GIVE WILLINGLY, GRACIOUSLY

As Christians, we are quick to lay claims to God’s promises to us, where He promises to guide us and comfort us and give us eternal security, but how quick are we to give back to Him … and to others … from our bounty? God wants us to give with the same sacrificial love that He gives to us.

  • I Chronicles 29:9a (NKJV): “Then the people rejoiced, for they had offered willingly, because with a loyal heart they had offered willingly to the Lord.”
  • 2 Corinthians 9:7 (ESV): “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”

WHAT’S IN YOUR HEART?

HOW WILLING ARE YOU to give of your time and  your talents? Really give, unselfishly give, without counting the cost to you, giving because we serve a God who willingly and graciously gave His life for us?

Hmm?

In a recent devotional, I read the story of Israel’s King David offering his possessions for building the Temple to honor God, when he asked the assembly, “Who then is willing to consecrate himself this day to the Lord?” (1 Chron. 29:5b NASB20)

The text tells us the assembly leaders responded first and did so willingly, and then the entire assembly responded willingly. As a result, the entire country, from king to leaders to the assembly, rejoiced because they had responded willingly.

God uses the word “willing,” “willingly,” or a substitute term, liked “rejoiced” five times  within five verses — three times in one verse — to underscore His point.

It’s not enough, He says, to do something unselfishly, it must be done willingly.

TRYING TO FAKE IT

 THERE’S NO USE trying to fake it, either. 

The Bible tells us that while we might fool one another by smiling through clenched teeth or covering our discontent with a heartier-than-necessary “of course I’ll do it,” we won’t fool our Creator.

Consider these verses:

  • 1 Samuel 16:9b (ESV): “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
  • Psalm 44:21 (NASB20): “Would not God find this out? For He knows the secrets of the heart.”
  • Luke 16:15 (NIV): “And He said to them, ‘You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of others, but God knows your hearts.’”
  • John 2:25 (NLT): “No one needed to tell him [Jesus] about human nature, for He knew what was in each person’s heart.”
  • Acts 15:8 (CSB):  “And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us.”

There are more verses, but those make the point, don’t they?

REAPING THE BENEFITS

DON’T MISS THIS PART. God imparts a blessing when we give willingly and graciously.

Nehemiah 2:18 (NKJV): “And I told them of the hand of my God which had been good upon me, and also of the king’s words that he had spoken to me. So they said, ‘Let us rise up and build.’ Then they set their hands to this good work.”

Nehemiah 4:9 (ESV): “And we prayed to our God and set a guard as a protection against them day and night.”

In both of those verses, taken from Nehemiah’s account of the post-exilic Jews rebuilding the Jerusalem wall, we see the faithful (1) praying to God for help, strength, and direction, and (2) acting in concert with God’s will. 

It’s not enough to have “good thoughts” and wonderful intentions, our God wants us to call out to Him, to be in fellowship with Him, and to fulfill His design for us, His will for us, by acting.

It’s in the acting that we receive the blessing.

Check out this promise from God recorded in Malachi 4:10 (NASB95):

“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,” says the LORD of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”

Here’s how author Henry Blackaby describes it:

“When you trust that God always gives His best, you will devote your heart to whatever assignment God gives because you know in that role you can experience everything God has in His heart for you.” Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God. Kindle, Loc. 431.

RESPONDING IN FAITH

NOW, IT’S UP TO US. What are we going to do with the gift of love that our Lord has lavished on us? Are we going to be obedient servants and follow through, or are we going to chart our own course? 

To word it another way, how do the experiences of David and Nehemiah and Malachi, as interesting as they may be, relate to our lives today, to your life and my life?

You can see how it relates to you as I share how it relates to me:

In my life, where I’m called to live out what I write about in my blogs, I must confess I often struggle. In my current situation, where my wife’s heart tells her we must relocate from South Carolina to Maryland’s Eastern Shore to be closer to her family and mine, I have been dragging my feet.

Not only that, and to my shame, I’ve made it a point to tell everyone that I am not pleased with the situation. Recently, my wife scolded me, saying she’s tired of hearing what a martyr I am for giving up my life and my dream to move farther South, when she insists we relocate to the North Pole (my sarcasm) just to chase her dream that (in my view) is not likely to materialize.

You can see my struggle to being obedient to the Lord.

As I gather in prayer each day, petitioning the Lord to change my heart, I find a growing countercurrent, bringing me closer to my wife, to our shared experience, and to my Lord’s guiding touch. 

SENDING REINFORCEMENTS

IT’S NOT BY ACCIDENT that a Christian friend reminded me just days ago of a Henry Blackaby book, Experiencing God, he gave me, which I’m now re-reading.

I’m now on the section where the author points out that God loves us and that His commandments are designed to benefit us and give us the abundant lives He offers.

1 John 5:3 (HCSB): “For this is what love for God is: to keep His commands. Now His commands are not a burden.”

(See Jeremiah 29:11 and John 10:10 for additional Scriptural support.)

If we know God, Blackaby tells us, we’ll love Him, trust Him, and obey Him. (Blackaby, Experiencing God, Kindle Loc. 485)

The next section of Blackaby’s book capsulizes the point we’re exploring perfectly: “God is all-knowing — His directions are always right.”

It’s not for us to crow when we obey. Our salvation is assured through grace, not our good works, but we do have this assurance: We will have done our jobs.

Listen to what our Lord says:

“So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” — Luke 17:10 (NIV)

PRAYER

FATHER GOD, our Creator and Sustainer, we thank You for being a gracious giver, who gives willingly to mankind, created in Your image. How shagrined we are, O Lord, to admit we are not as gracious in response with our time and our treasure and our talents — all of which You gave us to glorify You. Please forgive us and empower us to be worthy servants, just doing our duty. In the name of our Savior, Jesus the Christ, we pray, AMEN.

‘MAY I OFFER YOU GOD’S WORD?’

God’s Word is His inspired sermon to us, His creation. In it, He tells us the answers to our most pressing questions: “Who are we?” “How did we get here?” and “What, if anything, does my life mean?” If we neglect His gift, we shortchange ourselves and risk losing the abundant life He offers. However, if we grab hold of His Word, absorb it, and let it course through our bodies like blood, we will be blessed.

ISAIAH 55:1 (ESV): “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

JOHN 1:1 (NKJV): “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”

DISTRIBUTING GOD’S HOLY WORD

LET ME TELL YOU a tale about eight simple words: “May I offer you the Word of God?”

Recently, I had the good fortune to join Gideons International.

Those are the Bible people — the folks who place the Holy Bible in the motel/hotel rooms in a bed stand near where you’ll sleep. Perhaps you’ve reached into the drawer to read the Bible or, like me, you bring your own.

We also present the Bible to military bases, hospitals, prisons, colleges, churches, medical offices, and various public events.

MY FIRST EXPERIENCE

My first adventure was passing out small Bibles to  students, faculty, and staff at a local university. My anxiety level was high whenever someone — usually a student — approached my “zone,” the sidewalk assigned to me.

Mustering up my courage, I would utter those eight simple words, “May I offer you the Word of God,” and extend my hand with the Bible.

***

Most students kept walking, some taking a Bible, others refusing with a short wave of their hand. Never was I able to go through the basic Gospel message or God’s plan of salvation. People were busy, and we were asking them to take a moment from pressing matters.

While I had hope for even a few conversations with someone who really was searching for answers to life’s basic questions — like ‘Who are we?’ ‘How did we get here?’ and ‘What, if anything, does my life mean?’ — it never happened.

This probably was not the best place or the right time.

OFFERING ETERNAL LIFE

“May I offer you the Word of God?” the faithful servant presents a gift so precious, so faithful, so rewarding … yet so few will take it.

  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It is the Bible, the Holy Word of God, given to us for instruction, for peace and comfort, for forgiveness of sins, for the promise of eternity with our Creator.
  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It is the salve that heals, caffeine for our souls, batteries for our zeal.
  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It is the answer to life’s perplexing questions, the crooked path made straight, the narrow gate, the difficult road.
  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It’s thinking of other’s needs above our own, of not thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought, of discarding the past and running the race set before us.
  • “May I offer you the Word of God?” It’s being given the crown of life, a house with many rooms, streets of gold, and the river of life.

***

“May I offer you the Word of God?”

No, you say? Okay, I understand. God still loves you, and I’ll pray for you. My prayer will be that someday, maybe in a hotel lobby, or a hospital ward, or a military base, or a prison cell … in a church or even in your home, you’ll reach out for the Word of God.

It could save your soul.

WHAT WILL YOU DO?

If you are a Christian, you should take every opportunity God gives you to introduce someone to God’s Word. Jesus calls it being “fishers of men.”

Prayerfully reading God’s Holy Word keeps us in His will.

If you are not yet a believer, but you “attend” church, you should take the opportunity God gives you right now to read His Word, to savor its message, and to let it sink into your heart.

If you are agnostic or atheist or follow another religious tradition, may I offer you the Word of God? It is the Creator’s own message to His creation, the men and women He fashioned in His image.

***

If you read His Word and believe His Word, you will be eternally grateful.

Seriously. Eternally grateful.

Let’s join together in singing a hymn of praise to our Lord:

PSALMS 30:11-12 (NIV): “You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent. LORD my God, I will praise you forever.”

PRAYER

Joining corporately and humbly before God’s throne.

ABBA FATHER, LORD GOD ALMIGHTY, we humbly bow before Your throne. You who made the Heavens and the Earth, the sun to rule by day and the moon and stars to rule by night, who merely spoke the words, and it was so. In the beginning, before the creation, was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Then, God created. Lord, equip us to be Your faithful servants, extending our fellowship, witnessing to Your saving grace, and asking those we meet, “May I offer you the Word of God?” In the mighty name of Jesus, Your Son, our Lord, we lift our prayer. AMEN

The Meaning of Life – An Open Letter

(This devotion is an adaption of a letter I wrote to my adult daughters. I have massaged it to hide their identities and to make it useful to a general audience. May God bless you as you read through it and pray with me at the end. WP)

  • “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NKJV)
  • “Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2:15 NIV)

A MESSAGE BORN OF LOVE

WITH THE INCREASING TURMOIL in today’s world, this is an excellent time to reflect on the meaning of life. Since I am not a recognized spiritual “expert,” it’s easy to tune me out (😑), but I hope you’ll suffer through a few minutes, if only because I’m sharing from my heart.

GOD establishes His supreme authority very the very beginning, “In the beginning, God created …”

This is a message born out of love and concern, not from one (me) who has gotten everything right in life but one (me) who has had to learn some very tough lessons. Unfortunately, until I learned them, I may well have damaged other people along the way, but that’s what gives this message its impact.

It’s about God’s grace, not my accomplishments.

The text source above gives us two purposes for family as God designed us: one, that He created us male and female for marriage; and two, that He wants us to raise “Godly offspring,” that is, children who know the Lord.

When I was a young man busy with career and family, I did not know the Lord. Now, I do, and I want to tell others about Him because He has brought peace and joy to my life.

OUR INTERCONNECTEDNESS

You (my reader) and I together have experienced the ups and downs of a world connected through mass media and the internet, so a royal wedding in England and a typhoon in Asia are shared by billions around the globe.

GOD designed marriage as a physical, emotional, and spiritual union of male and female to begin families and provide the foundation for orderly society.

We experience it all: mass shootings here, an act of bravery and sacrifice there; devastating illness in one family, joy and thanksgiving in another.

With this perplexing puzzle and the ever present news feed, it’s no wonder so many today feel confused, disoriented, discouraged, and resentful.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be that way. God — our Creator — has graciously provided us a way out.

We are called to join those of faith who, as one church elder phrased it, “praise God in the good times and praise Him in the bad times.”

More than anything else, I wish you would take your spiritual lives seriously and search into the claims the Lord makes for Himself, to see if they are true.

Jesus (God in human form) says He is God.

That makes him one of three things: a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. If He’s one of the first two, we can safely ignore Him.

However, if He’s the third, the Lord — the only other option — then we must worship Him.

WE HAVE CHOICES

God has given each of us a choice, with consequences, in our response. My prayer each day is that those we love — independently and with conviction — will seek the Lord’s guidance in their lives and then teach this to others, especially their children:

GOD designed the man (husband, father) to lead the family in devotions; He created the woman (wife, mother) to raise the children and encourage her husband’s leadership.

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength. And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up.” (Deuteronomy 6:5-7 NKJV)

You, dear reader, may well be an accomplished and capable man or woman, making it very easy — seductively easy — to rest in the falsehood that your success is strictly your own doing and that you owe God nothing, that He has done nothing for you.

A quick list of God’s blessings starts with the fact that He created us, that He gave us life. He did that for a purpose, and that purpose is to glorify Himself and to have Fellowship with us. That is the greatest blessing in life, to be in Fellowship with our Creator.

Don’t let another day go by without taking advantage of that free gift of God’s grace. If you are a husband and father, lead your family to worship the Lord and walk with Him daily; if you are a wife and mother, encourage your husband to start leading you and your children so they will become the “Godly offspring” your Creator desires.

The husband’s job is to lead the family; the wife’s job is to ensure he does it!

SHARING OUR GRATITUDE

Finally, I am grateful for my wife being in my life — she is my third wife but my first and only Christian wife. Despite our joy in being together, we see the hurts and sorrows that divorce brings. She and I both suffer from our divorces, and we can see our children accommodating to it in their lives.

GOD desires my worship, praise, and adoration.

Both of us love our collected children and grandchildren, and we’re both trying to present the message of redemption, fellowship, healing, and life to each of them.

God gives each of us the freedom to make our choices. However, there are consequences for our eternal destination. Either we will continue in Fellowship with the Lord forever, or we will be separated from Him forever.

You, dear reader, should not want separation from the Lord for yourself. You should want Fellowship with the Lord. He tells us to “choose life.”

“I call heaven and earth to witness against you today, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deuteronomy 30:19 ESV)

Two choices: one is foolish, one is wise. Please choose the wise one for you and your families.

________

PRAYER


GOD’S holy and inspired Word guides us, comforts us, leads us, sustains us, and calls us to Him

ABBA, FATHER, we come to You, O Lord, in humility and  repentance, knowing we are unworthy to approach the throne of grace except through the blood of Jesus Christ. We ask forgiveness for our pride and waywardness and seek Your mercy, O Lord, as You reconcile us to Yourself and lead us in all righteousness for Your name sake. Lord, bring a saving grace to a darkened world and may we, Your servants, not be a stumbling block but a light in that task. We ask this in the mighty name of our Savior, Jesus Christ. AMEN

POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

When we think of the Trinity, we naturally list the Holy Spirit last … and too often many ignore Him altogether, yet the Holy Spirit’s role is to be treasured by believers. He is the Person who lives within our hearts, guiding us, and reminding us of what the Father decrees and the Son teaches. Plus, He’s our guarantor of eternal life. He seals us for the day of redemption. Praise God! Thank you, Holy Spirit for Your presence.

JOHN 14:16-17a (CSB): “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever. He is the spirit of truth.”

JOHN 15:26-27a (NET): “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send you from the Father — the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father — he will testify about me, and you also will testify.”

 GUIDED BY THE HOLY SPIRIT

JESUS ascending into Heaven.

IMAGINE FOR A MOMENT that you were standing on the Mount of Olives as Jesus blesses His apostles and then — gasp! — ascends into the clouds.

Dumbstruck, you stand there looking up, when two angels suddenly appear and ask Peter, John, James, Andrew, and the rest, “Why are you looking up?”

You think to yourself, “Hmm, kinda obvious, if you saw what we just saw,” but the angels continue, telling the apostles and other disciples “this same Jesus” will return “in like manner” and then reminds them — and you — of what Jesus had just told them:

“[Y]ou shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you.” – Acts 1:8a (NKJV)

The key takeaway is this: While the apostles were asking Jesus if He was going to restore Israel to its former greatness, Jesus was commissioning them to join Him in a bigger story: He was calling them to become world-changing evangelists. [You can read the whole story in Acts 1.]

LIFE-CHANGING MOMENT

JESUS sends the Holy Spirit.

IF I WERE THERE, I’d leave the mountaintop as soon as the apostles left, following them downward to Jerusalem and then I’d probably spin off to my house, where I would sit and  wonder what this “power” was that Jesus mentioned.

I would recall something He said about the “Holy Spirit,” but, like the apostles, I would  have no clue what that meant — at least, not until a week or so later at Pentecost, when the apostles and disciples were blessed with a remarkable gift that allowed them to preach the Gospel in multiple languages.

If I were listening carefully, I would hear the apostle Peter give a stirring sermon, quoting the prophet Joel, that “whoever calls on the name of the Lord Shall be saved (Acts 2:21 NKJV).” Then, I would join 3,000 of my fellow countrymen and be baptized into the community of believers.

That would be, as the saying goes, “a game changer.”

POWER FROM THE SPIRIT

WHEN THE HOLY SPIRIT is received into our hearts, He goes to work immediately to transform us (2 Cor. 5:17). The apostle Paul said we immediately become “a new creation”  (ESV). 

The power of the Holy Spirit

The old things, our old self with its worldly ambitions, is gone, replaced by a new self that responds to the Holy Spirit’s leading.

He becomes God in us, replacing our purpose and goals with His own. The Spirit reminds us of what God the Father declares and God the Son taught. 

“He will teach you all things, and remind you of all that I said to you.” — John 14:26 (NASB20)

We will have turned our lives over to the Creator, and He will begin working in us and through us, not just to transform our lives, but to testify about Him to the world around us. (Acts 1:8; Acts 4:20)

Our testimony will not be just our spoken words but also our actions, as we show the world Christian love, compassion, and forgiveness. (Matt. 5:16; John 10:10; Eph. 4:32; Col. 3:13)

GOD STILL DOES MIRACLES

WE CAN PULL back a bit from the Mount of Olives 2,000 years ago to our hometowns today.

That powerful moment when Jesus blessed His followers and ascended into Heaven, followed close by the imparting of the Holy Spirit, occurs daily in some form as new converts respond to the  Father’s call.

The Holy Spirit helps us understand Scripture.

He still performs miracles, swapping out the garbage of our sin-filled selves and replacing the gunk with fresh water and rose petals.

All it takes is a willing heart, a repentant mind, and a humble spirit, approaching the Throne of Grace and asking the Creator to forgive us, to help us turn from sin, and to thank Him for His gift of atonement on the Cross, and to seek … 

… the power of the Holy Spirit living in our hearts, guiding our way, and sealing us for the day of redemption.

PRAYER

ABBA, FATHER, we thank You for the gift of salvation through Your Son’s work on the Cross, the forgiveness of our sins, and for the redemption of our souls. Fill our hearts with the Holy Spirit, O Lord, and lead us into all righteousness in this life and be the guarantor of our salvation in the next life. In the mighty name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ, we pray. AMEN 

TURNING WATER INTO WINE

Jesus used the wedding ceremony in Cana to perform His first public miracle, even though, He said, His hour had not come to begin His ministry. Why did He then change the wash water into fine-tasking wine, and what lessons can we take from His act? Also, how has this miracle been twisted by some for their own sinful purpose?

  • JOHN 2:10b-11 (NKJV): “‘Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.’ This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory.”
  • PROVERBS 23:35 (NLT): “And you will say,  ‘They hit me, but I didn’t feel it. I didn’t even know it when they beat me up. When will I wake up so I can look for another drink?’”

MISSING THE WHOLE POINT

IN A RECENT NEWSPAPER COLUMN, someone asked (for a friend, of course) on what page the Bible relates the story of how Jesus, the Son of God, turned everyday plain water into delicious wine. 

The question was to be taken humorously, as if today, “We need our wine to help us through the day; even the Lord blessed the water and made it wine, so it must be okay to imbibe!”

Of course, people turn to something to cope, and the times are difficult. 

Alcohol is as easy a comfort as any. It’s plentiful, legal, and socially acceptable. Why, overindulging on occasion is cause for celebration. Friends will say, “Throw off the shackles and live a little!”

Forget for the moment that in Israel in that day, wine contained a very low alcohol content and was not considered strong drink, unless one imbibed in large quantities. 

However, in the minds of some scoffers, the idea remains that God endorsed revelry and drunkenness, when He most certainly did not.

For many people today, alcohol is used to fill the emptiness in their lives, to help them forget their troubles, or give them a “lift” in spirit.

DRILLING DEEPER

FOR THE COMMITTED CHRISTIAN, the comical question should serve as a time for sober reflection (pun intended). 

Let’s drill deeper into the story, found in John 2:1-11. Jesus, His mother Mary, and His disciples were attending a wedding in Cana, when the wine ran out. Mary said to Jesus the equivalent of, “Do something.” Then to the servants, she said, “Do whatever He (Jesus) tells you to  do.”

He told the waiters to fill the purification jars with water and then serve a dipper to the master of the feast, who proclaimed the wine the best of the bunch.

Jesus appeared reluctant to step in but obeyed His mother and “did something.” 

Problem solved. The wedding master was spared the embarrassment of running out of wine, Jesus showed obedience to His mother, and, more importantly, Jesus gave us a lesson about His plan for our future.

GOD’S FUTURE KINGDOM

THE QUESTION THEN is WHY Jesus used this occasion to perform His first public miracle.

According to one reputable source, our Lord was illustrating the wonderful time of joy in His future Kingdom, when all sorrow and sadness will be banished. 

Some biblical support:

  • JOEL 3:18 (ESV): “And in that day the mountains shall drip sweet wine, and the hills shall flow with milk, and all the streambeds of Judah shall flow with water; and a fountain shall come forth from the house of the LORD and water the Valley of Shittim.”
  • JEREMIAH 31:12 (NIV): “They will come and shout for joy on the heights of Zion; they will rejoice in the bounty of the Lord— the grain, the new wine and the olive oil, the young of the flocks and herds. They will be like a well-watered garden, and they will sorrow no more.
  • MATTHEW 26:29 (NASB2020): “But I say to you, ‘I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it with you, new, in My Father’s kingdom.’”

FILLING THE EMPTINESS

MANY OF US KNOW all too well the emptiness that fills our lives before we knew the Lord. In my testimony, I’m clear in admitting “that was me” for decades.

I lost two marriages, many relationships that I prized at the time and thought would lead to marriage, plus my drinking interfered with raising my two precious daughters in the loving manner — with wise insight and teaching — they deserved. I went through too many jobs, mostly by latching onto sinking ships just before disaster  struck. I had no self-esteem. I was lost. 

But, no problem! Relief was just a Martini away, and, boy, could I fix them fast! I chilled my glasses (plural) and the gin, and stored the vermouth and olives in the refrigerator. No need for measuring and stirring (James Bond, you had it wrong!). 

As time went on, and my drinking increased, I’d find myself sleeping on the living room floor where I had collapsed the night before. 

Then, I had to rouse myself, freshen up, and head off to a day’s work.

I do not say any of that with pride. When I gave my life to Jesus Christ in November 2010, His first act was to tell me what I knew all along He would: “You, son, must stop!”

It took three years of struggle to give up the Martinis, and I’ve been dry since January 2014. 

POSTSCRIPT 

THERE IS AN IMPORTANT lesson in Christ’s miracle that should not get lost. It is not about the sweetness of fermented grapes nor the intoxicating power of alchoholic beverages, nor a lecture on the addictive nature of strong drink.

The lesson is that deep within the human soul is an emptiness that God placed there so we would search for Him. (Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NKJV): “He has placed eternity in their hearts.”)

When we short-circuit that search and land on alcohol instead of Jesus, we short-change ourselves and wind up with a poor substitute. (That’s equally true when the substitute is something else, like workaholism, gambling, sports, adultery — anything that takes the place of our Lord.)

The real gift is Jesus, Himself. 

In Ezekiel, He promised to change hard hearts into soft loving hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). In John, He changed water into wine (John 2:10). In 2 Corinthians and Ephesians, He tells us to change our old selves into our new selves (2 Cor. 5:17; Eph. 4:24).

While we are called to seek the Lord, in the end, our salvation rests in His hands. 

His message to us was at least twofold: (1) I am God, and I can change water into wine with just a word, just as a spoke the universe into being, and (2) The wine I  made was a symbolic representation of joy and fellowship, not an invitation to debauchery and drunkenness.

Don’t miss the point our Lord made because of the “cutesy” jocular question mentioned earlier. 

PSALMS 118:23 (ESV)“This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our sight.”

__________

PRAYER 

O LORD, OUR GRACIOUS AND MERCIFUL HEAVENLY FATHER, we are so dependent on Your goodness for our lives, our safety, our health, our salvation! Without Your caring nature, we would be eternally lost. With Your caring nature, we who call on You are promised eternal life with You. O Lord, as the song says, “We scare can take it in.” Bless us, O Lord, can keep us safely by Your side. In Jesus’ precious name we pray, AMEN

IS IT FAITH … OR RELIGION?

Faith, the Bible tells us, is believing in things that are not seen, but when coupled with intelligence, is based on the strongest and most reliable inference as to what truth is. Jesus told us He came to “bear witness to the truth” and that He is the truth. Religion is a man-made construct of ritual and liturgy that too often substitutes for the personal relationship with our Lord that He desires. We are called to surrender to the truth by our faith. We don’t want the practice of religion to substitute for the real thing.

  • MARK 11:22 (ESV): “And Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.’”
  • ROMANS 4:16a (NKJV): “Therefore, it is of faith that it might be according to grace, so that the promise might be sure to all the seed.”
  • TITUS 2:1 (NIV): “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.”

THE FORM OF RELIGION

EVERY SUNDAY MORNING in churches across America, the same rituals play out. In some churches, the faithful are praising the God of creation, while in many others, half-hearted “attendees” are simply  going through the motions.

 We know this because the Bible is clear that “you will know them by their fruits’ (Matt. 7:16 NKJV), and the fruit from churches where the Bible is cast aside, or updated to be “relevant,” leads to false witness.

Most of the errant churches fall into one of three categories: mainline Protestant churches, liberal Catholic churches, or “seeker-friendly” churches. 

Each is marked with its own apostasy, and while true believers may be found in each one, the churches as a whole are failing to proclaim God’s truth as contained in His revelation.

SOUND DOCTRINE

TODAY’S RELIGION is that of “syncretism,” or a blend of all religions. This falsehood is built on the flimsy foundation that “all religions” teach pretty much the same thing, which is how to live “a good life. 

Living a “good life,” by this world’s standards, is considered “good enough” to warrant eternal life post-death in “a better place.” That “better place” is ill-defined as to substance and location.

However, for today’s populace, governed by reason, which is the conclusion of their individual thought process and a melding of the zeitgeist, or spirit of the times. 

“Everyone” does it or thinks it or says it, is a common refrain, as if truth were something discovered by counting noses — the more people do something or believe something, the greater likelihood it is of being true.

Of course, the Holy Bible teaches the exact opposite.

BIBLICAL TRUTH

THE BIBLE TEACHES God’s eternal and universal  truth, good for all people in all places for all time. It is not subject to “updating” or “tinkering” to make it relevant to one’s time and place.

When the faithful are called to worship God each Lord’s Day, the question remains: How many are worshipping their Creator and Savior, with whom they have a personal saving relationship, versus how many are going through the motions, content to follow familiar ritual, as though that alone were sufficient to give them brownie points with “the Man upstairs.”

At the end, our Lord tells us the tares (or weeds) will be separated from the wheat, but meanwhile, the two sit side-by-side, singing the same hymns, mouthing the same prayers, and hearing the same preaching.

When the final “Amen” is said and the church doors open, the faithful depart to re-enter the world, some to shine a light into the darkness while others go to blend in with it.

POSTSCRIPT

WHICH GROUP IS WHICH?

It’s a fair bet that those moved to worship the King of kings and Lord of lords are eager to share their faith, both by how they act and what they say, while those content to observe the liturgy of religion will leave all that “God talk” in church as they re-enter the “real world.”

God will not be mocked, nor will He be fooled as to which is which. He reads our hearts and knows where we side. 

The Lord is clear in telling us we are to be a part of the world, to witness to the world, to pour salt and light into the world, but we are not to love the world or become absorbed or conformed by it.

Instead, we are to be transformed by the renewal of our minds. 

That renewal takes place via God’s grace through our faith, not the false piety of “religion,” which can mean almost anything but has this in common with all religions: It is man-made and reflects man’s hopes and desires, not God’s truth. 

God’s truth requires faith on our part because only with faith are we able to please Him.

_________

PRAYER

LORD, THANK YOU for Your love and  tender mercy, we thank You for sending Your Son to pay the price of our sin so that we wouldn’t have to and we could be freed from sin and enjoy eternal fellowship with You. Help us now, O Lord, to speak for You to others, to share our faith, as we enjoy Your promises. Let us not block a personal relationship with You by interposing mindless ritual and liturgy that often substitute for the real thing. In Jesus’ name we raise this prayer. AMEN

AND GOD CREATED EVE

Eve might well be God’s most glorious creation, an improvement over Adam, yet protected by Adam, the only one of God’s creatures to be fashioned out of living tissue (Adam was formed from dirt) and the only creature who was met by a similar being whose main function was to protect and provide for her. She was loved from the beginning, yet she disregarded God’s voice spoken through her husband for the devil’s voice spoken through a snake. The legacy of her curse, pain in childbearing and conflict with her husband, brings to this beautiful, vulnerable creature pain and suffering that only God can remove.

  • Genesis 2:18 (NKJV): “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’”
  • Genesis 2:22 (NKJV): “Then the rib which the LORD God had taken from man He made into a woman, and He brought her to the man.”
  • Genesis 3:16 (ESV): “To the woman he said, ‘I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.’”

GOD’S MOST GLORIOUS CREATION

WHEN GOD CREATED MANKIND, his first image was Adam. Adam was a man, a male, the first human being. Adam knew this: that the God who created him  was superior to him in every way. 

Then God brought the Parade of Critters before Adam to see what Adam would name them. God did so to make the point that they were inferior to Adam.

Then God told Adam He would make yet another creature. This one would be “comparable” to him, meaning “similar to,” or “equal to,” or “on the same level as,” but not “identical to.”

God placed Adam into a deep sleep and removed a rib bone and from that bone created Eve. She was the first woman, a female, the second human being.

Eve was created to be Adam’s companion, love interest, and helper. She was designed to complement Adam, not to duplicate him. 

Therefore, God gave her traits and characteristics that He denied Adam, while giving Adam traits and characteristics He denied Eve.

Now, here comes the interesting part: What does it mean that God created Eve second and Adam first, and what significance, if any, does that have for us today?

EVE IS PROTECTED

IF EVERY ONE OF GOD’S creations, except light, was superior to and dependent on a prior creation, then certainly Eve would be counted superior to, and dependent on, a prior creation.

That would be Adam.

All of God’s creations prior to Adam were fashioned from nothing. Adam was fashioned from dirt. Eve was  the lone creation fashioned from living tissue. 

She also was the only creation afforded a protector and provider. No other creation — from birds to wild animals to small animals to fish — was greeted by something similar to it that also was designed to care for it and keep it safe.

Only Eve was.

She was greeted by a husband who loved and adored her. 

She was never alone in creation the way Adam was. She began life with a home and a husband. Moreover, to make her life even sweeter, she was told she could bear children.

GOD’S HURTFUL CURSE

FAST-FORWARD TO SIN, and God is reprimanding Satan, Adam, and Eve for their conspiracy to deny  His truth regarding the “special tree” that God told them to avoid.

Satan and Adam were given their curses, and Eve was given hers. Although fewer words in Genesis were used to describe her curse than the other two, her curse might have hurt the most.

God told her that her punishment for defying Him was to suffer hardship in childbirth and estrangement from her husband. God placed Adam as a protective covering for her, but she would chaff under his headship.

The two greatest joys in any woman’s life — her husband and her children — would be associated with physical or emotional pain.

ENTER TODAY’S WOMAN

THAT BRINGS US to the modern era and today’s woman. She’s a self-confident college-educated take-no-prisoners hard-edged overachiever who doesn’t  want to waste her life — her life being a woman.

Her highest calling today is not marriage and family but earning her stripes on the partner track or landing a high-paying STEM job or shouldering arms and patrolling crime-infested neighborhoods during the day’s darkest hours.

Today, she is not a “woman” but a non-gendered “person.” She wants preferential hiring and promotion status at work while sanitizing the environment from male crudeness and sexual innuendo.

When she arrives home, she is thrust back to the traditional female role of homemaker — the pivotal centerpiece of the family — and, sadly, many find the  transition difficult and painful.

This is the most tragic part of the curse for Eve — her vulnerable heart, that sweet, lovely, nurturing, caring, beautiful heart — is broken, hurting, and suffering through life.

Meanwhile, the Adam in her life stands by her side, longing to help and protect her, without having any more clue on how to do that than the first Adam had.

Only Jesus, the perfect God-man, got it right

Yes, the curse against Adam and Eve lingers, but God promises us abundant life with Him to those who believe in Jesus, repent of their sin and seek forgiveness, and turn their lives over to His control.

PRAYER

OUR LORD AND CREATOR, thank You for creating us in Your image, as Your  most precious creatures in all of creation. We revel in being latter day Adams and Eves and feel Your glorious touch in making us husband and wife, to love and cherish one another. We pray grace on today’s Eves, that their vulnerable emotions, which make them so special, will be protected and cared for by today’s Adams, and that they will be the helpers, the companions, and the soulmates that God created them to be. In Jesus’ name we lift this prayer, giving thanks and praise to God Almighty. AMEN

GOD: CALLING ALL MEN

God’s plan for men is to protect their wives and children and provide for them. He is to lead them in spiritual matters. God commands it; the wives desire it; the children need it. God will hold the husband/father responsible for the family’s well-being. When men fail to exercise their proper role, their wives are forced to step in, striving to fill a role God did not design them to fill. The harm to the family can extend downward to future generations.

  • Ephesians 5:23-25 (NKJV): “For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. … Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.”
  • 1 Peter 3:7 (ESV): “Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered.”

GOD’S HOLY DESIGN

GOD DESIGNED MEN to care for their wives. Men are to provide for them, love them, protect them, and help them raise their children.

 They are to see that their homes are well managed, that their children are taught about God and moral virtue, and that discipline should be loving and not harmful to the self-confidence of their children.

Men are to submit their wills and temperament to Jesus Christ, who in turn submits His will and temperament to the Father. 

Whenever anything goes wrong in the home, God will come looking for the husband-father. God will hold him responsible, regardless of what either his wife or his children do. 

If the man does not treat his wife in the honorable way God demands, his prayers will be hindered. 

Each one of those statements is drawn from Scripture. 

PROTECTIVE UMBRELLA

MARRIAGE IS LIKE A BUG.

That doesn’t sound very appealing, does it, but it actually  forms a beautiful picture of protective and nurturing harmony.

Picture the bug having a hard outer shell for protection while the life blood, its soft essential being, is on the inside.

So, too, with marriage. The husband-father is the hard outer shell, protecting his wife and children, while the wife-mother is the nurturing life force of the family. The family unit revolves around her. She makes the decisions and sets the family tone.

When the man fails to do his part, to live up to God’s calling on his life, the woman is forced to step into that role herself, a role she has not been designed to fill nor can she fill adequately.

Every woman who understands this principle will pray to God that her husband will guide her and lead her and be “the man” in her life and — this is very important — that he will take his cues from Jesus Christ in perfect submission.

FAMILY SCORECARD

 STUDIES SHOW A REMARKABLE outcome that reinforces God’s call on a man’s life.

It goes to which family member carries the most influence in impacting how the family develops. 

Surprisingly, it’s not the mother, although her role in the family is pivotal. She is the hub of the wheel.

Instead, it’s the father. 

When the children influence their families in spiritual matters, they record a dismal 3.5 percent success rate. That jumps to 17 percent success when the mother influences the family spiritually.

But God called the father to influence the family, and He designed the man to carry out that role. 

Studies show that when the husband-father influences the family in spiritual matters, the success rate far outpaces the 3.5 percent from the child-led and the 17 percent from the wife-mother led.

When the husband-father leads, the influence rate skyrockets to 93 percent!

LOVE AND RESPECT

 WHEN WE’RE WILLING to look, we can see the wisdom of God’s planning and design.

In Ephesians Chapter 5, the apostle Paul tells men they are to “love” their wives, to make them feel secure and wanted, desired, treasured.  

He also tells the women to “respect” their husbands, to submit to their authority as to the Lord, and to be a helpmate. 

Think of the woman as the Holy Spirit in the Trinity, as the counselor, as the rudder on the ship, guiding and directing while desiring to follow her husband’s lead.

Think of the man as Jesus Christ in the Trinity, as the leader and the one God holds responsible. God will come looking for the man, as He did Adam in the Garden, even though Eve and Adam both failed to obey Him. 

APPLICATIONS FOR TODAY

IT OFTEN IS EASY for marriages to develop along a “Y” shape. They begin with husband and wife working and living together as one unit until, slowly and surely, they veer off, the wife to care for the family and the husband to pursue his career. 

One day they recognize they’re strangers to one another, even though each meant well.  When this happens, generally it’s Eve who triggers the alarm, but it is Adam who has to pivot, recognize his wife’s heart-cry, and respond to her in love and resolve.

Adam must recalibrate his path along the trail laid down by Jesus and lead his marriage to repair the damage. 

When he obeys the Lord’s lead, the results are worth the effort. When he disobeys, the consequences wreak havoc.

It’s God’s perfect design. He created us as man and woman to fulfill his plan for the human race. Women generally fulfill their nurturing role in caring for the children; it’s absolutely critical to society that men equally fulfill their role to lead — to protect, guide, and provide.


PRAYER

OUR FATHER IN HEAVEN, blessed be Your name. We are so grateful, Lord, for Your perfect design for men and women to become husbands and wives and together, fathers and mothers. We are to fit together, O Lord,  like the common bug, with the woman’s soft life blood nurturing, and the man’s hardened shell protecting and providing. Together, Lord, two equal but differently designed humans fulfill Your plan for raising Godly children and subduing the earth. We pray, O Lord, that as men, we will lead our families by submitting our authority to that of Jesus Christ; we pray, as women, that we will respect our husbands as to the Lord. Lord, help the men live up to the task you’ve assigned them. To you, O Lord, belong all the honor, praise, and glory. In the name of Jesus we pray. AMEN

WHO DO WE TRUST, GOD OR MAN?

Those who believe in Jesus Christ are called to place their trust in the promises of God, not in the promises of man. Our government leaders pretend to listen to us but pursue their own goals. Only God our Creator loves us enough to be worthy of our praise.

  • Colossians 3:2 (NKJV): “Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth.”
  • Psalm 118:8 (NKJV): “It is better to trust in the LORD Than to put confidence in man.”

POST-ELECTION FOLLIES

NOW THAT THE 2020 presidential election is over and the fractious aftermath has begun, those of us who confess our faith in Jesus Christ are called to lead our country as Christ wants us to.

Are we doing that?

From what I see, Satan has infiltrated the church and is sowing lies and discord. Take a look at the divisions within Christendom between those who support the  Trump-Pence Administration and those who support the Biden-Harris team.

Those of us who support the former President and Vice President are still being labeled “deplorable,” “racists,” “fascists,” and “haters,” even by those within the church who claim the mantel of Christ. 

Even the innocuous cry to ensure accountability in the election process sets the “religious left” off. Their calls for “unity” sound good but are really a cover for stifling dissent. Unity around one set of ideas is not unity, it’s conformity.

INFLAMMATORY RHETORIC

WE’VE SEEN THE INFLAMMATORY rhetoric of a false prophet, Beth Moore, who has shown more distain toward Christian conservatives than she has toward those openly living in sin and proclaiming their “pride” in so doing. 

Then people who claim the mantel of Christ use her false testimony against fellow Christians and promote their hostility toward us through the secular media.

Didn’t the apostle Paul show his disgust with Christians who dragged fellow Christians into pagan-run courts because they refused to settle differences in a peaceful and brotherly manner? (See 1 Corinthians 6).

How is it, then, that so many of our fellow Christians, who worship each week beside us, use the tools of anti-Christian pagans to denigrate fellow believers? 

Should we assume that those who make those charges are not true followers of Christ but merely the tares among the wheat?

DESCENT OF DARK AGES

AT THE OTHER END OF THE DIVIDE are confessing Christians who told us the world would end, or at least civilization would cease, if Trump-Pence lost the election. They said the Dark Ages would descend  upon us once again. 

They pointed to policy proscriptions the Democrats offer that include, but are not limited to: 

  • government-run health care, 
  • government-imposed redistribution of wealth,
  • increased welfare benefits, 
  • expanded abortion “rights”,
  • porous borders, 
  • same-sex marriage,
  • citizenship for illegal residents, 
  • voting rights for convicted felons, 
  • lowering the voting age to 16, 
  • ending America’s reliance on fossil-fuel energy, 
  • forcing employers to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing measures, 
  • placing stricter limitations on religious liberty, and
  • opposing Israel’s sovereignty.

They also noted Democrats said they might, among other measures:

  • eliminate the Senate filibuster,
  • add three or four Supreme Court justices (all leftist activists),
  • extend statehood to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico to ensure four more Democrat senators, and
  • expand “ballot harvesting” to ensure a sufficient number of Democrat ballots are provided to overturn any election at the national or state level won by Republicans.

Regardless of which administration is in power, God remains sovereign, and He will chart our course. As Christians, we are to pray for wisdom and lead by example.

DEPEND ON GOD

This is a gift, and only those who have placed their trust in Him for salvation can appreciate it. Those who are not “in Christ” cannot appreciate the gift, don’t recognize it as a gift, and, sadly, may not even want it.

How else are we to get through the days, weeks, months, and years ahead when the multitude around us are heading in the wrong direction, rejecting the voice of God, and pursuing their own ends. 

We can rest assured that God’s promises are good because He is faithful. May our hearts join together in song:

STANDING ON THE PROMISES

Standing on the promises of Christ my King

Through eternal ages let his praises ring

Glory in the highest, I will shout and sing

Standing on the promises of God

Standing, standing

Standing on the promises of God my Savior

Standing, standing

I’m standing on the promises of God.

O LORD GOD, OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, our King, our Righteousness, our salvation, we rest secure in Your promises to love us, protect us, and care for us, especially when we encounter troubled times. We pray for strengthened hearts that will proclaim Your glorious name and willing hearts that will live out Your commands. May we be Your hands and feet, O LORD, going about Your will. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. AMEN

TIME TO CANCEL ‘CANCEL CULTURE’

Our country is under assault from within, as the left-wing mob mindset gains ascendancy, shutting down dissenting viewpoints, especially those of political conservatives and Bible-based Christians. The evil is twofold: shutting down opposing voices while advancing an anger-based, hate-filled agenda. God’s Words will never pass away, regardless of the mob’s intent.

  • MATTHEW 5:44 (NKJV): “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
  • MATTHEW 24:35 (ESV): “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.”

 FREE SPEECH NULLIFIED

 “CANCEL CULTURE,” WHICH USED TO BE seen by many as just another overreach by the political left that could be disregarded, has become a cancerous blot on our country and its continued life as a republic. 

To be blunt, “cancel culture” is a fascistic impulse leaching from the radical left into mainstream liberalism with the aim of silencing all opposition. 

Opposition means “divergent viewpoint.”

It means, “If you don’t agree with me, shut up! Go away.” 

More than that is the mind-reading that interprets someone’s motives. If you disagree with a leftist, which is possible, then your motives are seen as malevolent regardless of what you say or how gently you say it.

There is no dialogue here. There is no room for equivocation. If you disagree with the leftist position on anything, you are immediately judged not only to be wrong but to be divisive and to harbor malignant motives.

You need to be “cancelled” or “deplatformed.” 

There is no room in that mindset for honest dialogue. They may threaten you physically for even voicing an opinion and then, if you respond with more respect than their comment warrants, they’ll claim you “bashed” them. 

Snowflakes? 

BIG TECH INFLUENCE

NOWHERE IS CANCEL CULTURE more prevalent than in the social media world controlled by Big Tech.   

Yes, the Big Tech operatives arrogate to themselves the right to censor divergent thoughts, but now even fellow users — called “Friends” — want to exercise that right.

They will block you or silence you or unfriend you — all legitimate responses, even if immature — but their bullying tactics are leading many conservatives to censure themselves.

They’re dropping from FaceBook and Twitter like passengers from a drowning ship. 

Who needs to cancel their voices if they willingly do so themselves?

How sad that the growing cancer of leftism wants to circle the wagons to protect themselves from divergent voices, to hunker down with like-minded weaklings, and to threaten dire consequences for anyone they don’t like. 

(The penalties are more severe for a minority, who has wandered off the plantation by not understanding their “class interest.”)

SERIOUS BUSINESS

WE NEED TO UNDERSTAND something fundamental here. This is serious business. Please, everyone,  take notice.

Slightly more than 150 years ago, our country at the time fought a War Between the States (Civil War) over many issues: slavery, economic power, states’ rights, and probably various turf conflicts that only historians are aware of now.

The dividing lines in most states were decided geographically. Perhaps in Maryland, a border state, was the divide more local.

Today, while there are geographic divisions in our country, the dividing lines are ideological. People see the world differently. 

If you took 12 issues of current importance and listed opinions into two columns, A and B, you very likely would find that anyone who placed himself in Column A on one item would be in Column A for the  other 11, as well. The same with Column B. 

That means whatever animosity was kindled with the first dispute was rekindled with the second one and ignited by the third item. That gets topped by the fourth item, and so on.

IS THIS HEALTHY?

WHO SEES THIS AS HEALTHY?

Some would say, “Don’t bother to tell me your divergent viewpoint. You won’t change my mind.”

Okay, why not?

Will you change my mind?

You could, but not if we don’t talk.

What if none of us, not any one of us — you or me or the other guy or gal — has a corner on absolute truth? 

What if we all could learn something from listening to someone else?

“Nope,” cancel culture says, “don’t talk to me. I’ll shut you down.”

Shameful.

PRAYER

ALMIGHTY AND GRACIOUS FATHER, we come into Your courts with thanksgiving and your gates with praise. Lord, we can do nothing without Your influence in our lives. You promised that all who believe in You will have life abundantly, will know the truth, and that truth will set us free. O Lord, we claim that truth and believe it with our whole hearts. Now, Lord, inspire our hearts to proclaim the goodness of Your love and the truth of Your design for us. Strengthen us, O Lord, through the trials and persecutions of the angry mob. Weaken their voice, O Lord, and strengthen ours. In Jesus’ name we lift this prayer. AMEN