Sunday, June 20, 2021

ARE WE LIVING IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD?

 

             You can visit most countries simply by obtaining a passport to travel there. There are specific steps you have to take and certain information you have to give in order to receive permission to enter the country. But as long as they approve your credentials, you will be allowed to go in for a visit. The kingdom of God is vastly different. You cannot even look across the border and see the kingdom of God unless you are born into it. There is nothing we have that can secure our entrance there. Our credentials are severely lacking and there is nothing we can do to change that. But Jesus did something to alter our situation. He took all our sin and unrighteousness on Himself and died in our place. His death paid the penalty for our sins, but we have to make the choice to repent (turn from) our sins and turn to Jesus, surrendering our lives to Him. Then we are born again. We know when we are born again because there is a tremendous change in us. We might not be able to explain it in words, but we know we are different.

            Being born again is to believe in Jesus - Who He is, His works, His words, His mission, His commandments. It is to choose to follow Him, to walk as He walked on this earth and to be submitted to His will. If we are truly born again, it has altered our lives and changed the way we see everything. It changes the way we think, act, and speak. It should change our relationships, our priorities and our mission in life. It gives us entrance into God’s kingdom because we are now children of God.

            What happens when we turn from our sins and surrender our lives to Jesus? What changes? Our spirit is awakened, enabling us to see and operate within the kingdom of God right here and now. Paul put it this way in writing to the Ephesians. “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus.” We are now in the kingdom of God just like Jesus was and is. Are we living fully in the kingdom of God?

            We tend to think we cannot live in the kingdom of God until our bodies die, but that is not what Jesus said. Now when He was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.(Luke 17:20-21 NKJV)  

Jesus taught us through example to function in kingdom principles now. He came in the flesh to show us what the kingdom of God is like and how it operates. He showed us, even though He was flesh and blood, how we can live in God’s kingdom and this world at the same time. What did He do? Let’s look at what Jesus said He came to do.

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed.” And He accomplished His mission. Then He delegated that mission to His disciples, and because the Holy Spirit was given to them, they were able to work by the same power and wisdom that Jesus had to spread the gospel and do mighty works. They followed Jesus’ pattern. We have the same Holy Spirit and the same mission. Are we living in the kingdom of God?

            Another thing Jesus showed us is that God’s kingdom is a place where the will of God is always done. If it requires a miracle, there will be a miracle. If it requires the teaching of a hard saying, we need to be bold to teach it. If it requires compassion and sacrifice, then we are to have compassion and make the sacrifice. We are always to be completely dependent on and obedient to the guidance of the Holy Spirit within us. He will lead us into all Truth and help us to do the will of God.

It seems we are missing something of the power and wisdom of God’s kingdom. And we don’t have to. Maybe we need to re-learn what it means to live in compliance with the principles of God’s kingdom even while living in this world. Start putting it into practice one step at a time. If His commandments seem hard, even unreasonable, that only shows how far we have strayed from God’s Word and how ingrained this world is within us. Go back to the gospels and compare what you do and say to what Jesus taught. Compare His responses to others to your responses. Using Jesus as the example to follow can seem overwhelming, but we can do it by yielding minute by minute to the power of the Holy Spirit within us.

When we are born again, our citizenship is in the kingdom of God. We are in this world but not of it. Yet, we are ambassadors from God’s kingdom to this world. According to the dictionary, an ambassador is “a diplomatic official of the highest rank, sent by one sovereign or state to another as its resident representative.” We have been delegated to speak and act on God’s behalf in this world. How are we doing? What depiction of God is this world seeing through us? We are to be following the example Jesus gave us and walk, talk, love, rebuke, and act like Jesus. If we don’t, no wonder the world rejects Him. They are seeing an imposter.

We have at our disposal the power of God’s kingdom. We need to learn to use it for the glory of God and for the salvation of people who as yet don’t know Him. We have the Word of God that too many don’t have. We have understanding into the things of God’s Spirit by the Spirit Himself and we need to share those things with others.

Why should we follow the principles of this world when God’s principles are clearly stated in His written Word and in our hearts? Why should we turn away from the work Jesus calls us to? Why should we continue in sin when the Truth has set us free? Why are we not telling others about the kingdom of God? Why do we not see the power of the Holy Spirit move through us when He has been given to us?

 We start out our new lives wanting to know what God says, what He has made available to us and what we can do to please Him. Over the course of years we see other Christians who are not as faithful in their walk with Jesus. Their lives are powerless and mostly focused on this world, but they have positions in the church and seem to be okay. So we get lax by following their example instead of using Jesus as our pattern. Then we pass on to the next generation our watered-down gospel, and their influence is even more diluted in their lives as they pass down a hardly recognizable gospel to the following generation. Just how far have we come from the teachings of Jesus concerning the kingdom of God? It’s time to return to the Bible and take Jesus at His Word. There are many well-meaning paraphrases of the Bible today that just may be watering down Jesus’ words. Be careful to read a valid translation. We are neither set free or commanded by the opinions of others, but only by the Truth. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the life. We need to be cautious so as not to be misled by opinion. It is a narrow way that leads to life. If we seek out Truth and allow Truth to set our course, we will be safe.

When we read something in the Bible that convicts us of our need to change in that area, do we allow Him to change us? When the Holy Spirit speaks to our hearts to do a certain thing, are we quick to obey His voice? Or do we compare what He asks of us to what others are doing?

We need to open our eyes to see what we do, what we give priority, what we neglect in the light of God’s Word. Are we bringing His kingdom among us like Jesus did, or have we fallen back into the pattern of this world? Be careful not to get so acclimated to this world that no one can catch even a glimpse of Jesus in you.

            As this world gets darker and darker, we need to shine the light of God’s Truth brighter than ever before. If we are not careful we can be lulled by the rhythms of this world and turn our eyes back to accomplishing things here instead of in the kingdom of God. That is a mistake, because we come in and out of this world like a flash. But what we accomplish here for the kingdom of God will last forever. This world lures us in to make us comfortable here, but God draws us closer to Him. Let’s never forget our position as ambassadors in this world. We may say, “well I know where I’m going, so I don’t care what happens.” But what about all those who haven’t heard the gospel? Where will they be?

“How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!” (Romans 10:14-15)

            Pray and ask God what is your part in reaching the world for Christ. We are all called in different capacities to get the one work done – sending the gospel into all the world. Do we still feel our responsibility for lost souls? Do we still have compassion for those who have not heard? Do we recognize the blessing of God in our lives for those of us who know Him?  Freely we have received, we must also freely give.

Are you living in the kingdom of God?

 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

THE HEAVENS DECLARE THE GLORY OF GOD

 

            I have noticed a phenomenon that occurs when you are driving nicely in your own lane and someone is waiting to come out of a side road hoping to enter your lane. They often avoid making eye contact with you. It seems they think if they don’t acknowledge you, then you don’t exist and they can take the right-of-way to pull right out in front of you into your lane. It may work for them if you are watching closely, but on their part it’s dangerous to presume.

            I wonder how many people use that technique with God. Some think that if we just don’t acknowledge God, then we can do whatever we want to and get by with it. We can believe whatever we choose to believe and make it a reality. But it is a dangerous presumption that has eternal consequences. Whether we believe in God or not, whether we believe in Jesus to save us or not, we will stand before Him in the end. We won’t be able to avoid Him then. God will not join us in our errant beliefs. He will not accept sin. That’s why, in His love for us, Jesus died, taking on Himself all our sins. But we have to implement that belief into our lives by surrendering to Jesus and walking in His principles, power and understanding, or we will stand before Him in judgment unprepared.

            The nineteenth chapter of the Psalms gives us a description of the oratorical skills of God’s universe. Although there are no words we can actually hear with our physical ear, the message is very clear. There is a God who is the Creator of heaven and earth and His glory is evident for all of us to see on a consistent basis. Just look at the eloquence of these words.

            The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And the expanse [of heaven] is declaring the work of His hands. Day after day pours forth speech, and night after night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there [spoken] words [from the stars]; Their voice is not heard. Yet their voice [in quiet evidence] has gone out through all the earth, their words to the end of the world.” (Amplified Bible)

            With all these wonders surrounding us, many still refuse to believe God. Instead of seeing the works of His hands and giving Him worship and glory, mankind has chosen to make up their own stories of how the earth and our universe came into existence and how it manages to maintain itself with perfect balance. So they say they believe it happened quite by accident over a period of billions of years. Rather than serving the one true God, they have created their own gods, gods they can control, but who cannot satisfy them or help them in their time of need because they are not gods at all. It’s like a childish game of pretend, but the stakes are much higher in this self-imposed delusion, because God has clearly made Himself known, and mankind has rejected the truth.

Romans 1 tells us, that God will not overlook sin because the signs of His creation speak of Him and His glory. They point clearly to Him, His power and His majesty. He goes on to say, “Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory and majesty and excellence of the immortal God for an image [worthless idols] in the shape of mortal man and birds and four-footed animals and reptiles.” (Amplified Bible)

            Even though God will not overlook sin, all is not lost if we will just turn to Him, acknowledge Him for Who He is and believe that through Jesus Christ we can have forgiveness of our sins. Not only that, but we can have the Holy Spirit of God living within us to help us understand spiritual things and purify our hearts and minds to serve Him. That is the only way to find true peace and contentment in this world and prepare for eternity. When we give ourselves to reading and meditating on God’s Word instead of the words of men, we will find ourselves drawn to follow Him. When we open our lives to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we have within us the power of God to teach us and lead us in His paths. His commandments are not oppressive. On the contrary, they set us free. We don’t keep His commandments to be saved. We keep His commandments because we are saved. It comes down to a matter of our will. Will we surrender our lives to Jesus and allow Him to live through us? The next verses in Psalm nineteen show us the perfection of God’s laws and precepts and how they renew us to walk with Him.

 

“The law of the Lord is perfect (flawless), restoring and refreshing the soul;
The statutes of the Lord are reliable and trustworthy, making wise the simple.”

Wouldn’t you like to have your soul refreshed and have wisdom and clarity of mind to make even the most difficult decisions with confidence that you are taking the right way?

 

“The precepts of the Lord are right, bringing joy to the heart;
The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes.”

Don’t you need joy in your life? And wouldn’t you like to have your spiritual eyes opened to know the reality of life, to have information that is reliable and trustworthy? I know I would. I hear so many voices that I simply cannot rely on because they are deceitful. But I can go to the Word of God and learn the truth. He never disappoints me.

 
“The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the Lord are true, they are righteous altogether.”

When we come to recognize the majesty, power and wisdom of God, we will fear Him with deep reverence and awe that will produce a cleansing effect in us. When we see our sin displayed against the backdrop of His holiness, we can cry out for mercy and be made clean. The blood of Jesus will cleanse us from all sin. The righteous judgments of God will be satisfied through the blood of Christ.

 

“They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.”

When we know the Lord and understand His precepts, we will realize they are more valuable than anything this world can offer. Only those who don’t know Him and love Him will find Jesus’ teachings to be a burden.


“Moreover, by them Your servant is warned [reminded, illuminated, and instructed];
In keeping them there is great reward.”

Not only are the principles of God good, full of wisdom and strength, they keep us safe. We need to be reminded often of the Word of God and His precepts. When God gives a warning through His Word, He isn’t being critical or threatening. He is helping us stay on the right path and away from danger.

Who can understand his errors or omissions? Acquit me of hidden (unconscious, unintended) faults.

There are times when we will make mistakes or omit to do something we should have done. We can ask of the Lord and He will forgive those “unintended faults.” But our heart needs to be open to hear from Him and trust Him enough to follow His words to change.
 
Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous (deliberate, willful) sins;
Let them not rule and have control over me. Then I will be blameless (complete),
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.

 

We can even go to the Lord when we have deliberately sinned against Him and find forgiveness and restoration there. We don’t have to be ruled by sin. It is better to listen to God’s Word and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us rather than our own will. He will keep us from sinning as we follow Him.


Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable and pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my [firm, immovable] rock and my Redeemer.

What we meditate on will determine what we say and do. It is best to meditate on the One Who is Our Rock. Who do you know that is like an immovable rock? Someone who makes no mistakes, has your best interest at heart, and will do anything night or day to guide you and provide for you? One who never gives false information whether by accident, innocently or purposely? There is none but the Lord our God, Creator of heaven and earth. And He loves us with an everlasting love.

 

            How much wiser it is to see the works of God and acknowledge Him as God than to deny Him. His works and His Word will lead us in His perfect way, as perfectly balanced as His creation. Then, in the end, we can stand before Him complete.

Thursday, April 22, 2021

TRANSFORMED BY THE SPIRIT

 

             Under the Law given by Moses, the Jewish people were instructed to offer animal sacrifices to atone for their sins. But the animal had to be perfect, without any blemishes, before God would accept it. Then Jesus came to fulfill the Law and to be the ultimate sacrifice for our sins so that we can be free from sin and the consequences of sin because of His shed blood. His sacrifice was once for all. No more blood sacrifices need to be made. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice with no sin, no blemishes. The animal sacrifices didn’t change the nature of the people. It just covered their sin until next time. Yet the sacrifice that Jesus made gave us power to be transformed into His image and leave our sin nature behind. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13) By His mercy and grace, we can be forgiven, changed, and free.    We can live in a higher dimension.

            The apostle Paul urged the Christians in Rome to realize the significance of the mercy of God toward them. Then he wrote, “beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God.” Our bodies don’t have to die to pay for our sin. Jesus has already done that, so we need to accept what He has done and surrender our lives – body, soul and spirit – completely to Him. We are to set ourselves apart for service to God. That is what it means to be sanctified. It is a process that transforms us as we surrender our lives to God daily. We are to live holy lives by the power of the Holy Spirit within us. Paul says this “presenting our bodies as a living sacrifice” is our “reasonable service.” It is not unreasonable at all. It may go against the reasoning of this world, but it is the obvious next step once we are born again. Our regeneration is not the end of the process. It is the beginning of a new life learning to live in harmony with God’s kingdom. We can learn to live every day in the presence of God.

            In the next verse, Paul tells us not to be conformed to this world. To conform means to act in accord with the prevailing standards, thought patterns and practices of a group or society, in essence, this world system. We are born in harmony with this world’s standards. And we take on this world’s nature, character and actions more and more as we grow in this world.

But when we are born again, we are born into a spiritual kingdom to be in harmony with God. We are to grow daily in the nature of His kingdom, the character of His kingdom, the actions or works of His kingdom. And we are governed by the principles of His kingdom. Jesus said that He only said what the Father told Him to say and only did what the Father told Him to do. He was living in the world in a human body, but He was still operating in harmony with the Kingdom of God.

            Paul went on to tell the Roman Christians in addition to not being conformed to this world, they were to be changed. “But be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.”

We can only be transformed when we are born into God’s kingdom. Then we can begin living in harmony with His principles. Our minds are renewed as we study the Bible and allow the Spirit to enlighten us to the meaning of each verse. With the Holy Spirit as our guide, our eyes will be opened to what God is saying to us in scriptures we were not able to understand before. We will sense His presence with us and, according to Isaiah, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the waywalk in it,” whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.” The Holy Spirit is our guide and comforter.  He gives us boldness when we need courage and conviction when we are turning the wrong way. He gives us power, wisdom and discernment and brings to our minds the things Jesus taught. We need the Spirit of God with us! We cannot walk in the kingdom of God without the Spirit of God.

 It is amazing to realize that we are literally born into a literal kingdom that is above this world in every way. We take for granted the fact that we grow in this physical world. We don’t stay the same. It is also reasonable to understand that we are to grow in this new dimension of which we have become citizens. We don’t stay the same. Our physical growth in this world increases and then we begin to decrease in strength and abilities until we die. But in the kingdom of God, we are constantly growing and increasing in strength and wisdom. And our spirit never dies. Proverbs 4:18 says, “But the path of the just is like the shining sun, that shines ever brighter unto the perfect day.” The just are those who have received the righteousness of Jesus Christ and are following His example. They are being governed by the principles of the kingdom of God, and have discovered that they have within them the power of God’s kingdom, His authority, wisdom and discernment. It doesn’t come from what we do or say. It comes from the Holy Spirit Who is in us. And what we do and say comes from the Spirit. We grow in faith, wisdom, knowledge and every other characteristic of the kingdom as we are governed by its King. We can accomplish great things for the kingdom of God when we are willing vessels surrendered to the King. Then, one day, our bodies will leave this world and we will be with Him forever in that “perfect day”.

Richard Stearns, president of World Vision US, said when he was a boy he had to memorize questions and answers in catechism. One question was “Why did God make me?” The answer is “God made me to love, serve and obey Him.” Richard turned away from God soon after that to live life his way. But later, after much research, he came face to face with the truth of Jesus Christ. He said, “I had a stark choice to make. I could accept the astonishing truth and commit my life to following Jesus Christ, or I could turn my back on God, walk away from something I knew to be true, and spend the rest of my life living a lie. There was no partial step I could take. Either Jesus would be the most important truth in my life, governing all that I would ever do, or I would go it alone, doing everything my way.” He chose Jesus and is making a profound difference in the world.

When we choose Jesus, He will accept no less than everything from us. We cannot live in harmony with Jesus and with this world at the same time. When the people of Israel would serve God and idols, He did not accept them, their worship, or their sacrifices. They were either fully serving God, or they were not His. We cannot serve Jesus and be governed by this world and its principles. We either belong to Jesus and live by His principles, or we are not His at all.

Jesus warns us in the seventh chapter of Matthew that our works will not get us into heaven, no matter how great they are. He said, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!

We are to say what the Lord tells us to say and do what He tells us to do. We can find what that is by looking into the Bible and reading Jesus teachings. We can know what to say and do by living in obedience to the Holy Spirit living in us. We are transformed as we allow ourselves to be governed by Him in full surrender.

1 John 2:5-6 says, “But whoever habitually keeps His word and obeys His precepts [and treasures His message in its entirety], in him the love of God has truly been perfected… By this we know [for certain] that we are in Him: whoever says he lives in Christ [that is, whoever says he has accepted Him as God and Savior] ought to walk and conduct himself just as He walked and conducted Himself.”

Let’s strive to follow in Jesus’ footsteps. When we do these things, we will be able to prove out in our lives the will of God instead of the will of this world or our own selfish will. But we must live in harmony with the kingdom of God

 

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God,

that you present your bodies a living sacrifice,

holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.

And do not be conformed to this world,

but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,

that you may prove what is that good

and acceptable and perfect will of God.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

ETERNITY IN OUR HEARTS

 

     When I was somewhere between five and seven years old, I had an experience that has stayed with me down through the years. I have thought of it often. It was a spiritual experience, but I had no concept of spirituality at that time in my life. I was sitting alone on the floor in the bedroom I shared with my sister when suddenly it felt like I was in another sphere. And two questions came to my mind. “Who am I, and what am I here for?” Even as a child it felt other worldly to me, but I knew nothing of the Lord. And those two soul-searching questions that most adults ask at some point in their lives were out of my childish grasp. I have no idea why that happened to me, except possibly God was speaking to me as an introduction to things that would come. Or maybe He was introducing Himself to me. I don’t know. But I do know that I was not afraid. I simply felt a strong sense of the presence of God with me although I didn’t know who He was at the time. Nor did I understand what was happening.

Ecclesiastes 3, verses 11 and 12 says, “He has made everything beautiful and appropriate in its time. He has also planted eternity [a sense of divine purpose] in the human heart [a mysterious longing which nothing under the sun can satisfy, except God]—yet man cannot find out (comprehend, grasp) what God has done (His overall plan) from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice and to do good as long as they live.” (Amplified Bible)

The first part of this scripture lets us know that regardless of our circumstances, we can rejoice in our God and praise Him, because we know He holds everything in His hands – and that includes you and me. So, even when difficult times arise, we can rest securely in Him.

There are times when we think our circumstances are hopeless and we feel helpless. We can’t see anything good in them or how anything good could ever come out of them. All we can see is darkness. In those times we need to wait on the Lord. We have His promise that as we wait on Him, He will renew our strength. Our focus needs to be on Him as we wait, not on our problems.

Matthew Henry tells us to “judge nothing before the time.” In other words, wait and see the end of the thing before you gauge its worth or purpose. He continues, saying, “While the picture is in drawing, and the house in building, we see not the beauty of either; but when the artist has given them their finishing strokes, then all appears very good.”

As of this writing, a friend of mine and her husband are in the process of building their house. I don’t mean they have hired someone to do it and are diligently watching over the process. They are literally building the house with their own hands. The progress is slow and they have been at it for a long time. Their progress has been slowed down by rain, cold and waiting for materials to arrive, but they haven’t quit. They continue to work. Right now the house is far less than adequate to live in because it isn’t finished. But they keep working because they know that the end result will be much different than it is while it is still in the building process. When it is all finished, they will have a house to shelter them and one to be proud of in the future. What they see right now is not the end result. They will have to wait for the finishing strokes.

When all we can see is evil, chaos and hopelessness, we can rest assured that God hasn’t put in the finishing strokes yet. He is not through. God sees the beginning, middle, and the end all at the same time. He knows ahead of time how every circumstance in our lives will turn out. And He is in control. We have His promise that He will work all things (good and bad) for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. We can trust Him.

This Scripture in Ecclesiastes tells us something else that is of great importance to us and has a tremendous impact on our lives. It tells us that God has planted eternity in the human heart. It is a mysterious longing that nothing in this world can satisfy. It is amazing that most people try to fill it with things and relationships of this world. There is a longing in the human soul that searches for purpose, a chance to make a difference, and to be fulfilled. Not on the outside with “things”, but on the inside with real, lasting peace, purpose and harmony with God. God made us that way to draw us to Himself and to the wonderful kingdom we can share with Him.

So, every heart reaches out for something beyond themselves and beyond the confines of this world system. That “something” can only be found in Jesus Christ and the new life that comes when He awakens our spirit and we are born into the kingdom of God.

Those of us who know Him, and have found new life in His kingdom need to share that message with others. But it seems as if we are missing something and neglecting to share the true essence, the depth and life of God’s truth, His grace, and His teachings. And a lot of people are still spiritually starving. Some people don’t want any part of Jesus because He has been misrepresented by so many in the church.

People need to see Jesus in us in His power, His love, His teachings and His grace. They need to see the Jesus who walked the shores of Galilee and taught the people with simple, yet life-changing words. Jesus, Who spoke with power and authority. Others can only see Jesus as He works through us, as we humbly follow Him and share His teachings and show His love and His power. We all need the very essence of Jesus, not the religious piety of man or the trappings of religion. We need the presence of Jesus constantly with us. We all need the Holy Spirit of God at work in us. Those who meet Jesus face to face allow Him to change their lives so they can follow Him. Their spirits are awakened and they become brand new creatures. Those who are not changed are not in the kingdom of God. They may accept the rites of the church and join, keeping the rules, but they will lack the power of the Spirit in their lives. They will remain the same within.

If you were invited to a formal dinner, when you arrived, you would probably see the best china and silverware all set in perfect order on the table along with glistening crystal goblets.

The napkins may even be folded into the pretty shape of flowers, and the table decorations may be the most beautiful anyone has ever seen. The background music may be perfect for the occasion and all the serving dishes in place.

Even with all that has been prepared, if there is no food in the plates or drink in the goblets, the people will go hungry and thirsty. They will leave no better than they were before they came. They will remain hungry because superficial decorations could not fill them. They came and saw the beauty but did not partake, so they left empty.

What are we offering to those who are hungry and thirsty for Jesus? Are we offering them the superficial plates, glasses and decorations only? Are we offering them music without worship and messages without Jesus’ teachings? What are we offering those who have not had the longing of their hearts satisfied?

Jesus tells us that He is the Bread of life. If we eat this spiritual bread, we will not hunger again. Jesus said that He is the living water. When we drink this water, we will never thirst again, because we will have a river of living water flowing in and through us.

When we eat the Bread of His Word and drink the water of His Spirit, we will be filled and refreshed. Our soul’s hunger will be satisfied day by day, because He is living in us day by day.

The trappings surrounding a good meal cannot take the place of the meal itself. Neither can the trappings of religion or the things of this world fill a hungry heart. We must experience Jesus for ourselves and make the choice to daily eat the Bread of His Word and drink the water of His Spirit. When we do, we can be vessels of hope and peace to those who are hungry and thirsty for more.

Let’s offer the Bread of Life to the hungry and the Living Water to the thirsty. Don’t offer them the shell of religion, but the life of the Spirit of God. The trappings of a good meal cannot take the place of the meal itself. Neither can the trappings of religion or the things of this world fill a hungry heart.

Maybe you are still searching to fill that soul hunger. What are you trying to fill it with? It can never be filled with busyness, a new house, a new car, or a new spouse. Even money, fame, honor and prestige will still leave the emptiness intact. Only Jesus can satisfy the longing soul, because only Jesus can cleanse us from sin and awaken our spirit to fellowship with Him. Only Jesus can make us truly, spiritually alive!

 

The pull of eternity in our hearts can only be filled by Jesus.

And when he makes us alive, we are truly alive!

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

NEW BOOK - "WHEN IS IT TIME TO QUIT?"

 My new book is now available on Amazon as a kindle book or paperback. Here is little information about it.


INTRODUCTION

 

QUIT

release hold of something that was in grasp;

stop, cease or discontinue;

depart from;

give up


One day Jesus gave a strong teaching that caused many of the people to stop following Him. When he asked His disciples if they were going to leave Him, too, Peter said, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” It seems Peter had thought about the consequences of leaving Jesus. If he asked himself “what then?” that would probably be when he found his answer.

Life can be very difficult. Who hasn’t felt such despair that they wanted to quit? Yet a glimmer of hope in some souls refuses to die. They know that when they are with Jesus, they are in the best situation possible, even with the trials and persecution. When we are tempted to quit, it’s time to fan our flame of hope. We can do that by examining the lives of those who had every earthly reason to give up, but every heavenly reason to keep going. Their secret? Their relationship with Jesus.

Of course, When Is It Time to Quit? is a rhetorical question. We all know it is never time to quit serving God or to give up our faith in Him. But we have probably also felt the temptation to quit many times during the heat of the battle. This book will share some of our common battles as Christians and our common solution. 

The difference in whether we stand or fall lies in one thing that is so simple few will actually do it. It is to increase our faith and spiritual stamina by maintaining a close relationship with God and His Word. It may sound too simplistic, but that is how each of the examples used in the book prevailed in dire circumstances. Their relationship with God was carefully and consistently maintained, giving them the wisdom, courage and faith to come through the toughest of times. They knew God intimately and trusted Him against all odds. To know Him is to trust Him. To trust Him is to share the fellowship of His suffering and the power of His resurrection. Just as plants with the deepest roots are the hardest to blow over or pull up, so people who have an intimate, active relationship with Jesus are those who “withstand in the evil day”.

The Bible explains the stories of the people in the Old Testament and the New Testament were written for “our admonition” and as examples for us. He knew that sometimes we need a pattern we can hold up against our circumstances to show us the way. The Bible is full of examples that were recorded specifically for that reason, and in When Is It Time to Quit? We will explore ten of those biblical examples. They dared to put their trust in God…and won!  



Monday, March 1, 2021

GRACE AND TRUTH

 

“And we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14) Jesus is Truth. He is the Way and the Life.

             Can you separate God’s grace from His truth? Don’t worry, I’m not going to delve into a theological debate bringing up all kinds of proof for one side or another, but I have seen that they go hand-in-hand. They work together to bring us wholeness and peace with God. Together they teach us to understand sin and all of its destructive power. And together they lead us to repentance and a change of heart that sets us free as never before. By grace and truth, we can enjoy the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, changing us into the image of Christ.

            Once we have become a new creation in Christ and have understanding of His grace and truth, how are we to live in this world? It is a world that is ungrateful, angry, full of rage, bitterness, unforgiveness, slander, violence - and the list could go on. The fact is we live in perilous times. And if we are not careful, we can very easily get pulled into this world’s rage, bitterness and unforgiveness.

But is the answer to our dilemma to return evil for evil? Scripture tells us it is not the answer. That would only add to the chaos around us. The Word of God tells us vengeance belongs to God. He will repay, and we don’t have to defend ourselves.

So, how are God’s people supposed to act and respond to a world in chaos? The answer to that question is two-fold – Grace and Truth. We are to remember to walk in grace and truth and extend it to others. Christ’s followers are to have no part in any ungodly behavior, regardless of what others do. We are to be people of peace, not confusion or evil.

Ephesians 4:31-32 teaches us to do this. “Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamor, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.” Let’s break it down and see what that means to us individually.

·         We are to be kind, treating others the way we want to be treated. I think most people want to be treated fairly and with respect and understanding.

·         Then we are to be tender-hearted, not cold and callous to the needs of others, but looking beneath the surface of the anger and seeing the real problem. If we were in their position, we might be angry too. We need to refrain from jumping to conclusions about a person until we know the whole truth.

·         Forgiving one another - We all need forgiveness from time to time. It’s easier to see what we have done wrong as a mistake that needs to be forgiven than it is to see it that way when someone’s “mistake” was against us. Even if they do something willfully against us, we need to pray for them and forgive them. The Scripture tells us to even pray for those who despitefully use us. That may seem hard, but it is God’s way, and He will help us to do it.

·         So, why are we to be loving and forgiving? That’s simple. Because God has forgiven us. We don’t deserve it, but He loves us enough to forgive us. And He made a way for our redemption through Jesus’ sacrifice. Even when we were completely in sin, Christ loved us enough to die for us. We forgive because we are forgiven. Remember grace and truth.

So, in the middle of all this love, forgiveness, kindness and compassion, does that mean we just accept sin, cover it and say it’s okay? It’s no big deal? Absolutely not!

Jesus never backed down when it came to telling the truth about sin, yet He always extended grace to the sinner. Then it was up to them whether or not they received His grace. Jesus did not condemn people, but He spoke words that would convict them and turn them in the right direction.

Condemnation is a sentence passed on us that leaves us with no recourse – no way out. It’s a ‘done deal’. Conviction is a warning of the sentence that will be passed on us if we do not change our course. Jesus offers us a way out of the trap of sin that enslaves us. We are to offer that same grace to others. That is love.

Thank God for His amazing grace, but we need to remember the grace of God comes hand in hand with His truth. If we don’t share the truth about sin with others, and we just let them stay in their sin without knowing they can be free, we do not truly love them. Love balances grace and truth just like Jesus always does. So, what does that look like for us? How can we balance grace and truth in our relationships?

I think Max Lucado gave some wonderful examples in his book “How Happiness Happens”.

I want to use some of his examples from Scripture along with my own commentary. Each instance is an interaction between Jesus and a person who was living in sin or was still learning about who Jesus really is. They desperately needed grace, but they also needed to know the truth about sin so they could turn from it. Until they clearly saw their sin, they could not receive grace to remove it and walk with Jesus. Max used these examples from Scripture in his book.

In extending His grace to the woman caught in the act of adultery, Jesus said, “neither do I condemn you”. He did not pass sentence on her. Yet when He told her to go and sin no more, He acknowledged she had sinned and needed to change her course. That was the truth she needed to hear along with the grace that was offered to her. If she stayed in her sin, His offer of grace would not be effective in her life.

Jesus offered grace to Zacchaeus (who was a cheating tax collector) when He invited Himself to his house. Zacchaeus had climbed a tree so he could see Jesus go by, but Jesus stopped, looked up and told him to come down because He was going to his house that very day. That extension of grace met with truth during Jesus’ visit and prompted Zacchaeus to give half of his belongings to the poor. By hearing the truth, he was convicted to restore what he had taken wrongfully.

It was by grace that Jesus washed the feet of the disciples. He took on the duties of a servant. Then He spoke truth to them. He told them to do as He had done to them. He called them to be servants and to drop all pride. They had actually been arguing about who was greatest in the kingdom. Jesus showed them that the greatest was the one who served others.

Jesus extended grace to the woman at the well when He offered her a drink of the everlasting water. He offered her hope from her hopeless life. But she knew that He was aware of the truth about her situation when He told her she had gone through five different husbands and was now living with a man who wasn’t her husband at all. She was overjoyed by the truth that set her free to reach out for grace. She immediately became a bearer of the news that she had found the Messiah.

Jesus never sugar-coated sin and never treated it as acceptable. Because the truth is, sin brings eternal destruction and that is what Jesus came to deliver us from. That is grace. But we also need to know the Truth before we can fully receive grace.

Jesus offers grace to those who will receive - grace to forgive their sins, and grace to help them walk in a new life, free from sin. If you don’t have that grace, you can have it right now. It requires acknowledging your sin. The fact that we are born sinners is the truth. Then ask Jesus to forgive you and cleanse you from your sin. He will do it if you really mean it. Then surrender your life to walk His way. You can receive His grace. You can be free!

There will come a day when final judgment will be passed on every soul. Those who have not received Jesus will be condemned for eternity. Those who have received Him will be with Him in His kingdom for eternity. But now we are in the day of His great grace. Jesus said He did not come to condemn, but to make a way for every person to come to Him and be saved. Learn the truth and receive His grace so that you can be free to enter the kingdom of God forever. Read the Word of God and ask Him to show you the Truth. He is extending His Grace and Truth to you right now.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

ENCOUNTERS

 


            Have you ever had an encounter with God? If you are a born-again follower of Jesus Christ you have. No one can come to Jesus unless the Father draws them to Him. But there are other types of encounters with the Lord, too. Encounters that call us for service, direct us in God’s ways, cleanse us from sins, or fortify our confidence in Jesus.

            Abraham lived with his family of idol worshipers in Ur when he had his first encounter with the Lord God.  The Lord spoke to him and called him away from his home, the idols and his family to follow the true God to a place He would show him. We are not told how God spoke to Abraham, simply that He did. It was a tremendous step of faith for Abraham to believe God and follow Him. But he did it by faith and God counted it to him as righteousness. Abraham’s faith in God was the beginning of the generations that would produce the Savior of the world, Jesus Christ. And now those who believe in Jesus receive the power to become the sons of God. It is by faith. Our belief leads us to follow Jesus and leave this world behind, living in the kingdom of God even though we are still physically residents of this earth. Through Abraham all nations are blessed with the opportunity to be born again.

Isaiah encountered God in a spectacular way when King Uzziah died. Uzziah had been a godly influence for most of his reign and was king of Israel for about 50 years. Isaiah entered the temple after Uzziah’s death and he saw the Lord on His throne. It was a magnificent sight. The earthly king had succumbed to death, but the King of kings was and is still alive and in control. Isaiah witnessed the glory of God, His might, power, wisdom and splendor. The sight he tried to describe was beyond human description. He recognized that God is pure holiness and is in control of every throne and every nation. Isaiah fell down before the Lord and cried out to Him because he fully sensed his own sin. Any time we encounter God, we see ourselves as we really are, not as we perceive ourselves to be. We may think we are pretty good, but we see how unholy we are in the light of His holiness. Acknowledging our sin is the first step to cleansing. Isaiah’s sins were cleansed and then God asked this question. “Whom shall I send, And who will go for Us?” [speaking of the Trinity – Father, Son and Holy Spirit]. Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” Isaiah’s encounter with the Lord brought cleansing from sin, and a new level of his ministry as God’s prophet. The earthly king was dead and powerless. God was not! If we want a ministry that brings powerful results, it has nothing to do with our charisma, wisdom or our earthly connections. It has everything to do with the glory of God being seen in us. The more we come into God’s presence, the more of His holiness will shine through us, and the more of the earthly things will fall away.  In His presence we learn His desires and purposes, then we stop pushing our way through life with our own agenda and pursuits. Instead, we say, “Here I am, send me, use me, I will obey”. Then we are on the right track. We are working with God.

            Joshua had an encounter with God as he stood near Jericho. It would be their first city to conquer in taking the land God had promised them. God had already told Joshua to be strong and of good courage, that He would never forsake him. He would be with him. And He was. God had parted the Jordan River just as He did the Red Sea, and all the people went over the Jordan safely just like when Moses was leading them. Why? Because God hadn’t changed. Now it was time for their first battle – Jericho! “And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, a Man stood opposite him with His sword drawn in His hand. And Joshua went to Him and said to Him, “Are You for us or for our adversaries?” So He said, “No, but as Commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth and worshiped, and said to Him, “What does my Lord say to His servant?” Then the Commander of the Lord’s army said to Joshua, “Take your sandal off your foot, for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so.” If the Lord had said nothing else, Joshua’s strength and courage for battle would have still been fortified, because he had the Lord’s assurance that He was with him. But after that, Joshua received God’s battle plan to conquer Jericho. And the Lord was with them. When we find ourselves in the presence of God, we are voluntarily humbled. His presence brings reverential fear and awe to us. In humbling ourselves before the Lord, trusting Him and obeying what He says rather than taking matters into our own hands, we can have victory even in the middle of our trials because He will never leave us or forsake us. We need to always remember as long as we are following God’s orders, we have with us the Commander of the Lord’s army.

Gideon lived during a trying time for Israel. The children of Israel repeatedly disobeyed the Lord’s commandments, so the Lord allowed Midian to prevail over them for seven years. “Because of the Midianites, the children of Israel made for themselves the dens, the caves, and the strongholds which are in the mountains.” When the Israelites had a crop in the field, the Midianites and the Amalekites would come and destroy all their produce and take all their livestock. They left them with little or no sustenance. “So Israel was greatly impoverished because of the Midianites, and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord.” God brings judgment on those He loves who know to do right and yet choose evil instead. It really should be no surprise, because He lays out the commandments clearly and also the results of obeying or disobeying. His judgment is not always complete destruction, but is often a time of punishment to turn hearts back to the Lord Who loves them. Israel was in dire straits because of their disobedience to God. After seven years, they finally cried out to Him. In answer to their cries, God sent a deliverer. But this deliverer was not who we would have chosen. When Gideon encountered the Lord, he was hiding in a winepress threshing the little bit of wheat he had gleaned from somewhere. He knew if the Midianites saw him the wheat would be lost. Gideon was disillusioned with the talk of God working miracles for His people in the past. He hadn’t seen a miracle, and they had needed one for seven years. His conclusion from this faulty reasoning was that God had forsaken them. While he continued to thresh the wheat, “the Angel of the Lord appeared to him, and said to him, “The Lord is with you, you mighty man of valor!” Gideon said to Him, “O my lord, if the Lord is with us, why then has all this happened to us? And where are all His miracles which our fathers told us about, saying, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up from Egypt?’ But now the Lord has forsaken us and delivered us into the hands of the Midianites.” Clearly Gideon missed that it was the Lord Himself who had just said, “The Lord is with you.” Gideon’s faith seemed to be totally depleted. But here God was, right there beside him, drawing him into the middle of the miracle he didn’t believe in. “Then the Lord turned to him and said, “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” So Gideon said to Him, “O my Lord, how can I save Israel? Indeed my clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my father’s house.” Gideon replies about how weak he is. After all, he was a man hiding from the enemy just to keep from starving. But God said, “Go in this might of yours.” What might? The might of the Lord God. “And the Lord said to him, “Surely I will be with you, and you shall defeat the Midianites as one man.” After patiently giving Gideon several signs and whittling down the army from 32,000 to 300 men, God used Gideon to free Israel from the Midianites. The reason God used so few men was because He didn’t want them claiming they were the victors when it was God Who did it. If God calls you to a task, know that He will enable you and give you His might to accomplish it. You may feel weak and the least likely candidate for His mission, but “God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty.” Believe Him and go in His might to do great things.

            When I was about eleven or twelve, I had an encounter with God on several occasions while sitting in church services. A collage of faces that were not distinguishable would appear toward the front of the church and come closer and closer until they passed through me. Then a collage of buildings in a city would do the same. Neither was distinguishable, but looked like film negatives that you can see but not really see. I told my mother about the visions, but she didn’t have an answer. I thought I must be called to be a missionary. I listened intently to every missionary who came to visit the church, but never felt the call to join them. Step by step I was drawn into other ministries. Singing at church, recording an album, then being asked to do a radio program on the local station. During this time I felt called to begin writing articles and sending them out to those I met during ministry in churches and other venues. I talked to my mother and she asked, “how can you do that? You don’t have the resources.” I began by using the office copier where I worked (with permission) and after just a few of the newsletters had been sent, a machine was donated by a complete stranger, and it was a machine that I was already familiar with. God provided. My parents were with me at a coffee house in another state when Mom heard a man try to give the machine to the coffee house owner, but he didn’t need it. So Mom told him I needed it. We picked it up at his house that same evening with the supplies. I began writing songs, made several albums and went on to work on-air and in production work for a radio network. The Lord spoke to me about producing radio spots that eventually went around the world on several radio stations, shortwave and internet. Later, I was at the flagship station of the network, taking a break with one of the engineers. He knew about the visions and asked if I had discovered what they meant. I told him I had not. He explained that in almost everything about the ministry, it was to people whose faces I did not see, yet they received the ministry. The albums, the newsletter, the radio, the internet, and later television, writing books and a newspaper column. I had been walking out the vision in my life step by step without realizing it was being fulfilled. Although I had not known what the visions were about, I knew God was speaking to me and I was called out for His purposes. So, I had simply followed. Then the vision was made clear. God doesn’t always give us answers right away. Sometimes we just need to know He has called us so we will be available and listening when He gives us directions.

            What about you? Have you had an encounter with God? Has He spoken to you through His Word, by His Spirit or through someone else? How have you responded to your encounter with the Lord God? Do you hear Him calling you now? If so answer His call.