GOODBYE MARTINIS — HELLO HOLY SPIRIT

God’s Word (Eccl. 3:11) tells us that our Creator has placed an emptiness in our lives that only He can fill satisfactorily, yet so many people choose instead to fill that hole with substitutes: alcohol, drugs, sex, gambling, risk-taking, or other addictions such as excess work, service, exercise, or pleasure. He invites us to exchange our demons for His refreshing peace (Matt. 11:28). Here’s one man’s tale of redemption from blessed Martinis to blessed Holy Spirit.

Prov. 23:35 (NKJV): “They have struck me, but I was not hurt; They have beaten me, but I did not feel it. When shall I awake, that I may seek another drink?”

Rom. 8:6 (NLT): “So letting your sinful nature control your mind leads to death. But letting the Spirit control your mind leads to life and peace.”

Phil. 4:7 (CSB): “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

_________________________

MARTINIS ARE OUT; HOLY SPIRIT IS IN

FOR MOST OF MY LIFE, I lived without the Holy Spirit in my heart. I did not know the Lord in a personal way. 

IF I WORSHIPPED anything besides myself, it was an extra dry Bombay gin Martini, with properly chilled glass and garnished with a queen-sized olive.CHILLED_MARTINI

When I went to church, which was rare, it was more out of a sense of duty than of worship … and it certainly was not to offer thanksgiving or repent of sin!

Mostly, I slobbered over young attractive women, especially the ones who sat in church without a boyfriend groping at them throughout the service. I was a strong proponent of immodest clothing and loved watching the women play with their hair. 

For 20 years, comprising the time of my first marriage through the wilderness of divorce, I was a “devout Unitarian Universalist,” if there was such a thing. Once I became convinced the UU church was a dead end, I left … and I struggled some more.

DROWNING MY DEMONS

WHEN MY DEMONS became too numerous to handle, I turned to alcohol to deaden the pain. Frankly, that happened every day.

That was an “easy fix,” and, over the decades, I became very adapt at maintaining an adequate supply of gin and vermouth and olives, chilling my glasses to keep them at the ready, then chilling the gin in easy-to-pour bottles so I would not have to waste time mixing the liquid with ice cubes. Even the vermouth was stored in  the refrigerator. I never ran out of olives. 54. Broken-Heart-Hand

Within minutes of arriving home after work, I could fix a strong drink even during winter months when that drink would be made before I took off my coat and scarf.

As time went out, year after year, my life turned downhill, and my future turned bleaker. 

In lucid moments, before the sweet relief of alcohol dulled my senses, I looked into the crystal ball of looming retirement and could only see blackness — a broken man, solitary, with minimal funds, and no hope.

TURNING A CORNER

IN NOVEMBER 2006, my life’s journey turned a corner. I met a single woman for lunch, and she asked me, “Ward, do you have a church home?” I said I did not. She then gave me a testimony regarding the importance of church.

As she talked, I determined to try church provided it could be with her. She allowed me at first before ditching me because I was not a Christian. I left her church for another one and two years later met a woman who led me to yet a third church.

There, I met the Holy Spirit.47.Changed Hearts

Everything from the friendliness of the worshippers to the welcome coffee in the atrium to the upbeat praise and worship music to the doctrinally sound pastor’s message showed me a vision of God that I had never seen before.

Yet, through my stubbornness, it still took me another two years — four years from the time I was asked about having a church home — before I turned my life over to Jesus Christ and received the Holy Spirit into my heart.  That was November 2010 — 10 years ago this month. Happy Anniversary to me!

I begged Him to do what He long wanted to do — captain my life, steer me in the right direction, and restore love and peace to my troubled soul.

That day merely began the course correction. 

COMPLETE OVERHAUL UNDERWAY

THE LORD IMMEDIATELY went to work, healing my brokenness and giving me hope for a future, not just in this world but, more importantly, in the world of eternity.

Yes, wouldn’t you know, His first order of business was to convict me of alcohol abuse and encourage me, and then demand of me, that I stop drinking altogether. 

67.Jesus_Welcomes_AllThat involved another three-year struggle, but He won that battle, and now I’m free of the devil’s solution to my emptiness. At the same time, He introduced me to a Christian woman, who became my wife.

As each day, week, month, and year passes, I learn more and  more about God’s promises and how He wants to lead me (and all of His children) into an abundant life (John 10:10b).

Today’s text source speaks volumes into my heart. My sinful nature was leading me into death, and God’s Holy Spirit was the rescue mission to redeem me.

The Lord’s love for His children gives meaning to my life in a way that I never could have imagined before surrendering my will for my life to His will for my life. 

His Spirit fills my heart with joy even when I’m hurting. Even though I am not always happy or content, I am always joyful.

HEALING EVERYONE’S HEART

BUT WHAT ABOUT YOUR HEART?

Do you fill the empty spaces with something other than God’s Holy Spirit? 

It could be alcohol … or it could be something else … illegal drugs, promiscuous sex, uncontrolled gambling, pursuit of pleasure, excessive devotion to work or service projects or exercise or children’s activities … anything that takes the place of our loving God.

image-14If so, remember that God said anything that takes His place in our hearts is wrong and sinful: “You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3 NET) 

Yes, filling that place God intended for Himself to fill with anything other than His Holy Spirit is worshipping a false god. Satan would love to help you find a substitute to deaden the pain, when only God can provide a solution to heal the pain (Matt. 11:28).

If so, I invite you to claim the promises of our loving and gracious God, who loves each of us so much “that he gave his one and only Son” (John 3:16 NIV) to die for our sin that we might be reconciled to God and live … really and truly live.

~All the praise, honor, and glory
 go to the King of kings
 and Lord of lords.~

_________________________

PRAYER

OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we thank You for loving us with a rich love that surpasses our understanding, even our imagination! We thank You for your rich mercy that floods us with grace. We thank You for your rich compassion that forgives our sins. We thank You for your rich generosity that gave us Your Son, who died for our sins and lives again so we, too, can live forever in Your presence. In His name we pray. AMEN

U.S. CHRISTIANS FACE HOSTLE INCOMING ADMINISTRATION

In the wake of an apparent US election victory by the Democratic duo of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president/vice president, the body of Christ will shift from a faith-friendly federal government under Trump-Pence to a faith-hostile administration. Ironically, this could be very good news for the church as the growing rift between church and state will divide Christians into warring camps: those who hold true to the values of God’s Word versus those who profess allegiance to Christianity but don’t have a personal relationship with the Lord. The result could be a much smaller, but bolder, force proclaiming the Gospel without the counter-force of lukewarm Christians.

Romans 5:3 (NKJV): “We also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance.”

1 Peter 4:16 (NET): “But if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but glorify God that you bear such a name.”

1 John 3:13 (CSB): “Do not be surprised, brothers and sisters, if the world hates you.”

____________________

PROCLAIMING UNITY WHILE PRACTICING ENMITY

ALTHOUGH THE 2020 US presidential election results have not been finalized, the apparent winning team of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris as president and vice president, respectively, could usher in a much harsher environment for believing Christians.

I look forward to the battle.

I must be crazy, right? 

CHURCH_CONGREGATION_MEETINGMaybe so, but my thought is that the Christian church in America is too lazy. We need a wake-up call. We need to become bold  witnesses for our Lord and Savior.

Professing Christians are lazy Christians. Most are unwilling to do more than squeeze into the pews or comfy chairs on Sunday morning, enjoy some music, half-listen to a sermon (preferably short, with jokes and stories), and spend most of their energy greeting friends, neighbors, and business associates. 

That’s not Christianity as our Savior commissioned us in Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8 … not by a long shot. He told us to “go” and “tell” everyone we meet, the whole world, about Him and what the Lord has done for us. (Mark 5:19) 

How many professing Christians are sharing their faith with anyone? How many professing Christians understand the basic doctrines of their faith? How many professing Christians even care to change?

GOD’S WAKE-UP CALL

THIS COULD BE God’s wake-up call for His church.

After dislocating us from our comfortable church buildings because of Covid restrictions, His next move might well be dislocating us from our comfortable federal government administration because of election results.GOD_WAKUP_CALL

A double whammy smack alongside the head to send some sense into us. 

There’s plenty of precedent for this. God’s judgment of the Israelites permeates the Old Testament as God tried to mold His chosen people into the evangelizing force He had envisioned for them. 

Instead of showing God’s blessings to the world, they wandered from their calling, and when they were faithful, they kept their values and traditions to themselves instead of sharing with their neighbors.

So, God would punish them until they caught on to their dilemma and turned back to Him in sorrow and repented of their sins and faithlessness, begging God to hear their prayers and bless their land and give them peace.

HERE’S WHAT’S COMING

DO WE KNOW what an incoming Biden-Harris administration would mean for the Christian church? Well, we don’t “know” the future, but we can “project” the future based on statements the Democratic Party has published regarding its intentions.ANGER_HOSTILITY

In his article, “Last Call for America?” in Decision magazine’s November 2020 issue (pp 2-3), evangelist Franklin Graham wrote this: 

“The Democratic platform appears now to fully represent the progressive left, whose liberal agenda seeks to dramatically remake our nation in their own radical image. It is unapologetically pro-abortion, it staunchly advocates LGBTQ rights and it is hostile toward the Biblical view of marriage as between one man and one woman.” 

It’s not just evangelical Protestants who will be targeted. 

A Christian website with a conservative Catholic perspective, LifeSiteNews, published an opinion piece, “How a Biden Presidency Would Unleash Christian Persecution,” opposing the so-called “Equality Act,” H.R. 5, which House Democrats have passed, that would demolish legal protections for practicing Christians. 

Along party lines, Democrats defeated Republican amendments intended to weaken the draconian legislation. Among those amendments were to:

  • exempt biological females from being forced to compete in spots against biological males who identify as female;
  • shield healthcare workers from being compelled to affirm a patient’s subjective sense of gender identity;
  • allow medical personnel to refuse to participate in abortions;
  • protect parents’ legal rights to direct the medical care of their minor children.

Referring to the Equality Act, Dr. Carl J. Broggi, senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Beaufort, SC, said this in his Nov. 8, 2020 sermon: “We are living in a day of ‘sheer wickedness.’”

THE BALL’S IN OUR COURT

IF WE TRULY THINK God is calling us to reach His broken creation with words of healing and salvation, the very words that He has given us and we profess to believe, then why  would we shy away from a grand fight?66.Jesus_Changes_Everything

If Satan’s forces are on the ascendancy in our country, then the battle lines will be drawn more sharply than the muddled lines we’ve always known. Neighbor will turn against neighbor; friend against friend; family member against family member (Matthew 10:21-22). 

Even the churches will be split as the “complacent” and “complicit” Christians exit (1 John 2:19), leaving “committed” Christians to remain, carrying Christ’s banner.

It’s that sharp divide that I find so energizing. 

There is very little emotion or adrenaline involved in weak battles with minimal outcomes … but once the divide becomes significant and the results are magnified, then the blood rushes through the body and the Holy Spirit invigorates the soul.

Game On! 

We know that, in the end, Jesus Christ wins. We could be facing that battle now … or soon. Hear these words from (Revelation 22:20 NKJV):

Even so, come, Lord Jesus!

________________

PRAYER

FATHER GOD, YOU told us the world would hate us if we follow You  because the world hated You first. Okay, lead on, Lord Almighty. Take us where You want us to go. May we be found worthy ambassadors for Christ. May we boldly declare what the Lord has done for us, how He has redeemed us in His sight, forgiven us our sins, and washed us clean in the Lamb’s blood. May we never fear those who can only hurt our bodies but not touch our souls. To You, Lord, goes the glory! In Jesus’ name. AMEN

EXPOSING OUR SECRET LIVES

We are badly mistaken when we think our “secret” lives are “secret.” God sees everything and assures us in Luke 12:3 that what we say in the dark will be heard in the daylight and what we’ve whispered in the inner rooms will be shouted from the rooftops. We know that some men and women whom we respect and admire are what Jesus in Matthew 23:27 called “white-washed tombs” with pristine exteriors hiding decay within. Being forewarned, we should avoid tripping over those snares. Proverbs 27:12 tells us that prudent people see danger ahead and take precautions, but “simpleton[s]” press “blindly on” and suffer the consequences.

Romans 2:16 (NLT): And this is the message I proclaim — that the day is coming when God, through Christ Jesus, will judge everyone’s secret life.

Luke 12:3 (ESV): Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops.

Proverbs 4:23 (NCV): Be careful what you think, because your thoughts run your life.

__________________________

GOD KNOWS OUR SECRET THOUGHTS

EVEN OUR MOST PRIVATE THOUGHTS will be made  public!

65.Hidden_ThoughtsHow comforting it is to let our minds roam the extremes, darting past the boundaries of respectability and decorum, venturing into forbidden territory, flirting with danger … because no one knows and, therefore, there’s no harm!

Right? Wrong.

Yes, the God we serve knows everything about us. He knows what we do, what we say … even what we think.

While we may believe our thoughts are hidden, and that we can maintain a good facade simply by watching what we do or say, God tells us that even our thoughts are important.

MISTAKEN ASSUMPTIONS ARE COSTLY

YEARS AGO, BEFORE becoming a Christian, I assumed that what we thought lodged safely within our heads, with no impact on our  lives or those around us unless we acted — or spoke — in response.

Therefore, I reasoned, our minds were free to explore the darkest corners of dreams and ideas, with no repercussions.God's Glory Fills the Hills

As a parent of two children, I allowed them to watch whatever television programs they wanted, even when the children’s programs flirted with filth. One day, my younger of two daughters pushed me out of their TV room with these words: “Daddy, you have to leave the room. They’re talking about sex.”

Stunned, I stumbled into the kitchen, blurting out to their mother, “Do you know what they’re watching?”

She said, “Yes, it’s on all the time.”

That was 30 years ago. All that’s changed since then is the situation has gotten worse.

OUR SINFUL THOUGHTS HARM US

SIN IS BORN in our thoughts.

When those thoughts, or desires, become strong enough, they lead us to act contrary to God’s will (James 1:14-15), and that leads to death because death is the payment for sin (Romans 6:23).

In the days before my conversion, I didn’t realize that the thoughts that populated our minds — mine or, in this case, my children’s — would, or even could, find their way out through our speech or future actions.

Without the Bible’s teaching, I was content to follow my own desires for my purposes and would find a way, if I could, to neutralize any opposition, from whatever source — wife, employer, neighbor. It didn’t matter. I was the “captain” of my destiny, and I took great pride in getting my way.

As the *natural man* (1 Cor. 2:14), I was unable to see a higher purpose in which I could be called to serve others (Mark 10:45) or not think of myself more highly than I ought (Rom. 12:3) or to bear another’s burdens (Gal. 6:2).

I also paid a heavy price for my insolence, although I did not immediately attribute any failings to my conduct or mindset.

GOD’S GRACE SAVES US

GOD’s GRACE is so amazing.

He not only wants to forgive us for what we do, but He wants to forgive us for every intemperate word and errant thought! (Romans  5:20)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

More than that, He wants to redeem us and teach us so that we won’t continue along the path that leads to destruction. (Matt. 7:13) We learn through His Word that our paths, our desires, may seem right to us, but we take them at our peril. (Prov. 16:25)

Once we receive the Holy Spirit, He goes to work to remake us in His image. (2 Cor. 5:17; Phil. 2:13)

Then, we see more clearly the strong connection between our errant thoughts and our behavior, and we strive to change our thinking, with His help and under His grace, to thoughts honoring our Savior. (2 Cor. 10:5; Phil. 4:8)

POSTSCRIPT

WHEN I LOOK BACK at those days before conversion, I shudder to see how selfish I was, how prideful, how ungodly.

Then I read that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, the Godly for the ungodly (Rom. 5:8), that we might have fellowship again with our Creator, the way He designed us before our Fall from Grace (Genesis 3).

That, my friends, is love.

__________________________

PRAYER 

Dear Heavenly Father, You know us better than we know ourselves. You know what is in lone_crossour hearts, what  motivates us, what consumes our passions and energy. You are not fooled. We confess to You our selfishness, our envy, our judgment of others. Please forgive us and cast our sins away, as far as the east is from the west, and remember them no more. Lord, Your Word was given to instruct us, to rebuke and correct us, and to train us so that, as children of the Most High God, we will be adequate for every good work. We pray, O Lord, that You will soften our hearts to make us more obedient to Your will. In Jesus’ holy and matchless name we pray. AMEN

GUARDING OUR TONGUES

What we say can get us into so much trouble. Not only the words we utter, but also our tone of voice and who we share with can hurt others and ourselves. The Bible tells us the tongue “is a fire, a world of iniquity … and it is set on fire by hell.” (James 3:6 NKJV) Those are strong words, yet 2,000 years later, so many of us wish we had been more careful more often with more people. Mankind cannot tame the tongue, the Bible says, so we need the power of God’s Holy Spirit to keep us from this sin.

 

  • Psalm 141:3 (NKJV): “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; Keep watch over the door of my lips.”
  • James 3:8 (NASB): “But no one can tame the tongue;  it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.”

_____________________

MY LIFELONG STRUGGLE

WATCHING MY TONGUE is a life-long struggle.57.Tongue-fire

Early in my life, I said whatever I wanted to, as bluntly as I knew how, disregarding any consequences.

Yes, I paid a price for loose lips, although, at the time, I don’t recall ever seeing a direct correlation between my actions and the resulting consequences. I was not a Christian then, so I did not have the Bible’s wisdom to guide and correct me.

To the extent that I did recognize my own shortcomings, I must have simply shrugged my shoulders and toughened my skin.

That has changed.

God has changed me.

ENTER THE HOLY SPIRIT

IN NOVEMBER 2010, — 10 years ago this month — led by the Holy Spirit, I surrendered my life to Almighty God.

72. Man_Tape_TongueHe placed it upon my heart to watch my tongue, that my  very words belonged to Him, and I was to begin seeing myself as “salt and light” to a sin-filled world.

Another way of stating it is that I was blessed by God to be a blessing to others.

There’s no way I could accomplish that role without being more careful about what I said and how I said it.

Jesus even reminded us of that in Matthew 12:36 (ESV):

“I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak.”

Although the Lord didn’t add these words, He could have: “That means you … and it means You … and it means YOU!”

ENTER A CHRISTIAN WOMAN

TWO YEARS AFTER coming to faith, the Lord brought a Christian woman into my life, and we married 2 1/2 years later.

She is my true *ezer kenegdo,* chastising me when I make judgmental comments or hurtful criticisms or just flat-out plain and stupid foolishness. Unfortunately, she’s been kept busy in that role. I must be a slow learner.FEMALE_SILHOUETTE

The difference in me now is that I care.

I want to do better.

I am grieved whenever I grieve the Holy Spirit;

Ephesians 4:30 (NIV): “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.”

I am grieved whenever I grieve my wife.

1 Peter 3:7 (NASB): “You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.”

God is serious about this tongue business.

  ENTER GOD’S GRACE

THE GOD OF MERCY AND GRACE loves me, as He loves each and every one of His children. He chastises me when He needs to, and He forgives me (thankfully!) whenever I repent.

God's Glory Fills the HillsIn gratitude and joy, I should and must become more diligent in watching my speech.

The angels are watching, other men and women are watching, and my Lord and Savior is watching.

Here are just three reminders:

    • “For the eyes of the LORD run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong on behalf of those whose heart is loyal to Him.”  — 2 Chronicles 16:9 (NKJV)
    • ”Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” — Hebrews 4:13 (NIV)
    • ”The eyes of the LORD are everywhere, observing the wicked and the good.”Proverbs 15:3 (CSB)

POSTSCRIPT

GOD, IN HIS MERCY AND GRACE, saved me from destruction through the life blood of His Son.

In turn, giving thanks to Him, I must be determined, I am determined, and with His help and guidance, I will be determined to watch my tongue.

It pains me to realize I will slip up, but as a child of God, I will be rebuked by the Holy Spirit, and through repentance, restored to fellowship with the eternal and loving God.

“LET THE WORDS OF MY MOUTH AND THE MEDITATION OF MY HEART BE ACCEPTABLE IN YOUR SIGHT, O LORD, MY ROCK AND MY REDEEMER.” — PSALM 19:14 (ESV)

PRAYER

THANK YOU, LORD JESUS, that You have called me from out of the darkness into the light,image-5  that You have plucked me up from the garbage of my sin-filled life and restored my soul. Now, O Lord, continue Your work in me until completion that I may be a blessing to others as You have blessed me. O Lord, help me guard my tongue … and my thoughts. Thank You, Lord Jesus! In Your holy and majestic name I lift this prayer … we lift this prayer … as one. AMEN

THE ELECTION & THE AFTERMATH

Now that the US election 2020 is over, except for the lawsuits and mandatory recounts, what is the role the body of Christ should take in word and deed to bring glory to God and distinguish ourselves from unbelievers in both major parties? Jesus told us to be His witnesses and assured us of His continued presence in our lives, so our marching orders are clear: We are to stay “in His will,” remaining in prayer, and testifying by word and deed what the Lord has done for us.

Romans 13:1 (NASB): “Each person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority  except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

Daniel 2:21 (NKJV): “He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise And knowledge to those who have understanding.”

Romans 14:12 (ESV): “So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.”

____________________

GLORIFYING GOD EVEN IN DEFEAT

NOW THAT THE VOTING IS OVER for the President/Vice President in the 2020 US election, how should the body of Christ react when many of us believe the wrong team won?

In the flesh, we’re as capable of temper tantrums as our non-believing neighbors, but as voting_signfollowers of Jesus Christ, we are called to a higher standard.

He told us that the world would know we are His flock if we love one another (John 13:35; John 15:17). He told us we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us (Matt. 5:44). He told us to care for the least of these (Matt. 25:40), to proclaim the Good News (Matt. 28:19), and to store our treasures in Heaven, where they will not be stolen or damaged (Matt. 6:19-20).

He also told us (John 15:5) we would not be able to do any of that in our own power. We would need His help.

DISCERNING GOD’S WILL FOR US

SO, NOW WE’RE ABOUT the job of discerning the Lord’s will. We read in Daniel 2:21 that God “changes the times and the epochs; He removes kings and establishes kings,” and we wonder, Did God just remove the king and replace him with another?

Wasn’t it just four years ago that we praised God for raising up a president and vice imagepresident who pledged to honor the sanctity of life from conception to natural death, to honor marriage as a gift from God uniting female and male into one unit, and to proclaim not just the freedom to worship but also the freedom to live out our faith?

If so, then, what happened?

Did God change His mind? Not likely.

Did God give us a brief window to get serious about our faith and find us wanting? Maybe.

Why would God elevate to the highest two offices in the land a duo committed to:

    • extending abortion to include allowing born babies to die,
    • extending LGBTQ+ rights over the rights of normal males and females,
    • quenching religious liberty in subjection to the state, and
    • upending the first institution installed by God, that of marriage between a man and a woman?

WHY??

Why, Lord, why?

STAYING FAITHFUL DURING TRIALS

AT THE MOMENT, I feel sick. I see the country I used to love and still have hopes for turning into a hate-filled narcissistic shell of its former self.

Yes, I see the threats launched from the victorious forces declaring their desire to silence opposition to their rule, to continue their assault on our civil liberties, and, if necessary, to destroy us.

Yet, God tells us to “rejoice always” (1 Thess. 5:16), to “give thanks” in all situations (1 Thess. 5:18), and even to rejoice and persevere in “tribulation” (Rom. 12:12).

Okay, we’re there. Tribulation, defeat, rejection. We’re there, Lord. Now we’re supposed to be patient and … what? Quietly endure? Suffer? Seek revenge?

No, our Lord answers. Keep praying, He says (1 Thess. 5:17; Rom. 12:12; James 1:2-3). Besides, our trials are nothing compared with what the apostles suffered. Check out Paul’s trials (2 Cor. 11:24-28).

BELIEVING GOD’S PLAN IS GOOD 

NOT ONLY MUST WE focus on God’s plan being good, we must realize that His timing is not the same as ours. We want answers yesterday; He provides them 500 years later … or 50 years … or maybe five years.

He has to prepare people for the future He has willed. Moses needed 40 years growing up in Pharaoh’s court, 40 years tending sheep in the wilderness, and then enduring the trials of facing Pharaoh with a series of plagues before God considered him ready to lead His people out of bondage.

So, why should we expect an immediate answer to all of our questions by the evening news or tomorrow’s newspaper?

The answers are in His Book, and we can sustain ourselves by reading it and learning from it.

My conclusion: Stay in the Word, remain in prayer, fellowship with the saints, and testify to the world that God is in control, and His plan will occur in the timing that He decrees.

POSTSCRIPT

I DON’T KNOW WHAT the Lord is doing in this election. He doesn’t owe me an explanation. However, I thoroughly trust His judgment and His plan for my life. He will let it develop in His time, and I might live long enough to see some of it play out.

What is very clear to me is that I am to call on the name of the Lord everyday, to seek my refuge in Him, to confess my sins to Him, to ask His will for my life, to engage in intercessory prayer, to be temperate in my comments, to be patient in my demeanor, and to show love and compassion to my fellow man, even those I dislike.

38. God's.MercyThat looks like a pretty full plate, and, no, I am not capable of doing half of that well without the strong arm of Jesus Christ wrapped around my shoulders and the Holy Spirit indwelling my heart.

May my heart cry mimic the covenant prayer of Pastor John Wesley 250 years ago: “I am no longer my own, but thine; Put me to what thou wilt; rank me with whom thou wilt; Put me to doing; put me to suffering. … So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen”

Those are amazing words and an awesome responsibility. I am not up to it, but the God I serve is bigger than any obstacle I face. May His grace lead me and sustain me during the trials ahead.

I’m going to need His love to get me through until the next election … and beyond.

__________________

PRAYER

O LORD GOD, our merciful Father, we come to You humbly and repentant. We know that image-17we have failed to proclaim the Good News as vigorously or as often as we ought. We know You will confront us with our failures when we reach Glory. Help us to see clearly the pathway You’ve laid out for us to follow and give us the strength, and the desire, to obey. Your way is perfect at all times, and we rest comfortably knowing You, Lord, are in control. May we be Your faithful servants. In the loving and mighty name of our Lord Jesus Christ we lift this prayer. AMEN

OBEYING THE LORD’S COMMANDS

The Lord has created us with a perfect plan to glorify Him and to enjoy fellowship with Him and each other. His rules for our lives are designed to help us, not to harm us or destroy our enjoyment. Instead, He promises His prescriptions will give us life and that in abundance. We disobey Him at our loss.

1 Kings 2:3 (CEV):Do what the Lord your God commands and follow his teachings.”

John 14:15a (TLB):If you love me, obey me.”

Luke 2:52 (CSB): “Jesus increased in wisdom and  stature, and in favor with God and with people.”

____________________

LEARNING TO BE OBEDIENT

WHEN WE WERE children, our mother would tell us to “go to the bathroom” before we went anywhere in the car.

Of course, that would mean leaving our toys and other play things, so naturally we would respond, “I don’t have to go.”Boys_Playing_Blocks

After she told us another time or two, with each time our refusing to budge, our father would bellow, “Obey your mother!”

Suddenly, we had to use the bathroom and would race one another to get there first.

In many ways, that is how many Christians treat the Lord’s commands.

We know that He loves us and that He’ll forgive us, so we’re lax when it comes to obeying Him.

What too many Christians are prone to forget is that He also judges us and is not pleased when we disobey Him.

LEARNING GOD’S COMMANDS

WHAT ARE SOME of the commandments the Lord requires us to obey?

The first and primary commandment, as Jesus described it, is to love the Lord your God with your entire body, mind, and soul. The second commandment, He said, is to love our neighbor as ourself. (Matt. 22:37-40)

god-is-sovereignHe also commanded us to obey the Ten Commandments or Law of Moses. The first four commandments are to love God first, to worship only God, do not take His name in vain, and to honor the Sabbath Day, a requirement for ancient Israel that was replaced after Jesus’ resurrection with honoring the Lord’s Day.

The next six commandments regulated our interaction with our neighbors and were based entirely on mutual love and respect for others created in God’s image.

We readily recognize those “love” commandments as mandates from God, but there are others that we must acknowledge and obey:

        • You must be born again
        • Let people see your good works
        • Abide in Him
        • Forgive your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
        • Tell others about Him and baptize them in His name
        • Get rid of anything that causes you to sin
        • Store up your treasures in Heaven
        • Observe communion in remembrance of Him
        • Be humble, not proud
        • Do not lust after women (or men)
        • Be merciful.

OBEYING GOD’S COMMANDS

NOW, THE BIG QUESTION:

WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT LIST?

How many of them are you missing? Are you obeying each of them?

A few of them are one-time only, like being born again, but most of the list is ongoing, a way of life. If we are dedicated and consistent, we will live God-honoring lives that will make for a powerful testimony to the Lord’s saving grace.image-2

When we realize that we cannot fulfill the list under our own  power, we can lay claim to one of the more compelling commandments in the list, to “abide” in Jesus.

When we do that, He promises to “abide” in us and assures that, without Him, we can do nothing. (John 15:1-5)

POSTSCRIPT

GOD’S COMMANDMENTS are requirements, not requests or suggestions. He wants us to obey Him because His commandments are good for us.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)

Those plans conform to God’s design for our lives. We not only are wise if we obey them, but we will be much happier and peaceful. (Proverbs 1:7; John 10:10)

____________________

PRAYER

OUR GRACIOUS AND LOVING Heavenly Father, we  confess to You so often we have lone_crossfailed to obey Your design for our lives, substituting our own desires for Your commands. We have treated Your commands as worthy suggestions, but often ignore them for what they are: directives. Forgive us, Lord, and encourage us through the Holy Spirit to live our lives as a living testament to Your power and Your goodness. In Jesus’ redeeming name we pray. AMEN

 

GIDEON: OUR MIGHTY WARRIOR

God knows that each one of us is weak, yet He has chosen to work through us to reach broken humanity. We cannot do it on our own, but He does not expect us to. Instead, He will empower us through the Holy Spirit. In His Bible, He shows us how He can take a simple man like Gideon and turn him into a mighty warrior.

Judges 6:12 (NIV): “When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, ‘The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.’”

2 Corinthians 12:9 (ESV): “But [God] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’”

James 4:10 (CSB): “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you.”

_______________

GOD WORKS WITH THE HUMBLE

GIDEON — yes, that Gideon of the Bible —  was not anyone’s idea of a gifted leader. Yet, we read that an angel of the LORD appeared to him one day and called him “mighty warrior.”62. Gideon_And_Angel

When Gideon heard this word of affirmation, he replied with that famous battle cry: “Pardon me, my lord.”

Hmm.

Not too commanding, was he?

“Pardon me, my lord” was the ancient world’s equivalent of our “Say what? You talkin’ to me?”

WATCHING GIDEON VACILLATE

LET’S GO BACK to the scene.

Our hero, Gideon, is busy with the post-harvest chore of separating the wheat from the chaff.

The best way the ancient world had for doing this was labor-intensive: the farmer stuck a pitchfork into the bale and threw it into the air, where the wind current would blow the lighter chaff away, thus separating it from the heavier wheat, which would fall into a heap.

Normally, this was done in a location where the wind currents were felt.

But Gideon was found in a winepress, which is a depression out of sight of those on the ground. The wind currents were not very strong there, but it afforded him sight protection from the enemy Midianites, who were prowling about.

Gideon no doubt feared if they saw him, they would run him through with a sword and take the wheat.

“I AM” IS SENDING YOU

HERE’S GIDEON HIDING from the Midianites, when an angel of the LORD comes down and sits under an oak tree. His greeting? “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.”

i-am“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us?”

At this point, Gideon chides the angel, reminding him that if the LORD were watching over Israel, if the LORD were doing His job the way Gideon thought He should, then why were the Israelites afraid for their lives. Heck, why was Gideon threshing wheat in a winepress?

Here’s the angel’s response: “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of the Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”

Hold onto that question for a moment: “Am I not sending you?”

Where have we heard that one before?

Was it not Moses at the burning bush asking the LORD who should he say was sending him to free the Israelites from Egypt, and the LORD replied, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Ex. 3:14)

GOD’S COMMANDS AND GRACE

GOD’S COMMANDS to us are accompanied by His grace.

He never sends us out without promising to be with us.

The LORD requires us to speak, think, and act according to His will. Our job, according to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20), is to teach others that God has come into the world to save us from our rebellion, our hardness of heart, our human pride.62. Redemption

Then, we are to take the message of redemption and forgiveness to a broken world.

All the while, He promises this: “Remember that I am always with you until the end of time.” (v. 20 GW)

Often we fail. Some of us, quite often. Even when we do the right thing(s), our hearts might be looking for our glory, not His. So we repent, He forgives, He toughens us up, and we grow. Next time around, we do better. We’re stronger … until, again, we fail. The process repeats itself until we’re in glory with our LORD.

How comforting to hear our LORD’s promise to sustain us. He will not forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6) nor leave us as orphans (John 14:18). He tells us not to be afraid because He will hold us up (Isaiah 41:13). When He has commanded us to do something, He says He will be with us while we do it (Joshua 1:9).

Our faith is essential to this process (Hebrews 11:1) for without faith, we cannot please Him (Hebrews 11:6).

TRANSFORMING A WEAK MAN

GOD CAN TAKE a weak man like Gideon and turn him into a mighty warrior, a warrior mighty in battle (Psalm 24:8). God’s will will prevail. His word goes out and accomplishes all that He has tasked it with. It will not return to Him void (Isaiah 55:11).

Now, it becomes our turn to go, to be obedient, to share the Word of the LORD, to encourage others—in the name of Jesus Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. When the LORD asks whom shall He send, let us be like the prophet Isaiah, “Here I am! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:8 ESV).

Well, Gideon was no Isaiah, so he didn’t quite say, “Okay, I’m your man.” Instead, he said, “How can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh [one of 12 Israeli tribes], and I am the least in my family.”

That is where many of us stay. We know there’s Kingdom work to be done, but too often we feel we’re just not qualified to do it. The Lord certainly knows our limitations.

Most of us, if pressed, could readily point to someone else to take our place, someone else whom we think is much better equipped to handle the task the LORD has laid on our shoulders. In fact, we’re very eager to supply names, e-mail addresses, and mobile phone numbers—just to help out. We can be very helpful that way.

STUDYING THE BIBLE’S LEADERS

WHEN WE LOOK to the Bible’s list of great leaders— Joseph, Moses, Joshua, David, Nehemiah, Daniel, Peter, John, James, Paul—we find that each one of them was prepared by the LORD to handle the task he was given before the task was assigned.

It’s not our position or title in a group that makes us a leader — not any more than expensive sneakers makes us an NBA star or nifty skates takes us to the Stanley Cup.

image-19What makes a leader is character, and character is developed over time, usually starting with a vision, then denting that vision with adversity, then wrapping the result around perseverance. (Romans 5:3-5) (James 1:2-4)

Other examples of “leaders” were of lesser stuff. We think immediately of Barak, who would lead Israel into battle only if the female judge Deborah accompanied him.

Then, of course, there’s Gideon.

PREPARING GIDEON FOR BATTLE

THE BIBLE’S ACCOUNT of Gideon’s transformation is an interesting story.

First, Gideon places God’s messenger under a variety of tests or “proofs” that he is, indeed, sent from God. Of course, the angel passes every test with ease.

Then the LORD tells Gideon to assemble an army. He adds a caveat that if Gideon wants further proof that he was anointed by God, he could sneak up on the Midianites’ compound. When Gideon does — with a companion, of course — he hears the Midianites proclaiming their fear of Gideon and his army!

Yes, there’s also the winnowing down of Gideon’s troops from 30,000 to 300 because God said He wanted Gideon and the Israelites to know that it was He, the God of the Israelites, that delivered the enemy over, not the might of the Israelite army. (Judges 7:2)

First, God let every man afraid to go into battle to leave — that dropped the total by two-thirds — then He wanted only the men who lapped water by scooping it up in their hands instead of sticking their faces in the drink — that whittled most of the rest of them.

With 300 men, Gideon was fodder for a slaughter … except that the LORD’s mighty sword was raised on behalf of His people. They “won” the skirmish without fighting. The Midianites slaughtered one another.

After the battle, the Israelites wanted to crown Gideon their king, but he would have none of it. Not only would he not rule over them, he said, but neither would his son. “The Lord will rule over you,” he said. (Judges 8:23 NIV)

That often happens, too, with leadership.

Once you take the reins for a time or two, the job is yours forever. People are quite content to let someone else handle the chores.

WE CAN ALL BE LEADERS

EACH ONE OF US can be a leader. To do that, we need to take ownership of our jobs. Of who we are and what we can do.

So, what is leadership?

Leadership is character. It is not about being the boss or having one’s way. Sometimes, leadership is nothing more than looking around and seeing what needs to be done … and then offering to do it.60. Faith

A leader — or one who aspires to be a leader — must dig into areas of character, priorities, attitude, and vision.

A leader has to discipline himself not only to set the agenda but sometimes to set the table for others to succeed.

Leadership is not just about our own enhancement or our position or our glory. It is not about attaining our will. It’s about sacrificial service.

Remember our LORD at the Last Supper when he got up from the table, wrapped his cloak around his waist, filled the wash basin, and kneeled down to wash the feet of His disciples — including, we presume, the feet of the man who, within hours, would betray Him.

THE LORD’S CALL FOR US

WHAT IS THE CALL IN OUR LIVES?

Has the LORD been laying on your heart a task you think is too big for you, has He given you a word of encouragement that you’ve been hesitant to deliver, has He prepared you for a role in your life that He’s starting to unveil to you?

What does it take for you, for us, to take that first step of  obedience?

62. Bible_LeadersJohn C. Maxwell, author of the book, Developing the Leader Within You 2.0, tells us this:

1. There are never enough leaders.

2. Every leader needs development.

  • Moses spent 40 years being educated in Pharaoh’s house, plus 40 years of tending sheep in the desert;
  • Joseph spent years in servitude to the Egyptian hierarchy and many years in prison;
  • Nehemiah was a cupbearer to the Babylonian king;
  • Paul was trained as a Pharisee before he was knocked to the ground by a bolt of light; and
  • Jesus was … well, He had spent forever in the Trinity and then 40 days and nights being tempted by Satan.

Every leader needs encouragement, training, prayer, support. Are we giving each other that kind of encouragement? Are we coming alongside each of our brothers in prayer?

If we heed these lessons well, no one will end 2020 asking:

  • “Where have all the good leaders gone?”

Instead, they’ll ask:

  • “Where have all these good leaders come from,” and
  • “How can I become one of them?”
POSTSCRIPT

APPLICATION:

  1. When the LORD calls on us, He will provide the margin of victory;
  2. We may well face opposition;
  3. We are called to leadership, even if it’s just ownership of ourselves;
  4. We need to have faith that it is the LORD calling. The test is:
      • whether the request is biblical as to goal;
      • whether the request is biblical as to means.

PRAYER

Cross Over BibleLORD, ALMIGHTY GOD, Creator of heaven and earth and all creation, we give You all the honor and praise; O LORD, we take joy in worshipping You. Forgive us weaknesses, Father God; forgive us our hesitation to spread the Gospel of redemption; forgive us when we fail to honor You with our words and our deeds … knowing, O Father God, that at the root of this is our failure to honor You in our hearts. Equip us, O LORD, to be mighty warriors for the Kingdom, knowing that You’ll part the waters for us, that You’ll give us the words to say, and that You’ll hold our hands through every task, every abuse, every questions, every prayer request, every plea for understanding and help. LORD, love on us so mightily that we will love on those you place in our way. In the name of Jesus we pray. Amen

WORDS MATTER, AS DO BLACK LIVES

Our country is in upheaval, as bands of angry protestors, some of them peaceful and some of them violent, march up and down our city streets, shouting slogans through bullhorns, brandishing hate-filled banners, and clashing with police striving to maintain order. How we respond to our social ills says a lot about our core values. When some are willing to destroy our physical communities as well as our metaphysical sense of community, the body of Christ needs to awaken from its lethargy and promote a spirit that exalts the living Messiah.

Matthew 12:36 (ESV): “I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak, for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Colossians 4:6 (NIV): “Let you conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Ephesians 4:29 (NKJV): “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”

_______________

WHERE IS THE CHRISTIAN VOICE?

LIKE MANY AMERICANS, and people throughout the world, I spent much of the summer months watching in horror as bands of lawless thugs mingled with angry protestors, destroying not just the physical structures of our great cities but also laid out a full-scale assault on American values.

Not only did many set fires, smash windows, and loot small businesses, but additional thugs desecrated statutes raised to honor our nation’s history. Even those statutes raised to honor Confederate troops were erected originally to help restore honor and dignity to those forces that suffered defeat in the War Between the States (some call it the Civil War).

Thuggery says that if you disagree with me, your view is evil and must be smashed. If you persist in expressing your view, then you must be smashed.

This is not the essence of what America is about … but it might well be essence of what America is becoming.

ALL WORDS MATTER

JUST THINK ABOUT how words matter and how quickly we can misrepresent something beautiful with a minor tweak in the lettering.

5740847 - abstract speaker silhouette with colorful lettersTake, for example, the slogan “black lives matter.” When stated with lower case letters, the generic message says the  lives of a certain race created by God in His image matter to Him and should matter to each of us, just as the lives of members of all races matter to Him and should to us.

However, when the slogan is capitalized, as in “Black Lives Matter,” the words reflect a brand endorsing a political group favoring the left-wing politics of division and intersectionality.

SAME WORDS, DIFFERENT MESSAGE

WHILE THE WORDS are the same, the message is different.

We cannot come together as a country and a nation when some people use the political slogan to bludgeon those who oppose the group’s left-wing political goals while affirming the beauty of the generic words, the beauty that black lives—and all other lives—created by God in His image and for His glory, matter.

That’s why many of us push for an end to abortion, introduction of alternative schools to improve educational outcomes, and an influx of private investment in impoverished communities to improve employment rates and economic growth.

Because the lives of those left behind matter.

DO BLACK LIVES REALLY MATTER?

IN THE REAL WORLD, do black lives matter?

What about black babies? Do their lives matter?Black_Teenage_Mother

  • A recent study showed that black women continue to have the highest abortion rate at 27.1 per 1,000 women compared with 10 abortions per 1,000 white women (American Journal of Public Health).
  • Black women accounted for 36 percent of the abortions in 2015, a figure almost identical to the percentage of abortions (36 percent) that year among white Americans, who made up 76.6 percent of the population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
  • The Guttmacher Institute (a pro-abortion group) says “black women are more than 5 times as likely as white women to have an abortion.”

What about the job prospects of black youth graduating from high school? Do their lives matter?

  • Nationwide, black students graduated at a rate of 69 percent. Hispanics graduated at 73 percent; whites graduated at a rate of 86 percent.
  • While dropout rates for all racial groups have dropped in recent decades, the black population remains higher than that for whites or Asians, with males more likely than females to drop out.
  • Males comprise about 50 percent of the high school  population but 60 percent of the dropouts. This harms their ability to provide for their families.
BREAKDOWN OF BLACK FAMILIES

WHAT ABOUT black families? Do their lives matter?

    • Seventy-two percent of black babies are born to unmarried mothers today, according to government statistics.financial charts.
    • A government report in 1965 outlining the destruction of the black family reflected an out-of-wedlock birth rate of 25 percent. That figure jumped to 68 percent in 1991, 72 percent in 2011, and, in 2015, it rose to 77 percent—77 percent of black babies born to unmarried mothers.
    • As for divorce, a study showed that over the last generation, the marriage rate among black Americans has declined while the rates of divorce, separation, cohabitation, out-of-wedlock births, and children residing in female-headed households have increased.
SERVING OUR LORD

THOSE STATISTICS are heart-breaking. While different studies yield slightly different numbers, the story remains the same: in most categories of life, black Americans lag behind other racial groups.

When Jesus told us that whatever we did “for the least of these” we did it to Him, He referenced those who were hungry and thirsty, in need of shelter or clothing, or were in prison, but He could just as well have pointed His divine finger at entire communities today where poverty, discouragement, and violence run rampant.CLASSROOM

A colleague of mine recently veered from my point about language, saying, in effect, that if you are the victim of abuse, you don’t worry so much about how the words are written, you express yourself from the anguish in your heart.

True enough, but the upper case version of the words “black lives matter” is a brand, with a website proclaiming its vision, which is specific and not God-honoring. We who follow the Word of God do not need to repeat the brand name to reflect the beauty of the generic words.

RAY OF HOPE

AS STATISTICS SHOW, the need is great, but all is not lost. There is a bright ray of hope bathing the land.

Every school child in America is afforded free public education through 12th grade, with scholarships and low-interest loans available for continued education in community colleges and trade schools.

image-10Every hungry child in America qualifies for free or subsidized meals in school.

Every child, whether gifted or special, disturbed or healthy, has access to a school guidance counselor, nurse, and an army of caring adult teachers and coaches to guide and mentor them.

Affirmative action laws guarantee preference in hiring, as long as the applicant has the necessary skills.

Finally, statistics show that any child can advance out of poverty simply by:

    • Graduating from high school;
    • Getting a job before marriage;
    • Getting married before having babies.
POSTSCRIPT

OUR JOB AS CHRISTIANS, as followers of Jesus Christ, is to care for those God has placed in our lives. Some of those people are youth looking for guidance, while some are  elderly who can use some help around the yard or an occasional visit.67.Jesus_Welcomes_All

Often, though, the need is just greater than what one man/woman can do on a one-day mission, whether it’s ministering to those in prison, or spreading the Gospel to a foreign land, or eradicating life-crippling poverty.

What is clear is that we need to work together as the body of Christ to make our mark on the world, to shine our light into the darkness.

That effort is hampered when some Christians, thinking they are helping, misuse the upper case brand name “Black Lives Matter,” which promotes a message counter to the love of Christ, instead of the lower case generic phrase, “black lives matter,” which gives the glory to God.

Words matter. We use them to communicate.

PRAYER

lone_crossO LORD, OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we humbly ask You to heal our land. Soften our hearts, O Lord, so we can hear Your voice as well as those who need our help. Father God, we also pray that we’ll recognize the difference between one set of words that means one thing and a similar set that means the opposite. The evil one will try to deceive us into thinking there’s no difference when there  is. Lord, help us to understand how we can be of service to You and our fellow man. We humbly pray in the mighty name of Jesus. AMEN

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE? (Part 2 of 2)

Now that you’re “all in” for Jesus Christ, what are you to do? What comes next? You know the Great Commission tells you to share the Gospel with the whole world, starting with your family and neighborhood and branching outward. You know you are commanded to love one another and to serve others, even “the least of these.” You know that each believer is awarded spiritual gifts, which are different from those awarded other believers. So, what form does all of this take for each one of us?

James 1:1 (NCV): “From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To all of God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings.”

2 Cor. 2:14 (ESV): “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.” (cf. Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 1:8)

Col. 1:28 (NLT): So we tell others about Christ, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all the wisdom God has given us. We want to present them to God, perfect in their relationship to Christ.

______________________

LIVING OUT OUR FAITH

You say you are saved?

Wonderful! Praise God!

57. JESUS - Ascension 2What have you done about it?

When we read the Epistle of James, we start with an amazing proclamation in the very first verse, a proclamation so stark we’re compelled to stop right there and meditate on its significance.

James proclaims himself to be the “servant,” or, depending on your translation, the “bond-servant” or “slave,” of Jesus Christ. James is the half-brother of Jesus, a sibling whom Scripture relates not only disbelieved in the Lordship of Jesus but also mocked Him during His public ministry.

Last time, we discussed the significance of James’ coming to faith. This conversion was sparked no doubt by the meeting mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15:7, when Jesus “appeared” before James. This was after Jesus was crucified, pronounced dead, buried, and then rose from the dead.

This time, we want to focus on the second part of James 1:1 — what James did after Jesus as Lord intervened in his life.

As we look at James, we need to keep this question in mind: So what? What are we doing after the Lord’s intervention in our lives?

PAYING WITH HIS LIFE

WE’RE TOLD FROM the Bible and other writings that James rose to become the leader of the Jewish believers living in Jerusalem and later suffered a horrific martyrs’ death for his faith.

We read in Acts 15 that it was James who lent the authority of his family ties with Jesus to recognize that God in His mercy had extended salvation through Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

The apostles Paul and Barnabas had recounted their evangelism to the Gentiles before the Jewish believers meeting in Jerusalem. The council was debating whether Gentiles needed to become Jews before they could be saved or whether they could pass directly from being heathens to salvation.

Luke records the meeting this way (ESV): “After they finished speaking, James replied, ‘Brothers, listen to me. … Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God.’” (Acts 15:13, 19)

That settled the matter for “the brothers, both the apostles and the elders” who then conveyed that message to their Gentile brothers. (v. 23)

FOLLOWING GOD’S PLAN

NOW THAT YOU received God’s Holy Spirit into your heart, what does God expect you to do with it?

We can see what James felt called to do. Here, he is writing a short letter filled with advice and directives on how a new believer should act. Yes, in the Jewish tradition, he focuses on the law and actions, but he ties them in to faith and conversion.Walking_in_Jesus'_Footsteps

“You say you have faith?” he asks. “Well, show me your faith by your actions. Don’t just tell me about your good works. Show me.” (James 2:18 editor’s trans.)

Whereas Paul’s letters focused on creed, James was concerned with conduct. Paul wrote about belief; James, about behavior; Paul was doctrine, James was deed. The two narrative styles complement one another.

Of the 108 verses in James, 54 contain a directive on conduct.

Commentators note parallels between his writings and the Lord’s Sermon on the Mount.

BECOMING FISHERS OF MEN

SO WE ARE TO BE mindful of the evangelizing function, referenced in the Great Commission, among other teaching.

image-6Jesus said, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of  men.” (Matt. 4:19 NKJV)

If you’re not sharing the Gospel, you’re not being obedient.

2 Cor. 9:13 (NCV): “It is a proof of your faith. Many people will praise God because you obey the Good News of Christ—the gospel you say you believe—and because you freely share with them and with all others.”

How do you share the Gospel?

LETTING OUR LIGHT SHINE BEFORE MEN

JESUS TELLS US in Matt. 5:16 (NIV) to let our “light shine before others” that they may see our good works, or our good deeds, “and glorify your Father in heaven.”

Isn’t this what James said by matching our deeds with our faith?

This means acting according to the commandments our Lord gave us: to love one other, to forgive, to serve, to show compassion, to respect, to honor, to refrain from coveting, greed, envy, jealousy, anger, hatred, violence.

Then, when we are given the opportunity, as Peter tells us in 1 Peter 3:15 (NLT), to explain our “hope as a believer,” we should “be ready to explain it.”

In his book, Talking With My Father, the late evangelical pastor and author Ray C. Stedman, says it this way:

[Lord] Keep us from being ineffective, ordinary Christians. Challenge us to be true followers of you, ready to fling our lives away for Jesus Christ, ready to be utterly careless of what happens to us in order that He may be glorified. We pray in His name. Amen 

—Ray C. Stedman, Talking With My Father

POSTSCRIPT

THESE ARE THE questions each of us must answer:

          • Do you know the risen Lord?
          • Do you worship Him in the way you live your life?
          • Are you ready to explain the hope and joy in your heart?
          • Can you show how the Lord’s message of salvation is important for you and can be for your audience?
          • Are you prepared to share the Gospel?

______________________

PRAYER

OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, we humbly ask You to guide us as we strive to honor You in our image-5lives. Grow within us a softer  heart, one more gracious, more compassionate; more giving; a heart that does not puff up but pours out, one that does not expect but serves; one that shows we are loved by the King. O LORD, our God, to You belong all the Praise, Honor, and Glory. In the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior, we pray. AMEN

WHAT DOES IT TAKE TO BELIEVE? (Part 1 of 2)

Ever wonder what it took for James, Jesus’ oldest half-brother, to believe that his older brother was the Messiah, the chosen one of God? James grew up watching Jesus and apparently thought He was nutty. When he came to understand who Jesus really was, he worshipped Him, then he became the leader of the early church in Jerusalem and eventually was martyred for his faith. What does it take for you to believe Jesus is the Christ of the living God?

James 1:1 (NCV): “From James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ. To all of God’s people who are scattered everywhere in the world: Greetings.”

Matt. 7:13 (ESV): “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”

___________________

OUR DIFFICULT ROAD TO FAITH

Some of the most stirring passages in God’s Holy Word are the ones that sneak up on us, the ones we glide over for years as we enjoy our all-time favorites.JESUS_AND_FAMILY

Surely, the opening lines of James’ short epistle are among those easily-ignored passages that pack a wallop when we focus on them: “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ.”

James was the oldest of the children born to Joseph and Mary (Jesus was born to Mary but was begat not by Joseph but by the Holy Spirit).

James no doubt was the frequent recipient of his mother’s scolding: “Jimmy, why can’t you be more like your older brother? He cleans His room, helps His father in the wood shop, is kind to the neighbors, and even tutors that young boy with the learning disability. You, on the other hand, are a scoundrel. Your room’s a mess, your grades could be improved, and you’re too rough with your sisters.”

WHEN GOD IS YOUR OLDER BROTHER

OF COURSE, THOSE CONVERSATIONS were not recorded, but we can imagine quite easily that young boys and girls 2,000 years ago acted much like their progeny today.

Except for Jesus.

YOUNG_BOY_JESUSJesus was perfect. The Bible tells us He grew in “wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52 NASB). Commentary from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association says this shows Jesus knew, even as a young lad, that he  was “unique” and “set apart by God for a special mission.”

There is no indication in the Bible that his half-brothers and half-sisters caught on. The Bible tells us they wanted Him to give up His public ministry and return home to tend to the carpentry shop Joseph had started. (Mark 3:31-35)

“For even His brothers did not believe in Him.” — John 7:5 (NKJV)

THE RESURRECTION CHANGED EVERYTHING

ALL OF THAT CHANGED after His resurrection.

The Bible tells us Jesus “appeared to James, then to  all the apostles.” (1 Corinthians 15:7 (NET))

That certainly would do it, wouldn’t it? Imagine this … James saw his older brother’s beaten carcass stapled to a cross along the major thoroughfare only to see Him a few days later standing in front of him … very much alive.lone_cross

We can only imagine the love and tenderness the risen Savior showed His unbelieving brother. We can only imagine James’ reaction! At that moment, he must have dropped to his knees in worship.

It was a personal encounter with one of His disciples, Thomas the Twin, dubbed “the Doubter,” that cleared up all cloudy issues in his mind when he could see … and feel … the nail holes and sword’s splice that remained in Jesus’ glorified body.

Thomas, overcome with worship, shouted, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 (ESV))

YOUR OWN FAITH JOURNEY

BUT WHAT ABOUT YOU? Are you a believer? If so, what did it take to convince you that Jesus was, and is, who He said He is, the Son of God, the Second Person in the Trinity?

If you are not a believer, what would it take to convince you to give up your skepticism, your doubt, your hardened shell, and fall on your knees in worship and adoration to the Word made flesh? The One who died on the cross to satisfy God’s wrath against your sins?

James and Thomas had the advantage of a personal encounter with the risen Jesus, but Jesus said, “Because you have seen me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” (John 20:29 (CSB))

Think back on James. James, the half-brother. James, the second-born. James, the one compared to his older sibling but, perhaps, not to his credit.

That visit must have been amazing. We read that James, once a skeptic and mocker of his older brother’s ministry, sought His brother’s forgiveness … not as his older brother … but as his Lord and Savior.

As God Himself.

… and when he received it, in grace, as we know he would, he dedicated his life to serving His God.

POSTSCRIPT

LET’S NOT IGNORE the sheer humility in James’ writing, when he describes himself as a “bond-servant” or “slave” of Jesus Christ, not as Jesus’ half-brother.

He was not dropping names here. He did not seek reflected glory.

That conversation must have shaken him to the core.

It was real … and he lived his faith to the end.

__________________

PRAYER

Our Heavenly Father, forgive us our unbelief. Many of us who have come to receive the image-21Holy Spirit find that spot of resistance, where we hesitate to trust You completely. So many around us haven’t even taken that first step of faith to receive the Holy Spirit. Lord, You created us out of Your love to worship and adore You, yet so often we find ways to fail. James and Thomas were “all in” for the Lord, but they, and the other apostles, saw the Lord in the flesh. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who do not see and still believe.” Lord, help us to be those followers who believe, who are “all in” for Jesus, the way Jesus, dying on the cross for our sins, was “all in” for us. We ask this in His glorious and precious name. AMEN