The Struggle

The Struggle 

July 24, 2021

“I decide one way, but then I act another” Romans 7:15 

The clever college professor got the attention of his class when he declared, “Whatever you do, do not think of a pink elephant”, knowing that it was now the one image dancing around in their minds. Our thoughts are powerful and sometimes controlling. Jesus addressed our thought life when he said, “everyone who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Thoughts are the stimulus of the pornography industry. Our fantasy lives are much stronger than our actual lives. 

The daily struggle we have as followers of Jesus is with our thoughts, as Paul explains in the Book of Romans: “I decide one way but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise. So if I can’t be trusted to figure out what is best for myself and then do it, it becomes obvious that God’s command is necessary.” (Romans 7:15-16) 

Even though a law or command may seem to work on the outside, it’s the inner battle of our mind that acts as a rudder, controlling thoughts and, if not stopped, actions. Thus our constant struggle. Who will rescue us from this dilemma? Jesus is our rescuer and the blood of Jesus has taken every sin, every evil and despicable thought and washed them with His blood. We are forgiven and cleansed daily. Each day is a new day, a day of forgiveness and hope. God has provided the answer. 

Romans 7:17-25  “I need something more! For if I know the law but still can’t keep it, and if the power of sin within me keeps sabotaging my best intentions, I obviously need help! I realize that I don’t have what it takes. I can will it, but I can’t do it. I decide to do good, but I don’t really do it; I decide not to do bad, but then I do it anyway. My decisions, such as they are, don’t result in actions. Something has gone wrong deep within me and gets the better of me every time. 

21-23 It happens so regularly that it’s predictable. The moment I decide to do good, sin is there to trip me up. I truly delight in God’s commands, but it’s pretty obvious that not all of me joins in that delight. Parts of me covertly rebel, and just when I least expect it, they take charge.  24 I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me? Isn’t that the real question?  25 The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different.”

How often do we describe our struggles with terms such as, “I can’t seem to quit”–”I’ve tried to stop”–”I just don’t have the strength”–”That’s what I have a problem believing!” Of course we cannot change ourselves. God, through Jesus, has forgiven our sins forever and then, because He knows we will always need reassurance, implanted His Holy Spirit deep within us. We are never alone and never expected to change ourselves. If we could make ourselves better then Jesus’ death would be a sham. 

Romans 8:1-2  “So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death.”

  The rugged father took his young son out on their weekly camping trip but this trip would be different. This would be the time for his son to show what he had learned over the past few years. After hiking several miles into the forest, they set up camp, ate and climbed into sleeping bags to fall asleep under the stars. 

In the morning the son awoke alone. Beside him, leaning against his backpack was a note. It read, “Son. I’ve taught you everything you should need to know about hiking, camping and finding your way home. I’ve gone on ahead and will see you there later. I know you can make it. At least I hope you can. After all, you are nine years old! Love, Dad.” 

Far-fetched story isn’t it? A loving father would never leave his young child completely alone to face all the uncertainties of the forest. In a similar way, our Heavenly Father would never leave us alone to face a sin-riddled world. 

John 14:16-18  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, who will never leave you. 17 He is the Holy Spirit, who leads into all truth. The world cannot receive him, because it isn’t looking for him and doesn’t recognize him. But you know him, because he lives with you now and later will be in you. 18 No, I will not abandon you as orphans—I will come to you. 

On my own, many things are impossible. With God nothing is impossible. 

Baptism

Baptism

July 17, 2021

“Many men and women were baptized”  Acts 8:12

Have you been baptized since you accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior? Have you experienced the public profession of your faith by following the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus through baptism? The Bible clearly instructs us to take this step, to show all who may be watching that we are symbolically washed clean; are buried (in the water) and raised again, coming up out of that watery grave, arms raised to heaven with a smile from ear to ear.

And yet, there are those who have taken this simple act of obedience and turned it into “Jesus plus”. Jesus plus is any act or belief that says His death on the cross was the first step of forgiveness and eternal salvation. In the case of baptism, some have decided that if you are not baptized following your confession of faith, you are not actually saved. They have taken Peter’s words above to be inclusive, meaning “Repent and be baptized” are the requirements to be saved. Repentance is not enough. In essence, the suffering and death of Jesus Christ on the cross did not grant us full forgiveness. According to this belief, His resurrection from the dead still did not fully save us from death and grant us eternal life with Him. We must be baptized! Jesus plus.

“Twice baptism seems to be linked with forgiveness of sins. On the day of Pentecost Peter said, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins…” (2:38). And later Ananias said to Saul, “Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord…” (22:16). In both cases the instructions were given to Jews; no Gentile was ever told to be baptized for the remission of sins. In believer’s baptism a Jew publicly repudiated his connection with the nation that rejected and crucified its Messiah. The basis of his forgiveness was faith in the Lord Jesus. The purchase price of his forgiveness was the precious blood of the Lord. The way in which his forgiveness was administered was through water baptism, because his baptism publicly removed him from Jewish ground and put him on Christian ground.” ~William MacDonald’s Bible Commentary

Our salvation is based on our faith in what Jesus did for us, not on something we did. Jesus did not appear to His disciples after His resurrection and tell them something like, “Yes, it’s true, I suffered that incredible pain and suffering and then God raised me from the dead for your eternal life. But now you have to do one more thing. If you aren’t baptized, you won’t be saved!”

    Ephesians 2:8-9  You are saved by God’s grace because of your faith. This salvation is God’s gift. It’s not something you possessed. It’s not something you did that you can be proud of.

    Acts 15:11 “We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”

    When Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman at the well, He said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you the living water.” ~John 4:10. Notice that the Lord did not mention baptism. Jesus Himself never baptized anyone!

    John 14:6  “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

    Romans 10:9-10  “If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved.” Notice that Paul does not add, ‘and is baptized.’”

    Acts 16:30-31  “…He said, ‘Sirs what must I do to be saved?’ And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household.”

    Nothing we do can add to our salvation. It is complete in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He gave Himself to forgive our sins and grant us the beauty and majesty of eternal life with Him. If you’ve not been baptized, you should. It is a wonderful experience, a joyous celebration, and an important step in proclaiming our salvation to the world. However, our sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus, not the water of baptism!

Life After Death!

Life After Death

July 10, 2021

“Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die” ~Jesus

Two men were discussing what happens after death.  One of them said that since they were both Christians, it was certain that they would not really die but pass from this life into the next, living forever with God. The second man, however expressed doubts about that, saying he sure hoped it was true. He had been a Christian for over 40 years!

Are you a Christian? Have you expressed faith in Jesus Christ? If so your sins are forgiven and the Bible promises that you will spend eternity with God. The following are Bible verses that give all Christians assurance of eternal life with God.

John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

John 3:36 “Anyone who believes in God’s Son has eternal life.”

1 Peter 1:3-5 “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by his great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead. Now we live with great expectation, and we have a priceless inheritance—an inheritance that is kept in heaven for you, pure and undefiled, beyond the reach of change and decay. And through your faith, God is protecting you by his power until you receive this salvation, which is ready to be revealed on the last day for all to see.”

John 10:27-30 “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

John 6:35-40 Jesus replied, “. . .This is the will of God, that I should not lose even one of all those He has given me, but that I should raise them up at the last day. For it is my Father’s will that all who see His Son and believe in Him should have eternal life. I will raise them up at the last day.”

John 6:47, 51 “I assure you, anyone who believes in Me already has eternal life. Yes, I am the bread of life. . .I am that Living Bread that came down out of heaven.”

Romans 8:38 “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love.”

John 3:16 “ God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.”

It is by faith that we are saved and our sins forgiven. It is by that same faith that we believe in eternal life with our Heavenly Father…without exception.

Who Do You Want To Please?

Who Do You Want To Please? 

June 30, 2021 

“We speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel.” 1 Thessalonians 2:4 

Most of us are brought up learning how to please certain people in our lives. First are usually our parents. We learn what it takes to make them happy if we want our lives to go smoothly. The behaviors that need refining are pointed out to us quickly by some sort of punishment. 

Then we learn to apply that method of getting along to our teachers, friends, relatives, bosses, pastors, policemen, spouse, team mates, and others with whom we interact in life. As life progresses, most people become fairly adept in getting along and pleasing others, trying not to offend. We look for that middle place that allows us to forge our way through life, getting along without ruffling too many feathers. We are considered successful if people think of us as nice, as pleasing. 

But what about God? Are we trying to please God? Does he even make the list of those we wish to please every day? If a survey was taken that asked the question: “Who is the most important person in your life?” how many of us would immediately say, Jesus or God? The Lord is our Savior and has a special place in our lives, we say. But really…is He our primary focus each day? Are we trying to please God? 

 Romans 14:17-18

“For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of what we eat or drink, but of living a life of goodness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. If you serve Christ with this attitude, you will please God, and others will approve of you, too. So then, let us aim for harmony in the church and try to build each other up.” 

Philippians 2:12-13 

“Dear friends, you always followed my instructions when I was with you. And now that I am away, it is even more important. Work hard to show the results of your salvation, obeying God with deep reverence and fear. For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him.” 

Colossians 1:9-10 

“So we have not stopped praying for you since we first heard about you. We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honor and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better.”

Hebrews 11:6 

“And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” 

1 Peter 2:19, 21

“For God is pleased with you when you do what you know is right and patiently endure unfair treatment. For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” 

Pleasing God opens the door for pleasing anyone else. It is the foundation upon which all worthwhile relationships are built. On our own, we often view relationships through the filter of self-gain and convenience. And yet, in our hearts, we desire to express the love of Christ to everyone, to see each other through the filter of God’s love, His selfless, servant-like love. Because of the Holy Spirit, that desire is made possible. Dear God, thank You for guiding our lives according to Your Holy Will.

New Self

“Put on the new self, created to be like God”  Ephesians 4:24 

William’s first experiment with drugs was his last year in high school. Wow, was it fun to be with so many cool “friends” expanding their minds with various pharmaceuticals. William was certain the drugs increased his creative abilities and opened his mind to greater understanding. They also sank their evil talons into his soul with a powerful death-grip, creating a tremendous addiction that sent William spiraling into an abyss of destruction. Within a few months, he was an addict. 

Eight years later, after several stints in jail, loss of friends and relationships, William discovered he qualified for a sponsored rehab out in the clean air of the desert. He had high hopes. This would change his life. And it did…temporarily. His new life lasted three short months until one of his former friends invited him to a party where drugs flowed freely. His will power was not up to this formidable test, he was back on the slippery slide to destruction.  

William’s life is not unusual. Most people cannot possibly stay clean from drugs and alcohol on their own. True change, life-change, is only possible through faith in Christ because He provides supernatural power to overcome these mind-numbing addictions. With Christ in your life, fending off the Devil’s attacks, permanent change is indeed possible. Faith in Christ brings a new life. 

Ephesians 4:22-24  “You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”   

2 Peter 1:3-4  “By His divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know Him, the one who called us to Himself by means of His marvelous glory and excellence. And because of His glory and excellence, He has given us great and precious promises. These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the world’s corruption caused by human desires.” 

Galatians 2:20  “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  

Colossians 3:1-4  “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”  

Colossians 3:13-16  “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” 

Philippians 2:1-4   “If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from His love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.”  

But what if I am a Christian and have given myself to sin more than once. Does that mean God’s power is not in me or strong enough to help me avoid the sin? No! God has done everything necessary to give us new life and daily renewal. His forgiveness is everlasting. If I am struggling with sin, God has provided the way to victory. He created us and understands our weaknesses.  

1 Corinthians 10:13  “Every test that you have experienced is the kind that normally comes to people. But God keeps His promise, and He will not allow you to be tested beyond your power to remain firm; at the time you are put to the test, He will give you the strength to endure it, and so provide you with a way out.” 

1 John 1:8-9  “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and there is no truth in us. But if we confess our sins to God, He will keep his promise and do what is right: He will forgive us our sins and purify us from all our wrongdoing.” 

Walking with God provides a new life, a life free of condemnation. Jesus is at the right hand of God’s throne, fending off all of Satan’s accusations and granting us forgiveness of all sin. However, once we have tasted the incredible love of Christ, it is our responsibility to want a new life, to repent of our sins, to believe in the Bible which is God’s guidebook for all Christians. Our forgiveness is absolute but we have to accept it as absolute.  

God’s Will

Bible Study 

God’s Will 

“Do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is” Ephesians 5:17 

Most of us, either openly or secretly, struggle with finding God’s will for our lives. Sometimes we long for an audible voice giving us directions or telling us the answer. One problem with waiting for His voice is we do nothing, just in case we might go against His will. But what if we already know His will? What if He has clearly revealed His will for our lives?  

First, let’s strip away theological meanderings, traditional liturgy, and false expectations. Let’s prepare the soil of our hearts and minds for a new crop; plow up the crusty surface of misunderstandings and misconceptions to receive His direction; to know His will. Lo and behold, bits and pieces of this deep mystery (or so we think of it) rise from His written word, the book of absolute truth…there all the time! 

  1. Romans 12:2  Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect. 
  2. 1 Thessalonians 4:3  God’s will is that your lives are dedicated to him. This means that you stay away from sexual immorality
  3.  1 Thessalonians 5:16-18  Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 
  4. Ephesians 5:15-17  Be very careful then, how you live, not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

We should be encouraged and relieved to know that God has revealed His will to us through the Bible. As believers we are prepared to walk this walk and know His will for our lives. We are also instructed to pray for each other to understand God’s His will for our lives, according to the following verses: 

       5.   Colossians 1:9  For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 

      6.    Ephesians 1:15-17  For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 

“Here then, are three keys for knowing God’s will. The first is a yielded body, the second a separated life, and the third a transformed mind.” William MacDonald, Believer’s Bible Commentary. 

Our Heavenly Father has done everything to prepare us to live according to His will. He has given us all we need to follow His direction. We are saved, forgiven of all sins, filled with His Holy Spirit and armed with the Word of God. As we pray, fellowship with other believers and read His word, we will understand His perfect will for our lives. 

Regarding daily decisions, sometimes God wants us to make our own decisions, trusting in Him to prepare the way. If God does not want us to go or do something, He will do everything to let us know. As followers of Christ, ours is a life of faith: “For we live by faith, not by sight.” 2 Corinthians 5:7 

He Gave Them Glory

“God causes everything to work together  for the good of those who love God” Romans 8:28

They were a tight-knit group of Christians who met for prayer weekly. In the beginning, they were uncertain about how to pray and what to say. But as time progressed, they became more confident, more certain of how and what to say. It seemed powerful and life-changing. There was, however, one problem, a serious one. This steadfast group had fallen in love with their ability to pray—it was as though they, through their powerful-sounding words, were causing things to happen or not happen.  They had forgotten about God’s Holy Spirit who intercedes for us as we pray. 

Additionally, they had forgotten about Romans 8 which says, in part, that all things work together for good for all believers. They were constantly praying that God would take away all problems and obstacles from people, as though God’s intention was for all believers to have a smooth-sailing life, coupled with a bit of prosperity. Good jobs, ample money and smooth-sounding prayers had jaded them to reshape God into a human; a powerful and generous one, but a human none-the-less. 

This went on for several years until one night, a newcomer quite innocently asked if she could read a section of Scripture that God had put on her heart. She read as follows: 

   Romans 8:28-39  “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose for them. 29 For God knew His people in advance, and He chose them to become like His Son, so that His Son would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And having chosen them, He called them to come to Him. And having called them, He gave them right standing with Himself. And having given them right standing, He gave them His glory.

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since He did not spare even his own Son but gave Him up for us all, won’t He also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for His own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with Himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and He is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 36 As the Scriptures say, “For Your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” (Psalm 44:22) 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Her reading brought tears of repentance and renewed joy to all in attendance. God took a simple request, blended with His living Word to remind this group of believers of their first love. 

   Proverbs 30:5 “Every word of God is flawless; He is a shield to those who take refuge in Him.”  

   Psalms 12:6 “And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace. . .purified seven times.” 

Engrave these words of God on your mind. Call upon them during times of fear, depression, anxiety, frustration, doubt and failure. God’s words never fail or lose their power. And remember that the Bible does not teach that God promises His followers smooth-sailing in this world. Quite the contrary, He assures we shall have conflict, suffering and problems. The equipment provided to navigate these troublesome waters is based on our faith and trust in God’s Son through His death and resurrection. Nothing escapes God. He is always with us and will never leave us. Powerful-sounding prayers are not really that. Simple, heart-felt prayers are actually more powerful. 

Promises

“Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life.” Proverbs 4:23 

God’s Biblical promises never change! In our world of confusion, deceit, fraud and disappointment, the ONLY absolute is God’s word. 

Philippians 4:19  (New American Standard Bible)  And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 

Psalm 84:11-12 (Today’s New International Version) 11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield;  the LORD bestows favor and honor;  no good thing does he withhold  from those whose walk is blameless. 12 LORD Almighty,  blessed are those who trust in you. 

  Take Him at His word! Believe what He has said to us. When you are discouraged, filled with doubt, cannot see how your life will ever work out–trust in His promises even though it may seem impossible; 2 Corinthians 5:7 (Christian Standard Bible) “For we walk by faith, not by sight”. 

2 Corinthians 9:8 (Christian Standard Bible)  And God is able to make every grace overflow to you, so that in every way, always having everything you need, you may excel in every good work.   

Psalm 23  (New Living Translation) The Lord is my Shepherd; I have all that I need. 

Ephesians 3:14-21 (New Living Translation)  14 When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, 15 the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. 16 I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. 17 Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. 18 And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. 19 May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. 20 Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think. 21Glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus through all generations forever and ever! Amen. 

James 1:2-8  (New Living Translation) 2 Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. 3 For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. 4 So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing.

It was a difficult week for me. I kept having sharp pains in my chest. Could it be heart attacks, I wondered? Even though I was familiar with the possibility, I chose to ignore the pains. After all, they only lasted a minute or so. And not painful enough to drop me to my knees. Until Friday afternoon. My wife and I were in Costco and the pain demanded to be addressed. I was debilitated and in agonizing pain. In time, this too, passed.

However, that evening it returned, even stronger. So strong and painful I thought I would die. I was taken to the hospital and had surgery to install two stents since  my arteries were 90% clogged. 

During the most painful chest pains, I understood the Holy Spirit speaking to me; “You always suffer through painful trials without complaining but you never consider them an opportunity for great joy! as I have instructed you to do. I want you to do that. For you know when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow.” James 1:2-3 (New Living Translation)

Ephesians 6:10-18 (Contemporary English Version)  10Finally, let the mighty strength of the Lord make you strong. 11Put on all the armor that God gives, so you can defend yourself against the devil’s tricks. 12We are not fighting against humans. We are fighting against forces and authorities and against rulers of darkness and powers in the spiritual world. 13So put on all the armor that God gives. Then when that evil day comes, you will be able to defend yourself. And when the battle is over, you will still be standing firm. 14Be ready! Let the truth be like a belt around your waist, and let God’s justice protect you like armor. 15Your desire to tell the good news about peace should be like shoes on your feet. 16Let your faith be like a shield, and you will be able to stop all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17Let God’s saving power be like a helmet, and for a sword use God’s message that comes from the Spirit.18Never stop praying, especially for others. Always pray by the power of the Spirit. Stay alert and keep praying for God’s people. 

I could have died while suffering those chest pains but in spite of foolishly ignoring them, God kept me alive. Why? Some day we may discover the answer to that and millions of other questions…but that is His business, and so far, He chooses to keep us in the dark as He continues to guide us with His Light, Jesus Christ: “I have come into the world as light, so that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.” (Good News Translation)

We Are His Masterpiece

“For we are God’s masterpiece.” Eph. 2:10

Mike was 56 and had been a Christian for most of his life so he had settled into a mediocre form of faith in Christ. His examples growing up were two parents displaying opposite ends of the faith spectrum. His father was stoic and bound by rules he thought Christians should follow. His mother was frantic, fearing they would all end up in hell because they were not perfect. Mike carried a little of both views in his adult life.

After a life of half-hearted Christianity and secret sins, Mike began to wonder if he was really “saved”. He was walking in doubt, hoping he would be allowed into heaven but secretly doubting it. His feelings of failure and unworthiness grew each passing year because Mike was not working on his relationship with Christ. Mike had become lukewarm and no longer understood his total forgiveness and right standing in Christ.

Ephesians 2:8-10 “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.”

Mike’s eternal standing is secure and his life on earth can be filled with that assurance, rather than the forboding of imaginary unforgiveness which is a lie from the enemy of our souls. Satan wants Mike and any other Christian in doubt, to give up the promises of God and live in doubt—hopeless and ineffectual. Jesus wants us to repent of our sins, walking in the newness of life with Christ no matter what our situation.

1 Thessalonians 5:9-11 “For God chose to save us through our Lord Jesus Christ, not to pour out his anger on us. Christ died for us so that, whether we are dead or alive when he returns, we can live with him forever. So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing.”

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12 “So we keep on praying for you, asking our God to enable you to live a life worthy of his call. May he give you the power to accomplish all the good things your faith prompts you to do. Then the name of our Lord Jesus will be honored because of the way you live, and you will be honored along with him. This is all made possible because of the grace of our God and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

2 Timothy 1:9 “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time—to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.”

For various reasons, we take on the responsibility of saving ourselves, wrenching that responsibility and promise from Jesus. The Bible reminds us that Jesus’ death on the cross brought ultimate forgiveness to all who call upon His name. But because of Satan’s lies and our misplaced “feelings”, we fall into disbelief and discouragement.

Two men served in Viet Nam. During combat, one was wounded. His buddy carried him through the jungle for two days. The wounded man begged his friend to leave him so he could make it. He refused and they finally found base camp.

Years later, the one who was carried heard that his friend had a terminal disease and was bed-ridden. Since he was no longer married, he sold all his possessions and moved to live with his dying friend. He nursed him for over a year until the disease claimed his life. When asked why he did this, he replied, “He saved my life. There is nothing I would not have done for him to show my gratitude.”

Jesus gave His life to rescue us for all eternity. Is there nothing we would not do to show our gratitude?

Luke 10:19-20 “It is true that I have given you the power to tread on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the enemy’s power—there is nothing at all that can do you any harm. Yet it is not your power over evil spirits which should give such joy, but the fact that your names are written in Heaven.”

Who Can I Change?

“Change the way you are living and stop doing the things you are doing.”  Jer. 7:5 

It was so clear to Fred and yet his friend didn’t seem to notice. As a matter of fact, his observations regarding friends and workmates always fell on deaf ears. Fred was quite frustrated since his motives were pure. His desire was that people would benefit from his keen sense of observation and make the appropriate changes in their lives. Instead, he seemed to alienate most people and frustrate himself. How could he get people to understand? 

One day, as Fred was reading the Bible and meditating on what he read, a section in the book of Jeremiah jumped out at him and smacked him in the face, “Change the way you are living and stop doing the things you are doing.” Jer. 7:5. Although this section was talking to the Israelites about a specific issue, God used it to speak to Fred. What stood out to him was that he should concentrate on changing himself, not others!  Like a flash, his judgmental and critical attitude flooded over him. “The only thing I can change is myself and my attitude,” he realized! 

John 7:24  “Stop judging according to outward appearances; rather judge according to righteous judgment.” 

Luke 6:36-37  “Be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Do not judge and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” 

Luke 6:41-42  “And why worry about a speck in your friend’s eye when you have a log in your own? How can you think of saying, ‘Friend, let me help you get rid of that speck in your eye,’ when you can’t see past the log in your own eye? Hypocrite! First get rid of the log in your own eye; then you will see well enough to deal with the speck in your friend’s eye.” 

By now Fred was on his knees, tears running down his face, repenting before the Lord. This was the refining fire of personal conviction at work in his heart and  he was ready for the process. Let it burn, Lord. Let it burn. Scrape off the dross and remove the scales from my eyes.  

John 5:24  “I tell you for certain that everyone who hears my message and has faith in the one who sent me has eternal life and will never be condemned. They have already gone from death to life.” 

James 2:13  “There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.” 

Once again, the power of God’s Word began to sink into Fred’s receptive heart as he was powerfully reminded that it is God who makes the changes in us, not each other. Instead of taking what he saw in friends and co-workers’ lives to the Lord in prayer, Fred was misusing the information and forming it into tools of criticism and judgment. 

Heb. 10:10  For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” 

At last Fred understood that it is God, after all, who makes us holy—and the only person we can change is ourselves.