What is Truth?

“Pilate said to Him, ‘What is Truth?’”  John 18:38

“Your Word is Truth.” (Jesus speaking to the Father) John 17:17

Possibly the most important question that you will answer in your life is this one, “What is Truth?”  Perhaps a better phrasing of the question would be, “How do you determine and establish the truths that will guide your life?”  It is vitally important that you correctly discern the truth from the lies that are propagated in this world.  What you see as truth is the foundation of your world view and the core of your philosophy of life that guides your actions and decisions.

The significance of this problem has been magnified by the recent discussion in the mainstream media about what they are calling “Fake News.”  Here again we see the problem of determining what is true or what is fake from the myriad of information that we are exposed to daily from news, TV shows and commercials, movies, internet articles and videos, etc.  We are exposed to more information than any other generation in the history of mankind.  This steady bombardment of information has a huge impact on our world view, which in turn impacts our thoughts and actions.

Some of the false information that we are exposed to comes from sincere people who are simply mistaken or have been deceived themselves, but we must also realize that there are con men who are purposely attempting to deceive us for their personal gain.  Our natural tendency is to trust people and believe that they are sincere and knowledgeable about what they are saying. It may not be too harmful for us if we end up buying some lame product for $19.99, but the real danger is the con man who is selling a lie that directly impacts our world view.  The Bible warns us about this:

“Take heed that no man deceive you.  For many will come in my name, saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many…..And many false prophets shall rise, and shall deceive many……For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders, insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect.  Behold, I have told [warned] you before.” Matthew 24: 4,5,11,24,25

Jesus was discussing here in Matthew 24 the signs that would indicate the nearness of His return.  We can be assured that there will be an all out attack on our Christian world view as we get closer and closer to His return.  Jesus is warning us so that we are mentally prepared to discern and reject the lies and deception.  So now we come to the real question, how do we protect ourselves from these lies and deceptive ploys?  How do we prepare ourselves for the inevitable exposure to the lies that will attempt to deceive us, causing eternal damage that will be coming from crafty false prophets with the power to do signs and wonders fueled by demonic forces?

We must have the foundation of our Christian faith in place, with no cracks or soft spots.  It needs to be firm in all areas – solid throughout.  This is the goal of this blog, to firm up the foundation that will be needed as the day approaches and the deception increases.  My hope is that all readers have found this to be true of each blog post that has been written for this blog. I try to add as much Scripture reference as plausible and also suggest that the blog reader go back and read the full context of the Scriptures for themselves and seek God for clarity – that’s the only way that spiritual maturity will be advanced in the reader.

In fact, I would remind you that the proper role of the leadership of the church is to expose and correct the false teachings that arise from these false prophets and teachers, and to strengthen the people of God in their spiritual relationship with God through direct communication with Him and the reading of His revelation to us, the Bible.  Included in the strengthening of their relationship with God is their own ability to discern truth.  If the people of God have a strong, direct relationship with God and are spiritually mature and have knowledge of His Word, they will be able to detect the false deception for themselves.

A good comparison is the work of parents towards their children where the best parents prepare their children to be independent and self sufficient in life, while selfish or misguided parents will purposely cause their children to be dependent on them and unable to make it out in the world on their own.  Unfortunately, too many churches and their leaders create a situation where the people of God are focused on the organization rather than on God.  They become dependent on the pastor and the leadership rather than on their own direct relationship with God.  Preachers and pastors should NOT be saying, “Here is the answer for you, listen to me and my message and you’ll be alright!” but rather they should be saying, “I don’t have the answer.  I’m only human and don’t know everything about you and your circumstances, but God does.  Go to Him and He will show you the answer!”  They too should be teaching directly from the Scriptures and strongly encouraging their listeners to go back to the Bible to confirm what was said, prayerfully seeking God and the Holy Spirit for guidance.  All preaching and prophecy should be done with this attitude.  Everything that is done by the church organization and the leadership of the organization should be done to support and complement each of the church member’s personal, direct relationship with God, causing them to advance spiritually into a mature person of God.

As Christians, we determine truth by the Word of God.  His revelation in the Bible, what is essentially the revelation of His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ, this is the ABSOLUTE truth.  The truths of the Bible are repeated throughout its books and are clear to all that are “of the truth”.

“Then Jesus answered, ‘You say rightly that I am king. For this cause I was born and for this cause I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice.’” John 18: 37

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3:16

God can speak through a prophet, but the word of the prophet will never contradict the Scripture, nor will it be out of alignment, but will align perfectly with the Scriptural revelation.  We must be familiar with the Scriptural revelation so that we can determine when the prophecy is out of line.

Each of us, as disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, are responsible for our own understanding of the truth.  We must study ourselves approved, rightly dividing the Word of Truth, the Scriptures. In a practical way, we need to put aside some time in our life to read God’s Word, absorb it, and be able to use it to test the truths that we hear.  We can’t be lazy and depend on some other “scholars” or “elite Christian leaders” to make the determination for us.  That’s how the world functions, but not the Body of Christ.

“The sheep that are My own hear My voice and listen to Me; I know them, and they follow Me.” John 10:27 (AMP)

Let’s step back at this point and look at the bigger picture of the Christian’s view of truth.  Initially, a Christian had to have come to a point in their life that they were convinced that this world was created by a Divine Creator, and did not come about by chance.  This determination of truth came from honestly and intelligently observing the creation, and upon recognizing its complexity and the fact that there must be a higher intelligence that has planned and designed this world and its inhabitance, logically concluding that there is a Superior Being or God who is the Creator of our world.

The analogy would be a person in a remote region (e.g. in a desert or cave) who finds a book, and upon inspection sees that it is filled with writings and images or illustrations.  The logical conclusion would be that there is person who is the author of the book, that it didn’t just come into existence by chance or by some non-intelligent, impersonal force.  The books complexity and purposed design found in the writing and images would suggest an intelligent author; so too, the complexity and design of the world around us suggests a Creator who is an intelligent personal, superior being.

Following this determination of truth about the existence of a Creator, it became reasonable and logical to the Christian that the Creator must have communicated some form of directions or instructions for His Creation, and has not abandoned us.  With this in mind and possibly seeking the Creator to direct them to this communication or revelation, the Christian then discovered (or was led by God to discover) the revelation of God through His Scriptures and the Gospel message of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  This revelation, the Bible, was then recognized as absolute truth, since it came from an all knowing Creator God who knows the beginning and the end.

The Bible stands out as the true revelation from God due to its abundance of supporting historical evidence (i.e. thousands of manuscripts in the original Greek or Hebrew text, archaeological findings, and other historical support), the content of the message itself, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Messiah, the way it is presented (e.g., in contrast to most other claimed revelations, the record of the Messiah is written entirely by people who observed the life and working of Jesus Christ and who were involved in the aftermath of His resurrection and ascension into heaven; no Scripture was written by the Lord Jesus himself), and the fact that the main message, to love God with all your heart and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself, aligns with our conscience.  There is much more to be said here to support the validity of the Biblical revelation, but if you are of the truth, than your honest research into the content of the Scriptures will result in a confirmation that the Bible is in fact a divinely inspired revelation from our Creator and that it represents absolute truth.

Additionally, the Christian realizes that direct communication, in the form of prayer, can be conducted with the Creator God and the Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Christians are able to make requests to God as well as get instruction and guidance from Him through prayer.

My apologies to many readers who will see this as stating the obvious, but my goal is to establish and solidify the foundation upon which we recognize the truth.  We must not only know the history of our source of truth but it needs to be clearly established in our minds as we function in our day to day activities.

Remember that all of this is inconceivable to the man who is without faith, who does not even acknowledge the existence of a Creator.  Also, for many who believe in a Creator, but have formulated their own version of who the creator is, or have believed in a false god as Creator, the Christian viewpoint is foolish and/or erroneous.

There are many who have rejected the idea of a Divine, intelligent Creator God who has revealed Himself and His plan for mankind in the Biblical record of the nation of Israel and the coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  They must now place their full faith and trust in the teachings of other men and in their own intellectual capacity to retain information and gather facts to establish truth.  Thus we see the exaggerated importance of education and increasing academic capacity and skills as it has become a prerequisite to understanding the “truth” of human centered, manmade philosophies and world views.

Throughout the years, as I have gotten into discussions with various people, co-workers or acquaintances, inevitably the conversation enters into an area where it becomes clear that the differences in opinion are a result of a difference in how truth is determined.  My truth is based on the Word of God, and the non-Christian will base their truth on their own observations, studies, education, experiences, etc.

It is wise for us to recognize this underlying difference in determining truth to avoid senseless arguments.  Someone who doesn’t believe in a Creator will have absolutely no interest or openness to receive the Bible as a source of absolute truth.  So there is no sense attempting to resolve the difference in opinion.  You must just agree to disagree and move on or end the discussion altogether.

It would also be wise, if we determine that the person you are in a discussion with has already established their belief in a Creator God and is possibly open to accepting the authority of the Bible, that you get directly to the root difference, that is, to the fact that you source of determining the truth is the Word of God.

Each person is different and each situation may call for different approaches when attempting to convince someone that the Bible is the authoritative Word and revelation of the Creator God.  We must rely on the direction of the Holy Spirit to know how to proceed in this work of convincing someone of this viewpoint.  Most times it will take a long time and maybe only “small seeds” can be “planted” that will need to be further “watered” by others in the future.

In summary, as Christians, be warned that there will be deceivers and false prophets that will appear legitimate and sent by God, displaying signs and wonders and speaking words that may be hard to determine as lies since they are usually mixed in with truths.  We must not be naive and gullible, but rather we should use the Word of God, specifically the Bible, as a standard or authority against which we can measure the validity of these proposed teachings and messages.

Be wary of any preacher or teacher who does not direct you to the Word of God or to hearing from God yourself, personally and directly.

Take the time to study the Bible and to communicate with God.  You are responsible for your adherence to the truth, so don’t depend on another man, no matter how intelligent or anointed they may seem to be.  We should spend more time reading the Bible than reading the teachings and opinions of men, even if the teachings are about the Bible.  There is no substitute for direct Bible study.

Our source of truth is very different than the source of truth that is used by non-Christians.  Recognize this as the root source of differences in opinions in many areas and be careful how you approach them when resolving your differences of opinion.  In most cases it will become clear that the only way to reconcile differences is for the non-Christian to embrace the Bible as a source of truth, which, again, is unlikely, but could be possible if the Lord is leading you in your approach to convincing them otherwise.

In short, the Gospel message of the Bible states that the Messiah has come in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and that everyone (even those who are not descendants of Abraham, Issac or Jacob) who put their trust in Him and believe in Him will not be put to shame, but will be saved from the judgment to come.  The judgment is coming due to the rebellion of our first parents, Adam and Eve, causing this world to become cursed and under God’s judgment due to the continued sin and disrespect towards God by all humans, therefore, all are in need of this Messiah. As the Messiah, Jesus became the innocent sacrificial lamb who paid the price for our past sins.  As Messiah King, Jesus became the first born from the dead when He was resurrected (as was firmly established by witnesses as per the Biblical record), and He then was seated at the right hand of God the Father as King and Lord of all.  We who believe in Him now live as children of God  and as citizens of the kingdom of God where He is Lord and King, so He becomes our Lord and King.  We anxiously await His return to establish the earthly kingdom of God after destroying the current world system.  We must also note that a person’s acceptance into the kingdom of God and the family of God is only by faith, that is, trusting and believing in the Messiah and the promises that are offered by Him (i.e., forgiveness of sins, eternal life with a resurrected body, and a place in Heaven).  A person cannot earn or pay for these promises since they are a gift from God, showing His mercy and grace towards us.

“…because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’” Romans 10: 9-13

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’ John 11: 25-27

This Gospel message establishes our view of the world and the approach we take towards our life and the circumstances that we encounter.  We now consider ourselves dead to this world and the things it has to offer.  Our hope and focus are now on the future hope we have in heaven.  We are aliens and strangers passing through this world until we depart.

To be clear, the truth that I am referring to here is the truth that is related to our world view and philosophy of life.  We often run into these truths as we discuss politics, justice, world cultures, history and many other topics.  I hope that this discussion has prepared you for your future and encouraged you to know the Word of God for yourself.

I leave you with this advice from the Apostle Paul to Timothy:

“Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer. Hymenaeus and Philetus are of this sort, who have strayed concerning the truth, saying that the resurrection is already past; and they overthrow the faith of some. Nevertheless the solid foundation of God stands, having this seal: “The Lord knows those who are His,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of Christ depart from iniquity.” 2 Timothy 2: 14-19

“Teach and urge these duties. If any one teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching which accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit, he knows nothing; he has a morbid craving for controversy and for disputes about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and wrangling among men who are depraved in mind and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain. There is great gain in godliness with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world; but if we have food and clothing, with these we shall be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and hurtful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs.” 1 Timothy 6: 2-10



Don’t Squander Your Invitation to the Kingdom of God

“For many are invited but few are chosen.” Matthew 22:14 (J.B. Phillips)

The 22nd chapter of the Gospel of Matthew starts with a parable that the Lord Jesus told about the Kingdom of God.  In the J. B. Phillips New Testament there is a paragraph title heading before this parable entitled “The Kingdom is not to be lightly disregarded.”  Since the parable in Phillips is such an easy read I’ll include it here in its entirety:

“The kingdom of Heaven,” he said, “is like a king who arranged a wedding for his son. He sent his servants to summon those who had been invited to the festivities, but they refused to come. Then he tried again; he sent some more servants, saying to them, ‘Tell those who have been invited, “Here is my wedding-breakfast all ready, my bullocks and fat cattle have been slaughtered and everything is prepared. Come along to the festivities.”’ But they took no notice of this and went off, one to his farm, and another to his business. As for the rest, they got hold of the servants, treated them disgracefully, and finally killed them. At this the king was very angry and sent his troops and killed those murderers and burned down their city. Then he said to his servants, ‘The wedding feast is quite ready, but those who were invited were not good enough for it. So go off now to all the street corners and invite everyone you find there to the feast.’ So the servants went out on to the streets and collected together all those whom they found, bad and good alike. And the hall became filled with guests. But when the king came in to inspect the guests, he noticed among them a man not dressed for a wedding. ‘How did you come in here, my friend,’ he said to him, ‘without being properly dressed for the wedding?’ And the man had nothing to say. Then the king said to the ushers, ‘Tie him up and throw him into the darkness outside. There he can weep and regret his folly!’ For many are invited but few are chosen.”  Matt. 22: 2-14

One of the common mistakes that people make when trying to interpret the Biblical parables is that they look too deep for complex meaning, attempting to find alignment and a matching analogy for every detail of the parable.  Most times the meaning is straight forward and simple, and therefore the analogy should be kept simple and direct.  Find the basic message and focus on that.  The key to understanding the parable is finding the basic message and this isn’t always obvious.

I must admit that this parable of the kingdom in Matthew 22 has always confused me a bit.  I always started thinking along the lines of “the original invited people must be the Jews” and then “the second group from the byways must be the Gentiles like us” and then I attempted to align the rest of the analogy.  When I read the Phillips version, the paragraph title, mentioned above, about “lightly disregarding the kingdom” set me looking at the parable from a different angle.  Another nudge in this direction (presumably from the Holy Spirit) came when discussing this parable with a brother who commented that the part that jumped out at him was the people who were too busy with their farms or businesses to respond to the invite.  The final epiphany happened when I looked closely at the last sentence: “For many are invited but few are chosen.”  Let’s drill down into this.

In the original Greek, the work translated as “chosen” is eklektos which means “picked out or chosen”  or more specifically can mean “chosen by God.” It comes from a root word eklegomai which has as part of one of its meanings “of God choosing whom He judged fit.”  In the Thayer’s Greek Lexicon, addressing specifically verse 14 of Matthew chapter 22, it says “those who have become true partakers of the Christian salvation are contrasted with those who have been invited but who have not shown themselves fitted to obtain it.”  Verse 14 could then be translated as “Many are invited but few are judged as fit to remain.”

In the parable, we see that those who have responded to the invitation and are in attendance at the wedding feast are then inspected by the king.  One who is not dressed properly is rejected as unfit to remain.

Once again I say that there is wisdom in simplification.  My simple view of this parable is as follows:  Many people are invited, but many of them either reject or disregard the invitation altogether and don’t go, or they respond to the invitation, are in attendance, but are told they are unfit to remain.  Ultimately, the reason that people didn’t make it is because they did not take the invitation seriously enough.  Some seemed to disregard or ignore the invitation from the start, and others responded to the invitation, but didn’t take the requirements associated with the invitation seriously enough (i.e. the man who entered the king’s wedding feast but neglected to dress in the required wedding attire).

So how does this apply to us today?  Well, if you are reading this and you know that God is beginning a work in your life, if He is calling you or inviting you to be restored to Him and become a part of the family of God and of His kingdom, then don’t take it lightly.  Don’t find excuses to distract you from His urging.  There’s always something that will get in the way: work, family, activities, whatever.  Resist and recognize the immense importance of the invitation that God is presenting to you and don’t take it lightly.  If God has sent someone into your life as His spokesman, don’t disregard them or treat them with disrespect, but take very seriously what they are telling you because in reality it is coming from God.

Recognize that the invitation may only be afforded to you once in your life.  You would be wise to take full advantage of the invitation or you will have deep regret later.

For some who have responded positively to the invitation and desire to become a part of the kingdom of God, recognize that there are requirements that need to be met. God expects us to walk in the spirit, not in the flesh. He expects us to grow and mature in our faith.  He expects us to be transformed and become new creations, walking in love and holiness.  I see this as the requirement that He will be inspecting about us when we stand before Him on that day, and He will be “choosing the ones that He judges to be fit” for the kingdom.  I realize that some may say that the only requirement needed is the covering of the blood of Jesus, but this does not align with the Word of God.  Our original acceptance is due to the merits of Jesus on our behalf as we cannot earn our place in the kingdom of God, it is a gift.  You might say that the invitation is a gift that is based on the free gift of salvation through the offering of Jesus’ redemption on the cross represented by His blood.  Beyond this though, to be judged as fit to remain is dependent on our meeting God’s requirements.

In fact the Scripture suggest that the act of kindness shown towards us by the grace of God through the gift of redemption from the sacrifice of Jesus is intended to lead us to an inner change from evil to good, and to think and walk in newness of life that leads to righteousness.

“Are you [actually] unaware or ignorant [of the fact] that God’s kindness leads you to repentance [that is, to change your inner self, your old way of thinking—seek His purpose for your life]? Romans 2:4 (AMP)

Yes we all will stand before the judgment seat of Christ and be judged according to what we have done.  I firmly believe that this judgment will determine if we are fit to remain in the kingdom (and not just to see how much of a reward we will be getting as some have suggested).  We should not take this lightly.  The redemption of the blood of Jesus, much like the invitation in the parable, is the means for us to enter into the kingdom, but once we are in, there is no need to inspect again for the entrance requirement (i.e. blood covering), but rather we are inspected for the additional requirements, in our case, the fruit of the spirit in our lives.

Here are some Scripture to reinforce this (I like the extra comments in the Amplified Bible version):

“And I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them [for this heaven and earth are passing away].  And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the Book of Life; and the dead were judged according to what they had done as written in the books [that is, everything done while on earth].” Revelations 20: 12-13 (AMP)

“Therefore, whether we are at home [on earth] or away from home [and with Him], it is our [constant] ambition to be pleasing to Him. For we [believers will be called to account and] must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be repaid for what has been done in the body, whether good or bad [that is, each will be held responsible for his actions, purposes, goals, motives—the use or misuse of his time, opportunities and abilities].”  2 Cor. 5: 9-10 (AMP)

“Now the practices of the sinful nature are clearly evident: they are sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality (total irresponsibility, lack of self-control), idolatry, sorcery, hostility, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions [that promote heresies], envy, drunkenness, riotous behavior, and other things like these. I warn you beforehand, just as I did previously, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” Galatians 5: 19-21 (AMP)

“But do you think this, O man, when you judge and condemn those who practice such things, and yet do the same yourself, that you will escape God’s judgment and elude His verdict?” Romans 2:3

“But you, why do you criticize your brother? Or you again, why do you look down on your [believing] brother or regard him with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God [who alone is judge].” Romans 14:10 (AMP)

Be aware that God is a merciful and forgiving God, and that He has made a provision for us to receive His mercy and forgiveness as long as we are in this world.  We all stumble at times and need to humbly come to our heavenly Father and ask forgiveness, and He is faithful and just to forgive us.

“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

We must realize that our opportunity for this mercy is limited to this life, and once we are dead, the window of opportunity will close, and then we will be judged.  Consider this advice from the Lord Jesus:

“Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.” Matthew 5: 25-26

As any lawyer will tell you, the time for mercy is before you get before the judge, for the judge must follow the rule of law, but your accuser can be merciful outside of the court.  Likewise, before we stand before the judge, we have the opportunity to receive mercy and to correct any evil or ungodliness in our lives.  We must not squander this opportunity.

We must remember also that it is the Holy Spirit who will work in us to attain holiness and righteousness in our walk.  Our job is to humbly respond and work with Him, and not against Him, in this process of sanctification.

“For this is the will of God, that you be sanctified [separated and set apart from sin]: that you abstain and back away from sexual immorality;” 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (AMP)

May the Lord grant to all of us the wisdom to see our own faults and to correct them properly before that day so that we will not have squandered our invitation to His Kingdom, but will be judged as fit to remain.

And may the Lord cause you to increase and excel and overflow in love for one another, and for all people, just as we also do for you; so that He may strengthen and establish your hearts without blame in holiness in the sight of our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints (God’s people).” 1 Thessalonians 3:12 (AMP)


The Bizarre Story of the Prophet Jonah

“But the Lord sent out a great wind on the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship was about to be broken up.  Then the mariners were afraid; and every man cried out to his god, and threw the cargo that was in the ship into the sea, to lighten the load.  But Jonah had gone down into the lowest parts of the ship, had lain down, and was fast asleep.” Jonah 1: 4, 5

I am sure that many have questioned the authenticity of the biblical account of Jonah, especially his survival in a belly of a great fish for 3 days.  One validation of this account comes from the fact that it was mentioned by Jesus:

“For even as Jonah was there days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Matthew 12: 40

Also, Jonah was referenced in the Old Testament book of II Kings, in chapter 14, verse 25, noting that he was the prophet who had prophesied that King Jeroboam would restore Israel’s border.

I find it interesting, though, that of all the prophetic books in the Bible, the book of Jonah is the only one that is entirely about an incident in the life of the prophet Jonah, with no account of the actual prophetic words that he had spoken; all of the other books record the words of the prophecies by these men, along with some events in their life.  In addition, I find that this event in the book of Jonah is quite bizarre, leaving a seemingly negative impression of Jonah.  I have to think that there was a reason that this account has been preserved for us in the Scriptures and that there must be some lesson for us to learn from it.

Here’s a list of the seemingly bizarre things that Jonah did:

  • He ran away from the presence of the Lord after he was asked to prophecy to Nineveh about God’s judgment that was coming upon them.
  • He fell into a deep sleep in the lower part of a boat that was being broken up by a severe storm
  • He told the crew that he was running from the Lord and confirmed that he was the cause of the deadly storm (after the lot fell on him).
  • He suggested that the crew throw him overboard to calm the storm.
  • He became exceedingly displeased and angry when the Lord didn’t destroy Nineveh according to his prophecy.
  • After the Lord had showed mercy on Nineveh, he requested that the Lord end his life.

There are a few things that we need to understand before assessing Jonah’s behavior.  First, we must remember that it was not an easy thing to be a prophet of the Lord back in these times.  Many of the prophets were killed or forced into being a fugitive.  Also, we don’t know what had led up to this situation.  Possibly, there were other times that God used Jonah to prophecy about judgment and then was merciful when the people responded to the message in repentance.  Jonah may have had past experiences that caused him to think, “Why should I go when God is just going to be merciful to them and it will be a waste of my time.”

Remember too that walking in faith is a bizarre thing in itself, especially to our worldly minds and to people who have no faith.

I think that we need to look in the mirror to get to the message for us here.  Aren’t there times when we know that God wants us to do something, we know the right and proper thing to do according to God’s ways, but our flesh doesn’t want to do it, or we resist for whatever reason?  Yes, I think we all have done this.  It may not be as clear as this example with Jonah, but there have been times when there were things we knew we should have been doing but we didn’t do them.  Our conscience and the Holy Spirit were nudging us but we resisted.

And sometimes God sends some type of storm our way when we put up this resistance.  It may not be a physical weather event, but rather it is something that comes into our life that has a disruptive impact on our circumstances.  What’s our reaction?  We want to ignore it.  We want to sleep through it thinking maybe it will go away.  But God won’t allow it to pass us by without making it clear that it is Him behind the storm, and that it is directed at us for a reason (remind you of Jonah?).

Unfortunately for us, much like Jonah’s circumstances, once we get ourselves in this kind of a situation there isn’t an easy way out.  For Jonah, he had to be tossed overboard into the ocean.  Fortunately, God had a large fish waiting to swallow him, to save him from death in the sea.  Here lies the good news in this lesson: God is merciful and once we give up our resistance He is there to get us back to where we need to be, even though the transition may be quite challenging for us.  I’m sure that spending 3 days and nights in the belly of a whale was no easy time for Jonah!

In full disclosure I can tell you that in my past there was a time that I was resisting God and had given in to my flesh in some areas of my life.  Sure enough, God sent the storm.  All at once I had a health issue, my wife decided to leave me (after being married for almost 30 years), I lost my high paying job which eventually led to losing my house. Bang! I look back now and think how foolish it was to go there in the first place, and I deeply regret having done so, but somehow it happened, and at the very least I can now understand and have compassion on others who go there.

I saw immediately that this was the hand of God in my life so I removed all resistance to His will in my life and submitted totally to Him.  I humbled myself and asked forgiveness.  Sure enough, God had prepared a way of escape for me and directed my path ever since.  He has mostly restored the things that were removed and is still working.  I am in a much better place now since I am aligned with His will and purpose for my life.  Looking back I am utterly amazed at what He has done. (Praise God!)

A major lesson here is to understand that if you find yourself in a place where God’s storm comes upon you due to past resistance to His leading, know that He has a way of escape set up for you, and although it may not be free of difficulties and challenges, you will end up in a much better place.

I want to emphasize here that Jonah’s bizarre actions were in large part a direct result of his faith and his walking in the Spirit.  Another lesson for us is to understand that our actions of faith will many times seem bizarre to others, even other Christians, but especially to the world.  In Jonah’s case his faith was apparent to the other mariners, and they were able to recognize the power of God and it had an impact on their lives:

“Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and offered a sacrifice to the Lord and took vows.” Jonah 1: 16

Jonah did have one issue that was erroneous, that is, the fact that he was displeased and angry about the Lord’s dealings with Nineveh.  The Lord rebuked him for his anger and even used an example to illustrate the situation (the tree that he allowed to shade Jonah and then caused to wither).  We don’t know Jonah’s heart and therefore don’t know the underlying cause for his displeasure and anger, but we can certainly be more aware of our attitude towards the things that God is doing.  We can’t always understand and don’t always see the entire picture from God’s view.  It seemed that Jonah was looking at his circumstances from his own perspective. He seemed to not understand that the city of Nineveh had value to God and that the change in the hearts of the people was important to God.  Jonah seemed to be more concerned with how people would look at him, now that he gave a prophecy that would not come about due to God’s decision to relinquish His original intention of bringing judgment on Nineveh.

“Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it.  But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and He became angry.  So he prayed to the Lord, and said, ‘Ah, Lord, was not this what I said when I was still in my country? Therefore I fled previously to Tarshish; for I know that you are a gracious and merciful God, slow to anger and abundant in loving kindness, One who relents from doing harm. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live!’  Then the Lord said, ‘Is it right for you to be angry?’” Jonah 3:10 to 4:4

“But the Lord said, ‘You have had pity on the plant for which you have not labored, nor made it grow, which came up in a night and perished in a night.  And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left – and much livestock?”  Jonah 4: 10-11

It is good advice for us to give more consideration to God’s perspective in our circumstances, not just our own view, putting aside our emotions and possible embarrassments, and looking instead at God’s will and purpose for the general good of all involved.

In summary, we can learn from the story of Jonah that men of faith often act in bizarre ways.  We all are human and will miss God’s direction at times and could even find ourselves resisting what He is prompting us to do.  In these cases, we can rest assured that no matter what difficulties we find ourselves in as the Lord attempts to steer us towards being aligned with His purposes, that God will take us through, in His mercy, and preserve us from the difficult events that may come upon us.  We need to submit to Him and His calling, the sooner the better, and we must also take time to consider His larger purpose in what He has us doing, not just our own feelings and concerns.

I hope this has encouraged you in your situation.  I know that sometimes life can be confusing and difficult but God has a purpose and He knows what is best for us.

“And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8: 28

“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33


God Gives Us What We Need.

“Except the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; except the Lord keeps the city, the watchman wakes but in vain. It is vain for you to rise up early, to take rest late, to eat the bread of [anxious] toil – for He gives [blessings] to His beloved in sleep.” Psalm 127 [The Amplified Bible]

Before I begin to discuss this topic, let me remind you that one of the most important reasons for reading the Scriptures is to learn how we should think, to learn what attitude we should have about our life and circumstances, and to gain the proper perspective on life’s trials and challenges as they come upon us.  Battles are won or lost based on what happens in people’s minds. Faith is a function of our inner man and therefore is very much a matter of how we think.  The Bible contains many examples of what was in the minds of various men and women of faith, so that we can follow their pattern of thought as we walk in faith.  The Bible’s teachings and instructions show us not only how to act, but also how to think and the attitude we should project. In contrast, the people who are entrenched in the world system, functioning without faith, have a completely different way of thinking than the Christian believer.

We must understand that there is no neutral position; our way of thinking is either influenced by the world system around us through television, movies, various media, educators, etc., or it is influenced by the Word of God as revealed in His Scriptures as we are guided by the Holy Spirit.

One of the dangerous mistakes that Christians make is to carry over their old way of thinking from the world into their new Christian walk. Be aware and be on guard to avoid this mistake.  For some Christians, the old way of thinking creeps back into their lives as they allow these external worldly influences to affect their thoughts, and their time spent prayerfully reading and meditating on the Word of God and the things of God is decreased.

Note that the Scripture quoted above from Psalm 127 is very much contrary to the mindset of the world today, and is therefore considered to be foolishness in the light of the world’s advice and wisdom.  Although the Psalm is specifically about a person building a house and a watchman who is watching a city, the general concept is about a person working hard to attain something that they want by “rising early and working late with anxious labor.”   Let’s look closer at the world’s attitude and mindset in this area.

The wisdom of the world regarding our attitude towards getting the things that we want is that people must focus on their dreams and pursue them, that they must establish their goals and work hard to make them become a reality, not allowing failure or setbacks to lessen their determination.

As a result of this attitude, people end up getting the things that they want, for the most part.  It may take a long time but eventually they get it.  Unfortunately, in many cases the results are disappointing when they find out that the “grass isn’t greener” or that the thing they wanted isn’t what they expected. You have most likely heard the expression, “Watch out what you wish for because you just might get it.”  People who say this have learned that getting what they wish for is very much different than what they expected and can even become more of a hardship and curse rather than a blessing as expected.

As I have stated earlier, people in the world, who are apart from God, are taught that they need to come up with a plan for their lives, and then they need to work hard to make that plan a reality.  People are told that they should never just sit idle and wait for things to come to them – this would be a major error.  When people have it in their minds that they want something, then they will work and work until they get it.

Many times the result of getting what they want is that they are very soon not satisfied and so they move on to the next thing that they want or that they think they need.  Much of their stress and anxiety is the result of their striving to get these things.

The Psalmist in Psalm 127 said it this way, “they labor in vain” meaning that all of the hard work is futile and a waste.  Why?  It’s because our information is limited.  We don’t know the future, and we don’t even know our own hearts and what we really need – but God does.

To be clear, I am not suggesting that the Scriptures are promoting laziness.  On the contrary, it is clear from the Word of God that we all must work and do our part.

“Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.” 2 Thessalonians 3: 6-13

The Lord will show us the work that we need to do and it will not be a burden on us, and will not cause anxiety and stress.

The issue here is about the focus of our work, and about the direction of our life, or maybe more specifically, who is directing our life.  Our labor is in vain when it is focused on what we want and not on what God is directing us towards.  Instead of patiently waiting for the Lord to direct us towards what He wants for us, we stress and push towards what we think we want (or even think that God wants for us but in reality it our own desires).

When we first came to the Lord we most likely had the proper attitude about this.  We had made God our God and recognized that we had made a mess out of our lives and it was easy for us to turn it over to Him.  We liked to say things like, “God is in the driver seat and I’m just a passenger.”  Over time, as life went on and challenges arose, we soon took on our own wants and desires and slipped back into the driver seat.  My exhortation now is that we need to make sure that God is directing our life completely.

Here is the truth that we need to allow to sink deep into our minds and hearts:  God is working out the plan for our life.  All we need to do is allow Him to do so without getting in the way.  We must patiently wait for Him to give us clear direction.  We must restrain from running out ahead.  God is working out all of the angles and is preparing all of the details for what we need.  He is putting all of the pieces of the puzzle together. He is working things out for us even as we sleep!  All we have to do is wait for Him to open the door for us, and then we just walk through.

You would think that it would easy to do nothing and to wait for God to move, but it turns out that this is the most challenging thing for us especially when we are pressured from the people of the world around us and from our old self and old way of thinking.  We need to “Let go and let God!” (This is another saying that we most likely used as young Christians.)

Here’s the irony:

The unbelievers in the world work hard at getting what they want, with stress and anxiety destroying their health, and when they finally get it they are disappointed, upset, and confused. Many times they have to lie to themselves and convince themselves that they are happy with what they have worked so hard for, but deep down they know that it’s a disappointment.

The child of God rests peacefully in the guidance of their heavenly Father, waiting for Him to establish their path and direct their life, working only for what their immediate needs are and entrusting the future to Him, and as time goes on they find that they get what they really need (as only God knows best) and they are satisfied and content.

Our focus should be on the promise of heaven and eternal life, storing up riches for heaven, and looking towards the things that make us rich towards God and not rich in this life.  It is the desire for riches in this life that ensnares us to shift our focus to this world and to pursue our worldly desires to our own hurt.

“Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.” 1 Timothy 6: 6-10

Let us be content with our circumstances.  Let us allow God to direct our life as we patiently wait for Him to open doors for our future, trusting that He knows what is best for us.  Let us be focused on the next eternal life, and not on this temporary life here on earth. Resist the stress and anxiety that the world is trying to push onto us, suggesting that we launch out on our own to pursue our own wants and desires.  God is good and as we look to Him we will see that our labors will not be in vain, but He will give to us what we really need for both this life and for the next.

“But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time—he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honor and eternal dominion. Amen.” 1 Timothy 6: 11-16

Remember also that God will supply our needs for this life also, food and clothing, so we don’t need to be anxious for these things, but should seek first the things pertaining to the Kingdom of God.

“And do not seek what you should eat or what you should drink, nor have an anxious mind. For all these things the nations of the world seek after, and your Father knows that you need these things. But seek the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added to you.” Luke 12: 29-31


Mercy Triumphs over Judgment

“For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy.  Mercy triumphs over judgment.” James 2:13

A recent article in the Washington Post caught my attention.  It was entitled, “Jury convicted maid for stealing.  Then they paid her fine.” The story went something like this: a young, 19 year old maid stole a lady’s rings while cleaning her house.  The value of the rings was about $5,000.  She later, after initially denying it to the police, felt bad and admitted to the crime and returned the rings. She was charged with felony grand larceny.  At the trial the jury felt that justice had to be done but also felt compassion for the young women who was also pregnant with her second child.  Their solution was to put forth a guilty decision on her case, but to also take up a collection among themselves to pay for her fine.  This was quite amazing and unprecedented.

The amazement here centers on the fact that they were able to maintain justice in the case and to still be merciful.  In other words, although the jury sympathized with her situation, they couldn’t rightfully say that she was not guilty; they couldn’t because they knew that she was in fact guilty by her own admittance.  Since she was guilty, then she had to be convicted and a price had to be paid for the crime.  The mercy was shown by the jurors by paying the price for her penalty, to redeem her.  The price was paid and justice was upheld.

To Christians this should sound familiar.  In fact, this is the first time in my life that I have seen a real world example of the mercy and justice that has been conveyed to us through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ.  His death paid the penalty for our sins, much like these jurors paid the penalty for this woman’s crime.  Similarly, our conviction could not have been removed, because we are in fact guilty.

Our guilt is twofold.  In part we have inherited guilt from the sin of Adam and Eve which brought death to the entire human race, as well as a curse to our world.  We entered into an evil, corrupt and selfish world system at birth.  The second part of our guilt is our own choices of disobeying and dishonoring the God who created us and who is the source of our very life and breath and all that sustains us.  Yes, our sins are a serious crime against God, in fact, they are deserving of death.  We all, at some point in our lives, have disobeyed His commandments and regulations, and we have not honored Him as our creator and God, thus we all have been guilty.  Yet because we have been born into this sinful situation, inheriting our condition from the fall of our original parents, and because much of our crimes of our past have been done in ignorance of God’s laws and requirements, God has been compassionate towards us, sending His Messiah to pay the penalty for us.  Thus God is able to retain justice and yet be merciful to us.

We can see also that God, like the jurors, couldn’t just remove the penalty.  No, the conviction had to stand firm and be applied or justice would have been perverted.  In our case though, the penalty was much, much higher than in the case of the young woman thief.

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins  in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient. All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else. But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2:1-7

Another lesson here to be absorbed is the fact that justice can coexist with mercy, and mercy doesn’t need to cause justice to be overturned.  We can mistakenly use the need for justice to override the feelings of compassion and to halt the application of mercy, but this need not be, and rather should not be.

The mercy that we show towards others will affect the mercy that will be shown to us as well as the judgment that will be applied to us in the future.  God is very clear about this:

“Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor will also cry himself and not be heard.” Proverbs 12: 13

And this from the teachings of Jesus:

“Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get.  Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7: 1-5

Somehow we get the idea that it is our job to fix people, to correct them and straighten them out.  Many times the motive is really selfish, not wanting to have to encounter their issues because it bothers us, or may cause us some discomfort or pain.  Unfortunately, most times our execution of judgment towards others either verbally or physically, does little to actually change them.  Love and mercy, on the other hand, can do much to bring about a change in the inner heart of a person, where the change is really needed.  It also opens the door to allow God’s Spirit to work in their hearts, softening them and their guilt.  It’s much like when we love our enemies, and it is like “heaping burning coals upon their head.”

In the story about the maid, noted above, it was also mentioned that the owner of the rings was very upset and “appalled” when she learned of the actions of the jurors.  It seems that although she had her rings returned and the maid was legally found guilty, she wanted more of a penalty enforced upon the woman (showing no compassion for the maid’s poverty and situation).  I wonder what was motivating this wealthy woman to feel this way.  Was it out of love for the maid, and a desire to really help her (maybe a tough love)?  Did she think that justice was not really upheld?  Or was it that she wanted revenge for being compromised?  I would think it most likely that the need for revenge motivated her to feel this way, but God knows her heart and will deal with her appropriately.  For us, we should be certain that revenge doesn’t motivate our actions.

Love is our ultimate goal, but the ability to love can only come when we are transformed in our inner man by the power of God.  It can only come when we become spiritual with our mind and heart set on spiritual things above, rather than on the things of this world.  When we love this world it equates to loving ourselves and we are then unable to love God and love others as we must.

“Make love your aim….” 1 Corinthians 14: 1

The final question that arises about the story of the maid and the compassionate jury is how the maid will react when she is offended in the future, perhaps by a crime committed against her.  Will she also show compassion as was shown to her?  It is obvious to us that the compassion shown to her should then cause her to also show compassion to others.

Remember that this applies to us also.  As God has shown mercy to us, we also need to show mercy towards other, besides being immensely grateful to God for what He has done for us.

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  ‘Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.’ “ 1 Peter 2: 9-10


We must patiently endure to obtain the promise!

“…that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.  …And so after he (Abraham) had patiently endured he obtained the promise.” Hebrews 6: 12 & 15

Throughout the Bible we are encouraged and exhorted to love God and to love one another.  We are told also to even love our enemies and those who are difficult to love.  We are told to be merciful, in the same way that God is merciful to us.  We are encouraged to be strong, and to not grow weary in this love, but to be steadfast and continue walking in love, accompanied by good deeds.

The writer of Hebrews uses the analogy of running a race and suggests that we should run with perseverance:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” Hebrews 12: 1

I see a clear, overarching message in the Bible that the people of God need to push through, continue on, and endure to the end.  That we are not to give up, or to waver in our persistence, but rather, we are to increase our efforts and become stronger and stronger, rather than  to slow down or to allow our efforts to wane.

“And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” Galatians 6:9

“But as for you, brethren, do not grow weary in doing good.” 2 Thessalonians 3: 13

Sadly, we humans have a strong tendency to be impatient, and we allow ourselves to be easily distracted and misguided to other interests that take away from what should be the main focus of walking in love.

We live in a world where success is measured by what is accomplished, and where quick results are expected in whatever we do.  Rarely are we encouraged to be a patient and persistent worker who quietly performs what is needed over the long haul without the need for recognition or fanfare.  Rather, when results aren’t seen after a short while, we quickly abandon our efforts and move on to the next thing.

To patiently endure is boring!  There is no excitement in concentrating on doing what is right and good, day in and day out.  We would rather see tangible results and accomplishments.  We would rather see miracles or revivals.  We would rather see big buildings built or large sums of money gathered.  We would rather experience the excitement of charismatic speakers or emotional services where prophecies occur and the Spirit is moving powerfully. All of these things could be good when in their proper place, but they should not be our main focus, and they should not distract us from our persistence in walking in love with the goal of receiving what God has promised.

The writer of Hebrews tells us to look to Jesus as an example of endurance.  So not only are we being told to focus on our efforts to patiently endure, but we are told to use Jesus as an example of this endurance.  Have you ever seriously looked at Jesus as an example of endurance?  Maybe you have looked to Jesus as an example of compassion or of a miracle worker, but most likely not as someone who has endured patiently to reach a goal.  Here’s what the Scripture says:

“…looking unto Jesus, the author (originator) and finisher (perfecter) of your faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” Hebrews 12: 2-3

We can see from these verses that Jesus has defined our faith by His endurance, showing us how we should act.  Following His example, we should focus on what God has promised, in the same way that Jesus focused on the joy set before Him. For Him it was the future glory of being seated at the right hand of God.  We have been promised to share in His glory, to have a resurrected body, to meet Him in the sky and to be with Him in Heaven; this hope should be set before us as we endure what we must in this life.

There is also an indication in these verses that we should be prepared to suffer, as Jesus did, specifically in our struggles against sin and our flesh.  We know that it is a constant battle to put down the flesh and to resist temptation or to be purged of sin in our life.  We need to be strong and continue in our battle, even to the point of shedding blood, if it should come to that.

“You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.” Hebrews 12: 4

Also, it is the discipline of our loving Father that will cause us to suffer as we are being chastened, and this we must also endure with patience until we have been trained by it.

“Now no chastening (or discipline) seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Hebrews 12: 11

Life can be difficult at times, and painful, but this is all part of running the race.  We need to keep in the race and press on towards the prize, understanding that it will be well worth it in the end.  The pain and suffering in our lives has a purpose, and it is for our good.

“Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it.  Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one.” 1 Corinthians 9: 24 – 25

I have heard it said that if you are not moving forward then you are going backwards, there is no such thing as standing still when running this race.  I agree with this, and this is why we need to press on and not take a break. We need to be strengthened so that we can be completely healed, or if not, the weak areas will be damaged and made worse.

“Therefore strengthen the hands which hang down, and the feeble knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be dislocated, but rather be healed.” Hebrews 12: 12-13

We are temporary residents here, just passing through to reach our true and eternal home in heaven.  This journey is not an easy one, as we must endure many hardships along the way.  We can find strength by looking at the reward that awaits us, and by looking to Jesus as an example of how the endurance and persistence will pay off in the end.

Let us continue in strength, encouraging one another to press on in this race towards the promised reward that awaits us.  We will be in His presence sooner than we think.

“Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore let us, as many as are mature, have this mind.” Philippians 3: 13-15


God’s Chosen Fast

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen….” Isaiah 58: 6

Why is it that religious people often think that they are righteous, and doing things that are pleasing to God but in reality they are not?  We see this often in the Bible.  What is the root cause of this?  What are the underlying issues that create these conditions?

We must be careful today that we don’t fall into the same trap.  We are just as vulnerable to this self deception, and we have a very clever and deceptive enemy of our soul, the devil, who works toward accomplishing this same delusion in our lives.

In the book of Isaiah, chapter 58, there is a prime example of this issue.  We see in this situation that the people of God were seeking Him daily and were delighting in knowing His ways, and they were fasting and afflicting themselves as a means of pleasing God.  After doing all of this, they then wondered why God didn’t answer their prayers or why He seemed to have forsaken them.

God called upon His prophet Isaiah to speak to His people concerning this:

“Cry aloud, spare not; lift up your voice like a trumpet; tell My people their transgression, and the house of Jacob their sins.  Yet they seek Me daily, and delight to know My ways, as a nation that did righteousness, and did not forsake the ordinance of their God.  They ask of Me the ordinances of justice; they delight in approaching God.  ‘Why have we fasted.’ They say, ‘and You have not seen? Why have we afflicted our souls, and You take not notice?’” Isaiah 58: 1-3

We see that although the people were in sin and were in need of correction from God, they had deceived themselves and were acting like a people who were righteous and following God’s ordinances.

A similar condition occurs with Christian’s today who enjoy going to church and enjoy hearing about God, as if they are righteous people.  They may even fast regularly and give their time and money to the church as a sacrificial offering, but in reality they are not focused on what is really pleasing to God and they are not truly being obedient to His requirements.

Isaiah’s prophecy continues with criticism of the people’s fast:

“In fact, in the day of your fast you find pleasure, and exploit all your laborers. Indeed, you fast for strife and debate, and to strike with the fist of wickedness.” Isaiah 58: 3-4

The real problem here was not the fasting, but it was their sin, and what compounded the problem was that they had deceived themselves into thinking that they were pleasing God with their fasting, and yet they were blocking out of their mind the presence of their sins in their lives.  The Lord was pointing out to them through His prophet Isaiah that their wickedness and sin, in this case the exploitation of their laborers and their strife between one another, was negating any merit from their fasting from food and other debasement of themselves (like wearing sackcloth and sitting in ashes). In other words, their fasting was meaningless as long as they continued in their sinful activities.

The warning for us from this account is that we are susceptible to the same self-deception.  We have a tendency to excuse ourselves from the sinful things that are difficult to change or deal with in our lives, but that are sinful and displeasing to God, and we convince ourselves that our other acts of “righteousness” like giving money to charities or participating in religious activity, giving our time, is pleasing to God and therefore God should be blessing our lives.  We think that somehow the “good” acts that we do will overshadow the sinful acts still present in our lives, but God does not follow along with our self deception.

Looking deeper at this issue, I also see a problem with misplaced priorities, or a loss of focus on the real goals of our life as Christians.  We must often remind ourselves that our main goal is to walk in love.  This love is aligned with God’s commandments, so if we are walking in love we will be following all of His commandments.  In fact, Jesus said this:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you.” John 15:12

Remember also that to walk in love means that we must be spiritual, and the desires of our flesh are contrary to the spirit, and therefore for us to make the necessary changes in our life is a great challenge because our flesh does not die easy!

I remind you also of the correction that the prophet Samuel gave to King Saul when he disobeyed the Lord:

“And Samuel said, “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obedience to the voice of the Lord? Surely, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams.” 1 Samuel 15: 22

And there is Paul’s warning in Colossians regarding self abasement:

“Why do you submit to regulations, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch’? All these regulations refer to things that perish with use; they are simply human commands and teachings. These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-imposed piety, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are of no value in checking self-indulgence.” Colossians 2: 21-23

We see from Paul’s comments that self abasement has “no value in checking self-indulgence”, meaning that our self restrictions, like fasting, most likely will have no affect on our other indulgences that are sinful and against love.  In fact, our self abasement can even be a means of feeding the flesh, when we do it to impress others or to gain a name as a “holy and righteous” person from doing it.

Looking back to the prophecy in Isaiah 58, we see that the Lord resets the focus of the people to what is truly important.  Notice that His directives are aligned with walking in love:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the heavy burdens, to let the oppressed to go free, and that you break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and that you bring to your house the poor who are cast out; when you see the naked, that you cover him, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?”  Isaiah 58: 6-7

We see a similar reset of focus in the book of James in the New Testament:

“Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.” James 1: 27

One final warning is to be aware that there are varying degrees of this condition.  We should allow the Holy Spirit, working with our conscience, to expose to us any area of our life that needs to be dealt with, where we have deceived ourselves into thinking that our religious activities have made it okay for us to hold on to other areas of our life that are sinful and displeasing to God.  Now is the time to deal with this before our life comes to an end and we have to stand before the Lord and answer to Him.

I remind you also that God has made a way for us to gain victory over our flesh so that we can overcome the sin in our life.  We are well aware that exposing and admitting to our sin is just the start, but the power to gain victory comes from us changing internally and becoming truly spiritual.  We become spiritual by exercising true faith in the promises of God that He has offered to us through the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, the Messiah.  If we die to the hope offered by this world and shift our hope to the promises of God, that is, of eternal life in heaven with a resurrected body, then we will learn to walk in the spirit and not fulfill the desires of the flesh.

As we walk in the spirit, we will be able to also walk in love, and will be able to fulfill the law, for the law is spiritual.  As we are transformed in our inner man, we will do by nature the things required by the law, as the law of God will become written on our hearts with our conscience bearing witness.

Let us stay focused on the truth and stay focused on the things of the spirit.  Let us learn to walk in the spirit and to walk in love.  God will then bless us and we will have our blessed hope of heaven as the final reward.

Here is what God promised to His people if they would adhere to His chosen fast, as He defined it in Isaiah 58:

“Then your light shall break forth like the morning. Your healing shall spring forth speedily, and your righteousness shall go before you; the glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’” Isaiah 58: 8-9

This is what I desire, and it is my prayer for you also.  Amen.