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True Faith

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

Amen.

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As Christians, How Should We Now Live?

“Finally, brethren, we beseech and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you learned from us how you ought to live and to please God, just as you are doing, you should do so more and more.” 1 Thess. 4: 1

This message is for Christians, and more specifically, for the subset of Bible believing Christians who adhere to the directives of the Holy Scriptures and see them as the source of truth and as an authoritative revelation from God to all Christians throughout the ages.  I personally believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God and that all true Christians must hold to it as the sole authority and standard to measure all other proposed truths against. If you don’t agree with this or if you have some other source of truth that takes precedence over the authority of the Bible, then this message will most likely not be a benefit to you.

The Bible is more than a historical record, and its relevance is as applicable today as it was centuries ago.  Its verses were written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and therefore, the divine Holy Spirit of God was able to cause what was written to have relevance from the time it was written until the end of this age, when the Lord Jesus Christ returns at His second coming.

I am stressing these points about the authority and relevance of the Scriptures because I want to look closely at the instructions that were written in the 4th chapter of 1 Thessalonians and were established by the author, the apostle Paul, as instructions for how the Thessalonians should live as converted Christian.  Again I say it – these instructions are applicable to us today also.

Paul lays out 3 areas or categories of instruction as follows: 1) holiness, 2) love of the brethren, 3) hope.  I would like to drill down into each of these areas, looking more closely at the verses and discussing their relevance for us today.  I see in these exhortations a practical direction for us to follow that will help us to live out the remainder of our Christian lives in a way that is pleasing to God, as Paul suggests.

“For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus” 1 Thess. 4: 2

Notice first that Paul had previously instructed them on these topics, possibly even multiple times. Notice also that Paul states that these instructions were given “through the Lord Jesus” meaning that they have been revealed to him by God, and have divine authority, therefore they should not be taken lightly.  Also, note that under each of these 3 categories, Paul mentions specific topics of instruction that encompass the guidelines for Christians to live their lives.   We must recognize that there are more topics that could be included than these that are mentioned, but these were the ones that Paul thought were important and relevant to the Thessalonians, and also that the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write and include, so we must also see them as relevant for guidance to us today.

Holiness

“For this is the will of God, your sanctification (or being made holy)….” 1 Thess. 4: 3

The dictionary.com definition of the word sanctify is “to make holy; to set apart as sacred; to consecrate” and “to purify or free from sin”.  The original Greek word used here is hagiasmos meaning “purification, i.e. the state of purity” and also refers to the effect of this purification, that is, “the sanctification of heart and life.”  The word is translated as holiness, sanctification or consecration in today’s English versions of the Bible.

There are two ways of looking at sanctification, the first being that it requires a setting apart or separation.  For Christians, we need to be separated from the world.   Looking deeper, we must realize that the world is focused on the things of the flesh, or more specifically, focused on satisfying the strong desires and longings of our physical bodies.  As Christians we need to shift our focus from physical things offered by this world to spiritual things that have been promised to us from God through His Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to approach life with an attitude that our physical life here on earth is temporary, but our future life in the kingdom of God is permanent.  We need to store up our treasures for the future life in heaven.  We are to be like pilgrims, aliens, and strangers here on earth, just passing through on our journey to our true future home.

This shift of focus is internal and changes the way that we think, resulting in a definitive, distinct difference between us and the world.  This is the separation that Paul is speaking of.  Christians are not instructed to remove themselves physically from this world but rather to recognize that they are not “of this world” and that they must not love the things of this world.

Prayer of Jesus to the Father: “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.  Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” John 17: 13-17

“Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” James 4:4

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2: 15-16

People who are in the world have their minds and hearts set on the things that this world has to offer them and this is what consumes them, demanding all of their attention and energy.   Sadly, many Christians allow their physical desires to take over their attention and focus, maybe not in their words, but in their deeds and thoughts.  A good test for this is the amount of anxiety that is in our lives – high anxiety and stress would indicate that our hearts are set on the things of this world rather than on heaven.  Examine yourself to see if you are walking in the faith with your heart set on heaven.

“For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” Romans 8: 5-6

The second way of looking at sanctification is from the idea of purity and holiness.  We need to recognize that the Lord has instructed us to be pure in our thoughts and actions.  This requires that we put to death the deeds of the flesh that we once practiced before our conversion, when we were in the world with our hearts set on pleasing ourselves and advancing our position in this world, looking for the praises of men and the pleasures and riches that this world has to offer.

Paul mentions a specific topic in his reminder to the Thessalonians:

“…that you abstain from unchastity; that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like heathen who do not know God;”  1 Thess. 4:3-5

Paul specifically addresses here the issue of having sex outside of marriage (i.e. unchastity).  The strong physical desires that are associated with sexual activity have made sexual immorality an issue throughout the ages, and it is especially relevant today.

Consider our western culture here in America and the sexual attitude that prevails.  Almost every TV program and movie has a message that promotes sexual promiscuity or a segment that exposes sexual immorality either explicitly shown or implied.  Even some commercials are sexually explicit and promote immoral sexual activity.  Pornography is easily accessible for even the young pre-teens of our society.  Our children are being raised to think that fulfilling our sexual passions (and even in some cases sexual perversions) is normal and acceptable, and certainly not restricted to marriage.

The sexual standard set forth by our western culture is that as long as you are having sexual relations (i.e. intercourse) with one person that you “love”, your actions are acceptable; only when people have casual sex with multiple partners are they looked down.  In fact, I would say that for men the standard is even lower than for women, where multiple partners is okay as long as they are not in a “committed” relationship or married, and as long as the partners they choose are not prostitutes.

Currently there is much in the news about politicians and Hollywood celebrities who are being accused of sexual abuse.  We wonder why there are so many situations that result in rape and/or unwanted/non-consenting sexual encounters, especially where drugs and alcohol are involved – these are symptoms of the deeper problem of promoting sexual activity outside of God’s instructions. Rather than treating the symptoms, we should deal with the root of the problem by going back to God’s instructions regarding chastity, training our children in this truth.  Unfortunately, it may be too late for our society to change in this area, but we as individuals can make the necessary changes in our life and set an example for others and pass on these truths to our children (or train them in this if they are young).

As Christians we need to have a different attitude towards sexual activity.  We need to follow God’s direction and view sexual relations as something that should be limited to a married couple.  Also, as was instructed by the Lord Jesus, we must not only change our external, physical actions, but also our internal thoughts; Jesus said that lusting after a man’s wife is the same as committing adultery with her.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5: 27-28

Paul continues in Thessalonians 4 with more instructions:

“…that no man transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, for the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we have solemnly forewarned you.”   1 Thess. 4: 6

Some versions include the following translation:

“…that no man defraud his brother in business,”  1 Thess. 4:6 (alternative translation)

In the first, original translation, the key is to consider what is meant by “this matter”.  It could either mean the matter of holiness and sanctification in general, or more specifically, the matter of sexual unchastity.  In the alternate translation, we can assume that Paul intended to specifically warn against defrauding other Christians in business transactions, adding a new topic to his discussion.

Included in both translations is the idea that defrauding people is ungodly and should never be found among Christians.  We must be aware that it is very easy to clean up our external, visible actions but to leave the internal or hidden things of the heart and through-life unchecked.

The type of defraud that Paul was warning against would apply to people nowadays who attend gatherings with other Christians, but continue in sexually immoral activity (like viewing pornography, lusting in their thought life, or even worse, having secretive sexual activity like adultery or fornication).

Being dishonest in our business dealings would apply today to the many types of businesses that knowingly defraud their customers by promising things that are not delivered, or similar deceptions.  Christians should never be involved in questionable business ventures, even if they are “legal” according to the government laws, but underhanded in reality.

Notice also, that in these verses Paul exhorts his Christian brothers in the area of finding a Christian mate for marriage:

“… each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the heathen who do not know God;” 1 Thess. 4: 4-5

On this topic I must admit that I have much to learn and have been seeking the Lord to show me how this selection of a wife should occur.  I believe that our society and culture in America has moved so far from the proper view of dating, courtship, and marriage that we must get God’s redirection on this completely, removing all of our previous understanding.

Taking a wife in “holiness and honor” I believe means that we should look for a Godly character, humility, and a heart that loves the Lord as the guiding factor in our selection of our mate, and not be completely focused on sexual attraction.  Please, if you are single looking for a mate, seek God for direction and instruction in this most important decision that will impact greatly the remainder of your days.

Paul’s final warning on this topic of holiness:

“For God has not called us for uncleanness but in holiness.  Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.” 1 Thess. 4: 7-8

Love

Our purpose for reading and studying the Scriptures is not so that we can claim to be Biblical scholars or to be able to quote verses from any part of the Bible, but rather, we read and study so that the Word of God will transform us; we read so that we can become lovers – lovers of God and lovers of our neighbors.

Love is the ultimate goal of the Christian and all things that we endeavor to accomplish should be related to love.  God is not interested in quantity but He wants quality.  Christian quality is measures by our ability to walk in true love as God defines it in His Word.

Paul encouragement in 1 Thessalonians chapter 4 includes growing and continuing in love for the brethren (fellow Christian believers).  Again I would remind you that loving our fellow Christians is not the only area of love that is important.  The Bible instructs us that we need to love God, our neighbors, and even to love our enemies.  Paul is encouraging and supporting their existing good attributes of loving their brothers and sisters in the Lord and he exhorts them to do so even more.

“But concerning love of the brethren you have no need to have any one write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by Got to love one another; and indeed you do love all the brethren throughout Macedonia.  But we exhort you, brethren, to do so more and more,….” 1 Thess. 4: 9-10

It is interesting that Paul follows this encouragement to continue loving one another with practical instructions about their conduct.  This may at first seem unrelated to loving one another but in fact it is directly related since our actions and conduct can greatly impact other people.  Paul makes it clear in other verses of Scriptures (e.g. Romans 12) that adhering to the commandments of God’s law is equivalent to walking in love.  Therefore, our actions are an important part of walking in love.  Here’s is what follows verse 10:

“….to aspire to live quietly, to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we charged you; so that you may command the respect of outsiders, and be dependent on nobody.”  1 Thess. 4: 11-12

Clearly, Paul is showing that loving others is more than just feeling emotional warmth towards them.  It’s even more than helping them when in need, or more than forgiving them or feeling compassion for them.  Love also involves being fair towards others and not taking advantage of their kindness towards us.  It involves carrying our own weight and doing our part to provide for our own needs, never presuming upon the generosity of others.  True love means that we are maturing and growing as Christians, becoming strong and independent. It means that we are able to not only take care of ourselves but also to be used by the Lord to help others in need.  This too should be our goal; it should be our understanding about how to truly walk in love.

Hope

The last part to be included in Paul’s instructions to the Thessalonians is his encouragement regarding our future hope in the return of the Lord Jesus Christ and how we don’t need to view death like people in the world do (those without hope).

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, so that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.  For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died.   For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died.  For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel’s call and with the sound of God’s trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.” 1 Thess. 4: 13-18

Christians need to live their lives with the understanding that death is not the end for us, and that those who die are not lost and gone forever.  Rather, there is a day that will surely come when Jesus will return and we will be transformed with new resurrected bodies, and meet with Him up in the air.  Halleluiah!

May the Lord continue to make clear to us how we should walk and to live our lives until He returns.  May He show us how to be sanctified, how to walk in love. May He make the reality of His future return even more real to us.  This is my prayer for all who read this.  Amen.

Seek the Truth

“Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.” John 17:17 (prayer of Jesus to God the Father)

Idol Worship

Does idol worship exist today in our culture?  You may think that it exists in some foreign country where uncivilized or uninformed people still create statues or carved images that they consider to be an image of a god and they pray to it, present sacrifices to it and fall down prostrate before it to worship the image.  Certainly though, most would say that idol worship does not exist in today’s western culture.

I would propose to you that idol worship is rampant today in our western culture, but rather than a physical carved image we have invisible, mental images that we worship, and rather than falling down to worship in front of physical images, we worship and serve them in different ways, but serve them none the less.

An idol is anything that becomes a substitute for the true, living God.

In biblical days the people made physical carved idols of metal or wood that they considered to be a god, but in truth, they had no power:

“He burns half of it in the fire; with this half he eats meat; he roasts a roast, and is satisfied.  He even warms himself and says, ‘Ah, I am warm, I have seen the fire.’ And the rest of it he makes into a god, his carved image. He falls down before it and worships it, prays to it and says, ‘Deliver me, for you are my god!’ “  Isaiah 44: 16-17

These people believed a lie.  They somehow were deceived into thinking that this inanimate block of wood or metal had some power.  It was self-deception and foolishness.

“They do not know or understand; for He has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand.  And no one considers in his heart, nor is there knowledge nor understanding to say, ‘I have burned half of it in the fire, yes, I have baked bread on its coals; I have roasted meat and eaten it; and shall I make the rest of it an abomination?  Shall I fall down before a block of wood? He feeds on ashes; a deceived heart has turned him aside; and cannot deliver his soul, nor say, ‘Is there not a lie in my right hand?’ “ Isaiah 44: 18-20

This very same deception exists for us today!  Rather than a physical carved block of wood or molten shaped metal, we have the lie and deception in the form of a mental concept, a false theory or false view of reality that causes us to shift our attention, our affections, and our service away from the true living God.  The result is the same: God is not honored.  God is not given the proper place in our hearts.  Our thankfulness is not directed towards Him.  And just like worshiping a physical idol, it is an abomination to Him.

Truth vs. Lies

At the core of this is the difference between truth and lies.  The root problem is that a lie has been substituted for the truth. (Is there not a lie in my right hand?)  This deception results in bondage, and we must purge out the lie and replace it with the truth in order to be freed.

I want to draw your attention back to the Scripture verse quoted above from the Gospel of John, from the prayer that Jesus prayed for His disciples:

“Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.” John 17:17

The word “sanctify” in the original Greek is “hagiazo” meaning in this usage “to purify” and more specifically, the context suggests this version: “to purify internally by renewing of the soul”, and the renewing of our soul suggests that we change the way that we think or change our internal views and understandings of the truth.

The way in which we establish truth in our life is foundational.  All of our actions and decisions are based on this foundation of truth.  If what we have accepted as truth is perverted or compromised in any way, all that is built upon it will not stand firm.  As such, we need to be very much aware and cautious about what we have established as truth in our life.

Recently while riding my bicycle around my city by local fairgrounds I came across a fenced in area with a large banner over the main entrance gate entitled “Pagan Pride”. In curiosity I stopped and asked a man at the gate what it was about.  We got into a conversation during which, in an attempt to get to the root of the issue, I asked him how he determined the truth.  He replied, “Truth is what you make it to be.  You create the truth.”   Hopefully it is clear that a person’s method of determining truth is critical to their way of life.  As long as people continue to believe in lies they will continue to be in bondage to their lifestyle resulting in pain and suffering that is a product of their sin.

I want to take some time to explain my definition of truth in this context.  In general, I am not referring to the truth that men have established about our current physical surroundings like the mathematical truths (1+1=2) or laws of physics (Newton’s laws of gravity). The truth that I am referring to is what we use to establish reality; the truth that we believe and accept about our surroundings, especially about the past that has led up to and has influenced the present, and also what we believe about the future.  The truth that I am referring to has a major impact on our lives. It has an influence on who we are, on how we feel, on how we think and make decisions.

For example, if we have accepted as truth that man has corrupted the earth’s ozone layer and has caused global warming and/or severe climate change that could potentially cause catastrophic and irreversible damage in the future, than we will behave, make decisions, be happy or sad in certain circumstances as a result of accepting this truth.

I want to be very clear about this.  We must understand that the truths that we accept and believe will establish our view of reality, and this view of reality is not neutral concerning God.  Either He is included in this view or He is not. Either He is the creator of this reality or He is not.  Either He is in complete control of this reality or He is not.  Either His revealed details of the history of this reality are true or they are not.  Either His plans for the future of this reality are true or they are not.  All of God’s truth, in its entirety, must be in place, otherwise we have created a mental falsehood that is an idol and an abomination, and it will cause bondage.

God’s word is truth

How then is this truth established?  The answer to this is also found in the quoted verse from John 17: God’s word is truth.  I would add to this an adjective: God’s word is absolute truth, upon which we can build a sure foundation that will ensure freedom.

God’s word comes in two forms.  There is the word of God as has been revealed in the Bible, the Scriptures, and then there is the word of God that He speaks to us directly through His Spirit.  In the context of the truth that determines our way of life, the absolute truth of the Scriptures is by far the most critical source.  In fact, the spoken word of God from His Spirit should always be compared and weighed against the Scripture and if a conflict exists, than the Scriptures always override the direct word.

The problem with the direct communication of God’s word by His Spirit is that we are vulnerable to our own thoughts, prompted by our carnal mind or by our flesh, causing a great potential for deception.  I am not saying that we should abandon our attention to the voice of the Spirit. On the contrary, I believe that the Holy Spirit was sent to lead us into the truth and to show us clearly the truth.  I am saying that the Holy Spirit’s voice should not be a substitute for the Word of God, but rather should work in conjunction with it.

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” John 16:13

The voice of the Holy Spirit will not cover the entirety of the truths that we need to establish our view of reality.  We need to seek truth from the Scriptures in order to get the full picture of reality from God’s perspective.

It is not sufficient for us to simply say that we believe that God’s word, the Bible, is the absolute truth.  We need to know and understand the content of the truth that was revealed and apply those truths to our life. We need to purge out the old lies from our past and replace them with the truth in all areas of our belief system. This process takes time and effort; it requires study and persistence.  We need to prayerfully read and study the Scriptures, under the guidance and direction of the Holy Spirit.  Our attitude, our attention, our affections, our decisions, our goals, our happiness, all of our life should be based on the truth that we have established from the revealed Word of God. This is our spiritual worship and service to Him.

“I appeal to you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that you may prove what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12: 1-2

Sadly, many Christians today do not give the needed attention to the Word of God.  They instead depend on other men to garner truth.  They read books, listen to sermons, talk to other Christians, watch documentaries, none of which are bad, but they cannot replace the Holy Scriptures as the primary means of establishing the truth.

I say this of myself.  My role is to exhort you, to encourage you to continue in the truth, and to direct you to seek Him.  I don’t have the specific answers to your problems but I can direct you to the one who does – the living, all powerful and all knowing God!  No man, including myself, should be the one you look to as a source of truth.  Look to God and His Word.

I find it sad also that some would want to pick and choose what truths they want to accept from the Bible and mix them with other “truths” from various sources to establish their view of reality.  The foolishness of this, as I see it, is that we don’t fully comprehend the limits of man’s understanding of our world or the limits of our knowledge of the past.

What is reality?

The gap between what we think we know and what is the actual truth is much wider than we can perceive or what we will allow ourselves to accept. In other words, we don’t know how much we don’t know, and in many cases we don’t want to know because we want to believe what we think is true. We can’t even know the truth about the reality that is happening in the present let alone the reality that happened in the near past and especially in the distant past. We all know that when an event occurs and is witnessed by many people we get a different version of the event from each person, all of which vary greatly.  And yet we read accounts of past history as if they are completely accurate and true without the bias or misconception of the author.

Teachers teach subjects strongly influenced by their opinions and biases.  New reporters report the news interlaced with their opinions and influenced by their biases, politics and world view. Scientists publish their discoveries and research finding with strong biases.  History is written from the viewpoint of the author, whether it is from the country that they are from or from the side of the war that they fought on.  Yet we take these opinions as truth and establish our view of reality based on these views.  Do we also not see that there is a lie in our right hand?

If man is the source, it cannot be considered “absolute” truth.  Only God’s truth is absolute and unchanging.

“Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Luke 21:33

God has revealed His word at first by using Abraham and his descendants, speaking to them through the prophets and having them meticulously record and preserve their history and writing.  He then revealed himself through His Son Jesus, the Messiah, as was witnessed by the apostles and disciples of that time and recorded in the Gospels, Luke’s record of the early church called the Book of Acts, and then the letters to the early churches, the epistles of Paul, Peter, James, Jude, and John.

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

“First of all you must understand this, that no prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, because no prophecy ever came by the impulse of men, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.” 2 Peter 1: 20-21

“So also our beloved brother Paul wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, speaking of this as he does in all his letters. There are some things in them hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other scriptures.” 2 Peter 2:15-16

This is God’s revelation to mankind.  We must understand that He has preserved and protected His word.  The entire Bible is under His protection and must all be considered as authoritative.  If we can remove any part of it, then all of it becomes invalid.  In other words, if we can disqualify any single portion of the Bible from being the authoritative inspired word of God, then it opens the door for any other part of it to be disqualified. It is an all or nothing proposition. No but rather we must trust that God is all powerful and able to protect and guide the formation of His revelation to mankind, and to keep it intact throughout the ages.

We must also examine our motive for not accepting some parts of God’s revelation.  Is it because it conflicts with the desires of our flesh?  Does it cause us some pain or discomfort to implement the truths that were revealed?  Sometimes the truth hurts, but in the long run it is well worth the pain.

Years ago I overheard people talking about their plans for the future. They didn’t realize that I could hear them.  Their plans had a strong influence on my future and my happiness. Upon hearing this I was greatly upset and discouraged.  As I looked to the Lord, His Spirit spoke to me (I wrote this down) saying, “Don’t be discouraged. What you see and hear is not the reality of things. What you think in your mind is not reality. What you suppose is going to happen is not reality; only what I ordain to happen is reality. I know reality for tomorrow today. Trust in me and lean not on your own understanding.”  I can now testify that the things that I feared did not happen and in fact the opposite occurred.

Seek the Truth and Establish Reality from it

My point is that we are too quick to establish our view of reality, whether it be the overview of our world or the view of specific circumstances.  The truth is that only God really knows what is real.  Much of this reality has been revealed in His Scriptures and is available for us to use for our own lives.  How great a privilege it is to have this opportunity to access these truths that He has taken the time to establish through His prophets of old and through the life and teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Don’t neglect this privilege.  Don’t neglect the study of His Word.  Don’t reject parts of His Word because you don’t understand them or because you find them to be a source of pain or discomfort.

Truth is invaluable and essential to our Christian walk.  We must vehemently seek after this truth and use it to purify our inner thoughts and view of reality.  Don’t take this lightly but be committed to the pursuit of truth through the Holy Scriptures.

Once the truth is established, having applied our faith to this truth, we then attain the assurance of hope, the result of which is true love in our inner nature.  We become a new spiritual creation with love written on our heart, and able to generate the fruit of the spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

I leave you with these thoughts about truth from the Scriptures:

“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.’ “ John 14:6

And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” John 8:32

“You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it.” John 8:44

“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth,” Ephesians 6:14

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth” 3 John 1:4

 

There is Only One Gospel – It Produces Love

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and turning to a different gospel— not that there is another gospel, but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if any one is preaching to you a gospel contrary to that which you received, let him be accursed.” Galatians 1: 6-9

The apostle Paul wrote this warning to the churches of Galatia close to 2,000 years ago.  I firmly believe that this same warning also applies to Christians today, and was not just a one time warning unique to the situation that Paul was addressing at that time.  I believe that there are Christian teachers and church leaders today who “pervert the gospel of Christ” in a similar manner, to varying degrees, as was being done at that time.  Historically, there has been a tendency for Christian organizations to digress from the core elements of the gospel, focusing on “religiosity” rather than producing true Christian character and love.  Even today there are many Christian churches that would be considered spiritually dead.  This letter to the Galatians addresses the cause of this problem that leads to death.

If you read the entire letter that Paul wrote, you will see that he is essentially saying that there is no other means of restoring our relationship with God, no other way to remove the curse from Adam and Eve’s sin, no other way of salvation from this present evil age, no other way to become spiritual, no other way to be transformed to walk in love, and no other Messiah sent from God for this purpose, but only the Gospel message that Paul had previously preached to them about the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Messiah, and what He had accomplished on our behalf through His death and resurrection, and which is only attained by us through faith as a free gift from God.

I thought that it would be valuable for us to look at the main underlying components that support the Gospel so that we can protect ourselves from unknowingly turning to any other proposed “different” gospel.  Paul touches on these components throughout his letter to the Galatians.  Let’s consider some of these:

The Truth

“You were running so well; who hindered you from obeying the truth?”  Gal. 5:7

The Gospel is based upon the truths that have been revealed in the Bible.  We must be very clear about how we establish truth in our minds or the Gospel can potentially become compromised or even abandoned.  Truth should be established through recognizing the authority of God’s revelation in the Holy Scriptures.  The writings of the Bible are not mere writings of men, but are revelations inspired by the Holy Spirit.

“And we also have the more sure prophetic word, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts; knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation (or origin), for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.” 2 Peter 1: 19-21

We must remember that there are very few things in this life that we can rely on as being absolute truth.  We cannot trust the teachings of men as being absolute truth, although they may perhaps contain some portion of truth that may apply to some circumstances.  At best, any truths coming from men are limited in their scope to this physical realm, as well as limited to our recent time frame; anything beyond that is guess work and unreliable.

Many of us are able to hear from God by listening to the still, small voice that speaks to us for guidance and encouragement.  Although I encourage this type of communication with God, I also must caution you that this is not the same type of anchor for our soul as the absolute, authoritative truth that comes from the Scriptures.  Our natural minds often interfere with our ability to hear the Holy Spirit’s communication and therefore we must always check our understanding of what God is speaking to our hearts against the Biblical truths which are absolute.

As a side note, I recently read a beautiful story about a Christian woman who saw a homeless man outside of her grocery store and wanted to buy some food for him.  The Holy Spirit spoke to her and said she should buy him bananas and some protein bars.  She wanted to buy him some fried chicken instead, thinking it would warm him up, but she listened to the inner spiritual voice and didn’t get the chicken.  When she gave the man the bananas and protein bars, he was very grateful.  Immediately after giving them to him, there came another woman with some fried chicken for the man, much to the original woman’s surprise and joy, bringing her to tears.  She though how great it was that God had a concern for this homeless man in this way.

It is beautiful thing to be able to hear from God directly, but we must not use it for determining the absolute truths that establish our understanding of life and that anchors our soul.  Only God’s Word, the Bible, can be the authoritative source for our truth, and the source for the Gospel message.  Be warned that following your heart or the teachings of men without the guidance of Scriptures can lead you astray into the error of false gospels.

True Faith

“Now it is evident that no person is justified (declared righteous and brought into right standing with God) through the Law, for the Scripture says, The man in right standing with God [the just, the righteous] shall live by and out of faith and he who through and by faith is declared righteous and in right standing with God shall live.  But the Law does not rest on faith [does not require faith, has nothing to do with faith], for it itself says, He who does them [the things prescribed by the Law] shall live by them [not by faith].” Gal. 3: 11 – 12 (Amplified Bible)

The situation that Paul was confronting at Galatia was about religious Jews who were attempting to recruit the Galatian Christians to Judaism and to follow the Jewish religious rituals and practices, focusing on the Mosaic laws.  The problem with this, as Paul pointed out, is that being “religious”, that is, focusing on keeping a set of regulations and adhering to ritual practices, does not require faith.  In other words, a purely “religious” person’s “life” comes from following religious regulations and practices; this is what gives them satisfaction and comfort, relieves their guilt, and makes them feel like they are accepted by God.  Unfortunately, when we focus our lives on keeping religious rules, rituals and regulations, it puts us into bondage because there is no resulting spiritual growth produced from this activity.  The bondage is a result of remaining focused on our “flesh”; only true faith can take us out of our fleshly focus.

In contrast, when we put our faith and trust in Jesus, and the promises of God, we have spiritual growth and are free from the bondage of the flesh.  Our “life” comes from the reality of being true children of God and heirs of His kingdom.  This is where our satisfaction and comfort comes from: knowing that our relationship with God has been repaired, our sins forgiven, and our future home in heaven is secured for us and waiting.  We look forward for the final return of our Savior and Lord, Jesus Christ, who will establish the final Kingdom here, including us with our resurrected, immortal bodies.  This is the true faith that causes us to be born of the spirit and sets us free from the bondage of the flesh.

Be advised that any proposed gospel message that does not require faith and that keeps our focus on this physical world, and the material things within it, is an erroneous, false gospel.  We will need discernment to recognize this because the proponents of these false messages will surely make the claim that the focus is spiritual and that faith is involved, but we must look deeper into the reality of true faith and true spirituality as defined by the Scriptures.

I believe that there are many “Christian” churches that have shifted the focus of their message to regulations and practices and have de-emphasized the need for true faith.  It may not be explicitly stated in their doctrines and preaching from the pulpit, but it is communicated by other means, requiring the congregation to focus on church attendance, donations, volunteer work, participation in church functions, etc, rather than having the main emphasis and focus on true faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.  We need to be careful not to fall back into flesh based activity, but rather remain in a place that focuses our affections on spiritual things, requiring our faith to be strong.

Hope

“But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian; for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” Gal. 3: 25-29

The truth of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ  has as its main focus the hope that we have in the future promise of eternal life in heaven with a resurrected body, living in the glory of the kingdom of God as His children with an inheritance waiting for us.  This hope allows us to shift our affections from this physical world, which feeds our flesh, to the spiritual world that causes our spirit to come to life.  Being in Christ means that we have removed ourselves from this physical world in our minds and hearts, having put our flesh to death by dying with Christ.  This is the true power of the Gospel message; no other message is needed since this blessed hope with its transforming power is fully available through Jesus Christ as proclaimed in the Bible.

“Now we, brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.” Galatians 4: 28

Love

“For through the Spirit, by faith, we wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is of any avail, but faith working through love.” Galatians 5: 5-6

In the above two verses in chapter 5 of Galatians, Paul reaches the climax of his letter, culminating his warnings and arguments with the fact that what really matters is “faith working through love”.  So we see that if we embrace the truth of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, and place our faith in what has been promised to us as children of the living God, our hope is then established, our flesh no longer rules our lives but rather we shift to becoming spiritual beings, new creations, with the realistic power to walk in love.  Love is the goal; if we are not able to love then something is wrong – something is missing.  In that case perhaps we need to re-examine the gospel that we have accepted to make sure that it aligns with the true Gospel as revealed in the Bible.

A few verses later, Paul again reinforces the concept of love. He shows them that the essence of the law is really about love:

“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’. Galatians 5: 14

In the amplified Bible, the word “fulfilled” is replaced with the phrase “complied with”, which I think better explains that we can’t just ignore the law completely, but rather, if we are truly walking in love we will be complying with all the precepts of the law.  Again I say that the problem with the law is that if we focus on the law by itself and pursue abiding by its precepts without true faith, then we will not, and in fact cannot, become spiritual, and therefore cannot walk in love.  Without true faith we cannot adhere to the law.

“For if a Law had been given which could confer [spiritual] life, then righteousness and right standing with God would certainly have come by Law.” Galatians 3: 21b (Amplified)

For Christians the key is to become spiritual; if we are spiritual we will be able to walk in love with the law written on our heart.  In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explicitly states this need for spirituality in our battle against the desires of the flesh that hinder our ability to love.

“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh.  For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh; for these are opposed to each other, to prevent you from doing what you would.” Galatians 5: 16-17

When he says “doing what you would” I believe that equates to walking in love.

Be warned though that you must make sure that you have the correct biblical definition of love (not the world’s definition), and likewise, the correct biblical definition of being spiritual.  Many religions use the term spiritual and love to describe their activities, but these do not align with God’s meaning as revealed in His Scriptures.  Seek Him to help you gain the true understanding of these!

I encourage you to prayerfully read the entire book of Galatians for there are many other truths brought out in this letter that can help us in our walk with the Lord.  I hope you have found these insights helpful.  God bless!

Don’t throw away your Confidence!

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10: 35, 36

This message is really about our Christian faith, or more specifically, an important aspect of our faith, that is, the trust and confidence we place in the things that have been promised to us by God.

The concept of faith as presented in the Bible is rather complex, much more than just believing that there is a God, or believing and accepting a list of doctrines.  Additionally, there are some erroneous or misleading teachings about faith, the most notorious being the idea that our faith should be focused on ourselves and our ability to believe in something in order to make it happen.  This false teaching states that our positive thoughts and positive confession, what they would call faith, will bring about a positive result.  It promotes the idea that if we believe something hard enough and long enough we can make it happen; that somehow our belief in something will trigger a physical mechanism that causes the thing we believe in to come into existence or come about. And that if we imagine or visualize something and then confess it, or say the words to support our visualization, then the thing that we have visualized will come about.  This same technique is taught by the new age philosophy and even is used in witchcraft and sorcery.

True faith should be focused on making the unseen spiritual things that have been revealed to us in the Scriptures a reality in our minds and hearts, especially what has been promised to us regarding a future new heaven and new earth upon the return of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Faith should be combined with our trust in God and His ability to keep us and give direction to our life.  But faith should not be an attempt to use our imaginations to envision some future state or situation or desired outcome.  In order to engage in a true Biblical faith, we need to be immersed in the Scriptures, paying attention to the advice and admonitions there with regards to the workings of our faith.

True faith, as displayed and explained in the Bible, is a way of life.  It is a view of reality that is based on the revelation of God as presented in the Bible.  It is a replacement for the view of reality that we had previously been living and acting by that was an accumulation of the experiences and teaching based on the temporary physical world, minus the reality of a living, creator God and the truths surrounding His interaction with His creation.   Our faith should penetrate deep into our souls, impacting our daily thought patterns, our responses to situations, our choices and decisions in life, and, most importantly, our actions.  Our Christian faith should be a strong contributor to our transformed nature, resulting in a true spiritual love and our ability to walk in love.

Along these lines, the writers of the Bible, as inspired by the Holy Spirit, present often the idea of having confidence, which is a means of defining the type of faith that we should be practicing.  Let’s look closer at this.

First let’s look at the word “confidence” and make sure that we understand its meaning.  It is interesting that the English word confidence has as its root the word “confide” which means to entrust or to impart secrets to a friend with trust.  The English word confidence in dictionary.com is defined as: “full trust; belief in the powers, trustworthiness, or reliability of a person or thing.”

In the original Greek of the New Testament, there are two words that are translated to the English as confidence.  The first, “hypostasis”, is defined as “a setting under for support (like a foundation or substructure).  In a figurative context it is translated as “concretely” and in an abstract context as “assurance or confidence”.

The writer of Hebrews used this word twice, the first as follows:

“For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end,” Hebrews 3:14

And here also, where faith is explicitly defined:

“Now faith is the assurance (or confidence) of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1

The idea conveyed is for us to have a mental state that is like being on a sure and solid foundation that we have confidence in, much like the confidence we would have in crossing a bridge that is constructed of large structural steel beams placed on immense concrete abutments, as opposed to the lack of confidence we would have in crossing a rickety bridge made of rotten wood suspended from fraying cords.

(Note: This word is also used in Hebrews 1:3 but in a different context than the others. It is used to explain how Jesus was the “expressed image of (God the Father’s) person”, making His invisible attributes “concrete” or to have substance.)

The second Greek word translated as confidence is similar: “parresia”, and is often used to convey a boldness and openness in speaking.  Also, it is defined as “free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage, boldness, assurance”.

The writer of Hebrews uses this word three times as follows:

“Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

“Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus,” Hebrews 10: 19

And the verse quoted above at the start of the message:

“Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.” Hebrews 10: 35, 36

I see these two Greek words that are translated as confidence as being closely connected with the first expressing the internal mental condition we should have regarding our hope in what was promised, like standing on a firm foundation, standing on a rock as opposed to standing on sinking sand or miry clay.  The second defines the output of having such a mentality, that is, our boldness of speech, or boldness to see ourselves in the presence of God directly with Him hearing our prayers and requests, or our confidence about a future reward that gives us the strength to endure our current hardships.

Let’s look closer at the broader context of the verse from Hebrews 10:

“But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to abuse and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. For you had compassion on the prisoners, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that you may do the will of God and receive what is promised.”  Hebrews 10: 32 – 36

Here we see that our internal confidence manifests itself in our ability to endure through difficult times, giving us the strength needed.  The exhortation is to “not throw away our confidence” meaning that we should not discard it as having no use, like throwing away an old garment or useless item.  Rather we need to recognize its great value, and make sure that we have established our confidence internally so that it will be displayed when difficulties arise and we face the need for endurance.

The “great reward” that is mentioned in the above verse is referring to the promised reward that Jesus will bring to those who are faithful and endure to the end.  It has to do with eternal life, a resurrected, immortal body, a mansion in heaven, and entering into the literal kingdom of God as His child.  These are things that are priceless.

I remind you that this is a very clear directive from the Scriptures, that we should not discard, or throw away, our confidence.  This confidence is based on the full assurance of hope that we have received and believed when we have heard the message of salvation in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  I encourage you to even more deeply establish this confidence in your mind and heart, and to allow it to flow out in your daily activity, regardless of the degree of hardship.  Recognize also that this confidence will be a weapon against future conflict that may arise, possible hardships or persecutions that we all may face later as Christians.  This is part of the “shield of faith” that will “extinguish the fiery darts of the enemy” when in spiritual battle.

“’For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him’ (from the prophet Habakkuk chapter 2), but we are not of those who draw back to perdition (or destruction), but of those who believe to the saving of our soul.” Hebrews 10: 37-39 (follows our main quoted verse above)

Amen.

The “Five Whys” of Life (Why are We Depressed?)

“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” John 10:10

“Anxiety in the heart of man causes depression, but a good word makes it glad.” Proverbs 12:25

During the process of product development and manufacturing, it has become standard practice in the industry that when a problem occurs the process is halted and a root cause analysis is conducted to find a solution to the problem as well as to assure that the problem never occurs again in the future.  There are various methods to conduct the root cause analysis, but the most popular was introduced by Taiichi Ohno, who is known as the father of the Toyota Production System, which became Lean Manufacturing in the US.  He called the method “the Five Whys”, directing the production team to continue asking “why” five times, and after doing so, the nature of the problem as well as its solution becomes clear.

Our lives are very complex and can be challenging, much like the product development process.  We are not well prepared for the challenges we face throughout our lives, as both children and adults or parents, and we can easily find ourselves in a state of despair or confusion.  I find it helpful to periodically look back at the foundation of my Christian faith and reestablish the thought process that has brought me to the conclusions I now rest upon. I thought it would be a worthwhile exercise to ask “Why” five times while examining what I consider the core problem of our lives.  I feel that we can gain insight into the nature of this problem and its solution.

The first step is to define the problem. It has been my experience, and my observation, and I think that you would agree, that many people find themselves in a deep state of depression at some stage of their life, some earlier than others.  Related to this, is the lack of motivation and dissatisfaction we feel about our life.  I’m no expert about the extent of this problem, but I know of too many people who are on anti-depression medication.  I also think that many people  who are seemingly functioning normally and appear to be happy and satisfied to most onlookers, are in reality deeply dissatisfied with their life and struggle to keep themselves going every day.

This problem of depression and dissatisfaction can affect people at all stages of life, and it can occur multiple times throughout our lifetime.  It happens to rich and poor alike. Everyone has dealt with this condition at some point in their life, and has had to come up with some sort of solution, some more successfully than others, to keep them going on in their life.

Okay, so here’s the initial problem: People are depressed and dissatisfied with their life and have little or no motivation.  The next step is to ask the question, “Why are people depressed, dissatisfied and unmotivated?”

I have faced this problem myself and I have thought about it for a long time. My conclusion (my answer to “Why” number 1) is that this problem is the result of people not having a clear understanding of their purpose in life.  With no clear purpose or meaning in one’s life, all becomes vanity; all of their efforts and labor are in vain.  King Solomon said it thousands of years ago:

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher (Solomon); Vanity of vanities, all is vanity. What profit has a man from all his labor in which he toils under the sun?  One generation passes away, and another generation comes, but the earth abides forever.”  Ecclesiastes 1: 2-4

By the way, one of the first songs that I had written on my guitar was related to my identifying with this feeling of vanity.  The chorus of the song states: “Is all my labor just in vain?  Can someone free me from my pain, or will my whole world just trickle down the drain?”

This problem is directly related to a person’s world view, which deals with the deeper questions of life such as, “who am I, what is my purpose, why was I born, where will I be after I die?”  Everyone must face these questions and come up with some answers that form their world view or philosophy of life.

Following this line of thinking, my analysis concludes that the next question (Why #2) is something like this: “Why do people not clearly understand their purpose in life?”

The understanding of our purpose in life is directly related to our belief about the origin of human life on earth. People have two choices with which to establish their view of human origin: the most popular in our current western culture is the idea of the universe originating from a “big bang” that occurred millions of years ago, and then life resulting from a series of evolutionary progressions that caused life to evolve from the molecular level to human beings; this is known as the theory of evolution.  The second choice considers this universe and all life on earth as being created by a superior being; this view is known as intelligent design, stating that our world was created by a master designer of superior intelligence (i.e. God).

Those who choose to believe that the theory of evolution is the true explanation for our origin, then see their purpose as being a part of the progression of the evolutionary process.   It has been my experience that the purpose resulting from evolution is too vague to contribute to the resolution of our dissatisfaction and resultant depression.  Being one in billions of people involved in a random progression of life over billions of years with no clear and definite conclusion, and supposedly controlled by an unknown “force”, results in uncertainty and confusion. The vanities of life that King Solomon referred to are still apparent and are unresolved with this view.  Nothing is new under the sun, and all thing end in vanity. This view does more to fuel our anxiety than to resolve it, and this leads to depression.

Obviously, my choice has been the latter (and hopefully yours also).  I’m convinced that the intricacies of our bodies, as well as other animals and plants, and the beauty of the world around us, did not happen as a random process; there must have been some intelligence behind their design.  There are many books and documentaries that explain this in more detail if you need to be convinced further.  One recent documentary is called “Is Genesis History?” and is available on Netflix.  Another excellent documentary is called “God of Wonders” and may be available on YouTube if you search for it, but can also be purchased on the Berean Call website. Here’s the link: https://www.thebereancall.org/.

With this knowledge about our origin being from a Divine Creator, we can now look closer at our question: “Why do people not clearly understand the purpose of their life?”  I believe there are two answers to this. The first is that they have chosen to believe in the theory of evolution as the source of all life.  Although I could pursue this further, I would rather pursue the second answer, that people have accepted the belief in a Divine Creator, since I believe that most people reading this have accepted as truth that we were created by a Divine Creator.  Although some people believe in a Divine Creator or Intelligent Designer, it appears that many still don’t understand their purpose in life, so we need to look into this further.  Many have not received the answer to this problem regarding their purpose in life from the Superior Creator God that they have come to believe in, so this is still a problem.

Following this path of reasoning, we now come to our next “why” question (Why #3): If there is a Divine Creator who has created the universe and all life that is in it, why is He silent?  Why doesn’t He reveal Himself to us and give us direction and explain why He created us and for what purpose. Why don’t we hear a voice from heaven or see this Creator God with our own eyes?

Let’s pause here to summarize our progress with the “5 why’s”:

  • Initial Problem: People are depressed and dissatisfied and unmotivated.
  • Why #1: Why are people depressed, dissatisfied and unmotivated?
    • Answer #1: They don’t understand their purpose in life.
  • Why #2: Why don’t people understand their purpose in life?
    • Answer #2: Although people believe in a Divine Creator as the origin of their life, and this would seem to be the source of finding out their purpose, they have not received a clear explanation of their purpose from their Creator.
  • Why #3: Why have people not heard clearly from their Creator about the purpose of their life?

My answer to Why #3 is that God has revealed himself in the Bible, but let’s look back to the beginning of God’s relationship with mankind.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were able to physically communicate directly with God.  They saw Him with their eyes and heard his voice with their ears.  As a result of the sin and rebellion of Adam and Eve, they were rejected from the Garden and included in this (apparently) was the end to the intimate communication that they enjoyed in the Garden.  It would seem that as part of the curse mankind has been removed from this direct interaction with their Creator.

It is clear that God in His wisdom has chosen to not reveal Himself physically to human beings in this current age after the fall of man in the Garden, but instead has chosen to reveal Himself exclusively to the people of Israel, the descendants of Abraham culminating in the coming of the Messiah, who was the “Word made flesh”, or the human representation of the Creator God.  This revelation has been recorded in the Bible for all to receive, but it requires faith, that is, believing without seeing God physically.

“Jesus said to him(Thomas), ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’ ” John 20: 29

This has been my personal conclusion as I have been convinced that the Biblical record from the writings of Moses to the record of the first coming of the Lord Jesus Christ is the true representation of the Creator’s message to His creation.  We learn from the Bible that we were created in the image of God and were purposed to serve Him, to honor and glorify Him, and to bring pleasure to Him.  Included in this purpose is a special relationship where God becomes like a Father to us, and we can enter into a type of friendship with God.  Jesus came to reconcile our relationship with God so that we can enter into a direct communication with Him and become a part of His family.

“All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.” 2 Timothy 3: 16-17

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.  Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ,..” 2 Corinthians 5: 17-18

The next question that arises is why people don’t fully understand their purpose, even though we have embraced God as our creator and have recognized and believe in His revealed Word, the Bible. It seems that we become confused about our condition in this life, even though we have been reconciled to God.  The next question we may ask is “If a loving Creator as revealed in the Bible is our source of life, why is my life so hard? “  or “Why is there evil, pain, and suffering with the final condition death?”  Would you agree that this is confusing even to Christians?

Condensing this, we come to the next question – Why #4: “Why did God create us in a world where life is very difficult and ends in death?” As Christians, the answer to this should be very clear, but I am afraid that for many Christians it’s not clear or it has faded into the background and has not become a part of our thinking and world view as we walk through our life. This was the case for me for a long time.

We must look again to the Scriptures to find the answer to this.  The truth is that God did not originally intend for us to be in this world as it is today.  We should, in fact, recognize that we don’t belong here.  Adam and Eve were created in a world that had neither pain nor suffering, nor was there a need for rigorous work to survive, nor was there death.  Adam and Eve’s rebellion against God, choosing to believe the serpent’s lie that they could become like God if they ate the forbidden fruit, caused a curse to come upon this entire world and the human race.  Additionally, Satan has somehow been allowed some control in this world as a result of this sin.  Legally, it seems, he has the right to influence and garner some control or authority over this world through spiritual means.

As Christians, we must recognize that we don’t belong here and as children of God we have an inheritance waiting for us in heaven, or in the future heaven and earth that will be restored at the second coming of the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.  For now we are aliens and strangers on this earth, temporary residents who are just passing through on our way to a better place.  This understanding helps us to cope with the pain and suffering and evils of this present world.  Also, we look at death as a welcome event.  Paul, the Apostle, said it like this:

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” Philippians 3: 20-21

And this:

“For me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Philippians 1: 21

This truth of having a future in a new heaven and earth that will be completely different than our current cursed world system resolves the problem that was defined by King Solomon of the vanity of vanities.  As Christians we recognize that the next world that God has preserved for us will be beyond our comprehension and will be without the curse.  We will have an existence that will satisfy and complete our lives, with no negative impact.  It will be the full, abundant life that Jesus spoke about! (See John 10:10 quoted at the start)

Our final question (#5) should be this: If we have come to believe that we were created by the living God who also created the universe and all that is in it, and that He is the loving and holy God that has been revealed in the Bible.  And if we believe that this world has been cursed and placed under the control of the devil and his forces until the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, when we will be transformed and join in His glorified condition, then why are we depressed?  How can we be depressed if we really believe this?  Is this a reality in our lives?  Why would any hardships or trials dampen our joy in this amazing reality of eternal life with Him in a future new heaven and earth?

“For I consider the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” Romans 8:18

“What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written: ‘For Your sake we are killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.’  Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8: 31 – 39

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be known to God.” Philippians 4: 6

“Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new,’ and He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’  And He said to me, ‘It is done!  I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.  I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.  He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.’ ” Revelations 21: 5 – 7

Here is the final summary of the “5 Why’s” of life:

  • Initial Problem of life: People are depressed, dissatisfied and unmotivated
  • Why #1: Why are people depressed, dissatisfied and unmotivated?
    • Answer #1: They don’t understand their purpose in life.
  • Why #2: Why don’t people understand their purpose in life?
    • Answer #2: Although people believe in a Divine Creator as the origin of their life, and this would seem to be the source of finding out their purpose, they have not received a clear explanation of their purpose from their Creator.
  • Why #3: Why have people not heard clearly from their Creator about the purpose of their life?
    • Answer #3: God has revealed Himself through the Holy Scriptures and has chosen not to speak to His creation directly, but people who have accepted the Bible as God’s revelation still don’t understand their purpose and are confused about the hardships of life and a world full of evil.
  • Why #4: Why did God create us in a world where life is very difficult and evil, and that ends in death.
    • Answer #4: God did not initially intend for us to be in this world but placed a curse on this world due to the sin and rebellion of our first parents, Adam and Eve (as revealed in His Scriptures), but God in His mercy has made a way for us to be restored to His family and removed from the curse of death through the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
  • Final Why #5: Why are Christians still depressed and dissatisfied if they have truly embraced the reality of our position in Christ and the amazing glory that we will be a part of in the future when Jesus returns?
    • Final Answer #5: If we fully accept and believe the promises of God and make them our future hope and the focus of our life, we will find joy, peace and happiness in this life, and will be able to endure the difficulties of life and the evil that exists on earth, knowing that we have a life beyond our death which will be a glorious eternity with an immortal body in a new heaven and earth.

Amen.

Jesus is the Messiah King

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah) is a child of God…” 1 John 5: 1

As Christians we know that our faith is very important.  We know that we are accepted by God as a result of our faith, and not by any of our own righteous actions or accomplishment, rather the acceptance and forgiveness by God for our past transgressions is an act of mercy and grace on His part.

We are also told in the book of James in the Bible that our faith needs to be a “living” faith.  More specifically, if our faith is not producing in us good works, or acts of love, than our faith is dead and will not gain us acceptance with God.

“What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has not works?  Can his faith same him? [the implied answer is no]  If a brother or sister is ill –clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?  So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.” James 2: 14 – 17

Additionally, it is very important that we understand the specifics of our faith.  We must be clear about what we believe specifically; for example, we must know the object of our faith and we must consider the implication that our faith has on our actions and world view.  For example, is it enough for us to just believe that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical figure that existed in the past?   A person can say, “I believe in Jesus”, but this is insufficient to gain acceptance by God if they mean that they just believe that He was a real person from the past. James addressed a similar issue of faith in this verse:

“You believe that God is one; you do well.  Even the demons believe – and shudder.” James 2: 19

This may come as a surprise for some Christians, but it is also insufficient to just believe that Jesus died for your sins on the cross.  Of course we must believe both of these truths:  that He existed in the past and that He died for our sins, but there is much more that must be a part of our core beliefs as Christians.

The Bible clearly states that the core of what we need to believe as Christians is that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of the living God.  And, we must understand the implications of this.  Let’s look into this deeper.

The word “Christ” and the word “Messiah” both mean “Anointed One” and are therefore interchangeable.  The word “Christ” is the Greek word for the Hebrew “Messiah” and therefore you can replace the word “Messiah” anywhere in the Bible where the word “Christ” is used.

Throughout the Bible, the physical act of pouring oil on someone, or anointing them with oil, was symbolic of the spiritual anointing from God, giving them the power or “anointing” of God’s Spirit.  For example, God instructed the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul as king of Israel (1 Samuel 15: 1) and also told Samuel to anoint David, as a young boy, to be the future King to replace Saul (1 Samuel 16: 3, 12).  These men then had the Spirit of God resting upon them as they fulfilled their role as King (unless, as in Saul’s case, the anointing of the Spirit was removed).

More specifically though, the Old Testament prophets had foretold of a future Messiah, or one anointed with God’s Spirit who was sent by God and who was the Son of God. The Messiah was also foretold to be the one who would restore the kingdom of God and be the anointed as the King and Lord of this kingdom.  (You can do a search online to see the many Old Testament prophecies regarding the Messiah.)

The Scriptures clearly present Jesus as the Messiah and it is also clear that Jesus emphasizes the important of believing that He was the Messiah.  Consider the following Scriptures:

At His birth:

“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ (the Messiah) the Lord.’ “ Luke 2: 10-11

At the calling of some of the Apostles:

“One of the two who heard John (the Baptist) speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.  He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Christ).” John 1: 40 – 41

“Philip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph,’…[and later]…Nathanael answered Him [Jesus], ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ “ John 1: 40, 41, 45, 49

At the raising of Lazarus from the dead, talking to Martha:

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, He who is coming into the world.’ “ John 11: 25-27

The Apostle John’s closing statements about the purpose of his writing the Gospel of John:

“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.” John 20: 30 – 31

We see from the Scriptures also that the major objection of the religious leaders and Pharisees at the time of Jesus death was the fact that Jesus was being accepted as the anointed Son of God, the Messiah and King of Israel.

“Then the whole multitude of them arose and led Him to Pilate.  And they began to accuse Him, saying, “We found this fellow perverting the nation, and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, saying that He Himself is Christ (Messiah), a King.” Luke 23: 1-2

We also see from the book of 1 John that anyone who denies that Jesus is the Christ or Messiah is the antichrist:

“Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah)? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.” 1 John 2: 22

And so, why is this important?  This is important because we must realize that Jesus was resurrected from the dead and is alive today. He has been established and anointed as the King of heaven, the King of God’s Kingdom.  He ascended into Heaven and sits at the right hand of the Father in heaven as King of kings and Lord of lords.

“Which He accomplished in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and make Him sit at His right hand in heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come; and He has put all things under His feet and has made Him head over all things for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” Ephesians 1: 20 – 23

When we are baptized, as a profession of our faith, we are united with Jesus in His death, also dying to the kingdom of this world.  When we rise up out of the water we are also united with Him in His resurrection and share with Him a place in His Kingdom.  We should recognize ourselves as current citizens of heaven awaiting the return of King Jesus to re-establish His kingdom here on earth, creating a new earth.

“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Colossians 3: 1

As such, we are, even now, under the kingship and lordship of the Messiah King – Jesus Christ.  This is why we say that He is our Lord.  The implication is that we must follow His rules and commandments, the regulations of His kingdom.  We must also honor Him as King.  This submission to His commandments and homage to His position as King should have a profound impact on our lives, changing our actions and attitudes.

It is a good thing for us to believe that Jesus was a real person who walked this earth over 2000 years ago, healing the sick and raising the dead, and to also believe that He died on the cross to pay the price for our redemption for our offenses against a Holy God.  It is also good to believe that He was raised from the dead by the power of God.  We must recognize, though, that Jesus did these acts as the Messiah, the Anointed One sent by God to fulfill His promise, and to establish God’s Kingdom, and who sits now as King and Lord, and who will return to destroy this world and establish a new heaven and earth, and who will judge the living and dead according to their works.  We must allow the reality of these truths to sink into our souls and impact our view of reality.  We must consider the full implications of Jesus being the Messiah King.

Unfortunately, in our western culture, we don’t have a good concept of how to honor a King.  We have a president, but we see him as just another part of our governmental leadership, part of the balance of power.  Especially today, it is apparent that we don’t know how to honor a king by the way that our media speaks of the person in office, as well as the way many people on the opposing political party speak of the president.

I believe that our culture sees it as a weakness for someone to submit and recognize a supreme authority and to honor such a position.  Perhaps only in the military is such honor given to authority, and for many, this is seen as wrong or weak.  Instead it is seen as a virtue when we question authority and function ultimately under our own authority.  As Christians we must remove this from our thinking.

In summary, we as Christians must recognize that our faith should include the belief that Jesus is the Messiah, the Anointed King.  We are also required to consider ourselves as citizens of the Kingdom of heaven, where Jesus resides as King, and submit fully to His laws as obedient subjects, fully accepting His reign over us.  We should also be awaiting His return to establish His kingdom here among us, and to separate the good from the evil, establishing His righteous kingdom forever.  On that last day when Jesus returns, all those who have accepted Jesus as their Messiah and King, having their name written in the Lamb’s book of life by faith in Him, and who have obeyed the laws of His kingdom, and have honored Him as Lord and King, will be accepted into His eternal kingdom.

“Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.  Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.’ ” Revelation 21: 1-4

I look forward with heightened anticipation for that day of His return!

Amen.