Blessings & Trials

Blessings and Trials 

“More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings”  Romans 5:3 

How often have you heard it or thought it? It goes something like this, “Friends, God wants to bless you today. He wants you to have that promotion, to get that new house and car. God does not hold back on giving the ones He loves the desires of their hearts.” And then what follows are a few examples that send shivers up our spines as we begin to visualize those “blessings” pouring down from the hand of God. Sort of like a divine vending machine, just waiting for us to break the code and ask for stuff so we can be happy little Christians, surrounded by material blessings Jesus died for us to receive. 

Maybe that last part was a little harsh, eh? Kind of make you wince a little, perhaps arch an eyebrow or raise the anger level just a tad? I speak from experience, my friends. I have pleaded with God for things. I’ve lined up all my behavior, prayer time, sacrificial giving (more than ten percent) and helping at church. And yet…! 

And then it occurred to me that I was asking God to bless my desires, to bring forth the items as requested. “Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 7:24-25 

Confronting my sinfulness, the Holy Spirit methodically revealed Scriptures which explained just how our Heavenly Father wants us to live. He wants us to know what we should expect, as followers of our blessed Savior, Jesus Christ. 

Romans 8:17-18  “And since we are His children, we are His heirs. In fact, together with Christ we are heirs of God’s glory. But if we are to share His glory, we must also share His suffering. Yet, what we suffer now is nothing compared to the glory He will reveal to us later.” 

2 Cor 4:17-18  “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” 

These Scriptures, as so many others, snap us to reality. The reality of actually living the Gospel, not just talking about it. Jesus set the example by his beating, torture and death. How can we possibly skip past the shocking sacrifice He made for us so we can rationalize our materialistic desires? If you want blessings, and that’s just fine, here are examples: 

John 20:29  Jesus said to him, “(Words in Red)  Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 

1 Peter 1:8-9  Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, 9 obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 

Acts 20:35  In everything I have shown you that, by working hard, we must help the weak. In this way we remember the Lord Jesus’ words: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” 

James 1:12  God blesses those who patiently endure testing and temptation. Afterward they will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love him. 

And the most famous and least taught today is found in Matthew 5:3-9  “God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. 4 God blesses those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 God blesses those who are humble, for they will inherit the whole earth. 6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be satisfied. 7 God blesses those who are merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 God blesses those whose hearts are pure, for they will see God. 9 God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God. 

To our Lord and Savior, blessings and sufferings are intertwined as the strands of a rope. Because, unlike us, His view is eternal. He sees through this temporary life, into the everlasting one. He was able to look through the suffering of the cross to what lay beyond. 

1 Peter 4:12-14   Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world. So be happy when you are insulted for being a Christian, for then the glorious Spirit of God rests upon you. 

If we intend on living our lives for Christ, as lights in a dark world, we must shift our focus from this materialistic, self-indulging world to the life of temporary trials and sufferings that refine and strengthen us. Trials that replace sinful appetites with Godly desires. Our aim should be to “count it all joy” when we’re beset with trials just as athletes in training are willing to undergo hours of pain and self-denial for the crown that awaits. But their crown is temporary while ours is eternal. 

Romans 8

“If God is for us, who can be against us?” Rom. 8:31 

The Bible is filled with life-altering instructions, stories, and the recorded words of Jesus. The Bible is matchless; God’s words, given through 40 authors over a period of 1500 years. And yet, incredible as it may seem, from beginning to end is a flawless thread of God’s perfect plan to redeem all people, to save our souls and restore us to perfection with Him in eternal glory.

How do we know this to be true? He gave us the answer in 2 Timothy 3:16-17. “All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.”

Reading the Bible is like listening to heavenly Books on Tape. God Himself is communicating with us as only the Creator of the universe can do. Take heart as you remember that God proved His love for us by sending His only Son Jesus to wash away our sins with His very own blood. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:13

Romans 8:28-39 

28 “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.” 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.”

Engrave these words of God on your heart and mind. Call upon them during times of fear, depression, anxiety, frustration, doubt and failure. God’s words never fail or lose their power.  

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.  

Peace and Calm

Peace and Calm 

September 4, 2021

“With His love, He will calm all your fears”  Zephaniah 3:17 

Given a choice, most of us want a calm and peaceful life. As believers, we think that Jesus died not only to save our souls, but to grant us asylum from the world and its frantic, challenging existence. A sort of pre-heaven perfection. 

For sailors who use sails rather than engines, a calm and peaceful sea is the worst possible condition. The craft cannot navigate, cannot move, cannot be directed to their goal. A boat on a glassy sea is a boat adrift. God has no intention for us to be adrift in this world. He has placed us in the powerful seas of life and has promised to be our rudder. 

The calm and peace that God does promise is from the inside, from the Holy Spirit. His calm is the perfect calm because it exists in spite of the tumult of the world. In the midst of the “perfect storm” God promises an eternal peace. 

Philippians 4:6-7   “Don’t worry over anything whatever; tell God every detail of your needs in earnest and thankful prayer, and the peace of God which transcends human understanding, will keep constant guard over your hearts and minds as they rest in Christ Jesus.” (J.B. Phillips )

1 Peter 1:2  “Dear friends, God the Father chose you long ago and knew you would become His children. And the Holy Spirit has been at work in your hearts, cleansing them with the blood of Jesus Christ and making you anxious to please Him. May God bless you richly and grant you increasing freedom from all anxiety and fear.”  (TLB )

John 14:27  “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (NLT)

God’s peace is tied to our faith, it comes from within. As we walk in faith, believing that God never leaves us alone, our sense of peace is strengthened and built up. The peace of God is a gift, just as Jesus promised. We didn’t earn it and it cannot be taken away…unless we refuse to accept it! There are times when the peace of God is stillness. 

Psalm 46:10  “Be still and know that I am God!” (NIV)

God’s peace always inhabits our praise. Praising God will generate a sense of peace and wellness as nothing else can. 

The man prayed and prayed, asking God for peace. Finally he heard the Lord say, “I’ve already given you my peace, now you must get up and do something to experience it.” 

Rom. 8:6  “The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace.” (NIV)                 

Gal. 5:22-23 “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (NIV)

Isa. 26:3-4  “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, whose thoughts are fixed on you! Trust in the LORD always, for the LORD GOD is the eternal Rock. “ (NLT)

Phil. 4:11-13 “For I have learned how to be content with whatever I have. I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” (NLT)

George was transferred to the job of his dreams after years of hard work and constant prayer. It seemed as though God had granted him his desire. A huge raise in pay, better benefits, pension, and a percentage of profits. He was happy and content. He beamed. Until that fateful company meeting where he was told, by the assistant vice president (the president and vice president had skipped town) the company was bankrupt! They were insolvent. Mismanagement and fraud had destroyed a great company and thrown George, along with hundreds of other employees, into the unemployment lines.  

As a believer, George has an opportunity to walk in God’s peace, the peace that passes all understanding. He can realize, as the apostle Paul did, that contentment is not based on money or position or anything in the world.  

Psalm 4:8  “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” 

Sanctification!

Let us prove our reverence for God by consecrating ourselves to Him completely. 2 Cor. 7:1 

“Are you sanctified?” bellowed the animated preacher, pointing and sweeping his right hand in a grand gesture to the church. “Are you sure? Are you holy? If you have any doubts you better come down to the altar and pray your way through! God is not happy with any fence sitters tonight. He means business and you better mean business too. You got to be sanctified to make God happy and get a golden key to your heavenly mansion.” 

Terrified and confused people flocked to the altar, crying and begging God for the elusive sanctification, fearing they might miss the golden key awaiting those who have achieved sanctification, as the sweat-drenched pastor walked to and fro among them, satisfied with the response to his fear-packed message. Contrary to his threats and confusing statements, God was not happy with him or his misguided sermon. Believers do not receive sanctification as a result of fear or condemnation. 

This dramatic pastor should rather have claimed, “Your faith has made you whole and you are all sanctified (made holy) by the Holy Spirit!”  

Let’s see what the Bible has to say about our sanctification/holiness.

Romans 6:19  “I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.”

1 Cor. I:30-31  “God has united you with Christ Jesus. For our benefit God made him to be wisdom itself. Christ made us right with God; he made us pure and holy, and he freed us from sin. 31Therefore, as the Scriptures say, “If you want to boast, boast only about the Lord.”  

1 Cor. 1:2  “I am writing to God’s church in Corinth, to you who have been called by God to be his own holy people. He made you holy by means of Christ Jesus, just as he did for all people everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, their Lord and ours.”

1 Cor. 6:11  “Some of you were once like that. But you were cleansed; you were made holy; you were made right with God by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”

1 Thess. 5:23  Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Along with the unimaginable grace and mercy of God’s provision for our sanctification, He also expects us to do our part by walking in faith in day to day circumstances. He has already done the impossible and has assigned us the possible; such as making choices and slipping on His armor. We’re at war! 

 2 Cor. 7:1  “Because we have these promises, dear friends, let us cleanse ourselves from everything that can defile our body or spirit. And let us work toward complete holiness because we fear God.” 

2 Thess. 2:13  “As for us, we can’t help but thank God for you, dear brothers and sisters loved by the Lord. We are always thankful that God chose you to be among the first to experience salvation—a salvation that came through the Spirit who makes you holy and through your belief in the truth.”   

Sanctification is not something we can beg God for at a church altar. Sanctification is a gift from God as a result of our faith in Jesus Christ. Although a gift, God requires our involvement to make choices for purity and holiness. Even so, the Holy Spirit enables us to follow through on our Christ-like decisions. 

Read Galatians 5:16-18

Servant Leader

“Speak, your servant is listening” 1 Samuel 3:10

As men we grow and change, learning the traditional rules taught in our society; rules of manly behavior. We must learn to be strong. Learn to face our fears. Learn to strive for success and learn to reject signs of weakness. Those signs manifest themselves in showing our emotions, seeming weak, failing to grab hold of what is ours and wrestling it away from any other contenders. Men are supposed to be formidable foes!

But as Christian men, we must re-learn our manly roles and follow the true manly example, Jesus Christ, who broke the mold of manliness by becoming a servant-leader when He said, “Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” ~Matthew 20:26-28

Another rugged example of a man was the apostle Paul who described himself in Romans 1:1 as, “Paul, a bond-servant of Christ Jesus”.

Later, in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10 Paul describes a situation common to all of us, he is asking God to take away a nagging problem that frustrates him greatly. God’s answer is surprising: “Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”

God’s answer and Pauls subsequent explanation are total opposites of how we all handle our problems and expect God to rescue us. Often, we secretly expect our Heavenly Father to quickly and lovingly step in and demolish our problems, dust us off and smooth out the road ahead. After all, He is the God who wants to bless us and make life easier. Or so we may think. 

The apostle Peter joins Paul in clarifying our position in Christ in 1 Peter 5:5-7: “In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God apposes the proud but gives grace to the humble. So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time He will lift you up in honor. Give all your worries and cares to God, for He cares about you.”

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says: “Those who care nothing for their life in this world will keep it for eternity. Anyone who wants to serve Me must follow Me, because My servants must be where I am. And the Father will honor anyone who serves Me.” John 12:25-26

Trusting God to guide our lives, save our souls and reserve a place with Him in eternity requires faith and obedience. It also requires that we give up our areas of strength so He can work through our weakness as described by Paul in 1 Corinthians: “When I first came to you, dear brothers and sisters, I didn’t use lofty words and impressive wisdom to tell you God’s secret plan. For I decided that while I was with you I would forget everything except Jesus Christ, the one who was crucified. I came to you in weakness—timid and trembling.”  1 Corinthians 2:1-3

It is difficult for us to intentionally walk in weakness, trusting God to give the strength we need. We’ve spent many years attempting to work out whatever problems come our way. But God wants us to give that up and trust in Him because His power works best through our weakness.

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.

Praying In The Spirit

   

Praying in the Spirit

June 19, 2021

“And pray in the Spirit on all occasions”  Ephesians 6:18

Sitting in the coffee shop after the Bible study, Archie and Laverne were processing what they had just studied. “So, do you think that praying in the Holy Spirit means praying in tongues, Archie?”

         “Actually I’m not certain, Laverne but I know God has the answer for us. Years ago I met an older man who studied the Bible often and he gave me these words of wisdom—“Whenever I begin to read the Bible I ask God for wisdom and He always answers that prayer. God doesn’t want us ignorant of His Word or confused by opinions that may not line up with the Bible. Since then I do just that and God guides me as I read and study the Bible.”

         After asking God for wisdom as they studied, Laverne said, “We know that the Holy Spirit gives Christians Spiritual Gifts which includes speaking in tongues. Let’s look up those verses for a start.”

         Romans 12:6-8  In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophesy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you. If your gift is serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, teach well. If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.

       I Corinthians 12:4-11 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. To one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the discernment of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.

         1 Corinthians 12:27-31  Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers; then deeds of power, then gifts of healing, forms of assistance, forms of leadership, various kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? But strive for the greater gifts. And I will show you a still more excellent way.

1 Peter 4:10-11  God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ. All glory and power to him forever and ever! Amen.

Jude 1:20  But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.

Ephesians 6:18  And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.

“To me, it is clear that the gift of speaking in tongues is not necessarily the same as praying in the Spirit,” said Archie. “I think speaking or praying in tongues is meant for self-edification and speaking to God, unless God has provided an interpretation, according to 1 Corinthians 14.”

“I agree. Praying in the Holy Spirit brings our focus and dependence on God. Since we are filled with God’s Holy Spirit, praying in the Spirit sounds like calling on the Spirit within to guide our prayers, reminding us how much we rely on Him for our prayers. After all, Romans 8:26-27 tells us that the Holy Spirit intercedes as we pray since we don’t know what to say.”

“I’m sure there will always be debates among believers but it is clear that God wants unity in the body which means coming together  rather than finding “spiritual issues” to disagree on. Perhaps praying in the Spirit means praying with a humble, open heart, trusting the Spirit to guide our prayers and bring to our minds who and what we should be praying for,” said Archie.

The Resurrection!

“I was dead, but look, I am alive forever and ever” ~Jesus

         Without doubt, the most important event on the calendar for followers of Christ, is what is known as Easter or Resurrection Sunday. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the single most important moment in the history of the world. Three days prior to His resurrection, He had completed the most agonizing part of his triumphant purpose by willingly giving his life to pain and death, crumpled on Calvary’s cross. However, that was only the beginning, not the end.

         After three days in the tomb, Jesus rose, shed His death clothes and spent 40 days giving final instructions to His disciples. And because of that, we too have the promise of eternal life just as He gave to the thief on the cross beside him, “I assure you: Today you will be with Me in paradise.”  Luke 23:43

         The resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ is the focal point of our hope as found in the following Scriptures:

         1 Corinthians 15:13-14, 19 “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty—For if only in this life we have hope in Christ, we should be pitied more than anyone.”

         Acts 2:24, 32 “God raised Him up, ending the pains of death, because it was not possible for Him to be held by it—God has resurrected this Jesus. We are all witnesses of this.”

         Matthew 28:1-10 “Early on Sunday morning, as the new day was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (the mother of James and Joseph and the mother of the sons of Zebedee) went out to visit the tomb. Suddenly there was a great earthquake! For an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, rolled aside the stone, and sat on it. His face shone like lightning, and his clothing was as white as snow. The guards shook with fear when they saw him, and they fell into a dead faint.

         “Then the angel spoke to the women, “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen. Come, see where his body was lying. And now, go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead, and he is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there. Remember what I have told you.”

         Luke 24:46-48 He also said to them: “This is what is written: the Messiah would suffer and rise from the dead the third day, and repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.”

         1 Corinthians 15:1-8  “Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. You welcomed it then, and you still stand firm in it. It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you—unless, of course, you believed something that was never true in the first place. I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, he was seen by more than 500 of his followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw him.”

         Acts 4:33  “And with great power the apostles were giving testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus—”

         Acts 26:22-23  “I teach nothing except what the Prophets and Moses said—that the Messiah would suffer and be the First to rise from the dead, to bring light to Jews and Gentiles alike.”

         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 will be saved.

         There are many scriptures which relate the risen Lord being seen as a living testimony of His resurrection. His absolute victory over death and its decay gives all the  believers in Jesus Christ an unwavering hope of everlasting life with Him. Although we shall die, unless Jesus returns with the trumpet blast and angelic shout first, we shall not perish but taste life that never ends, residing in the New Jerusalem with Almighty God and the resurrected Son.

Only Our Duty

“We’ve only done our duty” Luke 17:10

The weekly Bible study group was involved in an animated conversation about what God expects when we are seemingly taken advantage of or taken for granted. The conversation was going along the normal path of defending positions such as: 

“Well, God doesn’t expect us to be doormats, you know,” said Gloria.

“I’ll have to line up with Gloria on that one,” said Frank. “We are special to the Lord and He wants us to defend our faith at all costs.”

Most of the group chimed in at that point, defending the “we’re not doormats” position. Until Glenn, the class leader said, “Well, actually He does you know.”

The room got very quiet out of disbelief and embarrassment. 

“Do you remember the scene at the last supper when Jesus washed His disciples’ feet? That was a shock to them because it was a servant’s job, beneath them. But our Lord went from man to man, washing and drying everyone’s feet telling them, “If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example that you also should do just as I have done for you.” ~John 13:14-15

“In the Book of Luke, Jesus tells the parable of a slave who after working all day in his master’s field comes in to make and serve the dinner for his master. Jesus then says, “Does he thank that slave because he did what was commanded? In the same way, when you have done all that you were commanded, you should say, ‘ We are good-for-nothing slaves; we’ve only done our duty.’” ~Luke 17:9-10

No one spoke as they processed what was just read. Instantly everyone knew they were far from that attitude. Just the opposite, most resented the idea of being a good-for-nothing slave who has merely done their duty. Surely this was some colossal misunderstanding.

“Struggling with this one?” Glenn asked. “I think it’s time we faced this issue head on. What I just read is from our Bible. Our literal life-guide. Jesus became a slave as an example to us who follow to do likewise. Jesus doesn’t want us to be a doormat, we say. The truth is, He does. And then, after people wipe their feet on that mat, He says, “wash their feet, just as I have done for you!”

The Apostle Paul has something to say about this subject too: “Don’t be selfish; don’t live to make a good impression on others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself. Don’t just think about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and in what they are doing.

“Your attitude should be the kind that was shown us by Jesus Christ, who, though He was God, did not demand and cling to His rights as God, but laid aside His mighty power and glory, taking the disguise of a slave and becoming like men. And he humbled himself even further, going so far as actually to die a criminal’s death on a cross.

“Yet it was because of this that God raised him up to the heights of heaven and gave him a name which is above every other name, that at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” ~Philippians 2:3-11

We spend our waking hours worrying about our positions in life, believing that we have “rights” as citizens; that we can have anything we want if we just believe and work really hard. It’s good Karma, what goes around comes around, and so on. Well, those ideas are ideas that come from the enemy of our soul who wants to kill, steal and destroy us. God’s version of life is the exact opposite. Here’s what Paul says: 

“Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have put aside all else, counting it worth less than nothing, in order that I can have Christ, and become one with Him.” ~Philippians 3:8

Be like Christ? Be prepared to give it all up and learn to listen to the still, small voice in your heart.

A Child Is Born

“A child is born to us, a son is given to us”  Isaiah 9:6 

Amidst the various Christmas decorations we see popping up each year stand a variety of what we call Nativity or Manger scenes representing the birth of Christ. These range in size from tabletop to life size. Some even have what are called, Living Nativity scenes with people dressed in costume representing that singular moment in history. 

And what is the impact of seeing these scenes year after year after year? Perhaps we have come to see these reminders as ordinary, routine, a bit of tradition. There is an old saying, “Familiarity breeds contempt!” Contempt may be too strong a word for our feelings but routine would surely fit. As we dust off our manger figurines and place them carefully on the table or shelf, are we stirred by the Spirit of God? Are we moved to worship Christ the Lord?  

When Jesus was born, it was a time of Kings and mighty rulers wielding their power for good or evil. Surely God would bring the Messiah from the loins of one such mighty man. He would be born to Royalty; a prince, a handsome, strong child, bred in the manner and customs of the Jewish people. 

In keeping with His own creative ideas, Almighty God selected a virgin to bear His Son; an unthinkable idea, beyond human understanding. And so it was…beginning with Mary’s impregnation, every step of the way for Jesus, our Lord, was unique. Born in a manger instead of a magnificent palatial bedroom on silken sheets surrounded by servants. An ordinary baby born to ordinary parents, or so it seemed. 

No palace with pomp and circumstance for Jesus, verifying his standing as Messiah. God instead chose humble circumstances to represent His love for all of us, dramatically pronouncing the Savior’s birth to innocuous shepherds away from all notice. These men had ringside seats to a spectacular, glorious, radiant angelic announcement of The Savior’s birth which included the armies of heaven praising God. Out in the fields, away from notice, God demonstrates His awesome power, proclaiming the most important birth in the history of our world to a few solitary shepherds.  

Isaiah 7:14  “The virgin  will conceive a child! She will give birth to a son and will call him Immanuel (which means ‘God is with us’).” 

Isaiah 9:6-7 “For a child is born to us, a son is given to us. The government will rest on his shoulders. And he will be called: Wonderful Counselor,  Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His government and its peace will never end. 
“He will rule with fairness and justice from the throne of his ancestor David  for all eternity. The passionate commitment of the  Lord  of Heaven’s Armies will make this happen!” 

About 800 years after Isaiah’s prophecy, Jesus was born to Mary and Joseph in a manner not at all in keeping with how we think the Savior of all mankind should be born.

Matthew 1:18-25  “This is how Jesus the Messiah was born. His mother, Mary, was engaged to be married to Joseph. But before the marriage took place, while she was still a virgin, she became pregnant through the power of the Holy Spirit.  Joseph, her fiancé, was a good man and did not want to disgrace her publicly, so he decided to break the engagement  quietly. 

As he considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the Holy Spirit.  And she will have a son, and you are to name him Jesus*,  for he will save his people from their sins.” *[The Lord Saves]

All of this occurred to fulfill the Lord’s message through his prophet*: 

“Look! The virgin will conceive a child. She will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means ‘God is with us.’” *Isaiah 7:14

When Joseph woke up, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded and took Mary as his wife.  But he did not have sexual relations with her until her son was born. And Joseph named him Jesus.” 

Luke 2:1-20  “At that time the Roman emperor, Augustus, decreed that a census should be taken throughout the Roman Empire.  (This was the first census taken when Quirinius was governor of Syria.)  All returned to their own ancestral towns to register for this census. And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, his fiancée, who was now obviously pregnant. 

And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them. 

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. 

“Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people.  The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!  And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” 

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” 

When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 

They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger.  After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.  All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished,  but Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often. The shepherds went back to their flocks, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. It was just as the angel had told them.” 

This year, as we read and remember what God has set in place through the extraordinary yet humble birth of His only Son, Jesus Christ, let’s take time to imagine how we might have reacted to this astonishing event and then thank our Heavenly Father for paving the way to unmerited forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who believe.