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

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

When Obvious Isn’t Obvious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

Pray More, Worry Less

We measure the passing of life using various instruments such as clocks and calendars that are based on the rotations of our planet earth while on its’ travels around the sun. When we approach the end of the calendar year cycle on December 31st, humanity celebrates the closing of the past and the beginning of a new future. We look to the new year as a time for refreshing, renewal, and even rebirth. Resolutions are made to place goals in front of us, intent on keeping us motivated to accomplish bigger and better things in the year to come. For many Bible-believers, the three best resolutions (in my humble opinion) are to pray more, read the Bible more, and trust God more. I’d like to believe that these three should normally be an everyday passion and desire in our lives and that we shouldn’t need to have specific time and date marks to set these as goals. But for me, that can sometimes be a struggle.

I have written and spoke in the past about the importance of reading, studying, knowing, and living the Bible in our daily walk through this fallen world, and as such, I will not repeat here what I feel is an obvious and purposeful act every person calling themselves a Christian should be doing wholeheartedly. Likewise, as God has pressed on my heart and soul immensely these last handful of years about learning to trust Him more and more, this too should be our daily duty…to be keenly focused on Him as we face the daily challenges that can create turmoil in the heart of a believer. After all, since God is, so should we trust and obey! But what about praying more?

Recently, I’ve been introduced to a catch-phrase that got me reflecting on a weak area of my life, one that I believe God has been telling me I need to pay heed too because of the importance of it in our lives; Praying! And the phrase that has been popping up simply says “pray more, worry less.” Pray more, worry less! Such a great reminder to us all! And something that I need to be preaching to myself about daily!

You see, I am habitually out of the habit of praying regularly. Sure there’s the routine of praying before dinner or saying a little night time prayer before bed, but is there regular prayer in my every day walk? Sadly, no.

Prayer is more than just a conversation with God. Prayer is more than reciting some rote words of petition. Prayer is our spiritual link between the Sovereign God and ourselves! Just as devices need to be plugged in to an outlet for power to operate, so are we needing to be plugged into God through prayer for power to operate. So the questions arise…why do we not pray as we should? Is prayer so difficult a task?

A prayer can be as simple as a quick plea to God for help or strength to face a battle, or it can be as long and intense as a deep and emotional cry for salvation. Prayer can be a little “thank you” to God for His providence, or can be a long conversation to discuss the worldly matters all around us. Prayer is not restricted within a box. There are no set parameters that must be met in order for God to hear our prayers. We see throughout the Bible a myriad of prayers uttered under a wide variety of circumstances. From kings to commoners, anyone who knows the God of the Bible can, and should, call on the name of the Lord!

Before getting into the Scriptures regarding prayer, there is one other facet of the phrase above I want to point out: worry less. The implication of the phrase is that if we pray more, we worry less. And I think that we could easily accept that at face value. The more we trust and rest in the arms of God, the less the world’s weight rests on us! Simple! Of course there is more to it, but it’s important at the beginning to understand that the two parts do have a cause-and-effect relationship. As we look at the importance of prayer, we can keep in mind what the effects of prayer has on our lives.

I first think of the Apostle Peter in Matthew 14 who exited a boat at the behest of Jesus and started walking on the water to Him. He was doing what is normally considered impossible, all because he kept his eyes on Jesus. But when Peter took his eyes off of Christ and started looking at the waves around him, he began to sink. Why? He lost his focus and connection with God who has the power over all things. He unplugged from the Creator and started dealing with the created on his own. We, too, have these very same issues today. We know that God is with us, but we need to cling to Him, always staying connected to Him, and hold on to His hand through all of life’s ups and downs.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

We know from Scripture that God is with us! When sheep follow the shepherd, they keep their eyes on him at all times. When sheep lose sight of their leader, they tend to stray. We can walk through the fields of this world with little worries by keeping our eyes firmly fixed on our Savior, who alone is our proper guide and guardian. By staying in constant touch with Him we always have His direction, comfort, and assurance that we are in His fold as we should be. It’s when we stop talking with Him, stop listening to Him, that we find our souls in distress during life’s storms because our eyes are not where they should be…on our good shepherd, Jesus, who laid down His life for His own!

As mentioned before, the Bible is replete with prayers from every walk of life…all directed to the one true God. We also have the most perfect of prayer that is illustrated by the Son of God Himself, Jesus, revealed in both Matthew and Luke. The key elements we must note in the the Lord’s Prayer is that the first petitions are addressed and acknowledging God. This is important because so many people will start talking to God by asking (or demanding) that God do something for them. Obviously by doing this their focus is on themselves first and foremost. And we know from the Bible that selfishness goes against the very relationship between God and man. When we address God, we need to be mindful that our position is one of subjection to a Righteous God. He is the creator, we are the created. “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’? (Isaiah 45:9) Even Jesus was compliant with God’s plans when he stated while praying in the garden “yet not My will, but Yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, prayed often to His Father. Why would Jesus, who is fully God, yet fully man, have to pray to God? Because of the importance to purposefully talk with, and listen to, God. Jesus was not only having important conversations with His Father, but He was also showing us how it should be done. If you note Jesus’ most intimate times in prayer with the Father, you will see that He went off to be alone. Christ walked away from the distractions of life to spend quality time with God. This is an important aspect we need to emulate when we have time with our Heavenly Father. In Matthew 6, right before our Savior taught the Lord’s Prayer, he gave instructions about our time with God. He said “When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. “And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him. (Matthew 6:5-8)

Spending our time focused in prayer with God is time worth spending to 1) acknowledge the God of the universe and how important He is in our life; 2) worship and praise Him for the merciful grace and blessings He has given us; 3) stand before Him in confession of our sins and to seek His forgiveness and cleansing; and 4) ask Him for the things we need, by His grace. Even though He knows what we need before we ask, we can be sure that God does hear us. He loves and cares for us and wants us to prosper and grow. He will not only supply the things we need, but will also give us the comfort and peace we need as well. Jesus said “are not five sparrows sold for two cents? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows. (Luke 12:6-7)

We face many trials and tribulations, tests and turmoils in this journey through life here and we need God’s Spirit and His Word to bring us through. Even in times of prosperity and joy, we want to take time to thank and praise Him who gives abundantly all things as well! We can talk to Him any time, anywhere, under any condition, but it is very important to spend quality alone time before our Lord often! Always remember that the most important way we have been given to communicate our worship, as well as our worries, is in prayer. Paul exhorts us to “pray without ceasing.” (1 Thessalonians 5:17) We shouldalso remember what the very last verse of the Psalm 150 says to us; to let everything that has breath praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:6).

Let us rejoice that we can come before His throne of grace to worship and praise Him. That we can always cast our worries and woes before Him. That we can take comfort in knowing that Jesus is ever making intercession for us, even when we don’t know how to pray or what to pray about. That God hears us always and wants us to come to Him in all things at all times. That we just need to pray more and worry less!

Amen

A True Christmas Carol

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen

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

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

Covenant Broken

We are a people obsessed with diets. There is an ever-chasing drive for lite versions of every type of this or that. We hope that the after-affect of consuming lite things will keep us slim and trim, healthier and happier. We tend to think that we can have all the pleasures but with half the guilt. Lite.

Sadly, this same mentality exists in the realm of Christianity today. Churches have shed off a multitude of portions of the sustaining, healthy, solid Biblical food over the centuries. Christianity lite has become the primary source of their religion today. It now contains half the calories of truth, half of the meat of the Gospel, barely any portions of accountability, and almost no salt content to the world. The good rib-sticking meat has been replaced with sweetenings of sugar and fluff. Empty calories that produce empty lives. And when the truth of the Bible is actually being proclaimed, the world denounces it as unnecessary excess because the world only wants to accept the diet version of Christianity. The “no guilt” version!

A watered-down Gospel will certainly never quench a hungry soul. Without the whole portion being consumed, you always walk away unfulfilled, like tasting off of a sampler platter…small morsels that don’t give you the sustenance needed daily to survive. Many know the feeling of hunger pains when being on a diet. Your body reacts in rebellion to having less than what it wants. There’s no doubt that denying our bodies harmful or unhealthy things is good for getting to a healthier condition. And, likewise, we do need to take in the good things for our growth, healing, and general overall health. We still need proper nourishment! So, consuming good things and avoiding bad things…it’s all very simple! 

So why does the modern Christian cut out so much of the Biblical truth? Why do we deny ourselves the good truths that our soul needs? Because man has a problem with being held accountable. Because conviction of sin, which are the violations we commit against God’s law, is a guilt that he doesn’t want to face. Because mankind has a problem with keeping his end of a covenant and thinks that he can hide from the repercussions. You see, God has made covenants with man and man keeps breaking them. God says “I will (fill in the blank), and you will (fill in the blank).”  Man eagerly agrees because he sees the good that he will get, but after getting his “wants” filled, he will usually (within a short period of time) end up failing his end of the covenant with God. So God’s Word continually stands as a reminder of man’s guilt and man doesn’t want to hear it!

I’ve had times over the years when I’ve broken a rule or agreement and had felt the guilt wash over me because of my failings. My mind panics as I run scenarios of how I can either cover up the offense or perhaps find a way out or, just avoid it all together. I want to avoid facing the backlash and suffering the penalties of the breech. But we all know that at some point we have to face the consequences of our infractions. Just like in the television cop shows, we all need to just “‘fess up” to our crime and face the music! God wants us to do the same.

A covenant is simply an agreement between two or more parties. Unlike a contract agreement though, covenants are usually established for the benefit of the “other party”, whereas contracts are ultimately set up for a personal gain. In many cases the covenant is upheld under a set jurisprudence. In the Bible, God establishes His covenants to help further His plans and benefit those who He enters into covenant with. There are a number of covenants referenced with God. Covenants were made with Noah, Abraham, Moses, the priests of the Temple, King David and his lineage (which flows to the Messiah and essentially led into the New Covenant instituted by Jesus at the Last Supper). The most important element with all of these covenants has been that God has fulfilled his promises completely! 

Marriages are often entered into as a form of agreement between two people. The difference between a contract marriage and a covenant marriage can have very diverse results between success and failure. Unfortunately in today’s society, marriage is usually entered into solely as contractual. If party A doesn’t fulfill party B’s criteria, then party B can negate the agreement for breach of contract, thus leading to divorce. Sadly, it may have started with a covenant intent to “love you forever”, but when needs and expectations are not being met, it seems to revert to contract only. Marriages entered into a contractual union are almost always motivated by the desire to get something in return. When a marriage is entered into as a covenant union, both parties are driven by a deep desire to benefit the other person they are marrying. The marriage vows are often characterized by unconditional promises that have love as their foundation. 

When governments have their fingers into the marriage institution, it can sometimes create an atmosphere of contractual thinking. But when a marriage union is entered into before God and His Word…you have a covenant union that grows and holds together, as intended by God, and “till death do us part” is seen through to the end. 

If covenants are driven to benefit the other, why do we fail on our part to fulfill our commitment to God in His covenants with us? Since we have obligations to God, why does the majority of self-proclaimed “believers” regard Him with a discontented faith or feigned worship? The truth is because man has a sin nature and is naturally driven by selfishness. He often views the covenant as a contract-type of agreement that demands God to give unconditionally and if we don’t get what we think we want, we can just walk away. We tend to look at God and think “what do I get out of this” without a thought of “what can I give to God”? We treat the promises of God as nothing more than a one-sided “get out of hell” pass, yet think we can just continue to live life our own way and by our own standards. Despite our irreverence though, God is still faithful with His benefits upon us. ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.’ Matthew 5:45. As our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, it is by God that we are even given the opportunity to lift our holy praises to Him in the first place! He has provided the very conditions we need in order to glorify Him! And yet we don’t.

Through Noah, he gave His creation a new start after the fall to praise Him. Through the covenant with Abraham he unfurled His plan of a great nation that would mediate the blessings of the true God to all people on the earth. Through Moses, God showed us His high and holy requirements by revealing the very law that would show us how we have all fallen short of His glory, yet would also point us to our need for a Savior. Through David, God shows us the promise of a royal lineage that would come from his offspring; fulfilling His plans that were revealed by the prophetic messages to all the people, and give us the Messiah!

Which leads us to the New Covenant. In Matthew chapter 26, we read of the institution of the Lord’s Supper, one of the blessed sacraments commanded by our Lord Jesus. In representation of what was to come, Jesus broke bread and said that this is His body broken for us. He next took a cup and gave it to them, saying, “drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the (new) covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” The new covenant is the bridging between man and God by the death and resurrection of our Savior. God gave us the final answer to what man needed to restore a right relationship to Himself; His Son Jesus, as the perfect sacrifice offered for the sins of the world! All we have to do is receive the free gift, believe in Jesus as Savior and Lord, and follow Him! God gave fully through the covenant for the benefit of man! Yet man has requirements to complete as well.

But as we look around the world, we can easily see that we are far short from following God through Jesus Christ. Romans 8:7-8 explains our problem: For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. We are surrounded on all sides by the works of the flesh. Even our very nature is always working against us when we try to walk in the Holiness that God demands. As mentioned before, part of our sin nature is pride, a selfishness that we all have within us. It took root in the Garden of Eden and has since spread throughout mankind to our very generation. Not only do we have this innate problem that goes against the very character and commandments of God, but people actually celebrate and strive for more ways to flaunt it today. 

Humanity’s arrogance in light of the knowledge of God (see Romans chapter 1) speaks volumes. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Verses 21-23) Clearly this is shown throughout the world. Even within the very walls of religious institutions claiming to worship the God of the Bible, we see irreverence and indignation toward following His Word. But why?

We see throughout the Bible that people who were chosen by God had a habit of turning a deaf ear. After all the miracles and signs given, after all the saving grace that is poured out, after all the mercy God has clearly shown, the people still did not follow and worship God. God exclaimed in Psalm 81:11, ”But my people did not listen to my voice”. Why? Because they “would not submit to me”. We resist God and His decrees and follow after our own selfish desires. Christ said in Matthew 15:8-9 that “‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” (Citing from Isaiah 29:13 and Ezekiel 33:31). We have the very Words of God, yet we still chose to ignore them and do our own thing. We are to submit to God, yet we treat Him as a footnote in our lives. 

Our egos, our selfish pride, take on an almost viral infection within us as we plot and plan how we think everything should work and operate in our lives. We believe that we are in control and therefore we think we don’t need God. We will ignore God, but then entreat Him as a cosmic vending machine by saying little prayers on occasion to ask for special blessings or healings when we feel short changed by life. We give a complimentary ‘high five’ to the ‘big man upstairs’ when something seems to go in our direction, but quickly resort back to our inward focus. We enter into a facade of piety by attending “church” for the sake of showing others that we stand on a higher moral ground in our daily lives, yet don’t even know who it is we are supposed to be worshipping. This all may sound harsh, but our irreverent approach to God is actually an insult to the One who created the heavens and the earth! We need to understand who we are in comparison to the glory and righteousness of God!

The very God who breathed into existence everything is the very God who reached down from heaven and became mortal man for the sake of saving those whom He calls. That covenant was given to us for our benefit because our sin nullifies us to remedy our separation from God.  And, as I mentioned before, covenants work two ways between the parties involved, and we have an obligation on our part. We are to give to God our devoted worship and praise. We don’t get into heaven by being good, moral people. We don’t get into heaven by attending a church or paying tithes. We don’t get into heaven by mouthing a little prayer. We get into heaven by repenting of our sins, submitting to the lordship of God’s Son, Jesus Christ, and walking in His ways. And we get help with all of that through the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God, the Bible. 

A marriage is solely sustained through the giving by both parties to each other. We freely receive from people, but do we freely give? I like how Easton’s Bible Dictionary explains that the “marriage relation is used to represent the union between God and his people (Isa. 54:5; Jer. 3:1-14; Hos. 2:9, 20). In the New Testament the same figure is employed in representing the love of Christ to his saints (Eph. 5:25-27). The Church of the redeemed is the “Bride, the Lamb’s wife” (Rev. 19:7-9).”  But the failing of most covenants occurs when one party doesn’t honor their part. As husbands and wives are to submit to one another for the marriage to succeed, we also have to submit to Jesus as well in order to be received in His covenant with us. We already know that God has given everything when He sacrificed His Son for our sins. He provided the payment that we should have paid as a penalty because of our breaking His laws. But since we were not able to meet that high price, God gave us another way. And so now our part is to worship and serve God and enjoy Him forever!

We know that we are called into a covenant relationship with God through His Son Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. We know that within this covenant, that God has given abundantly to us, that we are also called to give to Him. Psalm 116 says What shall I render to the LORD for all his benefits to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD, I will pay my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people. We know that we are called to this union to be devoted and committed to God, not to the wicked ways of this world. Though we are in the world, we are not to walk like the world. 

2 Corinthians 6 says: 

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
and I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
Therefore go out from their midst,
and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
then I will welcome you,
and I will be a father to you,
and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

The world is constantly being told by the influencers of this present darkness that we are our own gods. That we can do anything that we want to do. That we shouldn’t be chained to any one ideology and must accept everyone’s views. That we can rise above humanities restrictions. That all modern religions should state that there are many ways to heaven and we are to accept every one, no matter what. That there are no absolutes and that truth is subjective to each individual. 

And yet, God’s Word tells us that there is only one true God, YHWH, and He alone is to be worshipped. That we are to follow His commandments and walk in His ways, not the ways of the pagans. That there are no other gods beside Him. The Bible says that there is only one way to God, through His Son Jesus, who says “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” That the only way to heaven is to enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. God is absolute. Jesus is the truth! 

When the Holy Spirit quickens us out of our slumber, shines light within the dark recesses of our fallen souls, we begin to see clearly that there are two paths in this life. Despite the constant barrage of the world’s endless push to worship the flesh, God is calling us to worship in spirit the truth of Jesus Christ. Despite the deconstruction of the Word of God by pagan temples that call themselves Christian churches today, we are to feed our souls continually with His complete Word, the Scriptures. God’s Word casts light in the darkness and shows truth when others twist or water it down. Hebrews 4:12-13 says “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” We must arm ourselves with the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, to slay the evil that permeates this world and disguises itself as being a god. We are called to commitment, not compromise! There is no middle ground in our covenant with God. Jesus said “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.’”

Breaking a covenant is something that the god of this world has done, will do, and will always push for you to do as well. The devil wants you to maintain your selfish ambitions and desires and for you to have the thinking that you deserve whatever you want and that you are owed “blessings”. Well, God doesn’t owe us anything. What He does give, He gives out of the mercy and grace of His love toward us undeserving people. And His love is everything that we need, not only here in this life, but in the life to come! While we are here we have His love sustaining us, comforting us, protecting us, and giving us His peace. All of these things are more than what the world could ever give us. What the world brings is temporary fulfillment of the flesh that will eventually lead to eternal death. What God gives is a fulfillment that lasts eternally. 

As I mentioned before, we have two paths to choose from: the narrow path of God’s covenant or the wide path that rejects God’s covenant. One leads to love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. The other leads to what Galatians 5:19-21 says will disqualify you from the kingdom of heaven: “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

Embracing the covenant offered through Christ gives us a hope that surpasses understanding. Realizing His sacrificial gift should cause us such gratitude that we willingly desire to worship Him! Knowing how immeasurable the gifts that God gives us should destroy our passions and selfish desires to walk in the ways of this world and cause us to turn and run with excitement toward our Heavenly Father with outstretched arms! He gives to us, so we give back to him our praises and adoration, now and forever more! “We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4:19

Amen