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.

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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

Parallels With Jesus: Daniel

What is striking in both stories, that of Daniel seeking God’s help and that of Jesus preaching the Good News that God’s Kingdom is at hand, is how frequently and personally the God of the universe intervenes in human affairs. Daniel needed God’s help to understand man’s mind; Jesus already knew, because He is God. Amazingly personal, that God not only would give Daniel an answer to his prayer but would Himself appear in human history.

 

In Part 3 of a 3-part series, “Parallels With Jesus,” we examine the life of Daniel, a Jewish captive taken to Babylonia but raised to be a top advisor to the king. In Part 1 of this series, we looked at Jesus and Joseph ; in Part 2, we looked at Jesus and Job.

Daniel replied, “No wise man, enchanter, magician or diviner can explain to the king the mystery he has a asked about, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries.” (Daniel 2:27-28 NIV)

[Jesus] did not need anyone to testify concerning man [and human nature], for He Himself knew what was in man [in their hearts—in the very core of their being]. (John 2:25 AMP)

ONLY THE DIVINE CAN KNOW THE THOUGHTS WITHIN A MAN’S OR WOMAN’S HEART.

That point is so telling in the Bible’s comparison of Daniel in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

In the Book of Daniel, Chapter 2, the Babylonia king has a disturbing dream, so he calls in the wisest men in his kingdom to tell him what his dream means.

41. DanielDescribesDreamBut he does not want to be fooled. Instead of first telling them the dream and then asking for their interpretation, he tells the wise men they have to describe the dream to him and then tell him their interpretation.

Well, the wise men aren’t the wise men for nothing. They know they can’t discern what the king’s dream was, so they plead with him to describe the dream to them. Even under penalty of death, the wise men are not able even to make a guess as to what the king was thinking.

While the king sends his guard out to execute the wise men, Daniel offers to interpret the dream for the king, but first, he asks his closest comrades to pray with him for divine revelation.

During the night, the Lord reveals the king’s dream to Daniel as well as the dream’s meaning.

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NOT SO WITH JESUS.

In John’s gospel, also in Chapter 2, we read that Jesus has just cleared the  Temple of money changers and demanded that His Father’s House be a house of prayer, not a market for the enrichment of the Jewish religious leaders.

John tells us that many of the Jews who watched Jesus perform miracles and who heard His teaching “believed in his name” or “believed in him.”  41. JesusTeachesYet Jesus “would not entrust himself to them” (vv. 23-24 NIV) because He knew what was in their hearts.

Why the difference?

Why did a godly man like Daniel need to surround himself with other godly men and spend time in prayer, asking the Lord for His revealing power to present the king’s dream and meaning to him, when Jesus did not seek Divine intervention and yet still knew the hearts of men?

Simply this: Jesus is God; Daniel is not.

There are so many ways the Bible tells us that Jesus is God. Of course, there are the direct comments from Jesus Himself, like in John 14:6 NIV, when He says, “I am the way and the truth and the life” or in John 4:26 TLB, when He tells the Samaritan woman at the well, “I am the Messiah!” or even John 10:30 ESV: “I and the Father are one.”

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THERE ARE MANY OTHER REFERENCES, TOO.

One of the most beloved is Luke’s account of Jesus returning from the wilderness, where, after 40 days and nights of fasting, He had been subjected to the devil’s abuse, and returns to Nazareth to the temple where His family worshipped when He was a boy.

There, He was given the sacred scroll to read, and He selected a passage from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, “The spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.” After reading this, He sat down and proclaimed to all, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

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Some of them are so rich, they can be relished over and over, like when Jesus in John 5 says that “the Father who sent me has himself testified  concerning me” (v. 37 NIV) or Luke 18:19 TLB, when He said,“Do you realize what you are saying when you call me ‘good’?” Jesus asked him. “Only God is truly good, and no one else”; or John 14:9 CEB, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.”

While Jesus made it abundantly clear that He was the long-anticipated Messiah, Daniel made no such claim about himself.

In fact, Daniel had his own dreams and did not know their meaning. In Daniel Chapter 8:16 NIV, for example, Daniel describes watching a vision, when he heard a man’s voice telling the angel Gabriel, “Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.”

Again, Daniel relied on divine intervention; Jesus did not rely on divine intervention because He, himself, was and is divine.

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WHAT IS STRIKING IN BOTH STORIES, that of Daniel seeking God’s help, and that of Jesus proclaiming God’s Kingdom at hand, is how frequently and how personally the God of the universe intervenes in human affairs.

This is not your remote god off somewhere on a mountaintop sending thunderstorms when he’s in a bad mood, or just a block of wood sitting on the shelf, or even a rotating spirit inhabiting the same statute somewhere in the Far East.41.Bible_Words_Spoken_by_God.

This is a God who lays it right out there. Check Isaiah 44:6 NCV: “This is what he [the Lord] says, ‘I am the beginning and the end. I am the only God.’”

Now, add Jesus’ numerous statements that He is God, that He and the Father are one, that He obeys the Father, that if we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father, and then backs it up with amazing miracles, spot-on prophesies, and promises that give us hope of eternal life with him.

What we have is what the apostle John called “the Word [becoming] flesh and … dwelling among us” (John 1:14 NIV).

PRAYER: O Lord, You can look into our hearts and know our thoughts, our feelings, our loves and hates, our desires, our sins — and You love us anyway. Be present in our lives, change our hearts from stone to flesh, and lead us on straightened paths. May Your light shine through the cracks in our lives to brighten a troubled world in desperate need for a Savior. We lift this petition in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Your Son. Amen

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Parallels With Jesus: Job

What is clear with both the temptation story facing Job and that facing Jesus is that Satan, the tempter, was striking at their faith in God. He tried to rattle them and force them to recant their belief that God exists, that He created us, and that He is present in our lives. God clearly states in His Word that our temptations are designed to improve our character. Also clear is this important truth: Satan always loses, and God always wins.

 

In Part 2 of a 3-part series, “Parallels With Jesus,” we examine the life of Job, a man who, like Jesus, suffered, and, like Jesus, maintained his faith in God’s mercy and goodness. Previously, we looked at Jesus and Joseph. Next, we’ll look at Jesus and Daniel.

I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. (Job 19:25 NIV)

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. (Hebrews 9:24 NASB)

TWO MEN. TWO BATTLES WITH SATAN. ONE OUTCOME — SATAN LOSES.

40. GodSatanTalkHow did Satan lose? Was it because of the superior attributes of the two men doing battle with him? Or was it something else? Was another force involved that tipped the scales away from Satan?

Here are the two men: Job in the Old Testament and Jesus Christ in the New Testament.

Let’s set the stage: In Job, Chapter 1, Satan is holding a conversation with God and claims that Job’s faith in the Creator is based solely on the health and material blessings God has bestowed on him. Strip Job of his blessings, Satan argued, and his faith will disappear.

Okay, we can understand the point that it’s easier to sing Praises and Hallelujah when you’ve got a good marriage, a big house, a wonderful job, obedient children, two cars, and a vacation home, but if you lose all the “stuff,” there goes the faith.

Now, let’s swing over to Jesus. In Matthew, Chapter 4, just after Jesus has emerged from His baptism in the Jordan River, He was led by the Holy  Spirit into the wilderness “to be tempted by the devil.”

Satan was then given the opportunity to challenge Jesus on whether He really was the 40. JesusTemptedbySatanSon of God. Now, Jesus believed He was. In fact, in the preceding chapter, Matthew tells us the voice of God said, “This is my Son,” which should settle the matter.

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WHAT IS CLEAR WITH BOTH the temptation story facing Job and that facing Jesus is that Satan, the tempter, was striking at their faith in God. He tried to rattle them and force them to recant their belief that God exists, that He created us, and that He is present in our lives.

We all face temptations in our lives, and Scripture is clear that how we handle those moments helps shape our character and our witness for our belief in Jesus Christ.

But look at what Jesus and Job went through. For Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, we read that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, purposefully led Him into the wilderness for the express purpose of being tempted.

Not only that, but the temptations did not begin until Jesus had fasted for 40 days and 40 nights. At that point, He would have been weak with hunger and more easily susceptible to wrongdoing.

40. JobHasBoilsIn our own lives, we know we are more likely to give into temptations, whether of actions or words, when we are tired or hungry or upset about work.

Imagine how we might react if we had been fasting for five weeks.

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Job’s temptations were a complete surprise to him, as far as we can tell from Scripture. We read that “one day” everything is going along pretty much for him the way every day went, when a succession of messengers ran up to him to announce that his farm animals were taken and his servants slaughtered.

After three such messages, he receives a fourth message that tops the first three: His sons and daughters were partying, and the house in which they were gathered was felled by a mighty wind, killing them all instantly.

As we read through the succession of calamities that befell Job, we see him rent with despair but calling out to God for salvation: “Then he fell to the ground in worship and said: … ‘may the name of the Lord be praised’” (Job 1:20-22 NIV).

Jesus did much the same thing. As He was faced with temptations, from turning stones into bread to jumping off the top of the temple to worshipping the devil with the offer of his earthly kingdom, Jesus quoted Scripture.

The verses were all from Deuteronomy: “Man does not live by bread alone, but on every word that comes40.Jesus_Always_With_Us from the mouth of God,” “Do not put the  Lord your God to the test,” and “Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only” (Matthew 4:1-11 NIV).

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GOD IS CLEAR IN HIS REVEALED WORD that our temptations are designed to improve our character. Paul tells us in Romans 5:3-4 NIV that “we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.”

This is the point where it becomes clear that Satan may win some battles in the short run, but in the long run, God wins the war.

God also reassures us through Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV that “No temptation has seized you except what is common to mankind.” That means, whatever you are dealing with, others are, have, and will face, as well.

But Paul goes on to tell us that “God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you stand up under it.”

Job certainly knew that he could count on God’s goodness and faithfulness. In Job 19:25 NIV, Job proclaims his undying faith in God: “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end, he will stand on the earth.”

40. Cross_And_BibleJesus also knew that He could count on the Father’s love and presence.  Immediately after He faced His trials, He began His public ministry, preaching, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near,” which meant himself. Then, he called His first disciples, so He could begin to build His church (Matthew 4:12-22).

“Come, follow me,” He said, “and I will make you fishers of men.”

Those two models show us that even in the most trying of situations, God is faithful, and He is always there to help us.

Take that, Satan. Now, be gone …

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PRAYER: Our gracious and loving Heavenly Father. We are so grateful that You are sovereign, that You are watching over us and helping us, as You promised You would, through the valleys of life, just as You are with us when we’re experiencing the blessings. Forgive us, Lord, when we doubt or wander away from Your presence. Bring us back every time into Your loving arms. We ask this in Jesus’ Name. Amen

 

 

Parallels With Jesus: Joseph

We often remark that “life is unfair,” and much of it is. But there is a beauty to what God does with “unfairness.” What mankind does for evil, whether intentionally or just because it’s part of our sinful nature, God can, does, and will redeem for His glory and for His purpose. That’s not fair, either, really — because it’s a far better deal than what we deserve. That unfairness is called “Grace.”

You meant to hurt me, but God turned your evil into good to save the lives of many people, which is being done. (Genesis 50:20 NCV)

 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” (Acts 2:36 NIV)

In Part 1 of a 3-part series, “Parallels With Jesus,” we examine the life of Joseph, an Old Testament precursor to Jesus Christ, and note some key similarities in their lives. Next, we’ll look at Jesus and Job, and then Jesus and Daniel.

THERE’S SOMETHING FUNDAMENTALLY UNFAIR WITH UNFAIRNESS.

There, I said it. It had to be said, right? We all agree with the idea that when something strikes us as being unfair, not right, that the universe is amiss.

We don’t like it, and we start to wonder if we can ever trust solid ground again … or any institution, or any value system, or any group.

jm_100_OT_-P10.tiffSo, with that settled, what does the “unfairness of unfairness” have to do with us? How is that relevant to our lives?

Joseph, we may recall, was the favored son of Jacob, whose sons became the patriarchs of Israel’s 12 tribes. He was the next-to-last of Jacob’s sons and the first of two born to Rachel, Jacob’s favored wife, and the love of the old man’s heart.

His older brothers hated him. They were jealous, really, of the love and attention bestowed on him. His fancy multi-colored coat, his clean hands, his conceit, his fanciful dreams — made their blood boil.

So, they sold him to a band of Ishmaelite traders headed for Egypt.

That was the end of Joseph! Or so his brothers thought.

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FAST FORWARD TO JESUS CHRIST.

This was the Son of God come into the world in human form to redeem fallen mankind from its sins, its depravity, and its sentence of death. Jesus said He came to proclaim truth, restore mankind to the Father, and liberate us from slavery … slavery to sin.

His brothers hated him. In this case, His brothers were the religious leaders of the day.

They hated His miracles, they hated His parables, they hated 38.Peter.Speaks.PentecostHis disciples and followers, and they hated His condemnation of their legalistic teaching. Why, Jesus even healed the blind and crippled on the Sabbath — and they hated that!

So, they turned Him over to the Roman authorities to be scourged, beaten, and crucified.

That was the end of Jesus! Or so the religious authorities thought.

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BOTH JOSEPH AND JESUS were unfairly treated by those who should have loved them, respected them, and enjoyed their company.

Both were turned over to authorities who, in turn, turned them over to  superior authorities with the power to harm them.

Jesus was whipped and crucified; Joseph was thrown into prison. Those were just some 41.Bible_Words_Spoken_by_God.of the high marks — or low marks — of their remarkably parallel lives.

Here are some others, along with supporting Bible verses for further reference: Hated by brothers (Genesis 37:13-14, Hebrews  2:11); others plotted to harm them (Genesis 37:20, John 11:53); robes taken from them (Genesis 37:23, John 19:23); sold for the price of a slave (Genesis 37:28, Matthew 26:15); bound in chains (Genesis 39:20, Matthew 27:2); and falsely accused (Genesis 39:16-18, Matthew 26:59-60).

That was just the beginning stuff; here’s the really good stuff: Exalted after suffering (Genesis 41:41, Philippians 2:9-11); forgave those who wronged him (Genesis 45:1-15, Luke 23:34); and saved their nation (Genesis 45:7, Matt. 1:21).

Don’t be surprised if I tell you the best one was saved for last.

God’s wisdom … is a wisdom that none of the present-day rulers have understood, because if they did understand it, they would never have crucified the Lord of glory!
(1 Corinthians 2:7-8 MEV)

God redeemed the evil done to them, first to Joseph and then to Jesus, for the good of those who harmed them! See Genesis 50:20 and 1 Corinthians  2:7-8. Both verses will be very easy to find, not just in the Bible but also in this meditation. The Genesis verse is at the top of this column; the verse from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is in the highlighted text.

With Joseph, God was able to use his imprisonment in Egypt to prepare him for the humility required to lead his adoptive country — and his father’s family — out of famine. With Jesus, God was able to use His crucifixion to satisfy the debt we cannot pay for our sins and so open the path to our salvation.

Take a moment to meditate over the awesome-ness of those verses and then pray this one-sentence prayer: “Thank you, Loving God, for redeeming good from evil. Amen.”

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FOR ANY BIBLICAL LESSON to make an impact in our lives, we have to see its relevance. Just a wild guess, but I don’t image most of us can relate to the evil perpetrated — unfairly and unjustly — on either Joseph or Jesus.

Sure, we know that “bad things can happen to good people,” but that’s not what the parallel stories are about.

They’re about how God redeems the evil in this world — the evil we do to others and the evil others do to us — for His purpose and His glory.38. God's.Mercy

That’s an amazing concept! We are the children and heirs of a God so loving and gracious — and so powerful — that He takes the sin of the  world and redeems it for His glory!

Every sin — every malignant thought — every unkind word — every cruel deed He can use to further His kingdom.

Remember what Jesus said about His defeating Satan on Satan’s home turf? “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).

Job, whose faith was tested by Satan, put it this way: “I know that my Savior lives, and at the end he will stand on this earth” (John 19:25 CEV).

What mankind does for evil, whether intentionally or just because it’s part of our sinful nature, God can, does, and will redeem for His glory and for His purpose.

That’s not fair, either, but it’s a far better deal than what we deserve.

This unfairness is called “Grace.”

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PRAYERDear Lord, Your mercy amazes us. It exceeds what we can understand. We know we don’t deserve grace. We know it’s a gift of incredible love. It’s amazingly unfair the way You take our sins, our willful disobedience, and turn it around to serve Your glory and our redemption. Thank you for that love. In Jesus’ Name we pray.  Amen

Jesus and the Good and Bad Neighbors

If we want to understand Jesus’ command to love our neighbor, we have to refer to His command first to love God with our whole being. Loving our neighbor, He says, is like the first commandment, that is, we are to love our neighbor the same way we love God. Once Jesus shows us we do not truly love our neighbor, He then can show us we really don’t truly love God. Fortunately, God’s love for us is based not on our love for Him but is freely given, unwavering, and eternal.

“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.” The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men.” (Luke 18:10-11a NIV) 

“But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him.” (Luke 10:33 NIV)

“Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (1 John 4:20 NIV)

JESUS TAUGHT US TO LOVE OUR NEIGHBORS, BUT WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?

Oh, sure, we can hear the words and cobble together a respectable answer, something like, “help our neighbor when he or she is in need,” or “watch their house and take in the mail,” or even “transport their child to baseball practice and bring them back.”

36.Love.NeighborsThere might be more items we can offer, especially if God has placed on our hearts a love for His creation. In that case, we can bake a casserole or help someone take down storm windows, or even pick up a few items while we’re in the grocery store.

Is that what He meant?

Doesn’t anyone who’s halfway decent reach out an occasional helping hand to a neighbor, especially a nice one, who’s friendly and helps us out? Isn’t that what we call “being neighborly”?

If Jesus repeated His command for us to love our neighbors, isn’t there a high probability He meant something else, something more meaningful and deeper, something beyond our reach?

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IN OUR TWO PARABLES, Jesus showed us that loving our neighbor means going out of our way to lend a hand, even to someone we might want to avoid.

That might not be pleasant, but Jesus often urged us out of our comfort zones.

Aren’t there commands to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44 NIV), “do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27 NIV), and even this incredible gem, as Jesus, having been flogged and nailed to a Cross, says, “Father,  forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34 NIV). 36. Love.Others
To wrap up His two parables about good and bad neighbors, Jesus said of the Samaritan’s actions: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37 NIV); but in the parable of the bad neighbor, illustrated by the Pharisee’s prayer, Jesus said: “I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other [the Pharisee], went home justified before God” (Luke 18:14a NIV).

In other words, Jesus praised the selfless actions of the despised Samaritan but condemned the self-centered egoism of the highly respected Pharisee.

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LET’S UNPACK THOSE PARABLES briefly so that we see clearly just what Jesus meant by His two incredible punch lines.

In the story about the Good Neighbor, or Good Samaritan, Jesus said a traveler was beaten and robbed and left for dead along the road and that two Jewish religious leaders found him, but neither stopped to help. It was a despised foreigner who picked the man up, dressed his wounds, carried him to a nearby inn, and paid for his care.

In the story about the Bad Neighbor, or Pharisee and tax collector, Jesus said the two men were gathered in the Temple to pray. Whereas the religious leader looked to the heavens and self-righteously told God all of his good qualities, the humble tax collector  lowered his head and mumbled a few words confessing his sin and asking for God’s mercy.

Matt. 7:28-30 NIV — “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching because he taught as one who had authority and not as their teachers of the law.”love_thy_neighbor-billboard

Jesus turned to His listeners, which included Pharisees but also tax collectors, prostitutes, shepherds, farmers, and other common folk, to be like the Samaritan, the Good Neighbor — “Go and do likewise” — but not like the Pharisee, the Bad Neighbor — “I tell you that this man [the tax collector], rather than the other [the Pharisee] went home justified before God.”

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IF WE WANT TO UNDERSTAND JESUS’ COMMAND on loving our neighbor, we have to refer to a related account in Matthew (chapter 22:34-40), where Jesus tells a Jewish religious leader that the most important commandment is to love God with our whole being, and that the second commandment, to love our neighbor, “is like the first” (emphasis added).

Swing back to Luke’s account. If Jesus can show the crowd that loving your neighbor — our neighbor — is difficult and often goes well beyond our comfort zone, then it’s no stretch for Him to show us that, like the first commandment, we don’t love God all that much, either.

31-jesusteachingreligiousleadersKeep in mind that the religious leader was a scholar extremely well versed in the Jewish canon — what Christians call the Old Testament — and probably could quote most, if not all, of the Torah, the books compiled and written by Moses.

That means the scholar was well versed with the Book of Leviticus. In Chapter 19, the Lord laid out a clear list of actions the Jews should do and should not do to show love and concern for their neighbor. Leviticus was written some 1,300 years before the scholar’s encounter with Jesus.

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THE SCHOLAR KNEW LEVITICUS 19. His question may have been intended to trap Jesus, or it might have been a real question touched by something Jesus said, or maybe the scholar was, for just a moment, responding to Who Jesus Is.

In any case, the Lord used the occasion to expose man’s sinful weakness. What Jesus told us is this: We don’t love our neighbors as ourselves — nor do we love the Lord with all our hearts, souls, minds, and strength.

Fortunately, Jesus does love us unconditionally, even though we fail to love Him as He commands.

For that, we can be ETERNALLY grateful!

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PRAYER: O Holy and Merciful Father, God Almighty, we thank You that You are not like us. You are everlasting; we are finite. You are truthful; we are deceitful. You embody light; we prefer darkness. You are love; we are a jangle of lies, hatred, and evil. Thank You for loving us, for saving us from the punishment we deserve, for lifting us up to glory in Jesus’ Name! Lord, we honor and adore You. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

Jesus and John … The Savior & The Beloved Disciple

We hear God’s call for our life with words of comfort as our heavenly Teacher beacons us to come to Him, telling us we will “find rest for [our] souls,” yet once we accept Him into our hearts as Lord and Savior, we get a glimpse of heavenly glory. When we do, to the extent that we can, we are stunned that such divine holiness could want fellowship with us. This is what the apostle John experienced, and we can learn from him.

One of them, [John] the disciple whom Jesus loved, was reclining next to him. (John 13:23 NIV)

When I [John] saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. (Rev. 1:17 NIV)

WHAT A DIFFERENCE ASCENSION INTO HEAVEN MAKES!

Two radically different views of the apostle John, the apostle generally known as “the disciple whom Jesus loved.”

The first image is at the Last Supper; the second image is much later, after Jesus has 34. Beloved Disciple by Ary Schefferbeen crucified, resurrected from the dead, and ascended into Heaven. In this second view, from the book of Revelation, John is in his later years and sees a vision where the Holy Spirit takes him into Heaven.

There He sees the risen Lord, seated on His heavenly throne, surrounded by heavenly hosts, and John falls prostrate on the ground, afraid of looking. Such holiness is beyond his ability to take in.

Yet, when the Lord walked the earth, John was His buddy. In fact, one day John and his older brother, James, approached Jesus with their mother and requested preferred seating when Jesus became king, thinking that Jesus would become an earthly king, and the two former fishermen naturally would become his top ministers.

“When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sit in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left” (Mark 10:37 NLT).

Of course.

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WHO COULD FORGET this description of the Last Supper when Jesus was reclining at the table surrounded by His 12 disciples and announces “one of you is going to betray  me.” 34. LastSupperSeatingArrangement

John’s gospel tells us the disciples began asking one another what their Master could possibly have meant, when Peter, yes, that Peter — Peter the bold, Peter the impetuous — motioned to John and said, “Ask him [Jesus] which one he means.”

Well, of course, Peter would ask John for the inside scoop. John was sitting the closest to Jesus. In fact, John tells us in his gospel that he was “leaning back against Jesus” when he relayed Peter’s question, asking the Lord to identify the betrayer (John 13:21-25 NIV).

In this scene at the Last Supper, John casually leans against the earthly form of the Creator of the Universe, innocently oblivious of who He really is; later, in the scene depicting divine revelation, John sees who He really is and falls flush against the earth after seeing a heavenly vision of “someone like a son of man … [whose] face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance” (Revelation 1:12-16 NIV).

The difference?

Before Jesus was crucified and resurrected, even His closest disciples, John and Peter, could not fathom that this man they lived with for three years, for whom they gave up their livelihoods and everything they knew to follow, was … well … who He was and is.

God.

After Jesus was resurrected and ascended into Heaven to be with the Father, and the 34. JohnBowingBeforeJesusHoly Spirit descended on the apostles (Acts 2:1-4), they realized they had walked with God incarnate!

Big big difference.

When John was “in the Spirit” (Rev. 1:10 NIV) and saw Jesus in His Glory, this was way beyond the time when the two of them were buddies and they dipped their bread in the wine and talked about who might betray Him. This was a time for worship!

But Jesus, ever loving, ever gentle, ever merciful, “placed his right hand on [John] and said, ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” (Rev. 1:17-18 NIV).

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WHEN WE SEE THE TWO VIEWS of John in his relationship with Jesus, we catch a glimpse of the majesty of heaven and a smidgeon of the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalves.

Paul says it this way, “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to cling to, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:5-8 BSB).

This concept of the divine-become-human was too much for Jesus’ contemporaries — His mother and siblings, His disciples, His followers, even His enemies and betrayers — to comprehend.

The Roman authority, Pontius Pilate, looked Him straight in the eye and “said to him, ‘What is truth?’” (John 18:38 ESV).

Indeed, what is truth?

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Truth is Jesus, and Jesus is Truth.

Jesus told us in John 14:6 NIV, “I am the way and the truth and the life” and again in John 18:38 NIV: “In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.” In His prayer for us in the garden, He again said God’s Word is 35. JESUS is the TruthTruth, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17 NIV).

The Bible doesn’t tell us stories and give us images to entertain us; it does so to instruct us, and so we see here in the two scenes of John and the Messiah something about our own relationship with Jesus.

We hear God’s call for our lives because our earthly minds can comprehend a loving Teacher who beacons us to follow Him since “He is gentle of spirit and we can learn from Him,” but once we accept Him in our hearts as Lord and Savior, we get a glimpse of heavenly glory, and when we do, we are stunned that such divine holiness could want fellowship with us.

God wants it so much, in fact, that He would come looking for us, from that walk in the Garden of Eden when He called out, “[Adam,] where are you?” (Genesis 3:9 NIV) to the bold statement that He came into the world that man “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 ESV) to the glorious invitation to enjoy fellowship with Him, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me” (Revelation 3:20 NASB).

35. Jesus Sends Holy SpiritYes, there’s an amazing transformation between Jesus the God-Man who walked the earth to establish a New Covenant with man—His prized creation—and Jesus, the resurrected Son of God and Second Person in the Trinity, to whom God has given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18 NIV).

As much as we love the Jesus of the Gospel, so much more we love the Divine Jesus who sent us the Holy Spirit. As recorded in John 14:16 (NASB), Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may be with you forever.”

In our earthly form, we can perhaps understand, and envy, the close familial relationship the apostle John enjoyed with Jesus, but we stand in awe of the risen Jesus, who in His glory, caused John to fall onto his face in worship …

… and then, in grace and tenderness, reached down to bid him “Welcome.”

PRAYER: O Lord, our God and Father, we are in awe. Your majesty overwhelms us. Your grace exceeds our understanding. Your love is more than we can imagine. Lord, we thank You for wanting us to be with You so much that You sent Your Son to take our punishment and then to demonstrate, through His resurrection, the hope that awaits us of eternal life with You. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

#GodIsLove

#HeFirstLovedUs

#UnfathomableLove

What Does Follow Jesus Mean?

Whether to follow Jesus or to reject Him is a choice we all make, and we make it individually. We are not grafted onto the “Tree of Life” by virtue of our parents or church membership or good works. Jesus asks us the same question He asked His disciples: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” How we answer that question determines everything in our lives, both in this world and in the next. Do we follow Him or reject Him? Do we believe Him or ignore Him? Our choice. Our future. God in the Bible made it clear His choice for us: “I am offering you life or death, blessings or curses. Now, choose life!”

 

Then Jesus said to all of them, “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” (Luke 9:23 BSB)

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matthew 9:9 NIV)

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him. (John 3:36 ESV)

WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO FOLLOW JESUS?

Jesus placed a high priority on obedience to His teaching and made it clear that He expects His followers to be all in for Him — nothing halfway.

In fact, the Bible tells us that Jesus modeled perfect obedience to s33. Jesus Carrying His Cross.jpghow us how it was to be done. In Philippians 2:8, the apostle Paul says Jesus  “humbled Himself” to leave His spot in Heaven for an earthly stint as a mere human and, in addition, “was obedient to death” for our eternal benefit.

In the apostle John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us how significant that death was: “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13 NLT), so, in effect, He was saying, “I’ll lay down my life for you because I love you and you are my friends.”

What does being Jesus’ friend mean? Jesus said, “You are my friends if you do what I command” (John 15:14 NLT).

What, then, does He command? “This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17 NLT).

So, Jesus wants us to follow Him. That means we are to deny ourselves (take up our cross). He is willing to die for us because we are His friends, and, as His friends, we are to love one another.

Does this friendship with Jesus cost us anything? Does He do all the heavy lifting, and we just tag along?

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WELL, TO FOLLOW JESUS (carrying our cross) means denying our own self-interest in favor of His vision for our lives, even if that vision leads to hardships for us, in some cases even to the point of our physical deaths. Jesus anticipated our reaction to that  question. 33. Take Up Cross Matthew.jpgNot only did He set the example for us by laying down His life for ours, but He tells us not to worry. “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul,” He told His disciples. “Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28 NIV).

In other words, He tells us to place our confidence in Him, and He will see us through the fires of this world and save us from the fires of the next world: “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10 NASB). “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 ESV).

But there’s more. Telling us He wants us to obey Him means He also has given us the freedom — the opportunity — to reject Him.

That rejection is the flip side of freewill, but with it, the Lord warns us that choosing that option comes at a cost. “But for those who reject him, ‘The stone that the builders rejected has now become the cornerstone’” (1 Peter 2:7 NLT) and “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36 ESV).

That means we have a choice whether to follow Jesus or reject Him. To follow Him, means, in His words, that we have “life and [we] have it abundantly.” To reject Him, means, in His words, that we “shall not see life” and that “the wrath of God remains on [us].”

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LOOKS TO ME LIKE A CLEAR CHOICE!

Yet, how many people make the choice to follow Jesus versus those who choose to reject Him?

In Luke 23, we read that one of the two criminals who were crucified on either side of Him “hurled insults” at Jesus, while the other one recognized that Someone special was facing a torturous death alongside him and said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (vv 39-43 NIV).

That’s 50 percent.  34.Jesus.Narrow.Gate.jpg

Hard to slog through the multitude of Jews and Romans who passed by while Jesus hung on a Cross, struggling to breathe, the nails tearing his wrists and ankles, to determine how many were for Him and how many against. We can assume the tally was against Him at that point, in part because His followers, fearful for their own lives, were in hiding, and in part because the Holy Spirit had not been sent yet to empower them.

Let’s remember that Jesus had warned His disciples that following Him would be difficult: “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first” (John 15:18 NIV) and “So don’t be surprised, dear brothers and sisters, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13 NLT).

Jesus even encouraged them to walk the untrodden path. “Enter through the narrow gate,” He said. “For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the way that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matthew 7:13-14 BSB).

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Whether to follow Jesus or to reject Him is a choice we all have to make, and we make it individually. We are not grafted onto the “Tree of Life” by virtue of our parents or our ethnic group or whether we take Communion or sing in the church band or choir.

Jesus asked His disciples in Matthew’s gospel who the townspeople said He was, but the more important question, recorded in Matthew 16:15 NIV, was this: “ “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

How we answer that question determines everything, both in our lives in this world and in the next.

Do we follow Him or reject Him?

Our choice. Our future.

We know which choice God wants us to make. He told us throughout the Bible. Here’s just one example, in Deuteronomy 30:19 NCV, where He made His desire abundantly clear: “I am offering you life or death, blessings or curses. Now, choose life!”

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PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, we praise You for Your everlasting mercy and Your overwhelming love for us. We bless You for sending Your Son to pay the price for our sin so that, by believing in Him, we can be reconciled to You as righteous and faithful servants. O Lord, hear our prayer. You have allowed us to choose You or reject You and rightly told us the choice is between life and death. Lord, we choose You; we choose life! In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen

God to Me: Let My Son Out of Your Wagon!

Kingdom work is serving Jesus fueled by the power of Jesus; it is not about getting ahead of Jesus and doing the job as we see it on our own. The beauty of God’s grace is that He knew in advance when He made us and gave us independent wills we would misuse the privilege and rebel against His authority. Yet with love so supreme, He sent His Son to bear our punishment, so that, believing in Him, we would become right with God again.

“Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself unless it abides in the vine, so neither can you unless you abide in Me.”  (John 15:3 NASB)

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5 NIV)

“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 ESV)

TODAY, GOD TOLD ME TO LET HIS SON OUT OF MY WAGON.

I’m serious. I was deep in thought, walking some pain out of my back, when the Holy Spirit painted a very clear picture for me. 

Here I was, laboring along, feel stressed under the load of “Kingdom work,” when the  image suddenly flashed before me that I was laboring under my own power for, probably, my own glory, while I was straining to pull a wagon, you know, the kind little kids ride in, and there sitting in the wagon was34. Red Wagon.gif Jesus Christ!

The Second Person of the Trinity was right there with me, as He said He would be, but somehow, I had managed to shift Him from a leadership role into a support position, and the strain of it all was harming me.

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THE SHIFT IN HIS POSITION was odd, for sure, because I am one of those fairly new Christians who grabbed ahold of Jesus when He told us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV)

So, what happened?

How come I was now pulling the wagon, and He was riding in it?

Let’s get to that in a minute. Here’s what God told me to do: He said to let His Son out of the wagon where I had put Him and let Him lead me, encourage me, and prop me up.

You see, Jesus should be walking in front of me, leading me as a light along the 34. ManCarriesHeavyLoadstraight path (Proverbs 3:5-7; Psalm 119:105). He should be walking alongside of me, to encourage me (1 Thessalonians 5:11). He should be walking behind me to pick me up when I stumble (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).

Yes, He can be in all four positions — in front of me, flanking me, and behind me — at once. He just can’t be in the wagon, riding along as I drag Him, my back hurting from the strain, my legs buckling, my heart pounding.

Kingdom work is serving Jesus fueled by the power of Jesus; it is not about getting ahead of Jesus and doing the job as we see it on our own.

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BACK TO OUR QUESTION: WHAT HAPPENED?

Simply this: human pride, my own arrogance, my own desire to control and to make the world around me conform to my image. It’s safer that way, really. Didn’t the Christian singer/songwriter Matthew West recognize that fact in his song, “My Own Little World,” with these words, “population — me”?

This resistance to Divine authority is nothing new to mankind. It started in the Garden of Eden when the original man and woman, Adam and Eve, decided it would be okay to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil — even though God specifically told Adam it would not be okay to eat from that tree.

In fact, God told Adam, eating from that tree would cause death.

Still, even with that threat hanging over their heads, our forefath34. ManRefusesToListener and foremother thought they knew better. So, they disobeyed. God was true to His Word. He banished them from the Garden; their work, once glorified, now became a burden; and they were under a death sentence.

Many of us who follow Jesus recognize too often we lay our burdens down at the foot of the Cross, where every book in the New Testament tells us to take them, and then we … kind of … hold on to them … or, if we let go, we mark the spot and then … rush back to pick up our burdens … and carry them off as though we have stolen plunder.

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JESUS TOLD US HE CAME TO GIVE US LIFE.

In John 10:10 ESV, He said “The thief [Satan or the devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Then Jesus contrasted that reality with the new reality that He offers: “I came that they [us, mankind, you and me] may have life and have it abundantly.”

That looks more like the deal I wanted when I heard the Master implore me to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28 ESV).

So, I know that His promises are true. I believe every word He says. Why, then, do I act as though I haven’t heart a word He says, a promise He makes, an offer I can’t refuse.

Back in Deuteronomy 30:19 NIV, our Heavenly Father speaks to the Israelites through Moses, where He issues the famous commandment to “choose life!”


“This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live.”

Yet, we read time and again, the Jews in the Old Testament and then the Christians in the New Testament, failed to keep that Commandment.

The same failure that befell Adam and Eve.

The same failure that I make, and — maybe — even you make?

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THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S GRACE is that He knew in advance when He made us and gave us independent wills we would misuse the privilege and rebel against His authority. Yet with love so supreme, He sent His Son to bear our punishment, so that, believing in Him, we would become right with God again.

34. JesusEmbracingMan.pngNow, about that back pain.

He has that one covered, too.

See, in Proverbs 3:8 NIV, right after that verse that tells us to lean on God and not on our own understanding is another one of those grace notes, another promise God offers, if we’ll only listen and obey Him.

“This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones.”

It’s time for me to stop pulling the wagon so I can let God’s Son hop out and take His rightful places — all four of them — in front of me, alongside me, and behind me.

Thank you, Lord!

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PRAYER: Our Heavenly Father, Abba, Daddy, we are so blessed to be so loved by You. Thank You for Your promises, and thank You for your admonishments when we disobey. Thank You for Your love and mercy. We praise You, we thank You, we love You. In Jesus’ Holy and Precious Name. Amen

Writing Their Own Bibles-Making Their Own Rules

God’s Word is Truth. His Spirit guided the individual writers of the biblical canon. Jesus Christ is the centerpiece. The Old Testament points to His arrival; the New Testament records His visit and immediate aftermath, including His life and teaching and His death, resurrection, and ascendancy. It trumpets the Holy Spirit, which guides our hearts and reminds us of Jesus’ teaching. God, in all Three Persons, warns mankind against adding to His Word or subtracting from it. The canon is set. It is His Truth, which is the only Truth. His Word is not to be reinterpreted according to our likes and dislikes.

For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear. They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas. (2 Timothy 4:3-4 TLB)

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20 NASB)

And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. (Romans 1:28 ESV)

TOO MANY PEOPLE WANT TO WRITE THEIR OWN BIBLES.

That is disturbing enough when non-Christians want to rewrite the Holy Scriptures, eager to make its pages reflect their own worldview; worse when those who call themselves followers of Christ rewrite God’s Word.

33-eve-and-adam-gardenRewriting God’s Holy Word is the favored tactic of those who claim to honor the totality of Scripture, as they see it, while dishonoring specific commandments and directives that cut across their “lifestyle.” In other words, they are willing to hold God to His promises of salvation and mercy but insist that His guidebook to us needs updating “to fit the times.”

Let’s not lose sight of original sin and man’s plight in this world. The very first sin  recorded in the Bible was of Eve, and then Adam, eating the fruit “from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:17; 3:6-7 NIV).

The reason for eating of the forbidden fruit? According to the serpent, the form taken by Satan to tempt the first man and woman, “you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 ESV).

“You will be like God.”

That’s the crux of the matter.

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WE ALL WANT TO BE LIKE GOD, but only God can be God. The position is filled. It belongs to the author of all creation (“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1 NIV), not to the created beings, even those created  beings—man and woman—whom God created in His likeness (Genesis 1:27 NIV).

Nor is God willing to share the glory of being God — “I am the LORD, that is My name; 33-creationI will not give My glory to another,” (Isaiah 42:8 NASB) — even though He commanded our forebears to take responsibility for tending to creation (Genesis 1:28 NIV).

Wanting to be like God is “pride,” which is a sin. It is the sin that cost Lucifer, or Satan, “the devil,” his position in heaven. “This great dragon—the ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, the one deceiving the whole world—was thrown down to the earth with all his angels” (Revelation 12:9 NLT).

Jesus, of course, was present when God cleaned house. “So [Jesus] said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven’” (Luke 10:18 BSB).

God takes seriously His position as creator and manager of all creation: “My Father is always working, and so am I,” Jesus said (John 5:17 NLT). His preeminence over all is without question: “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him” (Psalm 24:1 NLT).

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IN FACT, THE BIBLE CLEARLY WARNS US not to mess with God’s Word to us.

Early in the Bible, He warns us not to add or subtract from God’s commands to His people (“Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you” (Deuteronomy 4:2 NIV).33-the-bible-inspired-of-god

Just to make sure we understand clearly what He said, He added this at the end of the Bible: “I testify to everyone who hears the words of prophecy in this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book. And if anyone takes away from the words of this book of prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book” (Revelation 22:18 BSB).

The Bible is a unified body of God’s Word to us, written by the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit through the hands of some 44 writers over a period spanning 1,500 years, with no contradictions or inconsistencies, when properly understood.

The apostle Paul tells us that “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 HCSB), and the apostle Peter tells us (2 Peter 1:21 NIV): “For prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.”

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SO, WHAT’S GOING ON?

With so much in the Bible telling us that God’s Word is His Word and He’s fine with it as it is, and, moreover, God tells us He Is The Word (“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – John 1:1 NIV), then why or how do some folks who claim to know the Lord also say they do not take His Word literally?

How do they reach the point of departure from God-inspired Scripture to say they “interpret” God’s Word according to their own  experiences and reason? How do they arrogate to themselves the right to reinterpret clear passages of Holy Writ to accord with their personal tastes, as though the Bible were a smorgasbord, where one can 33-the-word-became-fleshpick and choose whatever suits, as long as one eats everything on one’s plate?

How does that happen … unless they stop worshipping the God of the Bible and substitute for Him a god of their own creation, someone more to their liking. This is the reverse of Genesis 1:27, where, instead of believing that God created man in His image, man now creates “god” in man’s image.

Weren’t we warned about that 3,000 years ago in The Ten Commandments? “I am the LORD your God. … You shall have no other gods before Me” (Exodus 20:2-3 NASB)

Yes, the apostle John had it right when he wrote of Jesus coming into the world (John 1:10 NET), “He was in the world, and the world was created by him, but the world did not recognize him.”

Still — too often — true.

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PRAYER: Dear Heavenly Father, our Creator and our Lord, we confess that too often we rewrite Your inspired Word in our hearts or pick and choose which parts we want to honor and which ones we’d like to forget, when You have warned us against adding or subtracting from Your Word. Forgive our pride and our disobedience, and give us new hearts, hearts that seek after You, hearts that love You, hearts that praise You. Thank You, Lord, for Your Word. In Jesus’ Name we pray. Amen