God. It can become easy to dismiss a regular reading and study when the rush of life flares up and we have limited time outside of the hustle and bustle of our daily schedules. Often we find that we are either too limited with time or too tired from the exhaustive schedules to sit down with the Lord and His Word. When this occurs, it is quite easy to slip into the comforts of a quick devotional and count it as “good” with God. But, again, this is mere “milk” versus “meat”. 

Since there are so few Churches truly teaching depth from the Word of God each week, and add to the fact that many professing Christians don’t attend church either regularly or at all, there is a gaping void in people feasting on the riches of God’s Word with fervency. Without a good solid growth, many will easily fall prey to the enemy’s lure and lies. False teachers multiply casting their deceptions because the believers are not equipped enough to identify the devil’s falsehoods. The busy Christian feels comfortable with a casual and light atmosphere gathering, so as not to place too heavy a burden of theological teachings on their already chaotic life. By avoiding having to “think” too much on the teachings, they can relax and count the feel-good fluff as “enough” of God’s Word to suffice their intake. If the soul is not hungry for more, than it might be time to evaluate your standing with God!

We don’t need to become Bible scholars or theologians to study the breadth and depths of God’s Word. But the Bible does tell us to search the Scriptures diligently and that the Word of God is important in our lives as believers because “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12) Every aspect of our growth needs the deep study the Word of God because “all Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) God’s Word is the “lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119) so that we know where we are going and have the confidence to finish the race!  In fact, we are even commanded to meditate on it day and night! 

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; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success. Joshua 1:8

Remember that Jesus defeated the temptations of the devil in the wilderness because He was able to quote God’s truths from the Scriptures back at the enemies lies. If our Savior used Scripture to thwart the devil, what makes us so sure we can stand against temptations in this world without the full knowledge of God’s Word? This knowledge is so important in our daily walk to stand in the truth and avoid temptations from the enemy. If we take His Word casually, that very Word which God has given to us for our edification and sanctification, we can easily become deceived into thinking that we are walking faithfully, and yet we are going through life essentially unarmed. Without the deeper studies, beyond the bits and pieces we glean from “other” sources, we will never truly get the complete nourishment that our souls need to survive this fallen and dark world. Milk is never enough to fuel and strengthen us to withstand the storms in life and finish the race. We need to devour full meals, a complete course of meat from the entirety of Scripture, to grow and be equipped, as He wants us to be…mature and complete! 

Quick snacks may help tide temporal hunger pains, but our souls need complete sustenance. The full three course meal daily consists of the study of the entire Scripture, solid Biblical teaching, and fellowship of the Saints. Anything less is like going to bed hungry and can leave you weak and vulnerable to the ravages of sin. God has seen to it to provide all that we need from our beginning walk with Christ until the very end, but we need to know His Word which says “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:11) His Word is the “Sword of the Spirit” that helps us be able to stand against the evil one’s attacks and lies. God says in His Word that “in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.” So, let us know Him and His will for us completely through the diligent study of His Word, the Holy Bible, and become the mature and solid believers that God wants us become…equipped for every good work to the glory of His Name!    

Amen

What of “-ism’s” and “-ologies”?

Behold, how good and pleasant it is
when brothers dwell in unity!
It is like the precious oil on the head,
running down on the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,
running down on the collar of his robes!
It is like the dew of Hermon,
which falls on the mountains of Zion!
For there the LORD has commanded the blessing,
life forevermore. Psalm 133

There is a word that can bind people so close to one another, and yet can also divide people to the point of extreme hostility. That word is “theology”. But why? It simply defines as the study of the nature of God and religious belief. How could something so wonderful as to know the God of the universe be such a polarizing activity? There is also a related science, a systematically organized body of knowledge regarding theology that is called systematic theology, which aims to arrange religious truths into a self-consistent doctrine. In other words, keeping all the many aspects gleaned from the study of God and His word into a concise and organized manner. Yet, as with so many sciences, there are usually people who will argue against someone’s findings. I may, just as an example, find that the color green is the best color in the world and be able to make various valid arguments to support my declaration. Yet, along comes someone who has plenty of valid arguments that not only shows that green is NOT the best color, but in fact, that yellow is actually the best. Both sides may have valid and substantiated arguments that support their claim, both may include evidences and the science to show they are right, yet both conclusions may be almost opposite of each another. This same dilemma happens regarding the many facets of systematic theology.

I bring all this up because of recent observations where I have noticed a rising hostility among people who claim themselves to be followers of Christ Jesus. These are folks who study the Bible with a fervor and share their understandings of the text. They are usually encamped in one particular doctrinal ideology or another. Some of the titles they may identify under might be as adherents of Calvinism or Arminianism. Some might stand firm in their philosophy of conservative or liberal interpretation. Others might hold fast to a belief system that adheres to a particular church denomination. Then there are some people that float on the winds of whatever suits their needs from day to day, with no particular set system of belief. Regardless of where people plant their flag or what hill they will choose to stand and die on, Christianity has such a vast array of theological interpretations…and they often differ to the point of contention! 

To make matters worse is the level of indignation that people or groups have when they perceive an attack on their belief system. Not only does a particular group make declarations why they are right about their method and conclusion of study, but they are likely to lob grenades of counter-point at the other camps. Essentially a “war of words” about the Word! And this warfare has been going on since the early church. Nothing new under the sun!

The first hostility between two interpretations of religion actually goes all the way back to Genesis. In chapter 4 we read the account: 

And Abel was a keeper of flocks, but Cain was a tiller of the ground. So it came about in the course of time that Cain brought an offering to the Lord of the fruit of the ground. Abel, on his part also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and for his offering; but for Cain and for his offering He had no regard. So Cain became very angry and his countenance fell. Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will not your countenance be lifted up? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it.”

We can see that there were two differing approaches in which God was worshipped through their sacrifices. Abel’s heart was obviously in the right place compared to Cain. God knew their intentions and didn’t receive Cain’s offering, which in turn created the friction that essentially lead to Abel’s death and God’s punishment of Cain. All of this took place not too long after the fall in the Garden of Eden and the subsequent punishment that was meted out for their parent’s failing to “follow the rules”. God has clearly told His people the rules, or laws, since the beginning. Unfortunately, since humanity is not perfect, they had (and still have) a tendency to fail, or fall short, of God’s demands and end up punished. When you add in the variety of man-made interpretations of God’s words, you now have even more potential for traveling down a wrong path to destruction.

Christians will debate every field of Biblical study intensely, such as eschatology, the study of end times. One of the more heated fields of constant debate amongst Christians is regarding Soteriology, or the study of salvation, how we are saved by God. There are many ideologies, or camps, as it were, and it appears to be a progressive elaboration as time moved forward. Essentially what we have today was built upon the theologians who built upon previous theologians, and so on and so on, backward throughout history to the time of the early Church fathers and finally to the root, which is the Scriptures of the Apostles and Prophets. But as each time period progressed forward, it seems that the next generations would add and expound on the previous generation’s writings to address the disputes that were growing within their circles. Paramount in all this was the Reformation and the eruption of the many denominations. Each determined that their polity and theology was right and drew up confessions and other doctrines to explain and justify their views. There are countless resources available these days with the advent of the internet that can keep you in deep research of the historical paths and disputes for decades! I am not going down those rabbit holes!

The wars that rage these days are now being played out in the realm of social media. What were once disagreements that were shared either by letters or face to face in meeting places centuries ago have now engulfed the World Wide Web. Not only has the battlefield grown in size, but so have the number of soldiers. From the handful of early church fathers, who contended with a smaller myriad of scholars and theologians to the current army of active participants these days, the forces are filled with not only Biblically trained pastors, preachers, and teachers, but, by extension, the average believer who may or may not even sit in the pews of a church. We now have access to a plethora of books, videos, audios, and so much more that covers just about everything and anything related to our belief systems and it’s available at our fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Loaded with knowledge from all these sources, the theologians and pseudo-theologians arm ourselves with their beliefs, creeds, confessions, systems, denominations, and doctrines and go to battle just to argue with the world who is right and who is wrong!

My problem with all this is the carnage that is left in the wake of all these so-called experts in their battles. While the various church denominations continue progressing to soften, misinterpret, and/or even dismiss the Holy Bible as the inerrant Word of God altogether, there are sadly many confused people who are looking for God’s truth, and yet, are left struggling to define what is the right path in the midst of this utter chaos that they see in the world of Christianity today. Meanwhile, groups adherent to particular systems of theology grow increasingly harsh and mean-spirited over doctrinal matters, and the poor new believers become overwhelmed with the vast array of interpretations and ideologies available and are ultimately left throwing up their hands and walking away. As the vast sea of denominations continue to water down the Bible’s truth and cover-up the Gospel, the learned theologians and others from various academia are amping up their assaults on anyone who doesn’t fall in line with their conclusions.

People, we cannot be so arrogant as to say that we have definitively determined what God has done, or is currently doing, regarding all matters of His will in relation to our salvation and sanctification. There is a danger of reading into the Scriptures in the light of man’s ideologies. For example, we cannot take the soteriology of someone’s interpretation and apply it unilaterally across all peoples. Since the early church fathers, man has worked diligently to read and understand the Scriptures and apply and teach that which God has given to us through His prophets and Apostles. And the core of these understandings have come together by way of creeds (Latin credo, meaning “I believe”). From the Old Testament teachings, such as Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God, Yahweh is one”, all the way to the New Testament where the Apostle Paul speaks to the Church in Corinth and summarizes the Gospel saying “for I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve”, we learn that these Biblical creeds were rendered simplistically and give us as a summation of what we need to know from the Word of God.

But fast forward into the church growth with their various additions of schools of thought and you start to see not only the creeds grow in length (i.e. Apostles to Nicene to Athanasian), but subsequently from the Reformation onward that church bodies created confessions of faith as their core documents of how and what they believe the Scriptures to say. Add on top of these confessions a multitude of ideologies and doctrines from highly regarded theologians and you start to add namesakes to the theological differences. Thus, people started to identify with, not only their denominational affiliation, but also their form of theological tradition and Christian practice. The largest of the Protestant movements after the Reformation was Calvinism, Arminianism, and Lutheranism. Three distinct practices that rose in popularity and grew while sweeping across Europe, England, and eventually America. In this writing though, I am not going to discourse all the details of what each stands for because it is too involved. Just know this, that people have debated these doctrinal stances for centuries and I am not here to solve the differences. 

But why I do bring them up is because these ideologies are just part of the many sources of deep contention that is dividing the fellowship of the Bible believing saints. As I mentioned before, many that are seeking the truth about Christianity and God’s Word look out into the field and see a hostile war that has a “take no prisoners” mentality. They are afraid to enter into the arena of salvation because they will instantly be bombarded with a dozen methods of soteriology that will make their head spin when demanded to “choose” the method they think they were saved by. Next, they will get hit with all the other various “-ologies”, such as ecclesiology, eschatology, hamartiology, pneumatology, and many more systematic doctrinal views, that they will need to learn all about, and then join a side. Once done, they will be enlisted to attend a particular “camp” that agrees with their systematic stance. If they disagree on any one point, they will be ostracized from the believers and cast away. But if they meet the criteria, they will then need to sign onto the applicable confession of faith (be it Augsburg, Belgic, 39 Articles, Canons, Westminster, London Baptist, Heidelberg, etc…) and not deviate! Once aligned properly under all the correct titles and headings, given that their agreements are in line with the right namesake “-ism” of belief, they will then be fitted for battle and expected to take all the counter-claims against everything they now profess to believe. 

I know that this sounds overly exaggerated and quite harsh, but this is happening in the arena of Christianity today! People are not allowed to just read the Bible and let the Holy Spirit illuminate the Word into their lives! I’ve personally been hit with so many doctrines from every direction that it has caused me to question everything! But what I question most is this: If I am faithfully on my knees, confessing Christ Jesus as Lord, thanking God for His grace and mercy upon this poor sinner, and prayerfully reading all of God’s Word as my only source of life because of Christ’s atonement on the cross for me so that I can glorify Yahweh God and worship Him forever, then what am I doing that is so wrong in light of man’s doctrines? I’ll tell you what…nothing. Because what I read and see in that Holy Bible is exactly what God is speaking to me about…Him and His Word given to me. I don’t need any commentaries, doctrines, viewpoints, interpretations, or much more other than what the Holy Spirit will give to me by faith. I don’t need to know exactly how God works in the area of my salvation or how the end times will specifically be played out. These man made doctrinal “-ism’s” have no bearing on my salvation, my sanctification, and my walk daily with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Nothing that man has deemed doctrinal usurps God’s Word or plans. Nothing that man defines changes God’s works. Nothing man holds as right will override the Righteousness of God. God meets us where we are, gives us what we need, and we stand firm on His truth by His Word…alone. 

Amen

Amazing!

I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.

The line from the beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace”, is a beautiful testimony of the redeeming and saving grace and work of God toward us sinners through His Son Jesus! But before we are touched by the Spirit of God to come out from among the tombs, we all lived our lives amongst the world’s fallen. When looking at all that are wandering through this world, you would not be able to distinguish any differences between the lost as they daily imbibe on the lusts of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Everything mentioned in verses 19-21 of Galatians 5 are likened to trophies that are purposed to win…personal goals that are daily chased after…always fueling the drive to accomplish as many of them in the most extreme fashions before life’s end.

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. — Galatians 5:19-21

As we wandered this world looking to find purpose and definition for our existence, the flesh was our monster. It wanted to be fed by all the delights that this world had to offer and we complied to full degree, always hoping to gain satisfaction and accomplishment. Yet, what we often discovered was that the offerings were merely samples, always leaving the flesh in want of more. There was never a fulfillment of happiness or completion. What was taken as the fuel of gratification always left us with an insatiable appetite for more. The true and satisfying fruit we needed, the inward peace and happiness we all craved, was actually down another road, one that we were not taking through life. God had offered us the fruit of the Spirit through His Son, we just needed to give up our ways for His ways.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. — Galatians 5:22-24

Our issue is that we were deaf and blind to what God offered us. We didn’t see what truly is the satisfying fruit. We didn’t hear the words calling us to the right path in life. “The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4) We chased after our own desires for a time and a season until, by sweet mercy, the Spirit healed us by His amazing grace. 

Although the Lord has given you bread of privation and water of oppression, He, your Teacher will no longer hide Himself, but your eyes will behold your Teacher. Your ears will hear a word behind you, “This is the way, walk in it,” whenever you turn to the right or to the left. — Isaiah 30:20-21

In the Gospel of Mark, there is recorded a couple of special occasions when Jesus shows miracle healings on two different men, each afflicted with issues that prevented them from a normal life. One man in chapter 7:31-37 was deaf and had a speech impediment. The other man in chapter 8:22-26 was blind. In most of the miracle healings, Jesus would display the evidential proof that He was truly of God in front of the masses. Often He would simply use His voice to command the impairment to be gone and the person would be healed instantaneously (both physically and spiritually). But in the case of these two men, Jesus, in His love and compassion, took the objects of His pity away from the crowds and intimately gave them restoration. 

In the case of chapter 7, the man’s friends brought him to Jesus and implored (begged) Him heal with a touch. In a unique fashion, Jesus took the man away from the crowds to heal him. As the Messiah put His fingers in the man’s ears and then spit and touched the man’s tongue with the saliva, Jesus, Himself, had an emotional moment. He looked up to heaven and sighed. His sigh was the result of anguish and sympathy over humanity. All of these ailments are the lamentable fallout from sin entering the world, as recorded in Genesis 3. Yet Jesus also showed that He has the power to repair that fallout damage. Not only through the creation of food and the physical healings he performed during His ministry, but also through the resurrection power to raise the dead back to life as well! His command for the ears to be opened and the impediment of the man’s tongue to be removed is just a sample that shows us His victory over sin’s grasp in the world! Even when we are unable to cry out in our dire state, God makes a way. He hears our pleas and rescues us. Even when we cannot hear His Word, He speaks to our souls and comforts our yearnings and pains. He gives us hope and restoration by His healing touch, knowing our afflictions. So many of us have the ability to hear the Word of God, yet either forsake the opportunity or perhaps hear the Word and quickly dismiss it. Regardless of our situation, God is granting us such an amazing blessing to receive His truth and we should embrace that with eagerness and thankfulness!

In chapter 8 of Mark, after feeding 4000 people with seven loaves of bread and then having an encounter with some Pharisees, Jesus had to take a moment to rebuke the Apostles who were murmuring amongst themselves because their main concern was that they forgot to take the leftover bread with them. And Jesus, aware of this, said to them, “Why do you discuss the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet see or understand? Do you have a hardened heart? Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? (verses17-18). The disciples had seen many miracles and heard Jesus’ teachings, and yet act like they are deaf and blind and almost immediately forget who they are with and the power He has shown. We, also, have that very problem of forgetting so quickly, specially in light of the amazing things we have seen in our own lives that God providentially has done for our sakes. Oh, if we would only reflect daily on these things!

Continuing in the chapter, we see Jesus arrive at the village of Bethsiada. Once again, friends brought out their companion to Jesus and implored (begged) Him to heal him with a touch. This man, being blind, was taken away by Jesus. But this time not just away from crowds, but away from the village itself to the open country. Jesus spit in the man’s eyes and laid hands on him. When asked if he saw anything, his reply is not what we would expect. He could see, but not clearly at first. He said he saw men that looked like trees walking around. Verse 25 says then again He (Jesus) laid His hands on his eyes; and he looked intently and was restored, and began to see everything clearly. Jesus did not fail healing the man the first time. He first cleared up the man’s spiritual blindness by removing him from the town to lay hands on him. By this, He dispersed the remaining darkness of his weak faith. Jesus then laid hands on the man’s eyes to restore his physical clarity. The priority is to get away from sin, clear up the spiritual vision so that we can see God’s truths with an unabated heart and mind. Living in sin (sin lifestyle) and yet asking to be cleansed and healed is the same as wondering why you don’t have clean clothes when you keep washing them in a mud puddle. You must first “come out from among them”, leave the lifestyle of the world’s sin nature, and then be restored. Jesus afterward told the man not to return to the village (verse 26), essentially saying not to return to the sinful life.

It is important to note that Jesus displayed His teachings and healings in a variety of ways because He wanted people to see that He is not confined to doing things in a rote manner. We must understand that there is nothing regimented or routine, by our standards, when it comes to God. We also need to remember that no matter what we think, say, or do, God’s providence gains the same end always…even if in ways that are contrary to our methods. Every day is new and different. We may feel like life is about doing things repetitiously, but when it comes to spiritual matters we must not lock ourselves into repetitive sayings or motions. God wants us to share and express our devotion, worship, and love to Him from the heart, not just saying or doing the same ritual all the time. If we get fixated with a ritualistic life and thinking that we are pleasing God, consequently the ritual becomes our idol and we forget who we are supposed to be focused on. When we take our eyes off of the prize, we easily lose focus and resume to live life our way. We tend to put God on a back burner, so to speak, and end up back in the darkness of our selfish desires, worshipping the created over the Creator. Jesus said in Luke 9:62 that “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” We must remember that our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. We can only accomplish this because of the miracle healing from Jesus and His resurrection power over death (our former life) unto us! 

Another important aspect to remember is that as Jesus displays His power and authority over all creation, He did not seek His own glory, but rather to turn men to repentance and to glorify God the Father. After Jesus healed the man in Mark chapter 7, He told him not to tell anyone. Jesus set us an example of self-denial. He did not boast or brag of His power, but solely put men’s focus to the One above, through whom all blessings are bestowed. Jesus, being the true mediator, would look heavenward to His Father for all things and showed His dependence on the Father. Though all creation was created by Him, and through Him, and for Him (given into His hands), He would praise and glorify His Father and, in submission, seek God’s will, not His own will. We get a proper perspective of our lives when we acknowledge and strive to bring glory to God first and foremost in all that we say and do. We live to do the will of God in our day to day lives, no matter how menial the task may seem. We also see that self-glory is taking away our focus from God and puffing ourselves up. We are to deny ourselves, take up our cross (crucify our old flesh) and follow Jesus and His example! 

Whether a miracle healing such as the two men above or something as simple as a safe drive to work, God shows His power through Jesus the Messiah upon the world in many different ways. We are all spiritually blind at first, lacking an understanding of the knowledge of God that is displayed in His Word, the Bible. But, like the light of the morning, it shines more and more to the perfect day, and then we see all things clearly (Proverbs 4:18). Jesus meets us where we are and uniquely addresses each of us, no matter what our background or ailment may be. He can have our sight and hearing restored so as to see the glory of God and be able to hear His Words! We may have in our past echoed the sentiment of the prophet, who felt unworthy, and declared “woe is me, for I am ruined! Because I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips,” but we know that He reaches through the darkest places to bring His people out and cleanse them from the sinful lifestyle we’ve been living. There is no sinner too far gone that He cannot heal from the damages of sin.

How and why He does all these things is what is called amazing grace! None of us deserve His mercy, but God is that loving…to pull us out from the chaos of the world we were walking in, show us the right path, heal us of our infirmities, and restore us to a right living! Only Jesus has the power to wash away our sins by His blood shed and His resurrection! Without Him we have no hope. With Him, we see His light shining through the darkness and hear the words of His salvation and experience His Amazing Grace! 

Amen

The Word Is The Word

One idle day I realized that I had never looked up the word “word” before. The dictionary defines the word “word” as a sound or combination of sounds, or its representation in writing or printing, that symbolizes and communicates a meaning and may consist of a single morpheme or of a combination of morphemes. Of course, then I had to look up “morpheme”, only to discover that it is a linguistic unit that cannot be divided into smaller meaningful parts. So, in my simplistic thinking, a word is a combination of letters! Learn something new every day! 

The Bible is replete with words. God gave us the ability to communicate with each other through various means such as the written word and speech. Having a common understanding is important for a variety of reasons as we communicate to each other our needs, desires, wants, and plans. Yet, since there is a variety of people on this planet, (and after the incident at the tower of Babel; see Genesis 11:1-9) it is only obvious that there are many differing versions of language, where one may not translate simply to another…as from one people group to another. For example; when an English speaking person lands in a different country where English is not spoken, you now have a potential barrier in communication because the sounds and writings of a particular thought might differ from one another. Thankfully, there are people who have the talent and skill to learn many different languages and thus have the ability to interpret from one language to another. Such is the way God has communicated His Word to all  people throughout the generations. 

Commonly known is that the Bible was written primarily in the Hebrew language (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament). Both languages have survived through the centuries and scholars have excelled in capability to translate from the original languages into other languages. Thus, what was a particular writing in one language can now be enjoyed into the reader’s own language. The only thing that is not (often) captured by written word is the nuances of thought. There is also cultural and contextual considerations to apply that may affect the intended meaning of a phrase or word. What might have been a common understanding in 800BC might not equate clearly to modern-day America. Even from English translations of the Bible in 1560 (Geneva Bible) and later in 1611 (King James Version), words used in those translations might not come across so clearly into our modern vernacular today. Examples might be the usage of “thee” and “thou” meaning “you”. Or adding “st” at the end of some commonly used words such as “would” or “could” may cause someone a confused look. Regardless of Old English or modern English, we who speak English can still enjoy the truth of God’s Word in our native language.

Without getting too linguistically technical or theological in purpose, my main intent of this writing is to examine a few words that are somewhat unique to the Bible…as in, they are not commonly used in the average English conversation or writing…and, yet are very important to have a good grasp of their meaning. For this task, I will use some words found in Psalm 51. This is a well known Psalm containing David’s repentance prayer. I want to only look at the few particular words that are found in verses 1 and 2. As I’ve mentioned, this is not intended to be a deep, theological study, but to highlight some words that I’ve found people, (myself included), tend to skim over and only having a basic understanding of the word, yet possibly could be missing the importance of their meaning and application to our walk with God. I will only compare the words using the four most common English translations that are used by most serious students of the Bible. They are KJV (King James Version), NASB (New American Standard Bible), ESV (English Standard Version), and NIV (New International Version). I will display the KJV version of the verses, and in parentheses have other translations (if different from KJV) of the particular word (in italics).

  1. Have mercy (Be gracious – NASB) upon me, O God, according to thy lovingkindness(steadfast love – ESV; unfailing love – NIV) according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies (compassion – NIV and NASB) blot out my transgressions
  2. Wash me throughly from mine iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

To begin with, we must first acknowledge that mercy and grace are two of the most important words within all of Scripture and should instantly give the believer cause for celebration and relief! Mercy and grace are blessed attributes that are shown by God toward us because of His compassion and love for us. For God to show us any favor when we are truly unworthy is nothing less than a pure and merciful love! The great Puritan, Richard Baxter wrote “Delight yourselves in the particular discoveries of (God’s) common mercies to the world, and His special mercies to His saints, and His personal mercies to yourselves from your birth to this moment—both upon our souls and bodies and friends and name and estates and affairs in all relations.” (Baxteriana, 155)

Through these two special attributes, God’s compassion delivers us from the punishment we deserve, and even so much more as to extend His grace (unmerited favor) through the gift of salvation; His Son Jesus! The great English minister Matthew Mead wrote “It is beyond the power of the greatest gifts to change the heart; a man may preach like an apostle, pray like an angel, and yet may have the heart of a devil. It is grace only that can change the heart. The greatest gifts cannot change it, but the least grace can. Gifts may make a man a scholar, but grace makes a man a believer.” (Almost Christian Discovered, 31-31) It would be beneficial for all Christians to do an in-depth word study of grace and mercy in relation to the Bible because it characterizes two of the glorious attributes of God that define His love toward us, and for us! We ask God for His mercy and grace upon us because without them, we have no hope for a future glory with Him.

The word lovingkindness is not a commonly used word in today’s English vernacular. Both the KJV and NASB use it, whereas the ESV translates the Hebrew as “steadfast love”, and the NIV translating it into “unfailing love”. I personally like the word “steadfast” because it defines beautifully as “resolutely or dutifully firm and unwavering.” That is an incredible love! We see often times throughout the Bible that the word lovingkindness is used to indicate a special generous heart or favor toward someone. It is used to represent God’s unwavering affection and kindness toward His people because of His love. The Hebrew word is sometimes translated into “faithfulness” or “unchanging love”. It is a type of passion and commitment that transcends the normal expression of loving someone. It is His manifestation of personal love that is immovable and forever. It is synonymous with the words mercy, kindness, and goodness. We know that His mercy and grace come to us because of His special affection, His lovingkindness that never fails or waivers toward His creation; His people.

The third word in verse one is shown in the KJV again as “mercies”. Other translations use the word “compassion”. The Hebrew word is used throughout the Old Testament and is often interchangeably translated into English between mercy and compassion. What this expresses is that God’s tender compassion toward us sinners is a gift beyond what we realize. God truly does understand all things, and thus, understands our fallen condition. He has a special empathy with His creation and tenderly desires to show us His mercies. This is nothing that we can obtain from Him through our own merits. As it stands, God’s mercy is shown in part by His withholding the wrath that we deserve because of our sinful nature. But, He also loves us with a forgiving compassion…much like the love a mother may have for a wayward child. Without this attribute of God, we stand to lose His peace eternally. 

The next words in verse one and two will transition the focus of thought from God’s attributes of mercy, grace, and lovingkindness to our own natural attributes that we possess since the fall in the Garden of Eden. The fact that the words mercy, grace, and lovingkindness precede the words transgression, iniquity, and sin should be of importance to us. David is acknowledging these wonderful characteristics of the LORD first and foremost as being key to our being cleansed of our unrighteousness and sin against a Holy God. Transgression is an act of rebellion against God. We are filled with guilt because of our depravity, our condition of iniquity. Our condition, as such, is because of our propensity to sin. Sin is the nature within us to which we are conceived and born into this life here. “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment. Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” (Psalm 51:3-5 ESV). We are not sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners. 

David has his confession of sins and the asking for forgiveness in the correct order because he first acknowledges God, who is Holy. God has displayed His righteousness through the law so that we are without excuse in knowing our transgressions against Him. It is our sins that separate us from the peace of God. David later admits (verse 4) that all guilt of iniquity is primarily against God’s holiness. When we become convicted of our sin, we must make peace with God by confessing our sin and repenting (turning away) from this activity. Then God can cleanse (wash) us by His mercy and grace and restore to us the joy of His salvation and renew a right spirit within us. All this is only by the greatness of God’s compassion! Thomas Watson, another great Puritan writer, said “many love their deliverance, but not their deliverer; God is to be loved more than His mercies.” (Godly Man’s Picture, 119) We first acknowledge and glorify God, then we acknowledge our standing before Him!

We see a similar formatting when it comes to the Lord’s prayer found in Matthew and Luke. Before anything is asked for, before anything is confessed, we first acknowledge, praise, and glorify our Father in Heaven. When we have a firm grasp of God’s position because of His holiness and righteousness compared to our position in creation, we develop a better reverence and awe of the magnificence of our Creator! Our perspective of God should bring us to our knees in worship and praise…not just for the things He can do, but the things He has already shown us, given us, and done for us! Without His mercy and grace toward us, without His Spirit to save us and draw us to His salvation through Christ, we are lost forever without hope and peace. And this is a truth we need to remember as we approach His throne of grace. Before we open our mouths flippantly, asking and begging for things, we should first acknowledge His amazing sovereign love and compassion toward us sinners! Before we hand over a laundry list of wants and desires, we should get ourselves right with God by confessing our sins and repenting of our transgressions against His laws. By His will we exist. By His will we are saved. By His will we can be renewed in His presence and restored to right standing! We love because He first loved us! So let us love His Word!

Amen

Is It Wrong To Be Wronged?

“I have been wronged!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Past, Present, Future

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

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

Very depressing, indeed! 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen!

To Contend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.