Galatians 3: “Law and Promise”

Trying to make it on our own instead of relying on God’s grace is as human as sin, which, of course, is why we try to make it on our own — we suffer the sin of pride. God knows us and has told us that we are better off living our lives His way, which includes accepting the grace of salvation by believing in His Son. The apostle Paul wrestled with this same issue when he told the church in Galatia to stop relying on their own efforts to earn salvation and rely on God’s promise of grace.

This meditation is Part 3 of a 6-part series on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available here. Part 2, “Crucified With Christ,” is available here.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

“How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT)

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:24-25 NIV)

I KNOW I CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS.

I can’t believe what I just said; what I just did. That just isn’t me. I mean, I’m more even-50. Backslidingtempered than that. I don’t know what came over me. I’m tired, hungry even, certainly  stressed by work, family. You know, the usual things.

I can do better than this. I just need to try harder.

Becoming perfect by our individual human effort is the ultimate New Year’s resolution, and, besides, the idea of taking charge is so American, isn’t it? No way are we going to sit back and wish things were different! No, siree! We’re going to do something about it!

Buck up … and try harder.

Despite our best intentions, the outcome of our self-help promises are just as predictable as the rest of our resolutions. After a few tries, with diminishing enthusiasm, we give up.

Maybe we’ll try later, give it another go over the summer or maybe just wait until the following year. We aren’t really quitting, we tell ourselves. We’re delaying our effort. The timing just wasn’t right.

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THE APOSTLE PAUL must have felt the same way with the church in Galatia.

We can see his frustration when he saw those new Christians backsliding. One massive New Year’s resolution fail, but this time a slipping away from God’s saving grace.

No, this is not a discussion of whether a person can lose his or her salvation, but  Man goes on concrete pier in the sunrisewhether once saved, a person can miss the closeness and love for the Father that comes from a growing and continuing relationship with Him.

Jesus referenced this slipping away in Revelation 2:4 (MSG), when He told the church in Ephesus, “You walked away from your first love.”

That is, a person can remain saved but not progress in his/her spiritual walk with the Lord by remaining in place at the very point where they started their walk, like a newborn who never outgrows diapers or starts crawling.

Paul admonished the church in Corinth along those same lines, when he accused them of not growing in their faith. “I fed you with milk, not solid food,” Paul wrote, “for you were not ready for it. And even now you are not yet ready” (1 Corinthians 3:2 ESV).

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HOW COULD WE MISS the unmistakeable promise that our Lord and Savior has given us? The great gift of grace! We don’t have to do life on our own. When we accept the Holy Spirit into our hearts, God pours His grace into us and relieves us of the burden and responsibility.

“Come unto Me, all you who labor and are heavily burdened, and I will give you rest,” Jesus says (Matthew 11:28 MEV).

Okay, so there’s a catch, right? Once we surrender our lives to God, we are “owned” by  someone else, required to live up to someone else’s agenda and match their standards. 

50. Making_DecisionsYes, absolutely true! The Bible is very clear about that. In 1 Corinthians 6:19-20 ESV, Paul states, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”

But, wait!

According to the Bible, God’s revealed testimony, you always were owned by someone else.

Listen to what Jesus says about that. Here He is in John 8:34 GW: “Jesus answered them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whoever lives a sinful life is a slave to sin.’”

Here’s Paul again: “Don’t you realize that you become the slave of whatever you choose to obey? You can be a slave to sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God, which leads to righteous living.” (Romans 6:16 NLT)

So, either way, you’re owned, right? Either you’re owned by sin, which leads to death, or you’re owned by righteousness, which leads to life.

You pick. Your choice. God’s gift of free will.

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SOMEWHERE, THERE’S THAT VOICE of doubt that whispers, “Maybe not everyone. This cops-and-robbers stuff might affect those people, but surely not me.”50. Open_Bible

Yes, you and me. Paul tells us in Galatians 3:22a NIV that we’re all engulfed in this sin mess, everyone of us. “But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin.”

Paul doesn’t leave us hanging. Instead, he goes on to tell us that God has provided an escape for us, if we would just trust Him. What is that escape? Well, verse 22 continues with the answer: “so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.”

What was promised?

The promise, as the following verses (23-25) explain, is that we are no longer prisoners under the law but justified (considered righteous) through Jesus Christ. “Now that faith has come,” Paul writes, “we are no longer under the supervision of the law.”

The law was about works, doing the right things and trying to earn God’s favor by our actions. Replacing the law with grace, through Christ’s perfect life, death on the cross, and resurrection means we are recipients of God’s free gift of grace (Romans 3:24).

That was the point Paul was trying to drive home to the struggling Galatians. God, through His mercy, has given you the kingdom through your faith in His Son. Why are you falling back on old habits of trying to merit salvation through your own efforts, when Scripture tells us you are destined to fail … every time?

Better to accept God’s gift of grace through His Son. God reconciles us to Himself and grants us an eternity in His rest.

As we reflect on that gift, we are moved to join Paul in his prayer of praise: “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15 NIV).

Amazing.

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PRAYER: O Heavenly Father, Creator of the Universe, Who made us in Your image, we confess we have failed You in our willfulness, striving to earn salvation on our own merits despite the sinful natures of our hearts. Forgive us, O Lord, and change our hearts from hearts filled with anger and lust and pride and sloth and covetousness and treachery and guile, and give us hearts that love the Lord and want to serve only Him. In Jesus’ precious Name we lift this prayer. Amen

 

 

Galatians 2: “Crucified With Christ”

Grace is God’s free gift to mankind. It is a gift that was bought with the lifeblood of Jesus Christ, a man without sin who bore God’s wrath against all of our sins so the Father could reclaim us — those who believe in Him — to share an eternity in Paradise. We cannot earn salvation through our own efforts, but we are given the gift of salvation from God’s grace when we believe. It’s that simple; yet, for most of mankind, it’s that difficult.

This is Part 2 of a 6-part meditation on Galatians. Part 1, “No Other Gospel,” is available at Galatians 1.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

“I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20a ESV)

“Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ … because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Galatians 2:16 ESV)

49.ChristCrucifiedForMeGRACE IS GOD’S FREE GIFT TO MANKIND.

It is a gift that was not chiefly bought nor casually given. In fact, the apostle Paul says our very bodies are temples in which the Holy Spirit lives. “You are not your own,” he writes. “You were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20 BSB).

What boggles the mind is this: Considering the stakes at hand — our eternal, everlasting, without-end destiny — you might think mankind would rush into the open arms of Jesus Christ, thanking Him profusely with tears and hugs for providing God’s grace through His sacrifice on the Cross for us.

You would be wrong.

Most people appear to be stuck on the words “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me,” and that’s where they stop. They don’t want any part of it, no shifting of controls from me to Him. It’s my life, and I’ll live it the way I want to. Stay back, Jesus.

Unless I need Your help, then I’ll let You know.

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DOES THAT BOTHER YOU?

It bothers me.

Aren’t you totally bummed to realize that most of the smiling faces you’ll encounter today are not remotely interested in receiving the grace offered by their Savior, nor are they willing to let Him take the controls of their earthly lives, even though the payoff is eternal life instead of eternal punishment.

Even the introductory clause of having been “crucified with Christ” is a meaningless  49.ChristDiedForMemess of words for most people, who have no idea what that means.

Really, for most people who have ever lived, the Cross was just a tragic end a long time ago in a primitive culture for a man who might well have been a gifted teacher and, possibly, an extraordinary healer, but it was nothing more than that.

Those who lived before the Cross ignored the law and the prophets.

For those of us who believe, however, it is the most incredible act of love and self-sacrifice the world has ever witnessed — at least, that part of the world that’s paying attention.

Paul, again, tells us that “God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NET). The apostle Peter called the crucifixion the shedding of “the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God” (1 Peter 1:19 NLT).

But what is that to an unbelieving world?

Paul, again, states it this way: “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18 ESV).

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SO, WE’VE SEEN THAT MOST PEOPLE do not want to cede control over their lives to the One who can give them life, and life abundantly (John 10:10), but what about that second part, about being “justified” by works or by faith? What’s up with that?

“Justification” is just a big word that means a person has been made “righteous in the sight of God.”

49.ImputationDiagramPaul says it this way: “not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness—a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness (Philippians 3:9 NET, emphasis mine).

In other words, Jesus lived a sinless life, and God credits His righteousness to my account — blotting out my sin-stained life — the moment I accept His Son as my Lord and Savior.

That transfer of Christ’s righteousness for my unrighteousness is my Ticket to Paradise!

The really big deal with that is that the alternative way to earn God’s favor is for me to live a sinless life — and I lost that one a long time ago.

“There is none righteous, no, not one,” Paul writes. “There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. … There is none who does good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12 NKJV).

The prophet Isaiah was just as blunt, saying that in God’s eyes, “All of us [that includes you and me] have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6 NIV).

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Most of us probably figure we’re on the good side of the Bell Curve. We haven’t killed anyone, or cheated on our spouse, or stolen our neighbor’s car, so we’re good.

Not so fast. Not in God’s eyes.

See, God is perfect; we are sinful.

James, the half-brother of Jesus (they shared a mother), tells us this: “If someone obeys all of God’s laws except one, that person is guilty of breaking all of them” (James 2:10 GW).

49.FocusOnJesusAll of them. Murder. Rape. Adultery. Theft. Slander. Lying.

Lest we think somehow God only keeps a record of what we do, no, He also keeps a record of what we say and what we think, as well.

Try this from Jesus’ own lips: “But what comes out of the mouth [our words] comes from the heart, and this defiles a man” (Matthew 15:18 HCSB).

And what about thoughts? “Knowing their thoughts, Jesus said, ‘Why do you entertain evil thoughts in your hearts?’” (Matthew 9:4 NIV).

How about this one from Jesus: “You have heard that it was said to our people long ago, ‘You must not murder anyone. Anyone who murders another will be judged. But I tell you, if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be judged’” (Matthew 5:21-22a NCV, emphasis mine).

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THERE’S JUST NO WAY AROUND IT.

What we do, God sees as “filthy rags”; what we say, God sees as “defiling” us; and what we think, God sees as “evil.”

So, we are totally dependent for our salvation on Jesus Christ.

Considering how we don’t measure up in God’s eyes, those words from Scripture that we quoted earlier now sound beautiful and reassuring. I have been crucified with Jesus Christ. Christ lives in me. We are justified not by our good works but through faith in the Christ.

Paul said it clearly in Ephesians 2:8 NLT: “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.”

Amen, brother.

Now, that’s Grace!

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PRAYER: Holy Father, Lord God Almighty, we are so unworthy to approach the throne with our petitions except through the blood of Jesus Christ. Would You forgive us for our lack of faith? Would You soften the hearts of our family members, friends, and neighbors who do not know You or care to learn about You? Would You just grab us in Your loving arms and never let go, even when we act, talk, and think viciously evil, self-defiling filth? God be praised with all power, honor, and glory forever. Thank You, Lord Jesus, for Your amazing sacrifice for us. Thank You, eternally, Lord Jesus, for claiming us as Your own. Amen

Galatians 1: “No Other Gospel”

Sadly, many so-called Christians today — operating under the rubric of “progressive Christianity” — are busy revising the Gospel to “update” it according to contemporary society’s “reason” and “experiences.” They base their doctoring on a perverted sense of God’s loving nature, while conveniently ignoring His role as humanity’s judge. Paul’s letter to the Galatians written 2,000 years ago urges those Christians to avoid being misled by a false Gospel. There is only one Gospel, Paul wrote, and that truth is good for everyone for all time.

This article is the first of six articles on the Book of Galatians, each one highlighting a central theme in each of the six chapters of Paul’s letter to the church in Galatia.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

Really, there is no other Good News. But some people are confusing you; they want to change the Good News of Christ. (Galatians 1:7 NCV)

Dear brothers and sisters, I want you to understand that the gospel message I preach is not based on mere human reasoning. I received my message from no human source, and no one taught me. Instead, I received it by direct revelation from Jesus Christ. (Galatians 1:11-12 NLT)

THE APOSTLE PAUL COULD HAVE WRITTEN GALATIANS TODAY.

Two thousand years ago, he felt the strong need to admonish new Christians in the various churches throughout the area of Galatia — both in the agrarian northern region and in the urbane, commercialized southern region — that they must not change the central truth of the Good News of Jesus Christ.

48.UnpardonableSinSadly, many so-called Christians today — operating under the rubric of “progressive Christianity” — are busy revising the Gospel to “update” it according to contemporary society’s “reason” and “experiences.” They base their doctoring on a perverted sense of God’s loving nature, while conveniently ignoring His role as humanity’s judge.

Paul told the Galatians that no such doctoring of God’s eternal truth was needed and that the faithful should abstain immediately from believing anyone who would teach a variance of what Paul, himself, had taught on his missionary trips to the region.

“I am astonished,” he wrote; “that you are so quickly deserting  him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ” (v. 6 ESV).

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PAUL CLEARLY STATED that this was not a matter of pastoral jealousy. The issue was the distortion of the central message of the man “who gave himself for our sins [that means, 36. JESUS is the TruthHe died for us] to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (v. 4 ESV).

In Paul’s time, the central question facing the early church focused on the Jewish nature of Jesus and His disciples and whether converts from the Gentile world — considered pagans and outcasts throughout Jewish history — had to convert to Judaism and be subject to Mosaic law before becoming followers of Jesus.

Today, the central question facing many of the churches is how to minister to a rapidly changing secular culture without becoming corrupted by its immorality or rendered useless for failing to acknowledge it.

Many well-educated and well-read Christians have fallen into the trap of embracing the culture’s progressive mantra of “inclusivity” and “tolerance” by promoting a watered-down gospel filled with empty platitudes of God’s forgiving grace that — to be applicable to today’s reality — must also push aside as archaic God’s instructions for proper living.

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THE HOT-BUTTON ISSUES TODAY focus on the culture’s new-found support for homosexual marriage as well as more established assaults on biblical teaching concerning the sanctity of life — abortion, euthanasia, and government-run health care [scarcity of resources need to be apportioned by governing boards, which will determine the value of an individual life].

The writings of pastors and theologians in support of the “progressive Christian” belief is filled with well-reasoned human arguments designed to fit God’s timeless laws into a space built on a holistic interpretation of Holy Writ devoid of biblical reference.

No more “cherry-picking” of biblical admonitions against homosexual unions (especially Leviticus 18, 20, and Romans 1), for example. Instead, they are thrown aside as being part of an archaic legal system that, somehow over time, has morphed into an acceptance, with the acerbic addendum that failure to see the wisdom of such heresy labels the critic a “homophobe” or a “bigot.”

Seriously.

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BACK TO PAUL.

Still astonished at the backsliding he’s witnessing, he declares that the gospel he preached “is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, 48.GodsGracebut I received it through a revelation of Jesus  Christ” (vv. 11b-12 ESV).

Anyone who teaches a gospel contrary to that spread by Jesus and His followers, Paul says, “let him be accursed” (v. 9 ESV).

So, what do we do with the schism rendering our established churches, at best, impotent and, at worst, a laughing stock to the entire non-Christian world?

Just as the Episcopal church split a dozen years ago over the role of avowed homosexuals in the priesthood, so now the United Methodist Church is facing the same debacle, with the venerated John Wesley being used to prop up both sides, regardless of what he might have taught.

One side — now labeled “conservative,” not to indicate they are energized by God’s Word but that they are throwbacks to days long gone — points to clear biblical passages warning us about homosexual practices. Those passages include God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah for their sexual sin.

The other side, which fancies itself “progressive” — as if it has flung aside the shackles of God’s outdated commandments to become hip and modern — claims God simply could not have foreseen the “romantic love relationships” that today’s same-sex couples enjoy.

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SO, THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE, who exists outside space and time, could not have foreseen the wonderful discovery His rebellious creation, within a brief flicker of a human’s lifespan, wants to represent as God’s will, to include those homosexual acts that God calls “disgraceful” and “unnatural” and to say they are nothing more than an expression of true soul-mate love by people whom God made “that way.”

Oh, please.

Is that excuse — God made me this way, so it’s okay — any more believable than the “dog ate my homework”?

Look, we all sin and are born with sinful natures. That’s what Genesis Chapter 3 is all about. The rest of the Bible is about how to undo Adam’s rebellion, a resolution that required God to step in, in the person of His Son, Jesus, to take the bullet for us to get the job done right.

The question is not whether we were born with a predilection for a particular sin, it’s what do we do with that predilection — do we embrace it  and codify it into respectability, or do we fall to our knees and implore the One who made us to help us through this trial?

The book of James, written by the half-brother of Jesus, exhorts us to “count it all joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness” (James 1:2-3 ESV).

Living with a sin pattern is not godly. Embracing a sin pattern in the name of 48.FamilyBibleStudy“inclusivity” and “tolerance” and “love” is not godly.

What is a godly response?

Recognizing as Paul told his disciple Timothy, that “[a]ll Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right” (2 Timothy 3:16 NLT).

What is godly is to stay with God’s teaching in His Word, not with rewriting it to suit our “present wisdom.”

Franklin Graham, the son of acclaimed evangelist Billy Graham, said it this way: “God’s Word is the truth and the standard we will be held accountable to, whether you like it or not, whether you agree with it or not, and whether it’s politically correct or not.”

He also said, as Christians, we should love people enough to “tell them the truth and warn them about the dangers and consequences of sin.”

The apostle Paul minced no words in his teaching of God’s truth in Galatians 1: “As I have already said, so now I say it again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”

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PRAYER: O Lord, it saddens us, and it must sadden You even more so, to see so many friends and colleagues leaving the Truth of Your Word for a false gospel preached by the secular culture and embraced by religious leaders who are failing their flock. Lord, be merciful to those who mistakenly believe their interpretation of Scripture is true to You, but please weaken their influence and impede their efforts to redefine Your church. In response, Lord, we ask that You raise strong Christian voices that will speak boldly, and with authority, the Gospel’s eternal message, including both Your promises and Your commandments. We also ask for Your mercy on us. In the Name of Jesus we lift this prayer. Amen

Changed Hearts or Do-It-Yourself?

The Lord is clear with us that our human hearts are deceitful and sinful and that only a remake by Him can change us into the loving, tender, joyful creatures we would like to be. Even though God has made it clear that His Son has paid the price for our disobedience, our stubbornness, our selfishness, and our pride, too many people resist His call. Too often, even those of us who have joyfully accepted His salvation, let our deceitful hearts reign. It takes the Master’s healing hand to transform us from the inside out, starting with that “stony, stubborn heart” … and turning it into a “tender, responsive heart.”

 

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace and tweets at Twitter.

“It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean [Jesus said]. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.” (Matthew 15:11 NCV)

“I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.” (Ezekiel 36:26 NLT)

WHEN IT’S TIME FOR A SPRING CLEANING OF YOUR HEART, WHERE DO YOU GO FOR HELP?

Do you dust off an old do-it-yourself manual or buy the latest self-help paperback that 47.Changed Heartspromises you that, basically, you’re OK, but you need some tinkering around the edges, and we have a 30-day plan that will do just that?

Or do you look in the mirror, take a deep breath, and admit that the root of your problem is contained in the image staring back at you?

If you’re like me and probably millions of other folks, you’d feel much more comfortable finding a quick-fix solution that comes in a box or magically remakes your life after you slap some reminder notes on the refrigerator and maybe your bathroom mirror.

The last thing most of us want to admit, let’s face it, is that the problems we face — that internal angst that senses that things just aren’t right with our lives no matter how diligent we are in making adjustments — stems from … us.

Maybe the cartoon strip character Pogo got it right, after all: “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

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NOT SURPRISINGLY, GOD HAS A FEW THINGS to say about our dilemma.

He points directly to our hearts as the incubator of our troubles. In Jeremiah 17:9, God 47.Fixed_Heart says of the heart, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (NIV) Other translations quote God saying the heart is “desperately sick” (NASB and ESV), “desperately wicked” (NKJV),” “cunning” and “beyond help” (CEB) and “incurable” (HCSB).

A disciple quotes Jesus giving this description in Matthew 15:11 (NCV): “It is not what people put into their mouths that makes them unclean. It is what comes out of their mouths that makes them unclean.”

Not a pretty picture, for sure.

God also has some things to say about our efforts at self-improvement. “Cursed is the man who trusts in man,” He says in Jeremiah 17:5 (NKJV) and “Cursed is the man who trusts in and relies on mankind” (AMP).

The cure, according to the Creator of the universe, the One who made us and fashioned us in His image, is to turn to Him, instead, and let Him heal us.

Listen to the Lord in Jeremiah 17:7 (NCV): “But the person who trusts in the LORD will be blessed. The LORD will show him that he can be trusted.”

Big difference.

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SO, ON THE ONE HAND, mankind can rely on its own wisdom and understanding, all of which God notes come from an evil heart, or, on the other hand, men and women can fall on their knees and trust the One who made them, who understands them, who knows “how they tick.”

Should be an easy choice. One way works; the other way doesn’t.

Yet part of the legacy of that evil heart is that humans don’t want the remedy when it’s attached to the need for obedience.

Solomon wrote in Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV): “In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight. Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the LORD and shun evil.” 47.New_Heart

Continuing in Proverbs 3, we read in verses 11 and 12 (NCV): “My child, do not reject the LORD’s discipline, and don’t get angry when he corrects you. The LORD corrects those he loves, just as parents correct the child they delight in.”

Even when the Lord lays His hand on us, it is with the tap of correction, lovingly applied, to scoot us away from evil and back toward the pathway that leads to God’s good graces.

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INCREASINGLY, IT BECOMES CLEAR that we need to listen to what God has to say about our human condition and less on what Dr. So-and-So on TV has to say, no matter how many books he has sold.

God not only says He has the diagnosis for our problem, He also has the cure.

“And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. And I will put my Spirit in you” (Ezekiel 36:26-27a NLT).

In the New Testament, we learn from God that His plan for conducting this needed heart transplant is through His own surgeon, Jesus Christ. Peter, the apostle, says in Acts 4:12 (ESV): “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

Jesus, naturally, said the same thing during His earthly ministry: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn  the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:16-17 NKJV).

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WHAT’S OBVIOUS HERE?

God wants to change our hearts, not our outward appearance, not our public persona, not our facade, not our public face.

47.Open_Bible1Anyone can strive to “get real” on their own — maybe slap some “great sayings” on the refrigerator; determine to increase personal motivation to stay positive or smile more or say “please” and “thank you” to a stranger, even when they probably don’t deserve it; and maybe stick a toe into a non-profit service center now and then.

It won’t last. It never does. Once the euphoria of the initial gung-ho speech we give ourselves wears off, we’ll be back to the pit, where our depression, distrust, bitterness, and insecurities run rampant.

There’s that “desperately sick” thing the Bible says about the human heart to consider.

No, the resolution to our ills does not rest within our power to change. It must be a complete make-over by the Master and Creator, and that requires our recognition that we are sinners, that He died to release us from sin’s bondage, and that He needs to take up residence in our hearts.

It takes a “new heart,” as the Bible says. It requires letting the Lord give us “a tender, responsive heart.”

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PRAYER: Dear Father God, the Almighty Creator and Ruler of the Universe. We come to You in humility, confessing our great need for Your healing hand, Your forgiveness for our pride and stubbornness, and Your guidance for our path. Please, LORD, change our “hearts of stone” into “tender, responsive hearts,” hearts that yearn after the LORD, that love His majesty, and that give Him all praise, honor, and glory. In Jesus’ Name we lift this prayer. Amen

God Calls Us To ‘Choose Life’!

No falsehood leveled by unbelievers against the God of the Bible is more nonsensical and mistaken than the notion that He sends unbelievers to an eternity in hell. In fact, God goes to extraordinary means to ensure that all of His creation can enjoy eternity with Him, even to the point of sacrificing His one and only Son on the Cross to atone for our sins. However, He will not force us to accept Him, allowing us the choice. Those who reject the Creator have assigned themselves to eternal banishment. He calls us — in fact, begs us — to choose life! To choose to be with Him.

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“Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live!” (Deuteronomy 30:19 NLT)

This is good and pleases God our Savior. He wants all people to be saved and to learn the truth. (1 Timothy 2:4 GW)

The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV)

GOD WANTS US TO CHOOSE LIFE!

How different this statement is from what most of the world believes, yet how basic God’s love is for those who have been bathed by the Holy Spirit.

46. Choose_LifeMention a saving faith in Jesus Christ, and many, if not, most non-believers quickly claim that God, the creator of the universe, is a “cosmic killjoy,” who “cramps their style.”

They’ll say He offers little or nothing for their lives. By the way, wasn’t He that “old dude” from the Bronze Age that gave us a bunch of rules and regulations, like waiting until marriage for sex (like, that’s going to happen!), and you can’t get drunk or party hearty, and He doesn’t much like gambling, either.

Add to that He’s not politically correct. He hates gays and lesbians, is very judgmental, and, worst of all, His followers are bigoted hypocrites and judgmental do-gooders, who insist on imposing their beliefs on everybody else. They’re like ISIS without the face wrap.

Well, really?

That’s a 180-degree misstatement of the Bible, but we shouldn’t be surprised. The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18 NIV, that “[T]he message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of  God.”

Add to that the words of the prophet Isaiah regarding the world’s rebellion against
God: “They have refused his teaching and have said to his messengers and prophets: Don’t tell us what God has shown you and don’t preach the truth. Just say what we want to hear, even if it’s false” (Isaiah 30:9-11 CEV).

In other words, those who are steeped in the world’s wisdom will not understand 46. Rebellion_Against_GodGod’s message of salvation nor will they respond to it.

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THAT’S WHERE WE COME IN.

Our job is to share the testimony of Jesus’ life-changing work in our lives. The ultimate “proof” of His love for us is how He reworks us from the inside out to conform us more to the life and character of Jesus.

As the apostle Paul explained, “I am certain that God, who began the good work with you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns” (Philippians 1:6 NLT). The apostle John said: “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12 ESV).

God offers salvation to everyone who accepts it, but that offer — and our acceptance of that offer — must be on His terms, not ours. S. Michael Houdmann, founder of Got Questions Ministries, said it this way: “We must come the way He has provided. We cannot create our own paths or come to a holy God based on our own efforts.” 

The Lord has provided one way, and one way only, to reach Him. It is through belief in Jesus Christ as God’s Son and our Savior. No other way. Not through Muhammad, not through Buddha, not through Moses or Elijah, not through Brahma, Vishnu, or Shiva, and not through Joseph Smith’s Mormons.

Not through our good works and charity, not through incense and crystals, and not through our “inner spiritual selves in oneness with the universe.”

46. Jesus_Shephed_SheepThrough Jesus Christ and Him only.

Jesus made it clear: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one goes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6 GW). Later, the apostle Peter, filled with God’s Holy Spirit, added this: “Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone” (Acts 4:12 CEV).

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WE ARE AMBASSADORS for the Gospel.

We read in 1 Peter 3:15 CSB: “[B]ut in your hearts regard Christ the Lord as holy, ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”

My friends, how can we be the ambassadors for Christ — “salt and light” to the world — if we who have heard the Good News barely register its meaning in our hearts? When God tells us to choose life over death, He wants us to jump full in for the Gospel, just as He has given all to reach us.

God has given us free will — which includes the freedom to make bad choices, harmful decisions, destructive pathways — that includes the freedom to choose Him and His  offer of eternal life with Him! In Genesis 2, right at the beginning of the Bible, God announced to Adam when Adam was the only human around that he could eat the fruit of any tree in the Garden of Eden save one.

“Your choice, Adam,” God said. “You may not eat from that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; but if you do eat from that tree, on that day you will certainly die, and the special relationship you and I enjoy today will be destroyed” (Genesis 2:16-17, author’s adaptation).

46. Sin-Separates-From-GODIn a pivotal scene in the Bible, known as The Fall, we see Adam and his wife, Eve, standing by that same tree that God told Adam to avoid. What were they doing? Talking to a serpent (Satan), who was encouraging them to disobey God. How? By casting doubt on whether God really said they would die (Genesis 3:1).

Yet, exercising the free will their Creator gave them, Adam and Eve joined together to believe the serpent over God. What a terrible choice, but they exercised the free will God had granted them.

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GOD PURSUES US STILL, encouraging us to make a wiser choice; in fact, to make the only choice that will reconcile us to Himself.

In his book, Knowing God, British-Canadian theologian J.I. Packer writes that God, in setting his love on human beings “has voluntarily bound up His own final happiness with theirs”; that is, that God has purposed to bind His complete happiness with our happiness, which can happen only when we are reconciled to Him through Jesus Christ.46. Sin_JesusChrist_God

Jesus, the Christ of God, who came into the world to die for our sins, told us the Father did not send Him into the world to condemn the world but to save it through Him. That truth is the exact opposite of the falsehood the world believes.

“Whoever believes in him is not condemned,” Jesus said, “but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:16-17 NIV)

The choice is ours to make for our own lives, but God has made it clear that He wants us — longs for us — to choose a relationship with Him.

To choose life. L’chai-im!

TO LIFE!

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PRAYER: O LORD, our Heavenly Father, how we have sinned against You in our rebellion and faithlessness. How patient You have been with us and still are. How loving and merciful You are. Yet, LORD, we know You also are just and will judge us with a righteous hand according to our deeds and misdeeds. On Your mercy we come, confessing our sins and praising Your holy name. Thank You, Father, for giving us Your Son to die for our sins, so that we, believing in Him, can be reconciled to You. Thank you, merciful Father, eternally. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Dear Skeptics—A Love Letter to My Family

Sadly, the people we care the most about — usually our families, both our family of origin and the family we form with our spouse — are the ones who are the least likely to listen to anything we tell them about matters of faith. Jesus faced the same dilemma, at one point exclaiming, “No prophet is welcome in his hometown.” Knowing that phenomenon is common does little to eradicate our pain of feeling helpless. Once again, our solution lies not in our efforts but in our faith and our prayers. There is One who can solve the puzzle. Fortunately, He can do more than we could ask or imagine.

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[Jesus] said, “Truly I say to you, no prophet is welcome in his hometown.” (Luke 4:24 NASB)

So Jesus’ brothers said to him, “You should leave here and go to Judea so your followers there can see the miracles you do. Anyone who wants to be well known does not hide what he does. If you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” (Even Jesus’ brothers did not believe in him.) (John 7:3-5 NCV)

Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside. They want to see you.” (Luke 8:20 GW)

IF YOU COULD ASK JUST ONE QUESTION OF SOMEONE YOU LOVE, WHAT  WOULD IT BE?

This would have to be a humdinger of a question, wouldn’t it? Something really 45. Life's_Big_Qsspecial, more important than a lame, “How are you?” or “What are you planning for the rest of your life?”

Something that cuts through the noise of life. You know, a question that stops them in their tracks, makes them put down their mobile phone, or mute the TV, or drop a book. Something that makes them turn around and look straight at you, intent on their face, an ear cocked, their hands stilled.

What would that question be that would be your last outreach to a loved one? This would be a close family member probably. Most likely a spouse or a child, even an adult child. It could be a sibling or a longtime friend.

Maybe it would be someone who had wounded you years ago with a sharp remark, or someone who was by your side no matter what the situation, good or bad. Maybe you’re looking at a child who looks just like you, only younger than you and more vibrant. Maybe you’re staring into the eyes of the person whose body has warmed yours for decades and with whom you’ve raised a family.

An important person — an important question.

What would it be?

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MINE WOULD BE some form of this: [Name of loved one inserted here], do you know Jesus? I probably would explain the question this way: I mean, really know Him? Have you invited Him into your heart to be your Lord and Savior? Have you Men Sharing Gospelconfessed your  sins to Him (He knows what they are, anyway), and asked Him to blot them out, just forget about them, and give you a clean slate?

If you haven’t, what keeps you from reaching out to the One who’s reaching out to you? Do you think it’s pride, a feeling that you can handle life’s adventures, even the emergencies, on your own; or maybe it’s fear that He’ll demand something of you that you’re not ready to give?

If you have come to know the Lord, how did that go? Did you weep? Did you sing? Did you leap for joy? Did you just feel an unimaginable peace wash over you as He lifted the weight of worry from your shoulders? Or, was it just another moment, and you’re not sure what happened, if anything, but your life has changed?

Why would I ask that question of all questions? If I  knew the person well, and the person had come to what many call “a saving knowledge” of Jesus Christ, wouldn’t I know already if they knew Jesus?

Maybe, but maybe not.turn_away3

There probably are three categories people fall into in regards to matters of faith: those who know the Lord and proudly witness for their faith, those who have no personal connection with the Lord but think their good works or church attendance or wonderful intentions will merit divine favor, and those who could care less.

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THE TROUBLING POINT is that those we care most about, the ones we pray for and long to see in eternity, are the ones who won’t listen to our voice of encouragement. They’ll listen to a stranger first (someone whose own family won’t listen to them!).

Beginning a conversation around the topic is difficult.

Not everyone who truly knows the Lord will share that information with others, even though the Bible clearly commands us to do that. For whatever reason, some folks never get over their personal discomfort.

Those in the other two categories aren’t likely to bring up the subject, either. The church attenders who are not personally connected with the Lord are content with appearances — simply showing up is enough; while those who disdain faith have no reason to discuss the matter, unless it’s to detract from it.

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SO, WITHIN OUR THREE CATEGORIES, nearly everyone finds a way to avoid discussing the one question that, above all other questions, needs an answer.

Jesus put it this way to His disciples: “But what about you,” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15 NIV).

Pastor John Piper of Desiring God ministries, poses the following questions to skeptics, and they’re ones I would present to my loved ones: “If God exists, would it 45. Children_Ignoring_Parentsbe  important for you to get your life right with Him?” and “Do you put Jesus in the same category as other religious leaders?”

Usually, there’s flak that comes back. “The Christians I know are a bunch of hypocrites,” or “Jesus was a really fine moral man and a great teacher, but He wasn’t God,” or maybe “Bible stories sound nice, but they’re just designed to make us feel good.”

While those responses can be tossed aside easily as mere fluff, what they expose is an emptiness of soul that is painful for a loved one to see. Especially when we have come to accept the Lord’s promise of life as a result of His grace, and we want desperately to share that blessing with our closest family and friends … only to realize … they won’t listen to us.

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WHEN CONFRONTED BY His earthly family to curtail His ministry, Jesus asked rhetorically, who His mother and brothers and sisters were and answered His own question this way: “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:50 NIV).

The way we have resolved the dilemma is to continue praying for our loved ones, that the Lord will change their hearts from skeptical to open and that He will bring Christ-focused people into their lives.

In turn, we believe the Lord has called us to make a difference in someone else’s life, to be the Christ-focused people for them to hear, especially those people who are deaf to the questions posed from their own loved ones.

We’re called to serve and share our faith, keeping others in prayer. The rest is out of our hands.

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PRAYER: O gracious and merciful Father, we know too often we turn deaf ears to Your Word and ignore Your voice, often uncertain of how to act. We know You did not give us timid hearts but bold hearts. We pray, then, for boldness in reaching out to our loved ones with the message of Love and Truth, and we pray for softened hearts on their part to hear our plea. Come, Lord Jesus, into the hearts and lives of our loved ones, both family and friends. Reconcile them to the Father and to the Truth. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

 

 

God’s Reassuring Voice of Love

God knows us. He created us, so He knows our hearts. He knows what frightens us, what influences us, what consumes us. When He tells us “be not afraid,” He is assuring us that He is in control, and that His rule is benign. When we accept His gentle touch, it fills our hearts; but when we reject that touch and tell Him that we’re fine on our own, we’re left empty inside. God’s love is poured out for everyone, even those who fail to see it. How grateful are those who accept his love. It’s an amazing gift that lasts for eternity.

 

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For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you. (Isaiah 41:13 NIV)

Give all your worries to him, because he cares about you. (1 Peter 5:7 NCV)

AS PARENTS, WE ALL KNOW THE PLAINTIVE CRY OF OUR YOUNG CHILDREN.

It’s past their bedtimes. They’ve been washed, brushed, dressed, prayed over, kissed, and tucked in … and, yet, restless or fearful, they’ve reawakened and cry out for our  attention.

44. Woman_Comforts_BabyAs former children, ourselves, we know the scary moments in our darkened rooms when we awake, uncertain of our surroundings but certain something ghostlike hovers about. So we call out to our parents to scamper forthwith, turn on the lights, and maybe bring a glass of water with them.

God does that for us.

Imagine. The Creator of the universe tucks His children into bed at night and reassures them, telling them not to be afraid and assuring them that He is with them — us — always. It’s true! It’s in your Bible. In both the Old and New Testaments. Well, maybe not the tucking in part, but certainly and absolutely true about telling us not to be afraid or  feeling abandoned.

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WHAT WE’RE SAYING is that the Creator of Everything cares about each one of us individually and passionately.44. Stars_GOD_Names

Here are just a few of the many verses that attest to that. They include some about avoiding fear, some about eternal life, some about the Almighty’s plan for our lives, some about the resurrected Christ. All shown an amazing intimacy between the Creator and His creation:

    • “He counts the number of the stars;  He gives names to all of them.” (Psalms 147:7 NASB)
    • “Even the hairs on your head are counted. So don’t be afraid! You are worth much more than many sparrows.” (Luke 12:7 CEV)
    • “For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.” (Psalms 139:13 NIV)
    • “When I saw him, I fell down at his feet lik
    • e a dead man. Then he [Jesus] laid his right hand on me and said, ‘Don’t be afraid! I am the first and the last, the living one. I was dead, but now I am alive forever.’” (Revelation 1:17-18 GW)
    • “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)

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HOW AMAZING IT IS that we’ve only just touched the surface of wonderfully reassuring verses of God’s love for His creation.  44. Home_Garden

Isn’t it similar to how a gardener knows each plant or flower he/she has planted. What looks to us like indistinguishable stalks of celery or heads of lettuce, each one acopy of the one beside it, has had a personal encounter with the grower, who tenderly planted the seeds, packed the soil, fed the young buds, pruned the leaves, and watered the growing plant.

While Christian theologians differ over the role of an individual’s choice in one’s salvation, most agree with two very important points, both drawn from God’s amazing love for us as his creation: (1) that our salvation from God’s justifiable wrath toward our sins comes through the atoning work of His Son, and (2) that it is God’s grace, acting through the Holy Spirit, that quickens our hearts to accept that call.

We see that sinful man stumbles in the dark, unable to see his way through life without the sustaining light that God provides. In Psalms 119:105 NIV, the psalmist says, “Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path,” and Solomon teaches us in Proverbs 3:5-6 NIV: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding … and he will make your paths straight.”

As we stumble here and bounce off something there, how reassuring it is when God’s loving hand reaches out and grabs our trembling fist, pats our head, and says, “Do not fear” and “Follow me” (Lamentations 3:57 NIV; Matthew 9:9 NIV).

“I have said these things to you,” Jesus told His disciples and followers, “that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).

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THE WHOLE NOTION OF A PERSONAL GOD is more than most people can fathom.

It’s difficult enough for those of us who have come to know the Lord in a personal way to appreciate that the Creator of the universe cares about us individually; how much more difficult must it be for those who reject the notion that God even exists to accept that He created us in his image and then sent His Son to suffer our punishment so that the Father could reclaim us as His children.

How could they begin to take in the notion that God reveals Himself to us and claims us for His own?44. Cross_on_Bible

Yet, the compelling message of a loving Father soothing our brow and speaking words of love into our hearts draws us to his side. Once we accept this as true, we begin to see the same loving touch impact the lives of fellow believers, which just reinforces its powerful message.

Jesus said to us, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me,” (John 14:6 ESV). This connection between God and man through Jesus Christ works both ways. Not only is He God’s hand to us, but He is our hand back to the Father: “There is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the human Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:15 CEB).

How comforting to hear His voice telling us not to worry, that He’s watching over us. He’s in charge.

PRAYER: Loving and merciful Father, we praise Your holy name and give thanks for Your everlasting love for us. Reassure us, our Heavenly Father, that we are Your children and heirs with Jesus Christ of Your eternal grace. We ask this through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen

 

God and Man: An Asymmetric Bond

The Bible tells us that men and women throughout time have cried out, “Stop telling us what God has said! We don’t want to hear any more,” yet God’s promise to men and women has always been quite different: “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged. … I will strengthen you and help you.” One of God’s greatest gifts is His asymmetrical love for us. He offers us far more than we appreciate or accept. Even when we are unfaithful to Him, He is faithful to us, because that is His nature. How sad that so many of God’s children reject the Man who offered His own life for us to have life … and have it abundantly. Amazing Grace!

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God to man:

Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand. (Isaiah 41:10 NLT)

Turn all your anxiety over to God because he cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7 GW)

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)

Man to God:

They have turned against the Lord and can’t be trusted. They have refused his teaching and have said to his messengers and prophets: Don’t tell us what God has shown you and don’t preach the truth. Just say what we want to hear, even if it’s false. Stop telling us what God has said! We don’t want to hear any more about the holy God of Israel. (Isaiah 30:9-11 CEV)

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23 NKJV)

“What then should I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify Him!” (Matthew 27:22 BSB)

GOD AND MAN — TALK ABOUT AN ASYMMETRIC RELATIONSHIP!

43. God's-GraceGod gives, and man, well, sometimes man is gracious enough to take … but not always. In fact, the Bible notes that most men and women will not take God’s gifts, but prefer to go their own way.

Yet, still God gives.

Man’s reluctance to take, or accept, God’s gifts is based on man’s pride. Allowing mankind, both men and women, the gift of free choice was an amazing risk our Creator was willing to take, especially since He foreknew what we would do with that power — we would reject Him and His plan for our lives.

Yet God so loved us that He gave us a safety line, one that cost Him dearly — the pain and suffering of His only Son, not just the physical pain associated with the flogging and  crucifixion, but more so the emotional pain associated with enduring God’s wrath.

Let’s stop for a minute and take another look at that.

The pain that Jesus suffered physically from the Roman flogging and crucifixion, which seems immense to us, was nothing to Him. What hurt Jesus more — what 43. Jesus-Praying-for-Mecaused Him anguish in anticipation of what lay ahead — was experiencing His Father’s wrath for our sakes — for every sin we’ve ever committed, are committing now, and will commit — and He endured that for everyone who has ever lived, is living, or will live.

I cannot begin to fathom what that means. Can you?

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BECAUSE OF HIS IMMENSE LOVE for us, He inspired the writing of Holy Scripture. The canon used in most Protestant and Orthodox churches comprises 66 books, written by 44 authors on three continents (and three languages) over nearly 1,600 years, without inconsistency. The Roman Catholic canon adds several documents to the Old Testament. The New Testament canon is identical for all three faith groups.

The Bible provides us with a list of three major areas that Almighty God wants us to know: His love for us, His commandments to us, and His assurance of a just outcome (or judgment) for eternity. So, He says He will forgive our sins when we repent, He tells us how to live our lives in peace and harmony, and He assures us of final judgment where everyone will receive an eternal reward, based on whether they came to believe in Him.

Most people who consider themselves Christians readily accept the part about God’s love and mercy; but it’s the final area — God’s judgment — where many folks go off-script.

Somehow, they figure it’s okay to focus on the “good” stuff; that is, hold fast to God’s promises, give a cursory look at the commandments, and totally ignore the judgment.

The problem is this: The judgment part is what makes the promises so awesome.

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IF GOD ALMIGHTY DID NOT JUDGE us, there would be no accounting for any of our actions or words, nor any accounting for actions and words from others. That would  leave us with chaos! 43. Cross=Love

But, since God has made it clear He wants each of us to find Him and be in relationship with Him, He has purposed a way to reconnect us. It is through the shed blood of Himself in the form of His Son, Jesus Christ.

All who believe in the Lord, who call on His name, will be reconciled to God by God’s grace to us through our faith in Him.

That sets up the tension mentioned earlier — the asymmetrical relationship between the Creator and His creation.

A loving God reassures finite man of His love and protection, while man (men and women) respond less enthusiastically. Some exhibit outright hostility; some are complacent or indifferent; some actually believe they are “in touch” through their good works and church attendance. Some claim a “spiritual” component to their lives, but seldom exhibit any substance.

The Bible is clear in Mathew 7 (versus 13-14 and 21-23) that relatively few actually hear God’s voice and respond to Him with trembling and grateful hands.

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WE’RE LEFT WITH THIS ASYMMETRICAL relationship between God and man: The Creator telling His creation, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you,” and the creation responding, “Just say what we want to hear, even if it’s false. Stop telling us what God has said.”

43.Cross_Against_SkyPainful, indeed, to watch God’s chief creation being so disobedient, but for those who respond with a grateful plea, “Come into my heart, Lord Jesus! Forgive my sins and live in my heart for eternity,” there is joy in heaven (Luke 15:7).

Yes, those who “have ears to hear” and respond to His call (Ephesians 2:8) are reconciled to the Creator (Romans 5:11) and become his children (1 John 3:1). If, then, we are His children, we also are “heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:16-17 NASB; Galatians 4:6-7).

No longer asymmetric.

Instead, perfect symmetry.

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PRAYER: O Mighty and Merciful Father, we confess to You our disobedience. Our unwillingness to listen to You, to take You at your Word, our prideful insistence in living life on our terms to suit our goals on our timeline. How foolish we are, O Lord, when You have laid out the path that gives us life, that gives us joy, that gives us love. We pray, Father, that You will forgive our resistance and lead us by the still waters. Sooth our brows, O Lord. Reassure us. Reconnect us. We lift this prayer in the Holy Name of Your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen

Walk Humbly With Your God

The Bible tells us that human pride is the original sin and the greatest sin. It robs us of the joy of seeking God’s favor in our lives; it blinds us to God’s will; it keeps us from living out His plan; it destroys our relationships with our spouse, our co-workers, our neighbors; it leads to conflict with those around us and within our own hearts. Even when we see that truth and how it harms our lives, pride keeps us from doing anything about it. Pride kills life. God wants us to seek Him and His plan for us. Pride stops us from seeking Him.

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Pride leads to destruction; a proud attitude brings ruin. (Proverbs 16:18 NCV).

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8 NIV)

WHAT IS YOUR ENDURING IMAGE OF THE GARDEN OF EDEN?

The Bible gives us so much richness to imagine. There’s the image of perfection, of a world created in God’s image for His glory, with perfect conditions, and a rich food supply.

42. Pride-Greatest_SinThere are two young adults — one male, one female, both sinless — enjoying the goodness of God’s love and His many blessings.

You can almost hear the music track in the background — now soft and melodic, now upbeat and bouncy.

But then, imperceptibly at first, the music changes. There’s a riff of danger, a hint of evil, the sense that something is about to go horribly wrong.

We hold our breath and wait.

There it is! We can see it now.

Eve — beautiful, vulnerable, sensitive Eve — is standing next to That Tree. We watch her gaze at That Tree, examining it from every angle.

That Tree is the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (Genesis 2:17), and God has placed it smack  dab in the middle of this luscious garden.

God told Adam not to eat from the tree, that violating that order would usher in death.

Off-scene, we know Adam told Eve about God’s warning because, when the talking serpent suggests she might want to taste from the tree, she informs him that she and her husband were warned against eating its fruit — even warned against touching the tree — although God never said anything about touching the tree, and Eve had not been created when God warned Adam.

42. Apple

So, what’s happening here?

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WE’RE WATCHING THE END of man’s harmonious relationship with his Creator.

We’re watching what is called “The Fall.”

Eve is about to snap an apple (or some similar fruit) from a low branch, studying it with growing interest, and then — “Don’t do it, Eve!” we scream — she bites into it, the juices streaming down her chin and onto the ground.

“Here,” she says to her husband. Adam, perhaps drawn by his wife’s beauty, has come alongside her, but, unfortunately for the human race, fails to admonish her.

He takes the apple she offers and bites into it.

There’s a sinister snort from the snake — has anybody any idea where he came from! — and then we watch in horror as our two ancestors with the movie-star good looks discover their nakedness and become ashamed!

Respect for the Lord will teach you wisdom. If you want to be honored, you must be humble. (Proverbs 15:33 NCV)

Now, really, there’s no one else around, and it’s not like they didn’t know they were naked before this moment, nor any indication they thought anything of it.

But, now, their eyes widen, and they instinctively — this is a new instinct for them — cover themselves in shame and then hide from God.

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OH, IF WE COULD JUST RUN THE TAPE back and stop Barbie and Ken from eating from That Tree, but we can’t. Even if we could, we sense we wouldn’t. There’s something captivating about that tree and about eating its fruit.

We want what that tree offers.

Didn’t the serpent tell us? The fruit would give us knowledge. Knowledge! Wisdom! Insight!

Why, with knowledge, we would know everything. We’d be like … dare we say it? … like God!

So get rid of all immoral behavior and all the wicked things you do. Humbly accept the word that God has placed in you. This word can save you. (James 1:21 GW)

How awesome would that be?

Apparently, it was not to be.

For in that moment, Adam and Eve learned the same lesson the talking snake had learned much earlier — there’s only one God. The position is taken. The kingdom belongs to the Creator.

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WHAT CAUSED THIS DESIRE to emulate God even while our forebears (who were stand-ins for us) disobeyed Him?

Pride.

The Bible tells us that pride is the original sin and the greatest sin. Pride caused Satan’s fall, and it led to humans’ fall.

Pride robs us of the joy of seeking God’s favor in our lives; it blinds us to God’s will; it keeps us from living out His plan; it destroys our relationships with our spouse, our co-workers, our neighbors; it leads to conflict with those around us and within our own hearts.

Even when we see the truth of that evil and how it harms our lives, pride keeps us from doing anything about it.

Pride kills life. God wants us to seek Him and His plan for us. Pride stops us from seeking Him.

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FORTUNATELY FOR US, God purposed from the beginning to find a way for sinful, rebellious,  prideful men and women to find their way back to Him.

He sent His Son to live a perfect life as a man and then endure God’s unspeakable wrath on our behalf, that all we need to do is believe in Him, confess our sins, and accept Him into our hearts, and He — by His gracious will — will reconcile us to Him.

So humble yourselves under the mighty power of God, and at the right time he will lift you up in honor. (1 Peter 5:6 NLT)

That undoes Adam’s disobedience and Eve’s deception. Unfortunately for us, because sin — and death — have entered the world, this dance goes on every day of our lives.

We have invited the talking serpent into our lives through our rebellion, and whenever he sees us slipping away from his grasp into the loving arms of our Father, he finds another way to ensnare us.

Our pride will keep him coming back.

But the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit prompts us to throw our pride away, if only for the moment, and seek God’s grace and forgiveness, and turn from sin, knowing that, as we draw nearer to God, God will grow nearer to us … and the serpent will slink away (James 4:7-8 NASB).

God be praised!

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THERE’S ANOTHER IMAGE we can take away from the Garden.

God’s promise that He would rescue us through His Son. It’s there in the Bible. You can see it now. God is speaking to Adam and Eve. They are hiding behind branches, afraid God will see their nakedness — this is not the nakedness of the flesh, but of the heart.  It’s not their bodies they are ashamed to show God; it’s their sin.

God_CrushesSatanLovingly, He rebukes them and dishes out the punishment they have incurred on themselves — Adam will work hard for his provisions; Eve will suffer in childbirth — but God promises to restore the promise, telling the serpent that God has put “enmity” between the devil’s seed and Eve’s, because Eve — or another Eve down the line named Mary — will bear God’s Son, who will “crush” Satan’s revolting head (Genesis 3:15).

After this admonishment, God “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Genesis 3:21 NIV).

God wins again.

God’s plan will not be thwarted.

Not even Adam’s and Eve’s pride — or ours, for that matter — can stop the one real God from showing up.

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PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, we are so grateful — eternally grateful! — that You will forgive us our sinful pride and hold us close, keeping us safe from Satan’s power. Lord, we, like Adam and Eve, are ashamed of our sin, but we know, because You told us, that You will accept our repentant hearts and cherish us for eternity. Lord, be praised for Your infinite mercy. In Jesus’ Name. Amen

Followers of Christ—How Should We Act?

We might not be blessed with the opportunity to stand with a repentant unbeliever and witness that person’s passing from death to life, but the Bible clearly says we will have the opportunity to plant the seed that someone else waters and water the seed that someone else plants. To make our witness effective, our lives need to reflect God’s glory, be obedient to His commands, and be free from sinful life styles.

Missed a blog post? Find prior posts at LoveAndGrace (https://wardswords26.com).

They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good. (Titus 1:16 NIV)

But they continued to sin against him, rebelling in the wilderness against the Most High. (Psalm 78:17 NIV)

No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:6 NIV)

WHO ARE YOU TO TELL ME HOW TO LIVE? WHEN DID YOU BECOME GOD?

For any follower of Christ who has risked a relationship with a family member or close friend to point out the sin in their lives, those words, harsh and unyielding, sting. There is no way to sugarcoat it.41. Jesus_Adam_Eve

In fact, the feeling of rejection from a loved one can be so powerful, that many faith-based Christians retreat from any possible confrontation, comforting themselves in lifting a few prayers, knowing that for God, even the most unredeemable person is an  easy fix.

The amazing reality is that while God can do all things, He has chosen to work through us, His creation. From the very beginning, God told Adam and Eve, before The Fall, to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28 NIV). The resurrected Christ, before His ascension into Heaven, commissioned His followers to “go and make disciples …, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20 NIV).

Part of the mystery of God’s creation is that He has chosen to work through men and women of faith, despite our failings, our fears, our weaknesses, and even our own poor witness.

Jesus knew the work would be difficult. He knew we would be rebuffed often, so He encouraged us to have some perspective: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18 NIV). This was prophesied in Isaiah 53:3 NIV: “He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.”

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THE LORD ALSO GAVE US A POWERFUL TOOL to use in helping our loved ones. It is His Holy Word, the Sacred Writ: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for instruction, for conviction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 BSB).

That means the Word we read daily in our walk with Christ to inspire us, to ground us, and to guide our lives is the same tool He has given all mankind. We only need to share it. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel here; we don’t need to create our own theology; we don’t have to struggle with magic formulas that will reach the unreached.

God gave us the tool to use. We need but point people to its power.Picture 072

Try this some time. When talking to an unbeliever, present the Bible to them. Ask them  to hold it for a few minutes. Watch as their hands disappear, quickly pulled away from the Book as though it were a leaping flame.

The Bible has Power. It is a living book, filled with the Word of God. “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19 NIV).

The unbeliever knows that the Bible holds a power that is stronger than their own will. To continue in their unbelief, they must reject it totally, stay as far away from it as possible. Even the conventional believer — the churchgoer who thinks taking communion is a profession of faith — will own a Bible. It will remain on the bookshelf where they stuck it the day their church presented it to them. Unread. Gathering dust.

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BUT WHAT ABOUT THE BELIEVER’S WITNESS? How are we living our lives? At home, at work, in our neighborhoods, with our family and friends? Do we make a difference in the way we act or talk? What about our thoughts? We may think they’re private, but doesn’t desire lead to sin?

Here’s what James, the half-brother of Jesus, says: “Each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is grown, gives birth to death” (James 1:14-15 NIV).

So, does our witness back up our words?

Yes and No.

No, if our words are of judgment and condemnation. In that case, we are hypocrites. 41.Filthy-Rags

Since we all sin (“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” – Romans 3:23 NIV; “and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” – Isaiah 64:6 NIV), we cannot act in judgment of our neighbor, who will be justified in throwing back at us Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:3 NIV: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

However, YES, a resounding and vibrant YES a thousand times over, if we point to the glory of God, admitting that we are sinful creatures who have been reborn by God’s redeeming love (“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” – 2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV).

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WE CANNOT SHY AWAY FROM REACHING those whom He has placed in our lives who need to hear the Word of God! We cannot let our insecurities stop us from an open witness.

Sometimes, that witness takes the form of a kindness — an encouraging word, helping with a task, or even offering to assist.

Sometimes, it requires an open discussion, perhaps leading with a question seeking permission. “May I ask you something?” 

41.FemaleHoldingPlantSometimes, it needs a bold declaration of God’s love for His creation.

“You know, (name of person here), God tells us that He loves us so much He was willing to come to earth in human form to die for us, to pay the price for our sin, yours and mine, to restore us to a right relationship with Him. What do you think of that? Isn’t that awesome?”

Sometimes, it allows for a full-on statement of God’s design to reclaim His creation for Himself.

“In fact, (name of person), He said there is no sin you or I could do, no pattern of sinful behavior, no limit to hurting ourselves or others that His sustaining Grace can’t defeat. (“For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace” – Romans 6:14 NIV). Are you willing to ask for that help from Him right now? I can help you, if you’d like. It’s your call, but I’m here to walk with you every step of the way.”

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WE MIGHT NOT BE BLESSED with the opportunity to stand with a repentant unbeliever and witness that person’s passing from death to life, but just as Paul taught us in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, we certainly will have the opportunity to plant the seed that someone else waters and even water the seed that someone else plants.

In either case, God is the one who will make the plant grow. At that point, we just step aside and watch the glory of God transform this man or woman.

Three key points, then, for those who want to serve the Lord.

First, is to give Him the praise and glory for how He has reached down and transformed our lives to live out the Gospel every day. “May you always be filled with the fruit of your salvation—the righteous character produced in your life by Jesus Christ—for this will bring much glory and praise to God” (Philippians 1:11 NLT).FemalePrayingHands

Second, is to act out the Gospel. “But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:22 NLT).

Third, is to give up sinful life styles. “No one who lives in him keeps on sinning. No one who continues to sin has either seen him or known him.” (1 John 3:6 NIV). “No one who is born of God will continue to sin” (1 John 3:9 NIV).

Alleluia!

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PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, help us in our unbelief to believe, in our sin to seek repentance, in our words to be helpful, in our deeds to be obedient, in our thoughts to be pure, all for the glory and praise of Jesus Christ, in whose name we pray. Amen