TURNING WATER INTO WINE

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

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

MISSING THE WHOLE POINT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DRILLING DEEPER

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

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

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

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

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

GOD’S FUTURE KINGDOM

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

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

Some biblical support:

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

FILLING THE EMPTINESS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

POSTSCRIPT 

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

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

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

The real gift is Jesus, Himself. 

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

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

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

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

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

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PRAYER 

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

IS IT FAITH … OR RELIGION?

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

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

THE FORM OF RELIGION

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

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

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

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

SOUND DOCTRINE

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

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

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

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

Of course, the Holy Bible teaches the exact opposite.

BIBLICAL TRUTH

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

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

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

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

POSTSCRIPT

WHICH GROUP IS WHICH?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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PRAYER

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

MY WALK: A PERSONAL ACCOUNT

Sometimes, it’s good to be bold, to try something new, so writing about myself is my Christmas challenge to myself. This is not what I “do,” but it’s okay this time. We’ll see. Merry Christmas to everyone! God bless.

2 PETER 3:9 (NASB): “The LORD is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance.”

JEREMIAH 29:13 (NKJV): “And you will seek Me and find Me, when  you search for Me with all your heart.”

JOHN 17:20 (ESV): “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

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A CHRISTMAS TALE

“WHY DON’T YOU tell your readers something about your personal life?” my wife asked me recently. The question seemed innocent enough, but I scowled anyway.

“That’s not what I do,” I replied, sounding a bit more smug than I needed to be.

I thought quickly of some of the blogs I’ve read that I really found enjoyable, and many of them — gasp! — were personal columns.

“Mine have been more ‘teacherly,’” I continued. “You  know, the kind that give a message of encouragement for anyone. I don’t really want to share what I had for breakfast.”

Well, as I thought about it, another blogger, PK Adams, encouraged me further, so I’ll make the stab. Bear in mind, I’m of mixed opinion about this, but this is Christmas, and maybe this time, I could share just a slice of who I am.

HERE COMES THE DOG

AFTER A LIFETIME of “dog avoidance,” I’ve recently become the co-parent of a puppy Shih Tzu, possibly the cutest individual animal God ever created.

Here’s me with our dog, named Gracie. I call her “Puppy,” and I’m totally in love with her.

She has taken over our home in quick order: watches TV with us, sleeps in our bed (oh, yes, that didn’t take her long), enjoys outdoor walks, chases leaves, barks at herons, loves to play “toss and retrieve,” and goes bonkers when another dog is around. 

My wife’s daughter has Gracie’s sister. The two dogs wrestle and bark and run rings around the room, like two crazed animals. They are adorable (but ours is cuter :-))

CAROLINA IN THE MORNING

NOTHING COULD BE FINER, as the song goes, than Carolina in the morning, and I can agree. Here’s the  view out our patio window as the Sun rises over the lagoon. 

I guess those are pine trees of some sort, but I don’t really know and in our five years of living here, haven’t bothered to ask anyone. They look strange to me, unlike the trees we saw up North that shed their leaves every autumn.

We moved to South Carolina from the Washington, DC, area to enjoy a warmer climate, lower taxes, and fewer traffic jams. Now that I see what it’s like, I kind of wish we had made the move earlier. Of course, there was that thing about our jobs, but … 

Although I’ve lived most of my life along the southern rim of the Great Lakes, Southeast New England, and DC, I love the “New South.” 

THEN THERE’S FLORIDA!

ONE YEAR AGO, we bought a condominium in South Florida, oceanside, partly as an investment,  partly to be near family, and partly because it’s a great place to be!

Here’s the view through our screened-in balcony overlooking a tributary of the Intercostal Waterway. I love to sit on the balcony early morning with my Bible downloaded onto my iPad, sip my fresh brewed coffee, and enjoy God’s Nature while I study God’s Word. 

Life is good! 

But there’s more, and I’m running out of space, so maybe there’s hope for another personal column. I didn’t get to talk about this blog … or blogs in general. That could be interesting.

We’ll see. 

ABOUT THOSE VERSES

I LOVE BASING my blog posts on Scripture. Usually, I select three verses that “work together,” at least as I believe the Holy Spirit guides me.  

I also love grabbing verses from different translations. Maybe it’s the academic in me, or the journalist, which is how I earned my living before journalism became corrupt and one-sided (oops, I digress). 

The three I chose for this piece are as close to “life verses” as I can get. Each tells of the Savior’s love for me (and all of us who know Him). They comfort me in knowing that my salvation is secure because He wants me to be with Him. (John 14:3)

Praise God! I am so blessed.

PRAYER

O LORD, OUR HEAVENLY FATHER, how grateful  we are that You’re a God who loves us, who cherishes us, and who literally would do anything — even sacrifice Your only Son — to reclaim us. We are blessed, indeed. Forgive us when we are disobedient, and guide us into Your loving arms, then empower us to share the message of redemption with those You put in our paths. In Jesus’ Name we pray. AMEN

GOD’S GOOD GIFTS TO US

God’s goodness overflows in our lives. Sometimes these gifts manifest themselves in saving us from the effect of our poor decisions; sometimes they are long in coming, almost as a “life achievement” award. Yet, also, we are taught by His Word that for many of us, our rewards will not be apparent in this world but, as Romans 8:28 assures us, they will be showered on us in glory. What we all assured of in this world is the Lord’s promise in John 10:10b that He came to give us life in abundance.

James 1:17a (NCV): “Every good action and every perfect gift is from God.”

John 3:27 (KJ2000): “John [the Baptist] answered and said, ‘A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven.'”

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THE LORD’S BENEVOLENT HAND

THE OTHER DAY I nearly lost my left eye.

OIP.WTKqPq5kyy4FCViBQ1c-9QAAAAI bent over to pick up a dead leaf from one of our indoor plants and failed to see a stabilizer stick jutting up that struck my forehead.

Barely an inch from my eye.

Surely, God’s angels were watching over me.

That incident is not even the most dramatic one in the last few days affecting me or members of my family, but just one example in my life.

God is good to us, and we see reminders of that every day.

NOT PROSPERITY GOSPEL

LET’S NOT MISTAKE God’s good gifts for the so-called “Prosperity Gospel.” God’s Word promises He’ll go through our trials with us, not that we will skate through life without them.

However, each one of us can cite numerous examples where we experienced a “near miss,” something that easily could have turned into one of those tragedies we all read about and say, “Hope that doesn’t happen to me.”TRAFFIC_DRIVING

There are many times we’ve been saved from a car running a red light, a flying object that misses our face,  or a heavy object that falls harmlessly beside our foot.

Often for me, it has manifested itself in driving situations, where I’m about to turn into the passing lane and am alerted by my car’s alarm of an oncoming vehicle that I failed to see in the mirror. I immediately thank God for watching over me.

When turning left in front of oncoming traffic, I pray for patience so that I don’t end up scooting in front of a car, a car that I swear has just sped up, but allow myself to wait for a clearer path.

“Love, joy, peace, PATIENCE, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” I recite the Fruit of the Spirit (Gals. 5:22-23 ESV) as a prayer, each time emphasizing the fourth word to restrain my impulses.

Not only in my own life, but how often has a loved one experienced God’s protective grace, and I don’t even know about it? If they don’t relate the story, I’ll never hear of it, but I still “know” that God’s protection abounds.

I did hear of one story. In July 2019, my daughter in Texas was struck by two cars — one from behind her and one from in front. While the car was a total wreck, she escaped with a concussion, and the children were unharmed.

I still thank the Lord for sparing their lives.

JESUS’ GREATEST SERMON

JESUS IN THE SERMON on the Mount tells us about God’s goodness … by contrasting His goodness with  man’s goodness.SERMON_ON_MOUNT

He tells a story of how mankind, being inherently evil, still has the capacity to do good things. He says a father, for example, will not give his son a stone if the child asks for bread, nor will he give the child a snake instead of a fish (Matt. 7:9-10).

The Master uses the example to assure His listeners that, if earthly fathers can give good gifts to their children, surely a good and loving Heavenly Father would “give good things to those who ask him” (Matt. 7:11 ESV).

I’m often amazed at stories of Good Samaritans who quickly doff shoes and clothing to dive into a pool or lake or ocean to retrieve another person they may not even know, sometimes at the cost of their own lives. (Just Google, “Good Samaritan dies saving another person” to see numerous examples.)

GOD’S GOOD GIFTS

A SPIRIT-FILLED PASTOR in the DC area a few years ago related a story of how, when their  children were young, they would stop by the roadside on the way to the Washington Zoo to pray for a good parking spot.

When the congregation registered surprise, he said, “Oh, yeah! God loves to give His children good gifts, … and we managed to find some pretty good parking spots, too!”Meditation.Raised Hands

All good gifts come from the Father, but how often do most people think to ask God for help in their everyday lives, even when the Bible (1 Thessalonians 5:17) exhorts us to stay in prayer throughout the day?

There are many times we can thank Him for His provision, like asking Him to bless the food we’re about to eat or help us find our car keys or pray that He’ll keep our dropped mobile phone from a cracked face.

While God is not a genie who grants our every wish, He is a personal God who created us to be in fellowship with Him and wants to provide for us.

Jesus said He came to the earth that we would “have life,  and have it abundantly” (John 10:10b NASB).

How sad for so many who cannot accept the existence of our Heavenly Father nor enjoy His loving goodness toward them.

When we stay in prayer all day, asking Him for favors, seeking forgiveness for something we’ve said, or asking Him to help us decide how to handle a thorny situation, we open the communication channels so God can speak to us … and that’s really the point of it all, isn’t it?

REJOICE IN THE LORD

THE APOSTLE PAUL exhorts us to “always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again — rejoice!” (Phil. 4:4 NLT).

Nearly 1,000 years earlier, the psalmist gave us the same message: “Make a joyful shout to the LORD, all you lands! … For the LORD is good.” (Psalm 100:1, 5a NKJV)

The Doxology, sung each week in many churches, says this: 

Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”

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PRAYER

image-13

OUR GOOD AND GRACIOUS HEAVENLY FATHER,  we thank you for Your loving kindness, Your mercy, and Your provision. Please forgive us when we take Your gifts for granted. Give us hearts that appreciate Your goodness. Praise the Lord! In Jesus name, AMEN

CAN WE KNOW WE’LL GO TO HEAVEN?

Are you going to Heaven when you die? Polls show most people believe there is a Heaven and they’re on their way. Why? Because, they say, basically they are “good” people. But what does the Bible say about that? Pastor and author Author Randy Alcorn in a new tract explains that Heaven isn’t our “default destination” and that important changes must be made in our lives if we are to spend eternity with the Lord in His rest.

Matthew 7:13-14 (NKJV): “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”

2 Peter 2:9 (CEV): “This shows that the Lord knows how to rescue godly people from their sufferings and to punish evil people while they wait for the day of judgment.”

Revelation 22:17 (ESV): “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.”

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MISSING THE TRAIN TO HEAVEN

RECENTLY, I WAS DRIVING one of our church elders to Sunday morning services. He turned to me, his thumb and index finger nearly touching, and said words that still ring in my ears: “Ward, I came this close to spending eternity in Hell.”

HELL. HELL

What a terrifying thought. An eternity of darkness, aloneness. Fire. Worms. Without hope. Without love. Without end. It’ll be hellish. Really.

Yet, a recent poll showed that for every American who believes he or she is going to Hell, 120 believe they are going to Heaven. 

The Bible tells an entirely different story. It says a person must believe in Jesus Christ to enter Heaven. (A different standard applies to those who have not heard of Him.)

Unfortunately, that means that most of the self-described Heaven-bound are wrong.

In fact, the optimism expressed by most Americans, even those who do not profess to be Christian, stands in stark contrast to Jesus Christ’s own words: 

“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”Matthew 7:13–14 (ESV).

According to the Bible, most people are not going to Heaven.

They’re going to Hell.

THREE SCENES

IMAGINE THIS:

  • IT’S WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON — You’re at the grave site of a good friend who has BURIAL_SCENEsuccumbed to cancer. You cast your gaze to his survivors and notice his widow and daughter clutching each other through tears. You share their grief. You don’t know where your friend will end up, but you suspect from the way he lived and talked that God, salvation, and repentance were far from his mind. You’re terrified for him.
  • IT’S FRIDAY EVENING — You’re at a high school football game, and the home team is marching down the field toward the end zone. You look around at the stands. You know by sight most of the onlookers. They’re your neighbors and friends. On this Friday night, there’s not a single thought among them about  their eternal destiny. You don’t know where they’ll end up, but you suspect that, come Sunday morning, eternity will not be on their minds, either. You’re terrified for them.
  • IT’S SUNDAY MORNING — You’re at church, and the pastor is wrapping up his weekly altar call, and you look around the congregation. Nobody moves. They must all be saved! Well, maybe so. Wouldn’t that be wonderful! You don’t know their status, but you suspect that most of them think they’re saved or at least don’t need what the pastor is preaching. You’re terrified for them.

How do you handle the horrible thought that most of the people you meet and talk with each week — most of the people you know and most of the people you don’t know — are not on God’s saved list? Their names are not found in His Book of Life. HS_FOOTBALL

What do you do when you consider they have no clue what they’re missing?

DEFAULT DESTINATION

THE TRUTH IS, according to the Bible, we don’t automatically go to Heaven. 

In fact, our default destination is not Heaven — but Hell. Unless our sin problem is solved, we can’t enter Heaven. 

That’s the bad news.

Aahh, but there’s good news, too. In fact, it’s so good, it’s called “Good News”! 

Jesus Christ, the Jewish Messiah, came to our rescue. At the Cross, He took on the Hell we deserve … so that, believing in Him, we can experience for eternity the Heaven we don’t deserve.

TWO DESTINATIONS

THERE ARE ONLY TWO possible destinations when we die: Heaven or Hell.

Can we really know in advance which one we’ll go to? Yes, we can.

The apostle John, one of the writers of the Bible, said this: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13 ESV). image-17

How do we know? 

  • The Bible tells us that all of us, like our first parents, Adam and Eve, are sinners. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23 NIV).
  • Because of our sin, the Bible says, our default destination is Hell. The Bible says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23 NASB).
  • Our sinful hearts make it difficult for us to chart a correct course on our own power. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death” (Proverbs 14:12 ESV).

GOD’S PLAN

BUT GOD PROVIDED an escape clause. A way out. A get-out-of-jail-free card. 

Simply believe that Jesus Christ is God, that He came to die for sinful man, and that those who believe this … and call on His name … will be saved  from God’s wrath (Rom. 10:9-10, 13). image-2

When Christ died on the Cross for us, he said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). 

In those days “It is finished” was commonly written across certificates of debt when they were canceled. It meant “Paid in full.” Christ died so that the certificate of debt consisting of all our sins could once and for all be marked “Paid in full.”

What about those who don’t believe?

Jesus said that unless we believe He is the One who redeems mankind, we will die in our sins (John 8:24). 

REPENT OF SIN

ONLY WHEN OUR SINS are dealt with in Christ can we enter Heaven.

We cannot pay our own way, and contrary to popular opinion, there is only one way to get there.

  • Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6 NKJV). Because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross on our behalf, God freely offers us forgiveness: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12 CSB). 
  • To be forgiven, we must recognize and repent of our sins. Forgiveness is not automatic. It’s conditioned upon confession: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9 NKJV). 
  • Christ offers to everyone the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Jesus died on the Cross as the only One worthy to pay the penalty for our sins demanded by the holiness of God: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 NIV).
  • There’s no righteous deed we can do that will earn us a place in Heaven (Titus 3:5). We come to Christ empty-handed. We can take no credit for salvation. It is a gift from God: “For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; it is not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8–9 NET). 

This gift cannot be worked for, earned, or achieved. It’s dependent solely on Christ’s generous sacrifice on our behalf.

CRITICAL DECISION

THIS IS THE MOST important decision of your life.

Far more important than who you’ll marry, or what career you’ll follow, or how many children you’ll have; more important than your next car or the house you buy or your dream vacation plans.

More important than anything else you can think of. 

It’s the decision of where you’ll spend eternity.image-26

Eternity is forever. Once it starts, there’s no turning back. No do-over. No second chance. No course correction. 

Now is the time to make things right with God:

  • Confess your sinfulness;
  • Accept the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on your behalf.

If you haven’t come to terms with your relationship with God, please pay special attention to the words that follow. Author and Pastor Randy Alcorn sums it this way:

“You are made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person, and heaven is the place. They are a package — they come together. You cannot get heaven without Jesus or Jesus without heaven. Seek the Lord while he may be found; call upon him while he is near’ (Isaiah 55:6 ESV). For all eternity, you’ll be glad you did.”

[For more information on how Heaven isn’t our “default destination,” please see pastor and author Randy Alcorn‘s tract, “How Can We Know We’ll Go to Heaven?”]

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SAVING PRAYER

Here’s a prayer you can use if you want to confess your sins to God and receive His gift of eternal life … or substitute your own words, spoken from the heart.
May God bless you richly as you do.

O GOD, YOU KNOW ME, but I haven’t known You. I’ve come to realize I am a sinful man (woman), and I need a Savior. O God, thank You for the gift that Jesus Christ gave me when He took my sins to the Cross. I am sorry for my sin, and I repent of my sinful ways. O God, please send Your Holy Spirit into my heart to change me and redeem me and make me Yours for all eternity. I want to live for You and with You. In Jesus’ name I lift this prayer, knowing You will hear my plea. Thank You, Lord, for Your faithfulness and Your gift of life. AMEN

THE WORLD’S HATRED OF CHRIST’S FOLLOWERS

Once again, we see the hatred and intolerance of the world toward the body of Christ. In New Jersey, a Christian woman who worked as a barista at Starbucks Coffee Shop said she was fired from her job when she refused to wear the company-sponsored “Pride” T-shirt, glorifying homosexuality. She said Jesus condemned the practice as being “unnatural.” The company’s official response was that the shirt reflected Starbucks’ commitment to “inclusion and diversity” and proclaimed the company “does not discriminate on the basis of religion.” Really?

Isaiah 5:20 (NKJV): “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who put darkness for light, and light for darkness; Who put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!”

2 Timothy 4:3-4 (ESV): “For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.”

Rom. 12:2 (CSB): “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

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“WE’RE ‘INCLUSIVE,’ SO YOU’RE FIRED!”

A RECENT ARTICLE in the New York Post reported that a Christian woman in New Jersey was fired from her job in August 2019 for refusing to wear a company-sponsored homosexual “Pride” T-shirt.

STARBUCKS_LES_PRIDE2019jpeg
Starbucks Pride T-Shirt 2019

The woman, who filed a wrongful termination lawsuit  in November 2020, said she told her employers she wanted to follow the Bible’s teaching, which condemns homosexuality, but her employer said her position violated the company’s “core values.”

LoveAndGrace blogged last week about the world’s discrimination against Christians in the name of “inclusion.”

The woman, Betsy Freese, was employed by Starbucks Coffee Co. as a barista from December 2015 until her termination in August 2019. 

Freese charged that being forced to wear the T-shirt as a condition of employment was “tantamount to forced speech” because the Bible defines marriage as the permanent and monogamous union of one male and one female, a message counter to that proclaimed on the T-shirt.

She said store managers were aware of her religious beliefs because she regularly asked for time off on Sundays and certain evenings to attend church.

‘THEY KNEW MY BELIEFS’ 

WHILE FRESSE SAID the store’s managers knew of her religious beliefs, she was fired for refusing to wear the “Pride” shirt. 

The newspaper said the company told NBC News that the lawsuit was “without merit” and stated in the woman’s termination notice that the company’s corporate policy endorses the core values of “inclusion and diversity, and [that we] welcome and learn from people with different backgrounds and perspectives.”

(NBC further reported that in September, two workers at Kroger supermarket in Arkansas filed a similar lawsuit, claiming they were fired for refusing to wear a store apron with a rainbow heart emblem on it.image-20

(The plaintiffs, Brenda Lawson and Trudy Rickerd, maintained the logo was an endorsement of the LGBTQ community, which violated their belief “that homosexuality is a sin,” according to their complaint. After being disciplined for violating the store’s dress code, both Lawson and Rickerd were ultimately terminated.)

Starbucks further stated that it “does not discriminate on the basis of gender, race, religion or sexual orientation.” The federal Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 says it is unlawful for a place of employment to discriminate on the basis of “race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.”

The newspaper article picked up by ChurchLeaders.com said that on Aug. 22, 2019, Fresse was told by a company district manager that she was being fired for “violating Starbucks’ ‘core values.’”

Fresse said in her lawsuit that “every Christian is called to love and treat everyone with respect and compassion” regardless of their religious or other beliefs. 

DEATH OF ‘ABSOLUTE TRUTHS’

WHAT IS HAPPENING is the “death of ‘absolute truth’” in a culture that elevates human reason and experience above God’s laws and His design for our lives.

This is the hallmark of the “postmodernist” thought process, where all values and goals are relative, without any being absolute or perfect. So, the thinking goes, what is true for you might not be true for me, and what is true for me might not be true for you.COFFEE.SHOP

It’s the theory behind several popular refrains: “Follow your bliss,” “Whatever floats your boat,” “Whatever works for you,” “Do what’s inside of you,” “You’re okay; I’m okay,” and “You do you, Bro; I’ll do me.”

In his article “Postmodernism,” in the creationist website, AnswersInGenesis.org., Dr. Carl J. Broggi concluded that in the postmodernist view of the world, “no one is really wrong except for those who hold to absolute truth.” Broggi is senior pastor of Community Bible Church in Beaufort, SC. 

“Because truth cannot absolutely be known in their religion, the highest virtue for the postmodern man is tolerance, but not as the word has traditionally been defined. In the past, when Americans used the term tolerance, it was understood to mean that everyone has a right to have their viewpoint respected,” Broggi writes.

He concludes: “‘Tolerance’ for the postmodernist is to be extended only to those who embrace a relativistic worldview. In practice, since postmodernism cannot possibly coexist with a worldview that embraces absolute truth, they are intolerant of those who do not agree, particularly Christians.”

Broggi says that what the world believes, according to its postmodernist viewpoint, is that “because Bible-believers insist their point of view concerning moral absolutes and salvation in Jesus Christ is correct and other views are aberrant, they [the Christians] should be defined as intolerant.”

POSTSCRIPT

THIS, IN FACT, is what we see. It is the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy. 

Look again at the text source for this article, particularly the verse from Isaiah 5:20, warning us against labeling as “good” or “benign”  those things that God calls “evil.”

J33.Suffering for the GospelOr consider 2 Timothy 4:3, where God says that men will “turn away” from the truth and follow falsehoods of their own design.

As they do so, the will run afoul of Romans 2:2, where God tells us not to be conformed to the world and its beliefs but that we should hold fast to that which is the “good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.”

That is what Betsy Fresse tried to so, at least according to the public record as explained in her lawsuit. It is a story of “inclusion” — which should mean embracing everyone — but always excludes the Bible-believing Christian because the Christian believer, unlike non-believers, embraces the truth that God has revealed — not man’s truth, but the Creator’s truth.

As Jesus termed it in the Garden of Gethsemane just before His crucifixion (John 17:17 NIV): 

“Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

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PRAYER

Our Heavenly Father, God of all Creation, Maker of Heaven  and Earth, You created man in Your image to reflect Your glory and to worship You. We OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAconfess, O Lord, that too many of us have been arrogant, prideful, and willful, ignoring You and Your design for our lives. Those of us who believe in the Lord Jesus repent of our sin, and we pray for those among us who are lost in spirit and destined for eternal separation from You. O Lord, burden our hearts to reach out to them and share with them the Truth of Your Word, the saving grace of Your love for us. In Jesus’ almighty and magnificent name we pray. AMEN

EXPOSING OUR SECRET LIVES

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

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

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

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

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GOD KNOWS OUR SECRET THOUGHTS

EVEN OUR MOST PRIVATE THOUGHTS will be made  public!

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

Right? Wrong.

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

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

MISTAKEN ASSUMPTIONS ARE COSTLY

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

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

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

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

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

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

OUR SINFUL THOUGHTS HARM US

SIN IS BORN in our thoughts.

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

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

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

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

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

GOD’S GRACE SAVES US

GOD’s GRACE is so amazing.

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

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

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

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

POSTSCRIPT

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

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

That, my friends, is love.

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PRAYER 

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

OBEYING THE LORD’S COMMANDS

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

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

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

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

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LEARNING TO BE OBEDIENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

LEARNING GOD’S COMMANDS

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

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

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

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

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

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

OBEYING GOD’S COMMANDS

NOW, THE BIG QUESTION:

WHAT ARE YOU DOING WITH THAT LIST?

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

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

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

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

POSTSCRIPT

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

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

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

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PRAYER

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